Friday, 16 February 2018








On the Road




“The notion that I had walked twelve hundred miles since Rotterdam filled me with a legitimate feeling of something achieved. But why should the thought that nobody knew where I was, as though I were in flight from bloodhounds or from worshipping corybants bent on dismemberment, generate such a feeling of triumph? It always did.”



Patrick Leigh Fermor is writing the above trying to make sense of his ever-constant zest, which, I suppose,  led him to flee England, when he was just 18, to cross Europe on foot: from the port of Rotterdam to Constantinople, in 380 days. Leigh Fermor is considered Britain's greatest contemporary travel writer, and his books have earned praise on their lyricism, rich vocabulary and the unusual way he portrays his thoughts. His narrative has the same pluralistic élan vital as he himself had as a character – when in 1966 he undertook to write a small article about the famous kidnapping of General Heinrich Kreipe –he  led the team that captured the German commander in 1944, Leigh Fermor gave a text of 36,000 words that almost caused his editor a nervous breakdown. I don't know if an extra-ultra abridged version of this went on to be published. The full text, though, became a book published for the first time three years after his death, in 2014.

 "Abducting a General – The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete"  is written like a contemporary adventure. The liveliness and versatility of Leigh Fermor's prose, his spontaneous and crystalline inner perception of the situation create quite a thrilling text –  the scenes are switched in a stable, constant rhythm that promotes the plot; and lyricism is limited to the minimum by the action a resistance operation requires. There are also moments of fine provocative irony and fun but the bravery and seriousness of his war record and his intellect are undeniable. Reading it was like taking part in a spy film. No wonder –  P.L.F. has also written the screenplay for a film of the sort  that great John Houston directed. Not to mention the small publishing house that put in print his  first travel project on Greece ("A Time to Keep Silence") – it was owned by  Ian Fleming  (that's right, the well-known "father" of James Bond).

The second travel book he wrote about Greece is "Mani".  Like the rest of his books, this is not an ordinary travel guide. Paddy, as the English call him, did not limit himself to a formal recording of a place but mixes, instead, his spirit and his impressions as a traveller with pieces of history, snapshots of mythology and stories of the ordinary people of each place he visits creating thus an almost automatic sense of familiarity with the reader. It must be the same feeling with that of the people who personally met him - for the Cretans, he was their Michalis or Filedem while the people of Mani called him Pandeli (> Patrick Leigh).

Leigh Fermor has also written
"The violins of St. Jacques"  a novel which suprised me with its distinctively intense lyricism and elaborate vocabulary. 

No matter  how lyrical, adventurous or traveling Patrick Leigh Fermor's prose is, it is indeed extraordinary. "Abducting a General...", as well as the rest of his work, is a wonderful reading experience.






 





Notes: The first photograph shows the author disguised as a shepperd while in the Resistance, in White Mountains, Crete (1943). The last one is Patrick Leigh Fermor's stamp with his signature in Greek. / Most of P.L.F.'s books have been translated in Greek. You can take a look of them here