05 May 2009

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Absinthe-equivalent 'sublime prose' is always so for the person partaking. If everyone spoke well, there would be eternal prosperity. But instead of ‘tell it slant’ and such beautiful expressions, we had ‘bombs away!’ and such nattering. Patrick Leigh Fermor was poised at the most elegant moment of travel writing. Disaffected at school, Fermor walked and pondered deeply from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933-1934. The Time of Gifts. Between the Woods and the Water.

Intramural romances spring up and prosper in places of learning, but some exotic psychological fluke directed my glance beyond the walls and, once more, out of bounds. It was a time when one falls in love hard and often, and my aesthetic notions, entirely formed by Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books, had settled years before on the long-necked, wide-eyed pre-Raphaelite girls in Henry Ford’s illustrations, interchangeable king’s daughters, ice-maidens, goose-girls and water spirits, and my latest wanderings had led me, at the end of a green and sweet-smelling cave set dimly with flowers and multicoloured fruit and vegetation – a greengrocer’s shop, that is, which she tended for her father – to the vision of just such a being. The effect was instantaneous. She was twenty-four, a ravishing and sonnet-begetting beauty and I can see her now and still hear that melting and deep Kent accent.