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Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick…
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Between the Woods and the Water (1986)

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: On Foot to Constantinople (2)

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The story so far: in 1933, 19-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor (later to achieve notoriety operating behind German lines in Crete during WW2) drops out of a reasonably good public school and determines to tramp across Europe to Constantinople, learning languages and cultures as he goes along from whoever he meets. This book opens with him about to enter Hungary...

This book, the direct sequel to "A Time of Gifts", picks up exactly where the last book finished (on a bridge over the Danube outside Esztergom) and sees Leigh Fermor entering Hungary and then travelling through Transylvania before ending this volume at the Iron Gates, the spectacular gorge where the Danube cuts through the Transylvanian Alps in southern Romania. Entering these lands, he comes across the Roma people (then generally called Gypsies) and some of the earliest diversions concern young Patrick's explorations of the Roma language and its connections with other languages. In this, he references a writer he refers to just as "Borrow"; many modern readers may not know that he is referring to George Borrow, a Victorian philologist who also spent time living with the Roma in England and also undertook an extensive walk of his own (in his case, the length of Wales). His novels of Romany life, "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" were considerable best-sellers in their day, and his account of his Welsh travels, "Wild Wales", can still be found in some Welsh bookshops. He was one of the first people to popularise the linguistic connections between many European languages and the languages of northern India; the growth of academic studies of what is now commonly called "Indo-European" languages had been considerable during the 18th and early 19th centuries, but Borrow was one of the first writers to put these ideas before a wider public (though he looked more for a religious explanation for the commonality of tongues). Nonetheless, those interested in the Romany way of life would have absorbed some of their knowledge of the background to the language through Borrow, and Leigh Fermor certainly found it of use when travelling through Hungary and Romania.

Transylvania had been ceded to Romania as a part of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Treaty of Trianon which followed World War 1 in the south-east of Europe in 1919-20; Hungarian and Romanian were commonly spoken in Transylvania, but many of the gentry also spoke German because of their ancestry. Leigh Fermor comes across this much, especially as he continues his journey passing from manor house to Schloss to mansion, all arranged by the friends he made on the way. But his easy lodgings come to an end towards the end of this book as he moves further into the former Ottoman sphere of influence, and the family connections that stood him in good stead across Europe begin to peter out.

We see in this book the older Leigh Fermor getting more into his stride in relating the events of his youth to the future that was yet to be. News such as the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss begins to impinge on his idyllic world, and at one point, he discusses the rise of Hitler in Germany with a Hassidic Jew and his sons in a cabin in a Romanian forest. No-one can comprehend the fate that awaits them; there have been pogroms before and this is just one more, says the older Jew; we shall weather this as we have done all the others. Leigh Fermor reports this without irony, but the pointedness of the encounter is plain for all to see. Elsewhere, he comments that his earlier self was experiencing a way of life that would be swept away within a few years; the older, more experienced Leigh Fermor puts this into the text rather more often in this book than in "A Time of Gifts". I think this reflects his increasing experience as an older man in writing his travel memoirs as much as reflecting his younger self's burgeoning awareness of changing times.

The younger Leigh Fermor also has other changes to contend with. In "A Time of Gifts", he mentions meeting various young women on his travels and even talks about flirting with some of them; but these are very much the jolly times of young people. In "Between the Woods and the Water", his relationships with women take a more serious turn, only partly due to the influence of one of his hosts in particular. There is an amorous encounter with some farm girls; and then there is a full-blown affair with a particular woman, simply identified as 'Angéla'. This bittersweet relationship - Angéla is unhappily married and only a few years his senior - presages a later episode in his life, when he lived with another woman in Romania for a number of years before the outbreak of war.

I related closely to "A Time of Gifts" because Leigh Fermor's journey of discovery through Europe reminded me so much of my own; we had similar experiences in seeing a land through new eyes. I was a bit worried that I would not relate so much to this book because I haven't travelled in Hungary or Romania. I needn't have worried; the echoes of the former Empire mean that there is an historical and cultural continuity between the books and the post-Communist opening up of these countries gives the modern reader a sense of catching up with a history and geography that remains little known in the UK.

My observations on George Borrow do make me think one thing; Leigh Fermor continues to wear his scholarship lightly, but we are in different times now and many readers will not have the same classical background to fall back on. Quite often there are Latin phrases dropped into the text without translation (or footnotes), and it is expected that the reader will know them. I'm fairly lucky; my own interest in history in general, and in Central and Eastern Europe history and culture in particular means that I've read Borrow, or (thinking back to "A Time of Gifts") Jaroslav Hasek's "The Good Soldier Švejk". Others will not have this background; a reading list would have been an ideal addition to the book.

Otherwise, this is a remarkable continuation of Leigh Fermor's story. Its conclusion, the unfinished "The Broken Road", promises much, especially as Leigh Fermor changes his objective and heads south through Bulgaria and into Greece - very much terra incognito in those days. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Jul 23, 2018 |
The central Europe portion in this enchanting travelogue of Fermor's walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople between the World Wars, continues the discursive marvel that began in the first volume. I don't know where to begin with my love of this book--the lush descriptions of long-gone landscapes, the cheerful, attentive detail to the appearance and character of all he meets, or Fermor's encyclopedic knowledge of history, art, architecture, and language. Polyglot and a lover of words, here he is in the chapter entitled "Carpathian Uplands." On foot, Fermor falls in with a logger and joins him and his brother, a Rabbi and the latter's two sons, who inquire, "Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn't quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly--I couldn't think of the word at first--and when I found it--'for fun'--it didn't sound right and their brows still puckered. 'Also, Sie teiben so herum aus Vergnügen?' The foreman [logger] shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. 'Es ist a goyim naches!' they said. 'A goyim naches', they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy's delight or a gentile's relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head" (p. 227). He is a truly companionable guide through an evanescent past. Highly recommended! ( )
1 vote msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
The central Europe portion in this enchanting travelogue of Fermor's walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople between the World Wars, continues the discursive marvel that began in the first volume. I don't know where to begin with my love of this book--the lush descriptions of long-gone landscapes, the cheerful, attentive detail to the appearance and character of all he meets, or Fermor's encyclopedic knowledge of history, art, architecture, and language. Polyglot and a lover of words, here he is in the chapter entitled "Carpathian Uplands." On foot, Fermor falls in with a logger and joins him and his brother, a Rabbi and the latter's two sons, who inquire, "Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn't quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly--I couldn't think of the word at first--and when I found it--'for fun'--it didn't sound right and their brows still puckered. 'Also, Sie teiben so herum aus Vergnügen?' The foreman [logger] shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. 'Es ist a goyim naches!' they said. 'A goyim naches', they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy's delight or a gentile's relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head" (p. 227). He is a truly companionable guide through an evanescent past. Highly recommended! ( )
  msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
When I was a student at University (longer ago than I’d like to think...) I decided to become a member of the Folio Society. My first order included a handsome set of fairytale collections, a few history and fiction titles, and the Society’s edition of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. I was no fan of travel writing. Nor had I ever heard of Leigh Fermor. But this was one of the more affordable books in the catalogue, one that didn’t unduly stretch my restricted budget.

The volume remained unopened on my shelves until, one fine day, driven by boredom and a vague curiosity, I immersed myself in its pages. It blew me away.

In 1933, aged “18 and three-quarters” Leigh Fermor set off on a daunting but enthralling voyage - a journey on foot across mainland Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. This exploit had a whiff of the Grand Old Tour about it, tinged with a gung-ho “Boys’ Own” sense of adventure. However, Leigh Fermor’s three-volume account of these travels (starting with “A Time of Gifts”) is anything but “boyish”. It is rich in evocative descriptions of sights, smells and sounds, which manage so admirably to capture a sense of place that one is quick to forgive the author’s occasional penchant for over-ripe metaphors. The text is sprinkled with erudite asides, giving insights into the history and culture of the countries which welcomed the young hiker.

There is another element which makes the book so poignant. Leigh Fermor wrote it decades after the events described. In the meantime, the Second World War – and middle age – had intervened, digging furrows in maps and complexion. Not surprisingly, the text is saturated with a feeling of nostalgia and loss. It often reads like an elegy to freedom and youth, and to a different way of life which had disappeared forever. The wide-eyed wonder of the teenage protagonist gives way to the more knowing narrative voice of the author’s older and wiser self.

“A Time of Gifts” describes the first leg of Leigh Fermor’s journey and leaves us with the traveller on a bridge crossing the Danube between Slovakia and Hungary. It is not just a great book – it is a special and memorable one, certainly a landmark in its genre.

Years passed before I rejoined Leigh Fermor on his journey which, in “Between the Woods and the Water” winds its way through Hungary, Transylvania and into Romania. But I must admit that after the initial elation at meeting an old friend again, I started to feel disappointed. The same youthful excitement leaps from the pages, the chapters are still illuminated by the erudition of its author. However, there were some things which bothered me. The narrative momentum is often held up by digressions into the political history of the area which, as the writer himself repeatedly admits, is complex and convoluted. Moreover, despite Leigh Fermor’s open-minded enthusiasm,he sometimes gives the impression that he has not shaken off a degree of class prejudice. Long stretches of the trek are spent in castles of aristocratic friends, fondly recalled during the rougher parts of the journey. And whilst peasants and shepherds are sympathetically described (especially if they are rustic beauties not averse to close encounters in haystacks), Gypsies almost invariably come across as dirty, scheming and dangerous.

Despite my reservations, as the last pages of the book approached, I found it increasingly difficult to put it away. Evidently, the magic of Leigh Fermor’s incredible journey has not yet worn off and I hope to rekindle it soon by reading The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, the trilogy’s posthumously published conclusion.

Ave atque vale, Paddy! ( )
1 vote JosephCamilleri | Jul 8, 2016 |
Loved this book. The 2nd part of Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic walk.
So descriptive and brings to life a pre-WWI Europe now long disappeared.
Great, nostalgic read. ( )
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Unhurried and receptive, endlessly curious and with, as Philip Toynbee has said, ''a rapturous historical imagination,'' Mr. Leigh Fermor, who is in his 70's, was, and remains, an ideal witness to what is now a vanished world.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Graeme Gibson (Jul 15, 1987)
 

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Leigh Fermor, Patrickprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morris, JanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Völker verrauschen,

Namen verklingen

Finstre Vergessenheit

Breitet die dunkelnachtenden Schwingen

Über ganzen Geschlechtern aus

Schiller

from Die Braut von Messina
Ours is a great wild country:

If you climb to our castle's top,

I don't see where your eye can stop;

For when you've passed the corn-field country,

Where vineyards leave off, flocks are packed,

And sheep-range leads to cattle-tract,

And cattle-tract to open-chase,

And open-chase to the very base

Of the mountain, where, at a funeral pace,

Round about, solemn and slow,

One by one, row by row,

Up and up the pine trees go,

So, like black priests up, and so

Down the other side again

To another greater, wilder country.

Robert Browing

from The Flight of the Duchess
Dedication
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Perhaps I had made too long a halt on the bridge.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
from back: Between the Woods and the Water continues Patrick Leigh Fermor's celebrated account of his journey from the Hook of Holland to Constantinolpe.

In 1933 a young man of eighteen set out to walk across Europe living on a pound a week, staying in work-houses, monasteries and barns. A Time of Gifts described the first part of this fascinating voyage. Here, between the woods of Transylvania and the waters of the Danube, Patrick Leigh Fermor encounters the remote peoples and cultures of Romania and Hungary and, unerringly and hauntingly, reconstructs a world of mountains and plains, of castles and their inhabitants, where ancient ways were still intact, though troubled by omens of the disasters that, a few years later, were to destroy them utterly.
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"Between the Woods and the Water begins where its predecessor, A Time of Gifts, leaves off - in 1934, with the nineteen-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor standing on a bridge crossing the Danube between Hungary and Slovakia. A trip downriver to Budapest follows, along with passage on horseback across the Great Hungarian Plain, and a crossing of the Romanian border into Transylvania. Remote castles, villages, monasteries, and mountains that are the haunts of bears, wolves, eagles, gypsies, and sundry religious sects are all savored in the approach to the Iron Gates, on the border of Yugoslavia and Romania. This ruggedly beautiful and historic stretch of the Danube has since been lost beneath the waters of an immense hydroelectric power plant - as indeed so much of the old Europe that Leigh Fermor's pages so vividly evoke was soon to be destroyed in World War II." "Between the Woods and the Water, part of a work in progress that has already been acclaimed as a classic of English literature, is a triumph of Patrick Leigh Fermor's art. For this tale of youthful adventure is at the same time an exploration of the dream and reality of Europe, a book of wanderings that wends its way in and out of history and natural history, art and literature, with the tireless curiosity - and winning fecklessness - of its young protagonist, even as it opens haunting vistas into time and space."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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