wardytron bought me Artemis Cooper's biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor for Christmas. He's a fascinating man (Leigh Fermor, not Wardytron, though the latter has his moments). He was expelled from school, escaped unscathed from considerable contact with the Bloomsbury set, walked from Zeebrugge to Constantinople before he was 21, kidnapped a German general in occupied Crete, wrote two amazing books about that continental walk thirty years later, spoke five languages, swam the Hellespont when he was 69 and seems to have been liked, valued (and corresponded with) all his ex-lovers. I've read snippets of his writing before. My first encounter was a small chunk I had to translate into French for an A Level test, actually. The only sustained bit of his writing that I'd read before this holiday was his correspondence with Deborah Devonshire (nee Mitford - and in many ways the best of them). Reading the biography made me buy the books about the walk and his novel. Finishing it made me cry in the bath.
I'm halfway through A Time of Gifts which charts his youthful journey from London to the Middle Danube. It's strange and startling; perilously close to overwritten in places and seething with knowledge and the joy of learning and his endless fascination with language and time, with art and architecture, with music and folklore. There's always a subtle dual perspective at work, that of the teenage 'student' walking through a vanished Europe and absorbing sensations and sights with the zest and intensity of a young gundog and that of the older man, who knows that Europe has vanished and so many of the people whose hospitality he enjoyed died in that vanishing, yet who manages to avoid writing an elegy.
I'm increasingly inclined to the idea that nostalgia is the first refuge of the mediocre, or at least of those who have failed to learn how to live.
Speaking of dual perspectives, I am loving the album I bought Andrew for Christmas, too, and have it playing on Spotify now. It's The Jazz Age by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra and is twenties instrumentals of Roxy Music tracks. It's a lovely, cheeky and strangely moving bit of anachronism; musical time travel.