Sandy Tjan's Reviews > A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
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Dec 09, 11

bookshelves: 2011, british-literature, autobiography, ebook, wanderlust
Read in December, 2011

At the tender age of eighteen, on the cusp of adulthood and having been expelled from his last school, young Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to go on a walkabout through the pre-war Mitteleuropa wonderland, all the way to the distant minarets of Constantinople. These are some of the people and things that he encountered along the way:

1. Goose-stepping Brownshirts and beer-swilling S.S. officers



“The song that kept time to their tread, “Volk, ans Gewehr!” ---often within earshot during the following weeks was succeeded by the truculent beat of the Horst Wessel Lied: once heard, never forgotten…”

2. Village stores stocked to the gills with Nazi paraphernalia



“…swastika armbands, daggers for the Hitler Youth, blouses for Hitler Maidens and brown shirts for grown-up S.A. men; swastika button-holes were arranged in a pattern which read Heil Hitler and an androgynous wax-dummy with a pearly smile was dressed up in the full uniform of a Sturmabteilungsmann.”

But also:

3. Brueghelian winter idylls



“A minute later, it was a faraway speck, and the silent landscape, with its Brueghelish skaters circling as slowly as flies along the canals and the polders, seemed tamer after its passing. Snow had covered the landscape with a sparkling layer and the slatey hue of the ice was only becoming visible as the looping arabesques of the skaters laid it bare. Following the white parallelograms the lines of the willow dwindled as insubstantially as trails of vapour. The breeze that impelled those hastening clouds had met no hindrance for a thousand miles and a traveler moving at a footpace along the hog’s back of a dyke above the cloud-shadows and the level champaign was filled with intimations of limitless space.”

4. Friendly peasants in clogs and lots of cows



“In the barn on the other side, harrows, ploughshares and scythes and sieves loomed for a moment, and beyond, tethered to a manger that ran the length of the barn, horns and tousled brows and liquid eyes gleamed in the lantern’s beams.”

5. Gemutliche gasthauses with kind proprietors



“…for in the end someone woke me and led me upstairs like a sleep-walker and showed me into a bedroom with a low and slanting ceiling and an eiderdown like a giant meringue.”

6. Party-loving, pretty Frauleins



“When I woke up on the sofa---rather late; we had sat up talking and drinking Annie’s father’s wine before going to bed---I had no idea where I was; it was a frequent phenomenon on this journey.”

7. Kooky aristocrats and fascinating pedants with a yen for the glorious days of the Kaiser and the Austro-Hungarian Empire



“The Count was old and frail. He resembled, a little, Max Beerbohm in later life, with a touch of Franz Joseph minus the white side-whiskers.”

8. A Shakespeare quoting, enterprising tramp



””Ah, dear young!” he said, “I am of ripe years already! I would always be frightening them! You, so tender, will always melt hearts.””

9. Balkan Ghettoes full of living Hasidic Jews



”…Talmudic students of about my age…their cheeks were as pale as the wax that lit the page while the dense black lettering swallowed up their youths and their lives.”

10. Grunewald’s horrific crucifixion



“…the special law of gravity, tearing the nail-holes wider, dislocates the fingers and expands them like spider’s legs. Wounds fester, bones break through the flesh and the grey lips, wrinkling concentrically round a tooth-set hole, gape in a cringing spasm of pain. The body, mangled, dishonoured and lynched, twists in rigor mortis.”

And most importantly:

11. Grand architecture --- to wax poetic about in a sensory-overloaded, vertigo-inducing manner.



The painted ceiling at the Melk Abbey

“...rococo flowers into miraculously imaginative and convincing stage scenery. A brilliant array of skills, which touches everything from the pillars of the colonnade to the twirl of a latch, links the most brittle and transient-seeming details to the most magnificent and enduring spoils of the forests and quarries. A versatile genius sends volley after volley of fantastic afterthoughts through the great Vitruvian and Palladian structures. Concave and convex uncoil and pursue each other across the pilasters in ferny arabesques, liquid notions ripple, waterfalls running silver and blue drop to lintels and hang frozen there in curtains of artificial icicles. Ideas go feathering up in mock fountains and float away through the colonnades in processions of cumulus and cirrus. Light is distributed operatically and skies open in a new change of gravity that has lifted wingless saints and evangelists on journeys of aspiration towards three-dimensional sunbursts and left them levitated there, floating among cornices and spandrels and acanthus leaves and architectural ribands crinkled still with pleats from lying long folded in bandboxes...”


Fermor’s writing is as marvelous as the brooding castles and baroque palaces that he encountered along his journey, but at times so dizzyingly rich and dazzlingly erudite that it is best taken in measured doses at a time. European culture and history is an open book in his hands and what a wonderful and profoundly strange place it is!

Prepares sturdy boots for the remaining trek to Constantinople.



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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Nice review, Sandy!


Sandy Tjan K.D. wrote: "Nice review, Sandy!"

Maraming salamat, K.D. :)


message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny Gorgeous!


Sandy Tjan Manny wrote: "Gorgeous!"

Thanks, Manny! I enjoyed finding pictures to match the quotes.


Kelly I loved this review. Thanks for picking out those beautiful architectural quotes at the end. Your pictorial progression made me laugh- those are a funny juxtaposition to the partying frauleins. :)


message 6: by Sandy (last edited Dec 13, 2011 05:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sandy Tjan Kelly wrote: "I loved this review. Thanks for picking out those beautiful architectural quotes at the end. Your pictorial progression made me laugh- those are a funny juxtaposition to the partying frauleins. :)"

Thanks, Kelly. Your own review of this book is brilliant. There's no way I can top that, so I did a pictorial review instead. ;D


Kelly How nice of you to say! But dude, I just have no good google image finding skills. If I could find funny pictures like in some of your reviews I would pictorial review all the time! :)


message 8: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "I loved the pictures (and I'm not usually a big fan in reviews). I think you really captured the slight absurdity of his trek without condemning it in anyway. So cool."

Yes! Very nice.


Sandy Tjan Moira wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "I loved the pictures (and I'm not usually a big fan in reviews). I think you really captured the slight absurdity of his trek without condemning it in anyway. So cool."

Yes! Very..."


Thanks, guys. Fermor is lovely, but he can be a bit much at times, isn't he? ;)


message 10: by Sandy (last edited Dec 13, 2011 05:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sandy Tjan Kelly wrote: "How nice of you to say! But dude, I just have no good google image finding skills. If I could find funny pictures like in some of your reviews I would pictorial review all the time! :)"

I clearly have too much time on my hands...! :D


Sandy Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "Thanks, guys. Fermor is lovely, but he can be a bit much at times, isn't he? ;) ..."

Yes, I thought I was going to leave him somewhere in Germany for a while. He was taking so d..."


I also want to read A Time for Silence. It seems from your review that his monastic experiences are pretty interesting.


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