Margaret Mary's Reviews > A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
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's review
Nov 30, 2011

really liked it

A travelogue written in the late 30's by Patrick Leigh Fermor. Basically, he didn't fit into the traditional British school system so he decided to take some time off and travel to Constantinople, mostly by foot. I sent this piece to Jen because I could picture her in the situation somewhat. (He's just walked into a tavern somewhere in Germany.)

With freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow, I clumped into an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels. A jungle of impedimenta encrusted the interior - mugs and bottles and glasses and antlers - the innocent accumulation of years, not stage props of forced conviviality - and the whole place glowed with a universal patina. It was more like a room in a castle and, except for a cat asleep in from of the stove, quite empty. This was the moment I longed for every day. Settling at a heavy inn-table, thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy and with my papers, books and diary all laid out: writing up the day's doings, hunting for words in the dictionary, drawing, struggling with verses, or merely subsiding in a vacuous and contented trance while the snow thawed off my boots.

And of course, the story ends (or begins) with the kind, intelligent, and generous owners basically adopting him for a couple days which leads to another social connection that allows him to stay in a local castle after that.

It's a fun book, and the fact that all these travels took place before WWII is kind of poignant at times. After he was in one city in Belgium for only a night, he wrote that the entire city except for the cathedral was leveled two years later. "If' I'd known, I would have stayed longer."

Actually, it's quite the indictment of American education, or modern education, or maybe just my education. Today, this guy would've been medicated and in a special ed class. He went on this trip because he knew he couldn't pass the exams to get into the British equivalent of higher education, but travelling through the Netherlands he recognized everything because of the hundreds of hours he spent in art museums and the Dutch Masters had captured it so well. He seems to know history of every region and town he stops in and can chat easily about classical literature, philosophy, etc. with his various hosts. He has an impressive vocabulary and writes in an engaging way. I, on the other hand, had to look at an atlas to see that, yes indeed, the Rhine does connect the Netherlands to Germany. Disgusting!

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