Sunday 16 September 2018

Winter's Tales

Slogging Through Winter
(apologies to) Kay Nielsen, 1914

Winter this year has seemed so long. Just when you think the weather has turned a corner, the Frost descends again (well, out in Mum's neck o' the woods) and it's brrr!! in our warm-temperate city once more. However, I am pleased to report that two miserable & consecutive days of hay-fever indicate that Spring has indeed Sprung and it's time to take stock of my Winter Reading before I forget.

Books read this winter 2018

Top of the list because it's top of the pile is Patrick Leigh Fermor's dazzling memoir-of-sorts, A Time of Gifts. In December of 1933, at the age of 17, PLF set out with a rucksack, a sturdy staff, some reading and writing material and, wearing hobnail boots and puttees, started to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Armed with only his wits, his good manners and youthful naïveté, a blessing in the form of a gift for languages, and a stipend of a pound a week, he trudges through a European winter following a Romantic Path along the Rhine then the Danube and this book, the first of a later-published trilogy, finishes with him at the gates of Budapest as the spring of 1934 buds.

Along the way, he takes the reader on a rambling cultural and linguistic tour of the byways of the history, art and architecture of the places he passes, whilst his present-day encounters were of a Europe about to profoundly change. As my own European experience has clung closer to the shores of the Mediterranean, this is unexplored territory, and I shan't say too much about the vast amounts of time I wasted  spent in the later pursuit of fleshing out some of the cultural and artistic references, except that the interweb is great, isn't it? What I have not shown is the companion book to this bedtime read, The Collins Australian Pocket Dictionary, which I am not shy to say was extensively thumbed (and at 70,000 references was at times inadequate but far easier to wield in bed than our Collins English Dictionary, which at 162,000 references would have been the Better Choice).

For company and to while away the long hours of walking, PLF amused himself with singing and reciting prose and poetry. He lists (at over four pages!) his repertoire of memorised material, in English, French, Latin and a few "bits" of Ancient Greek, prefaced self-deprecatingly with, "The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiasms and the limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up."..."A give-away collection."
Unsurprisingly, for those who may not be familiar with the writer, he went undercover in occupied Crete during WWII as a crack guerrilla, living in mountain caves, masquerading as a local shepherd.

Verdict: Fabulous. Will be chasing up the next book, Between the Woods and the Water.

As a great coincidence, the Lovely L is also a fan of PLF,  and we were surprised and pleased to see at the Bernaki Museum in Athens this (southern) winter an exhibition of his wife's, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1950s Greek photos! And you will never guess who they were friends with? ...

Paddy Leigh Fermor

Margot Fonteyn & Freddy Ashton, 1951!

Margot in the Nuddy!

Ballerina Feet!

Back to the books: Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome was my non-fiction favourite for a whole host of reasons, such as History!, Rome!, Factoids!, Mary Beard!, etc. etc. I shan't bang on.

Verdict: If you love such things as well, do read it and it was worth waiting for the paperback edition to finally be published for ease of reading in bed.

A clutch of 20th-Century women writers made up the bulk of the fiction reads. I finally got around to reading my first Barbara Pym's: A Glass of Blessings and Excellent Women, which I adored for their quiet and amusing post-War portraits of women having small-"a" adventures in their small-"l" lives. Tea-and-gossip writing.

Ditto for the pile of (unphotographed) Maeve Binchy's that Mum lent me. From memory, there was Light a Penny Candle, The Lilac Bus, The Copper Beech and Scarlet Feather. Same sort of stories, just Irish and Catholic and a bit later in time. Thanks, Mum!

I found a copy of The Theoretical Foot by the celebrated American food-writer, M.F.K. Fisher, on the occasionally surprising, informal book exchange we have in the foyer of our apartment building. It's verdict is: Undecided. I did not find it witty, as the gushing blurbs on the cover claimed. It made me a tad tense reading it and I hoped for something more.

(I also thought I read Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green, but appear to have been mistaken, so it goes back onto the pile beside the bed. Duffer!)

Finally, I shall admit I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and Hated It! It came highly recommended by the Effervescent R and declared a Must-Read whilst on my Greek trip. I did soldier on with it and got to the end but, honestly, the writer had to have been On Drugs while writing it. I did not like Zorba, nor the narrator, nor the bizarre and random violence. It appears that it's a much beloved and inspiring book for vast swathes of the reading public for more than half a century but I completely missed the point. The best I can say is that the cover did complement quite nicely a favoured taverna in Antiparos. Yes, I'm an Unlettered Philistine.

Zorba the Greek as a Greek-holiday read
I'm lost for words


  1. If only I too could get through the pile of books languishing on bookshelves, in piles on the floor, and in my over-stuffed canterburry one of these days. The luxury of reading a good book has escaped me of late. Too many books, too little time.

    I'm pleased you enjoyed your books, with the exception of Zorba. You've reminded me that I need to re-visit the film (it has been decades since I last saw it) but not the book by your account.

  2. It does seem a miracle at all that I managed to get through this selection. Those languishing piles are a commonality - something more to dust and never seem to get any smaller! And yet I do love to see all those possibilities for escapism.

    I'd never seen the film Zorba, which is why the book took me by surprise. I daresay it's a bit different.

  3. I've been absorbed in books lately, too. Those photos of Margo are amazing. She looks like a goddess.

    1. Hello Stephenie, there were quite a few photographs of Margot in the exhibition, practising a barre on the boat and lolling about with friends, and I dare say these nudes might be the only ones around and, indeed, were unpublished until about 15 years ago. I, too, was amazed when I saw them!

      Thank you for stopping by!


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