Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travels were so different from mine. He was always staying with incredibly erudite eccentric aristocrats in decaying castles full of signed copies of Shelley and Horace in the original.
But his description of spending a full-moon night out on the banks of a river somewhere in – Hungary, possibly? I haven’t got A Time of Gifts to hand to check – struck such a chord with me when I read it. That complete joy in travel, absolutely revelling in the newness and variety and just pure interestingness of everything, these unlooked-for experiences as gifts; moonlight and beer halls and meetings on riverside quays and cathedrals and streets of brothels and frog-filled water meadows…
It was exactly what I was thinking and how I was feeling a few days ago, as I watched a monk making torma – yak butter offering cakes – in a dim dusty monastery hall half-way up a mountain, surrounded by ruined houses and tumbling waterfalls; as a nomad family invited me into their tent to shelter from the rain and fed me butter tea with tsampa while a yak with a bell round its neck tried to come inside to join us, and then the rain stopped and shafts of sunlight were lighting the mountains a brilliant copper green.
I wish I could write about such things with half the joy in language as well as experience that Patrick Leigh Fermor had. He has just died, but it sounds like his life was as old-fashioned and romantic as his books.
It was my wonderful Aunt Ruth who introduced me to his writing – and that’s yet another gift; one of many she’s given me.