Thursday, September 1, 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Travel

After ideological opponents Christopher Hitchens and David Bentley Hart both recently eulogized Patrick Leigh Fermor (here and here, respectively) with high praise for his writing, I became determined to get a hold some of his work. This lead me to purchase Words of Mercury for my Kindle, which is an assortment of Paddy's [1] writings, taken from various sources, including excerpts from all of his other works. It sounded like it would function as a perfect introduction to his work.

Not being inclined to travel much myself, and never having enjoyed it much when I have, Travel Writing isn't a genre that I'm naturally drawn to, though I'm delighted by high-caliber prose wherever it may be found. Reading Patrick Leigh Fermor confirms what I already knew to be true: I'd much rather read splendid writings about someone else's adventures abroad than seek out my own. This is probably one part deficiency of character and one part simple preference, but reading Paddy's colorful accounts of his strange and eclectic travels make any travelling I've done -- and any I could conceivably undertake -- seem dull, drab and lifeless in comparison. Not exactly the best impetus to start travelling.

Most of the writings in this volume center around events in his life from the 30s and 40s, though some of the accounts were written from memory much later. Paddy traveled throughout Europe and especially the Mediterranean, and had encounters with the most compelling people and cultures. From blindly stumbling upon a remote cave along the coast of the Black Sea, filled with fishermen who he spends the night conversing, drinking, singing and dancing with, to an account of his year-long stay in a monastery in Normandy, to his recounting of his famed role in the abduction of a Nazi general on the island of Crete during the war, his adventures couldn't be more diverse and vibrant, and the prose itself is just as delightful and lively. [2]

While I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which Paddy's work transported me to other places, times and to encounters with different people, I still find myself disinclined to transport myself to other places. Not only would my adventures not be able to measure up, but I feel that travel in 2011 just isn't quite what it was (or had the capability to be) in the 1940s. Those remote corners of the globe are not so remote now, and many of the peoples he encountered, who had remained fascinatingly insulated from modernity, have since been molested by it. Excuses aside, though, I'm simply not an adventurer and am content with these vicarious excursions to far reaches of the globe and distant lands, with the likes of Patrick Leigh Fermor guiding me. 

[1] The informal name used for Leigh Fermor by the editors of Words of Mercury

[2] A few examples of the prose, as clipped by me, can be found here, here, here, here and here.

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