JOUR­NEYS OF IN­SPI­RA­TION

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

PA­TRICK Leigh Fer­mor’s Be­tween the Woods and the Wa­ter opened my eyes to a Hun­gary and Tran­syl­va­nia even richer than the ones my Mag­yar mother de­scribed to me dur­ing her reg­u­lar and all-con­sum­ing bouts of home­sick­ness.

As the sec­ond part of an as yet un­fin­ished tril­ogy about his 1930s odyssey across a Europe slid­ing in­ex­orably to­ward war, it bursts with storks and gyp­sies and wist­ful aris­to­crats in a world about to be snuffed out for­ever.

In Leigh Fer­mor’s hands, the lands he is cross­ing are also thickly pop­u­lated with faded em­pires and the ghosts of van­ished races — Avars and Pech­enegs among them— while hints of the hor­rors about to be un­leashed by Hitler are dropped in spar­ingly, but dev­as­tat­ingly.

And yet no travel book ever left me with a glow like this one. Leigh Fer­mor com­bines the schol­arly and the ele­giac with a joy for travel, lan­guage and life. I’ve car­ried it with me on my ex­plo­rations of Tran­syl­va­nia’s shad­owy val­leys and dur­ing my reac­quain­tance with the ‘‘ nearly myth­i­cal coun­try of Hun­gary’’.

Leigh Fer­mor is at last work­ing on the tril­ogy’s fi­nal in­stal­ment. Aged 92 and find­ing his own hand­writ­ing in­de­ci­pher­able, the great man has taken the plunge and is teach­ing him­self to type on a 1951 Olivetti. ‘‘ I wouldn’t get a com­puter,’’ he says. Pub­lished by John Murray (1986). KNOW­ING how to quit a job in style was just one of the many skills in Bruce Chatwin’s ar­moury. Af­ter a few years in the em­ploy of Lon­don’s TheSun­dayTimes , Chatwin with­drew his ser­vices with a tele­gram that read, ‘‘ Gone to Patag­o­nia for six months.’’

His jour­ney to the bot­tom of South Amer­ica — sup­pos­edly in­spired by a frag­ment of gi­ant sloth skin in his grand­mother’s din­ing room— re­sulted in the pub­li­ca­tion 30 years ago of In Patag­o­nia. Paul Th­er­oux, who knows a thing or two about travel writ­ing, said Chatwin had ‘‘ ful­filled the de­sire of all real trav­ellers, of hav­ing found a place that is far and sel­dom vis­ited, like the Land where the Jum­blies live’’. Some de­clared this mag­i­cal, enig­matic and odd beast of a book had re­de­fined travel writ­ing, while oth­ers said it was more a work of fiction mas­querad­ing as a travel book. Some­times it’s bet­ter to blur the lines of dis­tinc­tion and just read. Jonathan Cape (1977). Avail­able from Vin­tage Clas­sics. TRY­ING to un­der­stand what used to be Yu­goslavia is not a task to un­der­take lightly but, for English speak­ers, the place to be­gin is Re­becca West’s hefty opus Black Lamb and Grey Fal­con. First pub­lished in 1942, it laid open the ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­saic of pas­sion and poi­son that is the Balkans with a rare rich­ness and was rightly de­scribed as a mas­ter­piece. Clock­ing in at nearly 1200 pages, it makes for a cum­ber­some pa­per­back, but some things are bet­ter when a lit­tle suf­fer­ing is in­volved. Macmil­lan (1942). Avail­able from Canon­gate: www.canon­gate.net. James Jef­frey James Jef­frey’s travel nar­ra­tive PaprikaPar­adise will be pub­lished by Ha­chette in Au­gust.

Gone to Patag­o­nia’: Bruce Chatwin

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