I like walking. Both running and strolling become boring pretty quickly for me, but wandering around at a decent pace has always been enjoyable. And every now and then it’s worthwhile to push it a little bit – when I was in high school my friends and I would sometimes spend an afternoon walking downtown from our neighbourhood (from where I currently live, this can now be done in about 45 minutes).
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s walk in 1933 from Holland to Constantinople seems to take this impulse to its extreme. He did it when he was eighteen years old, which is a far more impressive feat than what I did at the same age (writing a bad novella while being a total recluse).
I’m near the end of A Time of Gifts, the first book of the incomplete trilogy where he recounts this walk. It’s from the mid 70’s, and the elapse of four decades gives the book some of its mood: while it is a vivid account, there is always a sense of the passage of time, and that the world which he trekked through is no longer extant. It’s a gorgeously written book, and carries an effect which I usually find in Elizabethan literature: I get caught up in the beauty of the prose and accidentally lose track of what Fermor is actually saying for a couple of pages, and wind up having to double back a bit. This is probably the first time that something of the enchantment of Europe as a place drenched in history and culture has hit me in an aesthetic rather than purely intellectual manner. It might as well be Middle-Earth.
Fermor himself comes across as an erudite, artistically inclined scholar with a boyish sense of adventure – that sort of rare character you sometimes bump into at a party or a dinner who has read everything and is filled with all sorts of anecdotes.
I know I’ll be rereading this at some point.