Du Malone writes: A major influence on the development of this website was the writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF) — specifically his trilogy describing his walk across Europe, before the Second World War. The trilogy comprises A time of gifts, Between the woods and the water, and The broken road.
My original intention was to manage a save from each of the countries that his walk took him through. But when I started to plan the project in detail I found I had little enthusiasm for saves from the early phase of his journey — Holland, Germany, etc. It was was the prospect of saves from the later stages — Romania and Bulgaria — that enticed me.
So I thought, ‘Why not start at the Black Sea, rather than finish there?’ And then I thought, ‘Why not start there and stay there?’
Roumeli, PLF explains, is a Greek regional name: “A few centuries ago it meant roughly the north of the country…from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic Sea and from Macedonia to the to the Gulf of Corinth“. Though the area of application has since shrunk, it is this broad meaning that PLF reverts to in Roumeli.
Greece does not border on the Black Sea, so why include Roumeli here? In part, it is the PLF connection explained above. But it’s also because occasionally Roumeli‘s range takes us beyond Greek national boundaries.
This is particularly the case in the opening chapter (‘The Black Departers’). It is this chapter, which focuses on a nomadic people called the Sarakatsans, that most captured my imagination. The Sarakatsans had never been respecters of national borders:
“The sudden cage of frontiers which sprang up after the Balkan Wars failed to confine them and they fanned out in autumn all over southern Albania and across the lower marches of Serbia as far as Montenegro and Herzegovina and Bosnia and into Bulgaria to the foothills of the Great Balkan…Not only did they strike northwards, like those I saw by the Black Sea, but…their caravans reached Constantinople and up went their wigwams under the walls of Theodosius.”
Much of the chapter focuses on a Sarakatsan wedding, the ideal subject for PLF’s interest in costume, materials, textures, and customs:
“The only rounded things were the chains and necklaces, the gold Napoleons, Turkish sequins and gold thalers that hung round the bride’s neck. Another latter-day curvilinear after-thought to the angular whole, and one which was common to both the bride and her retinue, was a wide white goffered or crocheted circular collar like a flattened hidalgo’s ruff ending at the shoulder in scallops“.
I have mixed feelings about PLF overall. He has an avid fan club but, while I’ve enjoyed reading several of his books and appreciate their richness and evocativeness, I’m not a paid-up member.
I find myself wondering whether his writing doesn’t involve — and implicate readers in –some form of pretence. The reader implied by his texts, especially their parentheses and footnotes, is one with an extraordinary range of curiosity and esoteric learning.
Does any such reader exist?
Though PLF is universally described as a travel writer, I’m not certain that, deep down, the description captures the source of his attractiveness.
I am reminded of when, in 1977, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse was interviewed by Bryan Magee. Marcuse argued (from about the 32nd minute of the video) that “authentic literature is…on the one hand, accusation of existing society [and] on the other hand…always the image of liberation“.
PLF’s writing frequently fits this characterisation.
I know nothing of PLF’s politics — and Roumeli is not overtly a political book — but his writing surely functions as an expression of a libertarian aesthetic — a world that is liberated from (crucially) the Iron Curtain and the modern state (also from the professionalisation and academicisation of connoisseurship and learning).