175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor

'R and Lily bookmark and "Between the Woods and the Water"

‘R and Lily bookmark and “Between the Woods and the Water”

Sighișoara, Transylvania, 31 August, 2008 … Have brought Patrick to be reunited with Angéla.  He’s in my bag!  As our feet touch the first step of the Scholars’ Stairway, a wooden covered staircase built in 1642 boasting 175 steps which lead to the ‘School on the Hill’ … we notice the sweetest old woman crowned in a floral headscarf, shyly concealed behind the ornate entrance.  She is holding a basket with four of the rosiest, plumpest apples (Snow White would have discarded the wicked Queen’s offering as windfall on first gaze of these!). She is selling them just as others are standing on the streets of the beautiful Saxon citadel, trading their house hold possessions or fruit from their garden, all swallowed by a cerulean sky. Not meaning to offend we give her lei and leave her the apple she offers so she can sell it to someone else and make more money.  As she begins to understand our international mime, she smiles the warmest toothless smile and thanks us – “mulţumesc”.  The steps are hard work, too many Vogue cigarettes!  I’m on the steps finally after dreaming of seeing what you saw! The sun is setting as we reach the top of the staircase.  The ‘Church on the Hill’ welcomes us too.  The gravestones are on fire.  I take out ‘Between the Woods and the Water’, Patrick Leigh Fermor from my bag and read pages 156-158.  But it’s page 154 that I’ve marked with a photo of R and Lily…”

'The Scholars Staircase', Sighisoara, 2008

‘The Scholars Staircase’, Sighisoara, 2008

‘We put up at an inn with gables and leaded windows in a square lifted high above the roofs and the triple cincture of the town wall and dined at a heavy oak table in the Gastzimmer.  The glasses held a cool local wine that washed down trout caught that afternoon, and every sight and sound – the voices, the wine-glasses, the stone mugs and the furniture shining with the polish of a couple of centuries – brought it closer to a Weinstube by the Rhine or the Necker.  When István retired, Angéla and I sat on in the great smokey room holding hands, deeply aware that it was the last night but one of our journey.  There are times when hours are more precious than diamonds.  The gable-windows upstairs surveyed a vision of unreality.  The moon had triumphed over the mute fireworks to the east and the north and all the dimensions had been re-shuffled.  We lent on the sill, and when Angéla turned her head, her face was bisected for a moment, one half silver, the other caught by the gold glow of lamplight indoors.’ (“Between the Woods and the Water”, p 154)

Balasha Cantacuzene (Angéla), Romanian Princess

Balasha Cantacuzene (Angéla), Romanian Princess

"Sighisoara", 2008

“Sighisoara”, 2008

"R, Ciuc beer and ceramic candleholder of the Shoemaker's House, Sighisoara", 2008

“R, Ciuc beer and ceramic candleholder of the Shoemaker’s House, Sighisoara”, 2008

Our trip to Romania in 2008 in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor had a profound affect on me and I began my own journey making a series of work called “Tales from the East” upon our return.  “The Cupboard” a drawing from this series, was of a painted corner cupboard in the Szekély style that furnished the blue cottage we stayed in at Micloșoara, Transylvania.

"The Cupboard", black Biro drawing, 2009 by Jane Lee McCracken http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_4657731.html

“The Cupboard”, black Biro drawing, 2009 by Jane Lee McCracken

Before I discovered Patrick Leigh Fermor, “A Time of Gifts”, Proust was the most beautiful writer I had read, he wrote art.  Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ethereal prose is so exquisite and rich I only ever managed two pages at each sitting in order to savour every phrase and image conjured. Patrick Leigh Fermor began his epic walk from Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933 when he was just 18 years old and chronicled his journey in “A Time of Gifts” and its sequel “Between the Woods and the Water”.  He feeds our thoughts of run away travel, of exotic Europa with its diverse landscapes, cultures and jewels of buildings and people, of halcyon times lost forever to war.  But above all it’s the sense of freedom he bestows as he roams across a blithe youth full of promise and adventure, capturing and bottling his journey as a gift for us of an inimitable perfume and through its fragrant notes he gives us back our own precious lost hours.

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor

N.B. My husband bought me Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor and although I wanted to read it I delayed, waiting for news about “the last book”.  Leigh Fermor planned a third volume about the final part of his journey to Constantinople but suffering from writer’s block he was unable to finish it in his life time.  ‘The Broken Road From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos’ has been published post-humously bringing together two texts he left behind.  I hope Santa is good to me!  But there’s another reason I haven’t read his biography yet.  Patrick Leigh Fermor is the boy walking through pre-war Europe, the soldier and hero of WWII in “Ill Met By Moonlight”, W. Stanley Moss, and the intellectual who gave us “Mani” and “Roumeli”; he is legendary and maybe I’d rather he remains for me as the person he presents through his own beautiful words.

"A Time For Gifts", Patrick Leigh Fermor

“A Time of Gifts”, Patrick Leigh Fermor

For further information about ‘The Cupboard’ drawing please visit:  http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_4657731.html

Luxury Archival Pigment Prints of ‘The Cupboard’ are available from:  http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_11377802.html

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One thought on “175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor

  1. Pingback: 175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor | www.dogonthepitch.co.uk

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