Tuesday, November 27. 2007
Continued from Part 2:
These extracts come from WORDS OF MERCURY (Patrick Leigh Fermor, ed Artemis Cooper, John Murray 2003)
Words of Mercury
a) from the Introduction by Artemis Cooper
It was in Athens that he [PLF] met the first great love of his life, the Rumanian Balasha Cantacuzene. they both wanted to get away from the city - he to write, she to paint: and for many months they lived in an old water mill surrounded by lemon groves, looking out towards the island of Poros [Poros is an island that I know pretty well. I'd plan to write about it soon.-Ed]. They could not live at the mill for ever; and when to time came to go, Balasha suggested that they move to Moldavia, the northernmost province of Rumania, and the home of this branch of the Cantacuzčne princes for generations.
The house was called Baleni, and it is lovingly described in this volume. Here Paddy spent the last years before the war, interspersed with visits to England and France. He was at Baleni when war was declared, and he immediately went back to London to join up, Paddy and Balasha did not meet again till long after the war.....
b) from the article
Rumania-Travels in a Land before Darkness Fell
Daily Telegraph Weekend Magazine, 12 May 1990
In WORDS OF MERCURY, Artemis Cooper prefaces the article with -
The passage is set in Rumania in the mid to late 1930s. It was written after Paddy revisited Rumania in 1990, following the fall of the Ceausescus. In it he recalls pre-war life at Baleni, the estate in Moldavia belonging to his friend Balasha Cantacuzčne, and Helčne ('Pomme') and Constantin Donici, Balasha's sister and brother-in-law. This is where Paddy lived during the months leading up to the declaration of war.
Patrick Leigh Fermor writes in the body of the article -
...before that year was out, I was back in Rumania at a place called Baleni, and for a long time. It belonged to two Rumanian sisters a few years older than I; we had met in Athens where one of them was a painter, and a light-hearted affinity sprang up. I wanted to start writing, we pooled forces, and after a summer and autumn painting and writing in a Peloponnesian watermill, the question arose: where now?
Patrick Leigh Fermor
An answer soon surfaced: 'We've got this tumbledown house in Moldavia. Why not there?' After a journey by sea to Constanza and north from Galatz by train, we got out at a small station where a carriage with an old Polish coachman was waiting: an hour's drive brought us to Baleni. It was a large, rambling, one-storeyed white house with a village and trees and a courtyard fill of friendly dogs, with the wintry dales of Moldavia rolling away all round. To the east, beyond the Prut and the Dniestr, Russia began.
....Plaster flaked from the columns and pediments, and indoors, room opened into room in vistas of Louis Philippe and second Empire furniture. Benevolent or wicked voivodes gazed from the walls in half-Byzantine, half-Slavonic panoplies of fur hats, aigrettes, furred robes and pearls. There would be a western relation or two with powdered hair, boyar descendants with epaulettes and sabres, and some touching girls in crinolines holding flowers and pidgeons and, in this particular house, a handsome great-grandfather called Prince George Cantacuzčne (see here-Ed) , in a Byronic Greek general's costume and scimitar, taking the surrender of the Pasha of Monemvasia [ the Greeks took Monemvasia, in the Pelopennese, in 1821 during the Greek War of Independence-Ed].
...The voices would be talking French rather than Rumanian. The results of this foible (the legacy, as in Russia and Poland, of several generations) were like the conversations on the first page of War and Peace but less silly.
....It would be impossible to fit these two sisters into any category. Sent to school in France and England and finished and brought out all over the place, they were good, beautiful, courageous, gifted, imaginative, immersed in literature and the arts, kind, funny and unconventional; everybody loved them, and so did I.
The husband of one ran the estate and their daughter looked like Millais' Ophelia. In indefinable charm pervaded the house, its inhabitants and all connected with it. Most of the large estate had been lopped away in the agrarian reform. There was little cash about, people were paid in kind by a sort of sharing system; so, in a way, were the owners; and, on the spot, there was enough to go round.
Ophelia, by Millais
...During the next year or two, this was my sheet anchor. There were journeys all over Rumania: a leisurely expedition with horses across north Bessarabia was particularly romantic (now it is entirely annexed by Russia and confusingly renamed 'Republic of Moldavia') - and I can still see the long trestle-tables spread under the oak branches, all set about with jugs of wine and kvass; and there were journeys by canoe in the vast whispering labyrinth where the Danube falls to pieces.
The summer days of 1939, while the peace of Europe disintegrated, were without a flaw. Two of the English guests staying there - Henry Nevile, who had just left school, and I - tore ourselves away in early September to join the army. As we all waved goodbye in the Gara de Nord in Bucharest ('Back in a few months!') we none of us realized how great and how lasting the break would be.
Gara de Nord
To be continued
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