A TIME OF GIFTS: On Foot from the Hook of Holland to Middle Danube by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A TIME OF GIFTS: On Foot from the Hook of Holland to Middle Danube

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Rucksack on his back, ""scrapes and upheavals and fitful streaks of promise"" behind, the author sailed from a London wharf in December 1933 for Rotterdam; he was eighteen, and set on walking to Constantinople. ""A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!"" Hundreds, thousands of minute observations mark Fermor's passage across Holland, up the Rhine, along the Danube, into Vienna, the Slav world, and Prague, so that his chronicle comes to resemble a miniaturist's landscape, even--in its crowded eventlessness--a petitpoint tapestry. True, National Socialism in an issue in Germany, and the apolitical ""British student"" finds himself caught between pros and cons. At Stuttgart he is taken in by two cheerful girls--music students--and spends a wintry weekend sharing confidences and ""drinking Annie's father's wine."" Penniless in Vienna--the result of foolishly tipping a chauffeur--he sketches portraits from house to house on the urging of a gentle Ichabod Crane from the Frisian Islands. Konrad, however, is the book's only rememberable character, for Fermor himself merges with the scenery once London is left behind. He sees, he writes, he reflects with acuity. In Holland, ""numberless slow-motion museum afternoons [are] summoned back to life,"" and Fermor understands why the falling Icarus is secondary to Breughel's plowed fields and plowman. The transparent spire of Ulm Minster disappears ""into a moulting eiderdown of cloud,"" and ""a russet-scaled labyrinth of late medieval roofs embeds the baroque splendors"" of strange, Mitteleuropa Prague. Did Bohemia have a seacoast once? The reader who, reminded of A Winter's Tale, wonders with Fermor, will find him splendid company en route to this and other select discoveries.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row