From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle locs. 5580ff & 6120ff.
Rumania in 1965 was just beginning to open up to the non-Communist world, although a meeting with the Cantacuzene sisters would involve considerable risks. As Paddy put it, ‘Mixing with foreigners incurred severe punishment, but harbouring them indoors was much worse . . .’ But it was too good an opportunity to miss, and Balasha and her family felt it was a risk worth taking.
By early June he was in Bucharest, now stripped of its pre-war gaiety, and made contact with Pomme’s daughter Ina who was then working as a draughtswoman in an architect’s office. She met him after work on a borrowed motorbike, and with Paddy riding pillion, they began the eighty-mile journey to the town of Pucioasa in the foothills of the Carpathians. It was a long ride over rutted roads, and by the time Ina let him into the house it was well after dark. They climbed upstairs as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the neighbours, but it was hard to stifle the cries of welcome that greeted his arrival at the top of the house.
Pomme, Constantin and Balasha had been sharing an attic studio since their eviction from Băleni on the night of 2–3 March 1949. On that evening, a small posse of Communist apparatchiks and police had arrived in a truck. Pomme and Constantin were forced to sign a document surrendering ownership of the house, and the family was told to pack a small suitcase each. They were advised to take warm clothes, and told they would be leaving in fifteen minutes. They were taken to Bucharest, where they lived until orders came through that they were to be transferred to Pucioasa.
‘In spite of the interval,’ wrote Paddy, ‘the good looks of my friends, the thoughtful clear glance and the humour were all intact; it was as though we had parted a few months ago, not twenty-six years.’ Hidden behind that carefully worded sentence was the shock of finding Balasha ‘a broken ruin’ of her former self. Though only in her early sixties, she was shrunken by hardship and anxiety; her black hair was grey, her face lined, and she was very deaf. She and Pomme managed to survive by teaching English and French. Constantin, already ill with the heart disease that would kill him two years later, was too frail to work.
‘Their horrible vicissitudes were narrated with detachment and speed,’ he continued. ‘Time was short and there were only brief pauses for sleep on a couple of chairs. The rest of our forty-eight hours – we dared risk no more – were filled with pre-war memories, the lives of all our friends, and a great deal of laughter.’ He had brought new watches for Pomme and Balasha, and later he set up an account for her at the Heywood Hill bookshop so she would never be short of books. He also knew that Balasha had a present for him. On her last night at Băleni, in the fifteen minutes she had been given to pack, she had seized a battered green notebook. It was Paddy’s last journal, the one he had begun in Bratislava in 1934; she now put it into his hands.
He was back home in December, elated and relieved, having been given the all-clear – and then he heard that Balasha was dying of breast cancer. Had she had it treated earlier, she might well have survived; but she had kept the symptoms to herself, refusing to see a doctor until it was too late to operate. It was a decade since Paddy had been to see her in Pucioasa and now he wanted to rush to her bedside, but Balasha forbade him to come: ‘nothing would upset me more,’ she told Pomme to write on her behalf. Her letters to Paddy, and Joan to whom she wrote separately, reveal that she had made a decision to live in books and her memories and expected nothing more from life. She died in March 1976. Seven months later her niece, Ina Catargi, who had taken him to Pucioasa on the back of a motorcycle, was also dead – of lung cancer. Of that generous family which had been such a part of his life only Pomme Donici remained, now bereft of husband, sister and daughter. She arranged for Balasha and Constantin’s remains to be buried in the Cantacuzene family crypt in the cemetery at Băleni, where she eventually joined them in 1983.