Author Archives: Joel

Remnant Placenames in Hungary, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 54-55:

When I had unfolded my map under the carob tree, the Tisza river, flowing south-east to join the Danube, uncoiled straight ahead of my path; I was struck by the place-names scattered beyond the east bank: Kúncsorba, Kúnszentmartón, Kúnvegytöke, and so on. The first syllable, it seemed, meant ‘Cuman’ and the region was still known as Nagykunság or Great Cumania. On my side of the river, a slightly different profusion spread southwards: Kiskúnhalas, Kiskúnfélegyháza, Kiskúndorozsma. ‘Kis’ means ‘little’: they belonged to the region of Kiskunság or Little Cumania.

So this was where the Cumans had ended up! And, even closer to my route, lay a still more peculiar paper-chase of place-names. Jászboldogháza, for instance, only a few miles north; and a bit farther afield, Jászladány, Jászapáti, Jászalsószentgyörgy, and many more… Here the first syllable recalled a more unexpected and still hoarier race of settlers. In the third century BC, the Jazyges, an Iranian speaking branch of the Sarmatians mentioned by Herodotus, were first observed in Scythian regions near the Sea of Azov, and some of them made their way to the west. They were allies of Mithridates—Ovid speaks of them in his Black Sea exile—and, between the Danube and the Tisza, exactly where their descendants finally settled, the Romans had much trouble with them. We know just what these Jazyges looked like from the column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza Colonna. The bas-relief warriors—and their horses, right down to their fetlocks—are sheathed in scale-armour like pangolins. Javelins lost, and shooting backwards in the famous Parthian style, they canter with bent bows up the spiral. Had they left any other traces in the Plain? Any dim, unexplained custom, twist of feature, scrap of language, or lingering turn of phrase? A few sparse reminders of the Pechenegs and the Cumans still flicker about the Balkans; but this entire nation seems to have vanished like will o’ the wisps and only these place-names mark the points of their evaporation.

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Slovak Resentments, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 295-296:

We had hardly said good-bye when a spectacled young man on a bike overtook me and dismounted, with a greeting in Slovak—‘Dobar den,’ I think, instead of ‘jo nápot kivánok’—and asked where I was going. He fell in step beside me [and we conversed in German]. He was a schoolmaster and he enlarged on the past sorrows of Slovakia. It is true that the local villages are Hungarian, but further north they are pure Slovak as far as the Polish border. They had been under the Magyars for a thousand years and always treated as an inferior race, and when any Slovak rose in the world he was promptly seduced into the lesser Magyar nobility—with the result that all local leadership evaporated. Slovak children used to be taken away from their parents and brought up as Magyars. Even when they were fighting the Austrians in defence of their nationality and language, the Hungarians were busy oppressing and Magyarizing their own Slovak subjects. The schoolmaster didn’t seem to like the Czechs much either, though this involved a different kind of resentment. The Czechs, it seems, regard the Slovaks as irredeemable bumpkins, while in Slovak eyes, the Czechs are bossy, petit bourgeois bureaucrats who take unfair advantage of their closeness to the government in Prague. The schoolmaster himself was from northern Slovakia, where—partly thanks to the Hussites, partly to the general spread of the Reformation in east Europe—much of the population is Protestant. I hadn’t realized this. It was touch and go in the Dark Ages whether the Slavs of the North became Catholic or Orthodox. Under the proselytizing influence of SS. Cyril and Methodius—the Byzantine missionaries who invented the Cyrillic script and translated the sacred writings into Old Slavonic—it could easily have been the latter. When I asked why it hadn’t, he laughed and said: “The damned Magyars came!” The link was severed, and the Czechs and Slovaks stuck to Rome and the West.

When he reached his turning he asked me to stay in his village, but I had to press on. He pedalled away with a wave. A nice man.

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Bratislava’s Babylon, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 247-248:

The Schlossberg, the rock which dominates the town with its colossal gutted castle, had a bad name, and I hadn’t climbed many of the steps of the lane before understanding why. One side of the path dropped among trees and rocks, but on the other, each of the hovels which clung to the mountain was a harlot’s nest. Dressed in their shifts with overcoats over their shoulders or glittering in brightly-coloured and threadbare satin, the inmates leaned conversationally akimbo against their door-jambs, or peered out with their elbows propped on the half-doors of their cells and asked passers-by for a light for their cigarettes. Most of them were handsome and seasoned viragos, often with peroxided hair as lifeless as straw and paint was laid on their cheeks with a doll-maker’s boldness. There were a few monsters and a number of beldames. Here and there a pretty newcomer resembled a dropped plant about to be trodden flat. Many sat indoors on their pallets, looking humble and forlorn, while Hungarian peasants and Czech and Slovak soldiers from the garrison clumped past in ascending and descending streams. During the day, except for the polyglot murmur of invitation, it was rather a silent place. But it grew noisier after dark when shadows brought confidence and the plum-brandy began to bite home. It was only lit by cigarette ends and by an indoor glow that silhouetted the girls on their thresholds. Pink lights revealed the detail of each small interior: a hastily tidied bed, a tin basin and a jug, some lustral gear and a shelf displaying a bottle of solution, pox-foiling and gentian-hued; a couple of dresses hung on a nail. There would be a crucifix, or an oleograph of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption, and perhaps a print of St. Wenceslas, St. John Nepomuk or St. Martin of Tours. Postcards of male and female film stars were stuck in the frames of the looking-glasses, and scattered among them snapshots of Maszaryk, Admiral Horthy and Archduke Otto declared the allegiance of the inmates. A saucepan of water simmered over charcoal; there was little else. The continuity of these twinkling hollows was only broken when one of the incumbents charmed a stooping soldier under her lintel. Then a dowsed lamp and the closing of a flimsy door, or a curtain strung from nail to nail, masked their hasty embraces from the passers-by. This staircase of a hundred harlots was trodden hollow by decades of hobnails, and the lights, slanting across the night like a phosphorescent diagonal in a honeycomb, ended in the dark. One felt, but could not see, the huge battlemented ruin above. At the lower end, the diffused lights of the city cataracted downhill.

This was the first quarter of its kind I had seen. Without knowing quite how I had arrived, I found myself wandering there again and again, as an auditor more than an actor. The tacit principle to flinch at nothing on this journey quailed here. These girls, after all, were not their Viennese sisters, who could slow up a bishop with the lift of an eye lash. And even without this embargo, the retribution that I thought inevitable—no nose before the year was out—would have kept me safely out of doors. The lure was more complicated. Recoil, guilt, sympathy, attraction, romantisme du bordel and nostalgie de la boue wove a heady and sinister garland. It conjured up the abominations in the books of the Prophets and the stews of Babylon and Corinth and scenes from Lucian, Juvenal, Petronius and Villon. It was aesthetically astonishing too, a Jacob’s ladder tilted between the rooftops and the sky, crowded with shuffling ghosts and with angels long fallen and moulting. I could never tire of it.

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Heilsarmee Hospitality in Vienna, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 196-198:

We seemed to have been walking for miles in this dim wilderness. At last, not far, I think, from the Danube Canal, we reached a quarter full of sidings and warehouses, and tramlines running over cobblestones glimmered amid dirty snow, and broken crates were scattered about. Under the lee of a steep ramp, a lighted doorway opened at the foot of a large building whose windows were bright in the murk. The policeman left me and I went in.

A large antechamber was filled with a moving swarm of tramps. Each one had a bundle; their overcoats flapped like those of scarecrows and their rags and sometimes their footgear were held together by rusty safety-pins and string. There were Guy Fawkes beards and wild or wandering eyes under torn hat brims. Many of them seemed to have known each other for years. Social greetings and gossip combined in an affable manner and a vague impulse kept them on the move in a shuffling ebb and flow.

A door opened, and a voice shouted “Hemden!”—“Shirts!”—and everyone stampeded towards the door of the next room, elbowing and barging and peeling off their upper clothes as they went. I did the same. Soon we were all naked to the waist, while a piercing unwashed smell opened above each bare torso like an umbrella. Converging wooden rails herded us in a shuffling, insolvent swarm towards a circular lamp. As each newcomer came level with it, an official took his shirt and his under-linen, and, stretching them across the lamp, which was blindingly bright and a yard in diameter, gazed searchingly. All entrants harbouring vermin were led away to be fumigated, and the rest of us, after giving our names at a desk, proceeded into a vast dormitory with a row of lamps hung high under the lofty ceiling. As I wriggled back into my shirt, the man who had taken my name and details led me to an office, saying that a Landsmann of mine had arrived that evening, called Major Brock. This sounded strange. But when we entered the office, the mystery was solved and the meaning of the word Heilsarmee as well. For on the table lay a braided and shiny-peaked black forage-cap with a maroon strawberry growing from the centre of the crown. The words ‘Salvation Army’ gleamed in gold letters on a maroon band. The other side of the table, drinking cocoa, sat a tired, grey-haired figure in steel-rimmed glasses and a frogged uniform jacket unbuttoned at the neck. He was a friendly-looking man from Chesterfield—one could tell he was from The North—and his brow was furrowed by sober piety and fatigue. Breaking his journey on a European inspection tour of Salvation Army hostels, I think he had just arrived from Italy. He was leaving next day and knew as little about events as I. Too exhausted to do much more than smile in a friendly way, he gave me a mug of cocoa and a slice of bread. When he saw how quickly they went down, a second helping appeared. I told him what I was up to—Constantinople, etc.—and he said I could stay a day or two. Then he laughed and said that I must be daft. I untied Trudi’s eggs and arranged them on his desk in a neat clutch. He said “Thanks, lad,” but looked nonplussed about what to do with them.

I lay on my camp-bed fully dressed. A dream feeling pervaded this interior; and soon the approach of sleep began to confuse the outlines of my fellow-inmates. They flitted about, grouping and re-grouping in conversation, unwinding foot-cloths and picking over tins of fag ends. One old man kept putting his boot to his ear as though he were listening to sea-sounds in a shell and each time his face lit up. The noise of talk, bursting out in squabbles or giggles on a higher note and then subsiding again to a universal collusive whisper, rippled through the place with a curious watery resonance. The groups were reduced in scale by the size and the height of the enormous room. They seemed to cluster and dissolve like Doré figures swarming and dwindling all over the nave of some bare, bright cathedral—a cathedral, moreover, so remote that it might alternatively have been a submarine or the saloon of an airship. No extraneous sound could pierce those high bare walls. To those inside them, everyday life and the dark strife of the city outside seemed equally irrelevant and far away. We were in Limbo.

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A Guest in an Austrian Schloss, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 136-138:

The word ‘schloss’ means any degree of variation between a fortified castle and a baroque palace. This one was a fair sized manor house. I had felt shy as I ploughed through the snow of the long avenue late that afternoon; quite baselessly. To go by the solicitude of the trio at the stove-side in the drawing-room—the old Count and his wife and their daughter-in-law—I might, once again, have been a schoolboy asked out for a treat, or, better still, a polar explorer on the brink of expiring. “You must be famished after all that walking!” the younger Gräfin said, as a huge tea appeared: she was a beautiful dark-haired Hungarian and she spoke excellent English. “Yes,” said the elder, with an anxious smile, “We’ve been told to feed you up!” Her husband radiated silent benevolence as yet another silver dish appeared. I spread a third hot croissant with butter and honey and inwardly blessed my benefactor in Munich.

The Count was old and frail. He resembled, a little, Max Beerbohm in later life, with a touch of Franz Joseph minus the white side-whiskers. (Next day he wrote a chit to some private gallery in Linz on the back of a visiting card. After his name was printed: K.u.K. Kämmerer u. Rittmeister i.R[uhestand]. ‘Imperial and Royal Chamberlain,’ that is, ‘and retired Captain of Horse.’ All through Central Europe the initials ‘K.u.K.’—Kaiserlich und Königlich—were the alliterative epitome of the old Dual Monarchy. Only candidates with sixteen or thirty-two quarterings, I learnt later, were eligible for the symbolic gold key that court chamberlains wore on the back of their full-dress uniforms. But now the Empire and the Kingdom had been dismembered and their thrones were empty; no doors opened to the gold keys, the heralds were dispersed, the regiments disbanded and the horses dead long ago. The engraved words croaked loud of spent glories. Rare then, each of those symbols by now must be one with the translucent red button, the unicorn-embroidered robe and the ruby and jade clasp of a mandarin of the first class at the court of Manchus: ‘Finis rerum, and an end of names and dignities and whatsoever is terrene . . .’) I admired his attire, the soft buckskin knee-breeches and gleaming brogues and a grey and green loden jacket with horn buttons and green lapels. These were accompanied out-of-doors by the green felt hat with its curling blackcock’s tail-feather which I had seen among a score of walking sticks in the hall. It was in Salzburg that I had first admired these Austrian country clothes. They were similar in kind, but less splendid in detail, to the livery of the footmen who kept bringing in those silver dishes. There was a feeling of Lincoln green about them, woodland elegance that the Count carried off with the ease of a courtier and a cuirassier.

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Impressions of Bavarians, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 121-123:

“Hans.” “ What?” “Can you see me?” “No.” “Well, the dumplings are enough.”

The inn-keeper’s wife, who was from Munich, was illustrating the difficulties of the dialect by an imaginary conversation between two Bavarian peasants. They are seated on either side of a table, helping themselves from a huge dish of Knödel, and it is only when the plate of one of them is piled high enough with dumplings to hide him from view that he stops. In ordinary German, this dialogue would run: “Hans!” “Was?” “Siehst Du mich?” “Nein.” “Also, die Knödel sind genug.” But in the speech of Lower Bavaria, as closely as I can remember, it turns into: “Schani!” “Woas?” “Siahst Du ma?” “Na.” “Nacha, siang die Kniadel knua.” Such sounds were mooing and rumbling in the background all through this Bavarian trudge.

The inns in these remote and winter-bound thorpes were warm and snug. There was usually a picture of Hitler and a compulsory poster or two, but they were outnumbered by pious symbols and more venerable mementoes. Perhaps because I was a foreigner, politics seldom entered the conversations I had to share in; rather surprisingly, considering the closeness of those villages to the fountain-head of the Party. (It was different in towns.) Inn-talk, when it concerned the regional oddities of Bavaria, was rife with semi-humorous bias. Even then, many decades after Bismarck’s incorporation of the Bavarian Kingdom into the German Empire, Prussia was the chief target. A frequent butt of these stories was a hypothetical Prussian visitor to the province. Disciplined, blinkered, pig-headed and sharp-spoken, with thin vowels and stripped consonants—every “sch” turning into “s” and every hard “g” into “y”—this ridiculous figure was an unfailing prey for the easy-going but shrewd Bavarians. Affection for the former ruling family still lingered. The hoary origins and the thousand years’ sway of the Wittelsbachs were remembered with pride and their past follies forgiven. So august and gifted and beautiful a dynasty had every right, these old people inferred, to be a bit cracked now and then. The unassuming demeanour of Prince Ruprecht, the actual Pretender—who was also the last Stuart Pretender to the British throne—was frequently extolled; he was a distinguished doctor in Munich, and much loved. All this breathed homesickness for a past now doubly removed and thickly overlaid by recent history. I liked them for these old loyalties. Not everyone is fond of Bavarians: their fame is mixed, both inside Germany and out and one hears damning tales of aggressive ruthlessness. They seemed a rougher race than the civilized Rhinelanders or the diligent and homely Swabians. They were, perhaps, more raw in aspect and more uncompromising in manner; and—trivial detail!—an impression remains, perhaps a mistaken one, of darker hair. But there was nothing sinister about the farm people and foresters and woodcutters I spent these evenings with. They have left a memory of whiskers and wrinkles and deep eye sockets, of slurred speech and friendly warmth and hospitable kindness. Carved wood teemed in every detail of their dwellings, for from the Norwegian fiords to Nepal, above certain contour-lines, the upshot of long winters, early nightfall, soft wood and sharp knives is the same. It soars to a feverish zenith in Switzerland, where each winter begets teeming millions of cuckoo clocks, chamois, dwarfs and brown bears.

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Bavarian Woodcutters in Winter, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle p. 117:

The only people I saw outside the villages were woodcutters. They were indicated, long before they appeared, by the wide twin grooves of their sledges, with cart-horses’ crescent-shaped tracks stamped deep between. Then they would come into view on a clearing or the edge of a distant spinney and the sound of axes and the rasp of two-handed saws would reach my ears a second after my eye had caught the vertical fall or the horizontal slide of the blades. If, by the time I reached them, a tall tree was about to come down, I found it impossible to move on. The sledge-horses, with icicled fetlocks and muzzles deep in their nosebags, were rugged up in sacking and I stamped to keep warm as I watched. Armed with beetles, rustic bruisers at work in a ring of chips and sawdust and trodden snow, banged the wedges home. They were rough and friendly men, and one of them, on the pretext of a strange presence and with a collusive wink, was sure to pull out a bottle of schnapps. Swigs, followed by gasps of fiery bliss, sent prongs of vapour into the frosty air. I took a turn with the saw once or twice, clumsily till I got the hang of it, unable to tear myself away till at last the tree came crashing down. Once, arriving on the scene just as the loading of the dismembered tree was complete, I got a lift on the sledge, and swished along behind two of those colossal chestnuts with flaxen manes and tails and ornate jingling collars. The trip ended with more schnapps in a Gastwirtschaft, and a departure sped by dialect farewells. It shot through my mind that if I were up against it further on, I might do worse than hitch on to one of these forest teams, as one of the woodmen half jocularly suggested, and hack away for my keep.

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Bürgermeister Hospitality, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 115-116:

Remembering the advice the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I had arrived in this little village, I had sought out the Bürgermeister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and, apparently, very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travellers.

The Gastwirtschaft [restaurant] was a beetling chalet with cut logs piled to the eaves. An elaborate balcony ran all the way round it; carved and fretted woodwork frilled it at every point and a layer of snow two feet thick, like the cotton-wool packing for a fragile treasure, muffled the shallow tilt of the enormous wide-eaved roof.

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Hitching a Ride in Swabia, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 88-89:

The rain had churned the snow into slush, then blasts from the mountains had frozen it into a pock-marked upheaval of rutted ice. Now, after a short warning drift, the wind was sending flakes along by the million. They blotted out the landscape, turning one side of a traveller’s body into a snowdrift, thatching his head with a crust of white and tangling his eyelashes with sticky scales. The track ran along a shelterless hog’s back and the wind seemed either to lay a hindering hand on my chest, or, suddenly changing its quarter, to kick me spinning and stumbling along the road. No village had been in sight, even before this onslaught. Scarcely a car passed. I despised lifts and I had a clear policy about them: to avoid them rigorously, that is, until walking became literally intolerable; and then, to travel no further than a day’s march would cover. (I stuck to this.) But now not a vehicle came; nothing but snowflakes and wind; until at last a dark blur materialized and a clanking something drew alongside and clattered to a halt. It turned out to be a heavy diesel truck with chains on its wheels and a load of girders. The driver opened the door and reached down a helping hand, with the words “Spring hinein!” When I was beside him in the steamy cabin he said “Du bist ein Schneemann!”—a snowman. So I was. We clanked on. Pointing to the flakes that clogged the windscreen as fast as the wipers wiped, he said, “Schlimm, niet?” Evil, what? He dug out a bottle of schnapps and I took a long swig. Travellers’ joy! “Wohin gehst Du?” I told him. (I think it was somewhere about this point on the journey that I began to notice the change in this question: “Where are you going?” In the north, in Low Germany, everyone had said “Wohin laufen Sie” and “Warum laufen Sie zu Fuss?”—Why are you walking on foot? Recently the verb had been ‘gehen.’ For ‘laufen,’ in the south, means to run—probably from the same root as ‘lope’ in English. The accent, too, had been altering fast; in Swabia, the most noticeable change was the substitution of -le at the end of a noun, as a diminutive, instead of -chen; Häusle and Hundle, instead of Häuschen and Hündchen, for a little house and a small dog. I felt I was getting ahead now, both linguistically and geographically, plunging deeper and deeper into the heart of High Germany . . . . The driver’s Du was a sign of inter-working-class mateyness that I had come across several times. It meant friendly acceptance and fellow-feeling.)

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A Night with a Farm Family, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 73-75:

There was no doubt about it, I thought next day: I’d taken a wrong turning. Instead of reaching Pforzheim towards sunset, I was plodding across open fields with snow and the night both falling fast. My new goal was a light which soon turned out to be the window of a farmhouse by the edge of a wood. A dog had started barking. When I reached the door a man’s silhouette appeared in the threshold and told the dog to be quiet and shouted: “Wer ist da?” Concluding that I was harmless, he let me in.

A dozen faces peered up in surprise, their spoons halted in mid air, and their features, lit from below by a lantern on the table, were as gnarled and grained as the board itself. Their clogs were hidden in the dark underneath, and the rest of the room, except for the crucifix on the wall, was swallowed by shadow. The spell was broken by the unexpectedness of the irruption: A stranger from Ausland! Shy, amazed hospitality replaced earlier fears and I was soon seated among them on the bench and busy with a spoon as well.

The habit of grasping and speaking German had been outpaced during the last few days by another change of accent and idiom. These farmhouse sentences were all but out of reach. But there was something else here that was enigmatically familiar. Raw knuckles of enormous hands, half clenched still from the grasp of ploughs and spades and bill-hooks, lay loose among the cut onions and the chipped pitchers and a brown loaf broken open. Smoke had blackened the earthenware tureen and the light caught its pewter ladle and stressed the furrowed faces, and the bricky cheeks of young and hemp-haired giants…A small crone in a pleated coif sat at the end of the table, her eyes bright and timid in their hollows of bone and all these puzzled features were flung into relief by a single wick from below. Supper at Emmaus or Bethany? Painted by whom?

Dog-tired from the fields, the family began to stretch and get down the moment the meal was over and to amble bedwards with dragging clogs. A grandson, apologizing because there was no room indoors, slung a pillow and two blankets over his shoulder, took the lantern and led the way across the yard. In the barn the other side, harrows, ploughshares, scythes and sieves loomed for a moment, and beyond, tethered to a manger that ran the length of the barn, horns and tousled brows and liquid eyes gleamed in the lantern’s beam. The head of a cart-horse, with a pale mane and tail and ears pricked at our advent, almost touched the rafters.

When I was alone I stretched out on a bed of sliced hay like a crusader on his tomb, snugly wrapped up in greatcoat and blankets, with crossed legs still putteed and clodhoppered. Two owls were within earshot. The composite smell of snow, wood, dust, cobwebs, mangolds, beetroots, fodder, cattlecake and the cows’ breath was laced with an ammoniac tang from the plip-plop and the splash that sometimes broke the rhythm of the munching and the click of horns. There was an occasional grate of blocks and halters through their iron rings, a moo from time to time, or a huge horseshoe scraping or clinking on the cobbles. This was more like it!

The eaves were stiff with icicles next morning. Everyone was out of the kitchen and already at work, except the old woman in the coif. She gave me a scalding bowl of coffee and milk with dark brown bread broken in it. Would an offer to pay be putting my foot in it, I wondered; and then tentatively proposed it. There was no offence; but, equally, it was out of the question: “Nee, nee!” she said, with a light pat of her transparent hand. (It sounded the same as the English ‘Nay.’) The smile of her totally dismantled gums had the innocence of an infant’s. “Gar nix!” After farewells, she called me back with a shrill cry and put a foot-long slice of buttered black bread in my hand; I ate my way along this gigantic and delicious butterbrot as I went, and after a furlong, caught sight of all the others. They waved and shouted “Gute Reise!” They were hacking at the frost-bitten grass with mattocks, delving into a field that looked and sounded as hard as iron.

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