Category Archives: France

Fall of the Dakotas after 1815

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 155-156:

In the summer of 1815, seven months after the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. officials invited the western Indians to a council at Portage des Sioux just north of St. Louis. Two thousand Indians showed up, and Americans made treaties with Lakotas, Mdewakantons, Wahpekutes, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Yanktons. The pithy compacts pardoned past aggressions and brought the Sioux under the protection of the United States. The Americans understood the last article as a corroboration of U.S. jurisdiction over the Sioux, but the seventy-two Sioux delegates who touched a pen probably understood it as a confirmation of the prewar status quo whereby Americans traded with them without dictating to them. When U.S. soldiers began building an unauthorized fort at Prairie du Chien a year later, Mdewakanton chiefs approached British agents in the upper Great Lakes, pleading for help in preventing their “final extinction.” It was only when the agents refused them that the chiefs realized that they would have to face the United States without British counterweight. Their fall from power was shockingly fast.

Left alone to face the Americans, Dakotas were soon reeling. In 1818 Benjamin O’Fallon, a newly appointed U.S. agent for the Sioux and William Clark’s nephew, led two heavily armed keelboats up the Mississippi and Minnesota to stop Canadian incursions and establish American authority in the region—an enterprise that echoed his uncle’s famous expedition fourteen years earlier. O’Fallon found the Sioux divided and quarrelling over trade. At a Mdewakanton village, chief Shakopee, “ferocious and savage,” complained that his warriors lacked guns and could not contain their Chippewa enemies. O’Fallon urged them to “be always last in war” and place their faith in “the Great Spirit.”

Cut off from the British trade and political support, the Mdewakantons accepted O’Fallon’s gifts—a little whiskey and some goods—and demands. Within a year the U.S. Army started planning a military fort at the Mississippi-Minnesota junction on lands Pike had purchased fourteen years earlier.

O’Fallon had succeeded where Lewis and Clark had failed. While the Corps of Discovery had inadvertently prompted Lakotas to strengthen their hold of the Missouri and its peoples, O’Fallon had extorted from Dakotas a tacit acceptance of a military fort on their lands. Fort Snelling was in operation by 1820 and was soon accompanied by St. Peter’s Indian agency. The complex marked the beginning of a growing American presence in Dakota lives. It became a hub for the growing fur trade, which soon cut into the region’s animal populations, creating food shortages and entangling Dakotas into chronic wars over hunting privileges with Chippewas and Ho-Chunks [aka Winnebago]. Indian agents tried to mediate, but they lacked the know-how to be effective. Things came to head in 1827 when Mdewakantons and Wahpetons killed two Chippewas in a council at Fort Snelling under a U.S. flag. The fort commander, Josiah Snelling, imprisoned several Dakota warriors and demanded the culprits be turned over to him in return for their release. He was given a few men whom he handed over to Chippewas. Chippewas let them run before shooting them down. Then they scalped them in front of the shocked American officials.

A century earlier, less than fifty miles downriver from Fort Snelling, the French had built Fort Beauharnois to serve Dakotas. That trading fort had been the focal point of a deep Dakota-French accommodation that stabilized the upper Mississippi Valley, fueled the expansion of the fur trade west of the Great Lakes, and made the Dakotas the dominant power in the interior. Now the region’s dominant fort was a military establishment that heralded U.S. sovereignty over the Mississippi Valley, monitored the Dakotas, and staged U.S.-sponsored public executions of Dakota people.

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Why the Lakota Migrated West

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 47-49, 83:

The long struggle for allies, trade, and relevance had been spearheaded by the four Dakota [council] fires, the Mdewakantons, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes. They had played a key role in the birth of the all-important Sauteur [Ojibwe] alliance and in nurturing the relationship with the French, and their lands around Mde Wakan [Mille Lacs Lake] were the place where most foreigners sought access to the Sioux. To the outsiders they seemed “the masters of other Scioux.” But the long struggle involved all seven fires. No oyáte [‘people, tribe’] or thióšpaye [‘local band’] was immune to the seemingly endless blows or denied the rewards when they finally came.

Distance shielded the Lakotas, the westernmost Sioux division, against the hardest blows—the massacres, the repeated border conflicts, the exasperating indifference of French traders. They remained a shadowy, enigmatic people to the French, who caught only glimpses of them. They were “Nations Tintonha,“The Inhabitants of the Meadows,” who lived in the West “certain Seasons of the Year.” Eventually, to facilitate deepening western excursions, growing numbers of Lakotas moved permanently west of the Mississippi. By the late 1690s the French knew the lands around the upper Minnesota Valley as the Lakota domain—“Pays et Nations des Tintons”—and few years later Le Sueur was struck by the geographical and cultural distance that separated Lakotas from their eastern kin: they did not gather wild rice or use canoes, and they kept to “the prairies between the Upper Mississippi and the river of the Missouris” where they had no fixed villages.

What to the French seemed a Lakota detachment from the eastern Sioux was actually a part of a larger strategy of fueling the growing fur trade. When the trade took off, Sioux needed large quantities of castor: one gun cost approximately ten skins of winter beaver, and the thousands of Sioux warriors needed thousands of guns. The greatest castor reserves lay to the west, in lands still beyond the fur trade’s long tentacles but within Lakotas’ reach. Each fall Lakota bands left for the western prairies beyond the forest line, spending months in scouring the rivers and streams for thickly furred beavers and living in light deerskin lodges. While there, they lived off the bison, which seemed to grow more abundant with distance, and clashed with the resident hunter-farming peoples who saw them as invaders. Already in the late 1680s the the Arikara Indians on the Missouri River—more than two hundred miles west of the Lakota domain—seem to have been engaged in grueling wars with the westering Lakotas.

By the turn of the century the Lakotas were a growing and often violent presence on the tall-grass prairies west of the Minnesota River. But they were sojourners, not conquerors. They were in the West, but the West was not theirs. Each spring they returned east to the precious prairie-forest ecotone where they could enjoy one of the best diets on the continent. There, they reconnected with their kin, traded skins for iron, shared the calumet, and reaffirmed their place in the world as one of the Seven Council Fires. Sicangu Lakotas came together with their kin every seven years to make offerings to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, Great Spirit, and reaffirm their interconnectedness.

Lakotas were suspended between western promises and eastern realities. Their firsthand experience of the new world of Indians and Europeans was limited, but they knew its challenges and opportunities intimately through their eastern relatives whose sufferings and successes were theirs. They knew what not having allies or guns meant, and they had learned that people were capable of astonishing violence to secure them. They knew that the world had changed irrevocably and that no one could ignore the European newcomers and their wašíčuŋ [superhumans]. And they knew that this new world was an unforgiving place where people often were expiring if they were not expanding.

When Lakotas finally pushed into the West in the early eighteenth century, drawn by its tremendous possibilities, they carried with them a specific set of convictions about the world. They would have to adapt to new western realities, but so too would the West have to adjust to theirs.

By the mid-eighteenth century the Sioux had shifted shape many times over. They had opened their lands and villages for real and potential allies—Sauteurs [Ojibwe], Cheyennes, Mesquakies [Fox], Frenchmen, and many others—while contending with numerous rivals as they struggled to find a place in the rapidly changing world. They had reached out to Onontio [‘Great Mountain’, the French colonial governor] far in the East—Sioux visits to Montreal had become almost commonplace—while expanding aggressively in the West. The boundary of the four Dakota oyátes shifted gradually west and south from Mde Wakan as bands sought safety from violence and trade along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers; Lakotas expanded their domain all the way to the Mníšoše [Missouri R.] in search of beaver, bison, horses, and captives. Along the way they pushed aside the Iowas, Otoes, Omahas, and Poncas, turning the prairies into a shatter belt of displacement and destruction—a western version of the mid-seventeenth-century Iroquois shatter zone in the Great Lakes. As Lakotas gradually took over the vacated lands, they turned the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ [Seven Council Fires] into a territorial giant that commanded nearly one hundred thousand square miles of land—the second largest Indigenous domain in North America after the rising Comanche empire in the southern Great Plains.

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European Islets, Indigenous Sea, 1600s

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Seventeenth-century North America was a vast Indigenous ocean speckled with tiny European islands. The Spanish, English, and French newcomers claimed vast chunks of the continent through the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius (no one’s land), but such claims mattered little on the ground where the Indians controlled the balance of power. Through shrewd diplomacy, warfare, and sheer force of numbers, the Indians held the line. In 1700 French settlement remained tethered to the St. Lawrence and a small foothold on the mouth of the Mississippi, and the Spanish possessions amounted to two isolated clusters of missions in New Mexico and in Florida. English settlers were more numerous and assertive, but they too huddled on the margins, expanding up and down the coastal lowlands rather than inland. Conquistador fantasies stayed alive, but they were becoming increasingly detached from reality.

Yet, wherever they planted themselves, the colonists were a force to be reckoned with. Their fringe outposts were pockets of dense military-technological power that could shape developments far beyond their borders. The Europeans fought, dispossessed, and enslaved nearby Indians, whose ability to resist was severely compromised by disease epidemics. The more distant Indians in the interior required more subtle measures, for the colonists could not simply rely on pathogens to obliterate them. Numerous and fiercely independent, the interior Indians could be neither killed nor commanded; they needed to be cajoled and co-opted. The key instrument for achieving this was a frontier post. Europeans thought of trading posts and missions—military forts would come later—as means to claim and control faraway lands. Indeed, an inland post brought the frontier into existence and demarcated it by announcing that the lands around and behind it belonged to the people who had built it. Posts made empires.

Such ideas were laughable to the Indians, who thought that land belonged to those who lived on it and whose ancestors lay in it. They almost invariably welcomed trading posts and missions on their lands because they were concrete expressions of the newcomers’ largesse—both material and spiritual—and of their willingness to share their power. A trading post was particularly desired because it signaled a commitment to a particular people and its needs. This is why the Indians competed so fiercely to secure them. A single post could dramatically change their fortunes by opening access to the new technologies that had irrevocably changed the parameters of the possible. Reliable access to guns, powder, and iron was a promise of safety, prosperity, and otherworldly power, while lacking them spelled hurt, retreat, and shame.

At the turn of the century Sioux knew both sides of the equation. Since the 1650s they had seen how French trading posts proliferated in the western Great Lakes among their enemies, rendering them horribly vulnerable. An alliance with Sauteurs [Ojibwe] in the late 1670s punctured the imagined wall that cast them as outsiders. They had their own post from 1685 onward and, at last, a secure access to firearms. Guns gave military teeth to their overwhelming demographic strength, making them the epicenter of interior politics. French officials saw them as the last best hope to contain the Iroquois and save New France, and they worked hard to integrate them into their alliance system. For decades Sioux had grappled on the margins of the bustling Indian-European world of trade and alliance that had emerged in the east; now that world began to converge around them, bestowing them with substance and power. They now had options and, it seemed, time to weigh them.

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Alternate Names for the Sioux and Others

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 96ff.

I use the word “Sioux” in this book as a cover term for seven related and allied people or oyátes: the Lakotas, Yanktons, Yanktonais, Mdewakantons [aka Mille Lacs Lake], Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes, who together formed the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires. Sioux is a French corruption of Ojibwe word “Nadouessioux” which means “snake” and thus enemy. Here I use Sioux when describing events or action that involve more than one or all peoples or oyátes; the alternative would have been to list each group in every instance. Although problematic, “Sioux” remains the most common English term used by Lakotas and non-Natives alike, and many modern Lakota oyátes identify themselves as Sioux tribes. “Dakota” is a cover term for the four eastern people, the Mdewakantons, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes.

The spelling of Lakota words follows New Lakota Dictionary, edited and compiled by Jan Ullrich (2008; 2nd ed., Lakota Language Consortium, 2011). I have used Lakota names for the seven Lakota tribes or oyátes unless a French or English name is dominant in the literature: Hunkpapas (“head of camp circle entrance”), Minneconjous (“plant by water”), Oglalas (“scatter one’s own”), Sans Arcs (“without bows”), Sicangus (“burned thighs,” hence the French term Brulés), Sihasapas (“Blackfeet”), and Two Kettles (“two boilings”). As for other Native nations, I have used their preferred spellings of their names: Odawas rather than Ottawas; Mesquakies rather than Foxes; Wyandots rather than Hurons; and Ho-Chunks rather than Winnebagos.

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America’s Flatboat Era

From Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure, by Rinker Buck (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2022), Kindle pp. 28-29:

Historic periods rarely begin at a single, defined moment, and the flatboat era’s antecedents dated back more than forty years. The reason, mostly, was war, and the American passion for cleansing desirable new lands of their indigenous peoples. During the French and Indian War and the Revolution, and then again during Mad Anthony Wayne’s Ohio campaign against the Shawnee and the Miami during the Northwest Indian War in the 1790s, agents dispatched by British and then American army quartermasters had sailed southwest on the Ohio and the Mississippi in flotillas of flat-bottomed barges or keelboats, to trade Monongahela flour and whiskey for imported gunpowder, muskets, and bayonets in New Orleans. The bustling munitions trade between the Americans and the Spanish authorities in Natchez and New Orleans during the Revolution set the tone for the next one hundred years, when wartime needs accelerated transportation improvements on the rivers. During the Revolution, Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana and Cuba, was openly pro-American and even led successful expeditions against British forts at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola. His sponsorship of arms smuggling along the Mississippi is still regarded as a decisive contribution to the American cause, and after independence Gálvez was awarded honorary American citizenship.

The success of the arms supply routes along the Mississippi midwifed the new commercial era, opening the Ohio and Mississippi corridor to a fresh, ambitious cast of players. By the late 1790s, French trading firms, mostly backed by investors from Philadelphia, had taken over the old military routes and established a reliable network of shipping agents along the Monongahela, the Great Falls at Louisville, and at Natchez and New Orleans. During the same period, according to one historian’s estimate, more than nine hundred “settler” flatboats bearing pioneers for the Kentucky frontier cast off every year from western Pennsylvania. These rakish boats, measuring fifty or sixty feet long, were particularly colorful, loaded bow to stern with everything a family, or several families, needed to carve a homestead out of the Kentucky forests. A fenced area in the stern carried horses, cattle, pigs, and goats, and the settlers’ boats were often called “arks,” after the fabled vessel of Noah in the Book of Genesis. A log cabin for the family to sleep in was built mid-vessel, and planting seed and flintlock powder were stowed in watertight barrels on the deck. Pioneers with less money to spend simply threw up a crude canvas tent on the deck and roped their milk cow and horses to the sides. Children romped in play spaces between the tents. After 1788, when the federal government issued the first land warrants in the West for Revolutionary War veterans, more than five thousand veterans from Virginia alone, including Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather, headed over the mountains with their families on these floating farms, plying the Indiana and Kentucky banks of the Ohio and its tributaries in search of likely homesites to clear.

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Albania and Montenegro: Tough Transitions

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 247-248:

Because the decades of Communist autarky only further decimated the already weak polity, the 1990s saw massive corruption and bouts of anarchy undermine an embryonic democratic system that was buffeted by social upheaval, as masses of people deserted the countryside and rushed into the cities. But near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a more nuanced picture began to emerge amid dramatically higher living standards among part of the population, and a commercial transformation and revitalization of the cities. Albania had joined NATO in 2009 and was possibly on a path toward membership in the European Union. It had avoided ethnic and religious conflict and had proper, peaceful relations with its Balkan neighbors—no mean feat considering the epic and bloody past.

Nevertheless, organized crime and endemic corruption had become major elements of daily life. Albania, as I write, is still a deeply divided and weak democracy. An opposition leader has accused the government of promoting “narcotraffickers, pimps, even killers as Members of Parliament.” The U.S. State Department and Europol have declared Albania the largest producer of cannabis and the key gateway for heroin into Europe. In 2016 Albanians “came second only to Syrians as asylum seekers in Germany and France. More than 42 per cent of the population live on less than $5 a day,” reports Besart Kadia, executive director of the Tirana-based Foundation for Economic Freedom. While the long, historical ages of extreme isolation have receded, Albania remains a world removed from Italy, less than fifty miles to the west across the narrowest point of the Adriatic.

Albania and Montenegro both are, in developmental terms, places where Europe ends and also begins. Geographically they are unquestionably part of Europe, even as their mountainous topographies have tempered the influence of the Mediterranean. Moreover, historically and culturally they have been mightily shaped by the long centuries of often weak rule by the Ottomans, whose imperial footprint was planted mainly in the Near East. These are in many respects Europe’s borderlands, which Europe cannot disown. If Europe makes any claim to universal values, it has no choice but to find a way to spiritually incorporate these two far-flung outposts of imperial Venice.

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Paddy Offends Willie, 1957

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 5015ff.

Ann [Fleming] had been invited to stay at the Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat by Somerset Maugham, then in his eighties and living in retirement with his partner, Alan Searle. On her arrival she found a letter from Paddy, urging her to arrange an invitation. Paddy was duly invited to lunch, and arrived (according to Ann) with ‘five cabin trunks’ (according to Paddy, all he had was one zippered holdall), ‘parcels of books and the manuscript of his unfinished work on Greece strapped in a bursting attaché case’. Paddy made himself very agreeable at lunch. He and Maugham exchanged memories of the King’s School, Canterbury, and Maugham asked him to stay on for a few days. All went well until dinner that night.

Maugham had lived with a pronounced stammer since childhood. In his novel Of Human Bondage, which deals with the misery of his schooldays, the stammer is turned into a limp. Paddy knew the book and had been hearing the stammer all day, but neither sufficed to stop him from putting his foot in it. The first jokey reference to stuttering passed without comment, but the second was more serious. Maugham had just staggered through a sentence to the effect that all the gardeners had taken the day off because it was the Feast of the Assumption. At this point, Paddy recalled being in the Louvre in front of a painting of the event, with his friend Robin Fedden (who also had trouble getting his words out): ‘and Robin turned to me and said “Th-th-that’s what I c-c-call an un-w-w-warrantable assumption.” There was a moment’s silence – the time needed for biting one’s tongue out.’

The evening was wrecked. When the other guests left, Maugham turned to Paddy and said, ‘G-goodbye, you will have left by the time I am up in the morning.’ After their host had retired, Ann described Paddy breaking the silence with a cry of anguish, as he slammed his whisky glass on the table ‘where it broke to pieces and showered a valuable carpet with blood and splinters’. Ann helped Paddy pack the following morning, and as he picked up his bag and walked to the door, Paddy heard ‘a sound like an ogre’s sneeze’. The monogrammed linen sheet had caught in the zip, leaving a great tear a yard long.

Ann Fleming and Diana Cooper, who was staying nearby, persuaded Maugham to have Paddy back to lunch to make up. ‘It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed no more than a few syllables.’ Maugham was perfectly polite, but he had had enough of Paddy. He was later heard to describe him as ‘that middle-class gigolo for upper-class women’.

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Guest in a Benedictine Monastery

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3920ff.

When Paddy turned up on the doorstep unannounced one Sunday afternoon, he had no idea whether the monks would be willing to take him in or not. But he was allowed in and shown to a cell, a high seventeenth-century room overlooking a courtyard. It contained a bed, a prie-dieu, a crucifix and a table. Meals were taken in silence, in the enormous refectory hall. Working at the coalface of salvation, the monks spent several hours a day in church, and several more in study, private prayer and meditation. All that was required of the guests was to obey the rules set out for them.

How different the Benedictines were to the raki-swigging, pistol-packing, ballad-singing monks he had known in the monasteries of wartime Crete. These pale cowled figures, who were never seen to smile or frown, seemed to him barely alive. It was impossible to work in this suffocating, tomb-like place. By nine o’clock – just when his friends in Paris were beginning to think about how to spend the evening – the whole monastery was asleep. Paddy slept badly the first few nights, falling into deep wells of hopeless misery. By day he was restless and tired. This was followed by a period of intense lethargy, when he found himself – for almost the first time in his life – spending more hours asleep than awake.

He emerged from this period of narcolepsy feeling not only refreshed, but revitalized in a way that was quite new to him. He began to understand how the monastic rule conserved energies that, in real life, were dissipated in ‘conversations at meals, small talk, catching trains, or the hundred anxious trivialities that poison everyday life. Even the major causes of guilt and anxiety had slid away into some distant limbo . . . This new dispensation left nineteen hours a day of absolute and god-like freedom.’ Paddy spent it walking in the autumnal forests around the abbey, while at night he worked in front of the pile of manuscripts, maps of the Caribbean islands, and photographs of the Central American jungle.

Almost a month was spent at Saint-Wandrille, which went from being a sepulchre to a sanctuary. He felt he could not impose on the monks much longer, but work was progressing and he did not want to break the monastic spell. It could also be that he was rather nervous of the direction Joan wanted their relationship to take. ‘I got the curse so late this month’, she wrote in one letter, ‘that I began to hope I was having a baby, and that you would have to make it into a legitimate little Fermor. All hopes ruined this morning.’

He returned to Paris filled with resolution, but soon felt the need for another monastic immersion. This time he went to the great monastery of Saint-Jean-de-Solesmes on the river Sarthe, where the tradition of plainchant had been revived under its founder, Dom Prosper Guéranger. Again the monks welcomed him, but ‘I’m not enjoying Solesmes quite as much as I did Saint-Wandrille . . . There are many more monks here, everything is much more organized and impersonal.’ The long cold passages, and the swing doors with frosted glass panes, gave him that sinking feeling of going back to school. However, ‘I am working like anything at the moment, and in spite of Benzers [benzedrine tablets, sent to him by Joan] I feel absolutely exhausted.’ In between bouts of writing he read in the vast and well-catalogued library.

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Leigh Fermor’s Intelligence Training, 1940

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 2085ff.

On release from hospital in early February, Paddy went to stay with his sister Vanessa. He had high hopes of joining the Karelian campaign, in which the Finns were fighting off a Soviet invasion. He had heard about a unit that was going to support the Finns and he was keen to join, but was still too weak; Finland was then forced to concede to Russia’s demands. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were very interested in the fact that Paddy spoke French, German, Rumanian and Greek, and with the situation in the Balkans developing fast they offered him a commission. If he took it, he would be spared any more training at the Guards Depot, but he still clung to the hope of a commission in the Irish Guards.

He had an interview with the regiment’s commander. There was no opening for him in the Irish Guards at present, Lieutenant Colonel Vesey told him; indeed, he might have to wait for months before the opportunity arose. Although most regiments at this time were desperate for young officers, Vesey was in no hurry to commission this particular cadet: one of Paddy’s reports had described his progress as ‘below average’. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were offering immediate employment and the opportunity to return to Greece.

The Intelligence Corps uniform was not very romantic, and he disliked the cap badge – a pansy resting on its laurels, as it was disparagingly known. But the lure of Greece was strong, and financially he could not afford to wait for a place in the Irish Guards. Paddy began his officer training in the Corps in early May, stationed at the 168th Officer Cadet Training Unit at Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot. Here he learned how to keep records of enemy movements, how to read and make maps, and how to assemble and coordinate intelligence. There was also much to absorb about the formation of the German army, and he tried to learn the Gothic deutsche Schrift. One of his fellow trainees was Laurens van der Post. Years later, on a television show with Paddy, van der Post recalled the moment they heard about the fall of France. The news left everyone shocked and aghast, van der Post recounted, except for Paddy ‘who was writing a poem about a fish pond in the Carpathians, and he didn’t really take it in until he had finished the poem’. Slightly embarrassed, Paddy added, ‘Well, I was pretty smitten after that.’

Soon Free French soldiers who wanted to continue fighting began to appear at Ramillies Barracks, and word went round that the Corps was looking for people who would be willing to be parachuted into occupied France. Paddy volunteered, and was rather offended when they rejected him. He spoke the language fluently and was widely read in French literature: why was he passed over? That the selectors were looking for quiet, inconspicuous people seems not to have crossed his mind. His training finished on 12 August. The final, prophetic remarks on Paddy’s report were written by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Bingham: ‘Quite useless as a regimental officer,’ he wrote, ‘but in other capacities will serve the army well.’ Paddy himself had very mixed feelings about his future. ‘I looked forward to my new life with interest and misgiving. It was rather like going to a new school.’

Second Lieutenant Fermor was ordered to proceed to the Intelligence Training Centre in Matlock, Derbyshire, where he was to take two month-long courses: one on war intelligence, and another on interrogation. The training centre, filled with polyglot officers, was housed in Smelton’s Hydro – ‘a castellated, bleak and blacked-out Victorian pile perched high above the rushing Derwent’. His initial reaction to the place was ‘Bedlam in a Morte d’Arthur setting’, made more depressing by the fact that all the windows were blacked out; but there were compensations. One of the perks of being an officer was that Paddy now had a batman, Geoffrey Olivier – ‘my first soldier-servant. It was peculiar to think that I would probably never shine a button or spit and polish a toe-cap again.’

The war intelligence course was hard work. Lectures were interspersed by long spells ‘scrambling over the Derbyshire hills . . . making out strategical and technical plans for advancing to, holding, or withdrawing from various features, holding improvised conferences . . . which invariably ended with the Major saying: “Now Leigh Fermor . . . What information have we about the enemy in the sector 22314567 to 4678?”’

In between one course and the next, there was a week’s break which Paddy spent in blitz-torn London. He saw three fires blazing in Piccadilly, while in Berkeley Square, ‘the blaze of an explosion revealed two sides of that sentimental quadrangle in a disordered wreckage of wood and stone. Only one thing remained standing. Perched three stories high on a tottering pinnacle was a white marble privy, glowing shyly in this unaccustomed radiance.’

Thanks to the services of anti-Nazi and Jewish volunteers, much of the interrogation course was conducted in German. One of the secrets of a good interrogation, he learned, was to conduct it while the prisoner had an empty stomach and a full bladder. With friends such as Gerry Wellesley and Osbert Sitwell at Renishaw close by, the high point of this happy time came when someone decided to organize a ball. One of the instructors, Henry Howard, brought over a spectacular couple from nearby Chatsworth: a tall young ensign in the Coldstream Guards, and an incredibly beautiful girl. He was Andrew Cavendish, who in 1950 was to become the 11th Duke of Devonshire; while she was Deborah Mitford, whose sister Diana and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were in prison as pro-Nazi sympathizers. ‘Funny, Howard bringing that Mitford girl,’ said someone when they had gone. ‘After all, this is meant to be the Intelligence Training Centre, and there is a war on.’

Another of the Matlock instructors was Stanley Casson, ‘donnish, witty and slightly disreputable’, a Greek scholar and archaeologist who had had a lot to do with the British School of Archaeology in Athens. Casson, who always spoke to Paddy in Greek, was one of the moving spirits of what was to become the Greek Military Mission. The Italians had invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, and Paddy followed their rapid advance with anxiety. When the Greek army began to turn the Italian tide a few weeks later, ‘It was joy and agony mixed’, as he put it: joy that Greece was acquitting herself so well, agony because he was not there. Stanley Casson went to London, and soon after Paddy was told to join Casson’s Greek Military Mission.

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Byzantine Proustians of Bucharest, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 184-188:

Historians have been united in execrating the Phanariots. They have inherited the opprobrium that used to load the word ‘Byzantine’ with suggestions of flexibility, deviousness, lack of scruple, greed and tyranny. But there are signs that the Phanariots, too, are gradually being reassessed. It may be argued that their greed and corruption were laced by zeal for the Orthodox faith and that their share in the foreign affairs of the Ottomans, which the later sultans largely and most unwisely entrusted to them, was dictated as much, or almost as much, by anxiety for the Christian cause as it was by private ambition. It is possible that without their flexibility and genius for compromise, the principalities would have sunk into total subjection to the Ottoman yoke: that all the old national institutions, instead of degeneration, would have been obliterated completely, as they had been in the rest of south-eastern Europe. In nearly every family there was a prince with virtues to offset, in some measure, the vices of his kinsmen. Since the end of their long regime, many of their descendants have been prominent and devoted figures in Rumanian life, both in conservation and reform. But whatever their drawbacks may have been, in the period of their great ascendancy, the eighteenth century, in one thing they were pre-eminent: they were the only civilized people in south-eastern Europe. The Phanar itself was the last surviving fragment of lost Byzantium, and the courts of Bucharest and Jassy the last, faint, scarcely audible echo of the empire’s death rattle.

It was not only on their wealth but on their knowledge of languages and their wider European horizons, in a world of fanatic barbarism, that their oligarchy was based. From the first, when they became Grand Dragomans of the Porte, they were friends of literature and art; the first Rumanian bible was translated by the orders of Sherban Cantacuzene of Wallachia, and with all his faults, a figure as polished as Alexander Mavrocordato, Byron’s and Shelley’s friend and a leader in the Greek revolt, could have sprung from no other East European soil. They studied in Venice, Padua, Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg and it was mainly due to their civilized and cosmopolitan influence that Western ideas penetrated Rumania. The influence of French ideas, and the total linguistic hegemony of France among the elite, may have gone too far; there were certainly regrettable social side effects; but it did bring a vivifying blast of the Western world, a sort of belated renaissance, into the stifling isolation of the Middle Ages which Rumania was only just sloughing off.

All these different influences, it occurred to me later on (for I knew little or nothing of such matters then), had evolved into a society which was a mixture of late Byzantium and Proustian France. The architectural mood of Bucharest, after it had arisen from its oriental beginnings, was an amalgam of Second Empire and the fin-de-siècle, with a dash of early twentieth-century opulence. The modern buildings were irrelevant postscripts. A strong whiff of the earlier period hung unmistakeably in the social air: a climate which had also been subtly modified, during the last few generations, by a stern army of English nannies and governesses. But it left the bedrock of French influence among the boyars undisturbed, the result of a hundred years of study in the lycées of France and the Sorbonne, and of inhabiting Paris as an alternative capital.

The same life, in miniature, thrived in Bucharest; the most convincing relic of it was the plush, the brass and the chandeliers of Capșa’s restaurant. I could never tire of hearing tales of this not yet wholly evaporated epoch. Although it is the last period in history I would have liked to inhabit, there is an absorbing attraction about the robust, undoubting vulgarity and glitter which held Europe in its grip for these decades. The duels, too, which had played a large part in Rumanian, as well as the rest of European life, outside England – and, to a much lesser extent, still did – exercised a morbid, Dumas-bred fascination. Frequently fatal, they were fought with pistols or rapiers which made encounters with sabres in Austria and Hungary – where only slashing was allowed, but no lunging – sound much more innocuous. It was all frantically alien.

What distinguished these people then, and later, from the rest of pleasure-loving aristocratic Europe was their anti-philistinism: a fastidious passion for erudition for its own sake, for literature, painting, music, sculpture and the movement of ideas, that turned their houses into the haunts of Academicians. (Rather like France, again, Rumania has always been a country where a few women, through their brilliance, wit, beauty or hospitality, have played a more important role than in other countries.) The devotion to writing, in particular, went far beyond literary dilettantism and emerged, in many cases, in works of great distinction. Not alas, in Rumanian, a chauvinist might sigh. But at least these extra-territorial exploits released them from the wheel of patriotic nationalism, to which the poetic and literary genius of resurgent nations is indissolubly bound. Paris after all is no mean arena in which to shine. No wonder that Proust should have been so deeply intrigued by Rumanians in Paris and sought them out as friends.

I have gone on rather a long time about this because it was so different to anything I had come across in similar circumstances in the Danubian capitals further upstream. In Hungary the candlelit talk at the end of dinner would be more inclined to concern shooting or horses, a serious weighing of the comparative merits of bootmakers and saddlers in London or long discussions about mediatization, morganatic marriages, primogenitive quarterings, Hoffähigkeit, the exact degree of cousinage between the Festitich and Fürstenberg families and how many yokes of land the Esterházys owned. So it might, mutatis mutandis, in Bucharest, but not for long.

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