Category Archives: food

Bulgarian Monastery Hospitality, 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. 12-15:

St John of Rila is only surpassed in venerability by SS Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Cyrillic script, and by St Simeon, in Bulgarian hagiography. The great monastery that he founded near his hermitage in these lonely mountains is, in a sense, the most important religious centre in the kingdom. The church, burnt down again and again in the disturbed past of Bulgaria, was rebuilt in the last century. The poor quality of the frescoes which smothered every inch of interior wall space and the brazen proliferation of the ikonostasis was mitigated by the candlelight. The Slav liturgy of vespers boomed out by a score of black-clad and long-haired and long-bearded monks, all leaning or standing in their miserere stalls, sounded marvellous. It continued for hours. Afterwards, charitably singled out as a foreigner, I was given a little cell to myself, although the monastery was so full that villagers were sleeping out with their bundles all over the yard and under the trees. Many more arrived next day and the inside of the church virtually seized up with the pious multitude. There were an archbishop and several bishops and archimandrites besides the abbot and his retinue. They officiated in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes. They evolved and chanted in aromatic clouds of smoke diagonally pierced by sun shafts. When all was over, a compact crocodile of votaries shuffled its way round the church to kiss St Ivan’s ikon and his thaumaturgic hand, black now as a briar root, inside its jewelled reliquary.

For the rest of the day, the glade outside the monastery was star-scattered with merrymaking pilgrims. At their heart an indefatigable ring of dancers rotated in the hora to the tune of a violin, a lute, a zither and a clarinet, ably played by Gypsies. Another Gypsy had brought his bear with him; it danced a joyless hornpipe and clapped its paws and played the tambourine to the beat of its master’s drum. A further castanet-like clashing came from an itinerant Albanian striking brass cups together, pouring out helpings of the sweetish, kvass-like boza from a spigot in a tasselled brass vessel four feet high, shaped like a mosque, its Taj Mahal dome topped by a little brass bird with wings splayed. Kebab and stuffed entrails were being grilled in culinary tabernacles as bristling with spitted and skewered meat as a shrike’s larder. Slivo and wine were reaching high tide. The lurching kalpacked villagers offered every newcomer their circular flasks of carved wood. (Elaborate woodwork plays a great part in the lives of Balkan mountaineers from the Carpathians to the Pindus in Greece, where it reaches its wildest pitch of elaboration. The same phenomenon applies to the Alps: the conjunction of harsh winters, long evenings, soft wood and sharp knives.) Under the leaves, a party of bright-aproned women sat round the feet of a shaggy bagpiper pumping out breathless pibrochs.

On the edge of this vast Balkan wassail I fell in with a party of students from Plovdiv. Like me they had come over the mountains, and were camping out. The most remarkable of these was an amusing, very pretty, fair-haired, frowning girl called Nadejda, who was studying French literature at Sofia University: a nimble hora dancer and endowed with unquenchable high spirits. She was staying on at the monastery three days to do some reading, which was exactly the length of my intended stay. We became friends at once. Apart from the stern rule of Mount Athos, women are just as welcome guests as men in most Orthodox monasteries. Bestowing hospitality seems almost the entire monastic function and the atmosphere of these cloisters is very different from the silence and recollection of abbeys in western Christendom. With its clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures and the cheerful expansiveness of the monks, life was more like that of a castle in the Middle Ages. The planks in the tiers of galleries and catwalks were so worn and unsteady that too brisk a footfall would set the whole fabric shaking like a spider’s web. The courtyards are forever a-clatter with mules. The father Abbot, the Otetz Igoumen, a benign figure with an Olympian white beard and his locks tied in a bun like a lady out hunting, spent most of his day receiving ceremonial calls: occasions always ratified, as they are everywhere else south of the Danube, by offering a spoonful of sherbet or rose petal jam or a powdery cube of rahat loukoum, a gulp of slivo, a cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of water, to help along the formal affabilities of the visit.

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Entering Bulgaria, 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. 5-6:

The way lay south through the roll of the Danubian hills and plains. They were tufted with woods. Here and there a green blur of marsh expanded and the road was plumed with Lombardy poplars. Let us stride across this riparian region in seven-league boots and up into the Great Balkan range. This immense sweep – the Stara Planina, as it is called in Bulgaria, the Old Mountain – climbs and coils and leapfrogs clean across northern Bulgaria from Serbia to the Black Sea, a great lion-coloured barrier of lofty, rounded convexities, with seldom a spike or a chasm: open, airy sweeps and rounded swellings mounting higher and higher to vast basin-like valleys and hollows where one could see the white road paying itself out ahead for miles and twisting among copses and hillocks and past the scattered flocks until it disappeared over the ultimate khaki slope. Now and then I would fall in with long caravans of donkeys and mules – their place was taken by camels in the south-east, towards Haskovo – and strings of carts. The lighter of these were drawn by horses – tough little animals and gangling, hollow-flanked jades – and the heavier, laden with timber, by black buffaloes that lurched stumblingly along under heavy yokes, their eyes rolling and their moustache-like and crinkled horns clashing against their neighbours. The wooden saddles of the horses, ridden side-saddle with moccasins dangling, looked as unwieldy as elephants’ howdahs. Watermelons were the chief merchandise, and giant basket-loads of tomatoes and cucumbers and all the garden stuff for which the Bulgarians are famous throughout the Balkans. Each village was surrounded by tiers of vegetable beds and every drop of water was husbanded and irrigated through miniature aqueducts of hollow tree trunk. ‘Where was I from?’ the fur-hatted, horny-handed men would ask. ‘Ot kadè? Ot Europa? Da, da’, from Europe. ‘Nemski?’ No, not German: ‘Anglitchanin.’ Many seemed vague about England’s whereabouts. And what was I? A voinik, a soldier? Or a student? A spion perhaps? I got my own back for these questions by extorting in return, with the help of interrogatory gestures, a basic vocabulary: bread, chlab; water, voda; wine, vino; horse, kon; cat, kotka; dog, kuche; goat’s cheese, siriné; cucumber, krastavitza; church, tzerkva. These exchanges carried us many miles.

 

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Transylvanian Harvest Season, 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. 139-142:

The summer solstice was past, peonies and lilac had both vanished, cuckoos had changed their tune and were making ready to fly. Roast corn-cobs came and trout from the mountains; cherries, then strawberries, apricots and peaches, and, finally, wonderful melons and raspberries. The scarlet blaze of paprika—there were two kinds on the table, one of them fierce as gunpowder—was cooled by cucumber cut thin as muslin and by soda splashed into glasses of wine already afloat with ice; this had been fetched from an igloo-like undercroft among the trees where prudent hands had stacked it six months before, when—it was impossible to imagine it!—snow covered all. Waggons creaked under loads of apricots, yet the trees were still laden; they scattered the dust, wasps tunnelled them and wheels and foot-falls flattened them to a yellow pulp; tall wooden vats bubbled among the dusty sunflowers, filling the yards with the sweet and heady smell of their fermentation; and soon, even at midday, the newly distilled spirit began to bowl the peasants over like a sniper, flinging the harvesters prostrate and prone in every fragment of shadow. They snored among sheaves and hay-cocks and a mantle of flies covered them while the flocks crammed together under every spread of branches, and not a leaf moved.

Behind the thick walls and the closed afternoon shutters of the kastély [manor house], sleep reigned fitfully too, but resurrection came soon. The barley was already in and István was busy with his reapers and the last of the wheat. (In Hungary, the harvest began on the 29th of June, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, but it was a bit earlier hereabouts.) … After the long weeks of sickles and scythes and whetstones, it was threshing time. Old machines were toiling away and filling the valleys with their throbbing, driven by engines with flapping belts and tall Puffing Billy chimneys expanding in a zigzag at the top. Up in the mountains, horses harnessed to wooden sledges and rollers for shelling the grain trotted round and round on circles of cobble. Winnowing followed, when clouds of skied grain sparkled and fell and then sparkled again as the next wooden shovelful transfigured the afternoon with chaff. The sacks, carried off in ox-carts, were safe in the barns at last. If the waggoners were Rumanians, instead of crying “stânga!” or “dreaptă!” in their native tongue when they wanted their oxen to turn left or right (or “jobb!” or “bal!” in Magyar if they were Hungarians) they would shout “heiss!” [hăis] and “tcha!” [cea].  I had first noticed these arcane cries when buffaloes were being coaxed or goaded along. István thought that the Turks had first brought these animals here, probably from Egypt, though they must originally have come from India. But the words are neither Turkish, Arabic, Romany, Hindi nor Urdu.

July brought a scattering of younger Transylvanians and their relations in search of refuge along the river valley from the heat of Budapest, which summer had turned into one of the great tropical cities of the world. There were parties and picnics and bathing, and tennis at István’s till it was too dark to see the ball, on a court sunk among thick trees like a shady well; and feasting and singing round pianos in those long disintegrating drawing-rooms, and sometimes dancing to a gramophone. A few of the records were only a year or two out of date, many much older: Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Blue Skies, Lazybones, Love for Sale, Saint Louis Blues, Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise. In case of need, István was revealed as a proficient pianist—“but only for this sort of stuff,” he said, vamping, syncopating, honky-tonking and glissandoing away like mad; then, spinning completely round on the piano-stool, he ended with a lightning thumbnail sweep of the whole keyboard from bass to treble.

The village calendar was starred with feasts and saints’ days and weddings. Gypsies throve, the sound of their instruments was always within earshot and the village squares were suddenly ringed with great circular wreaths of dancers in wonderful clothes with their hands on each others’ shoulders, a couple of hundred or more: and the triple punctuating stamp of the horă and the sârbă, falling all together, would veil all their bravery for a moment in dust-clouds. (I learnt all these dances later on.) It was at night that they impinged most insistently, especially on the eve of a wedding, when the groom and his paranymphs went through the slow stages of a mock abduction. If the rhythms of High Hat, The Continental or Get Along, Little Dogie flagged for a moment among the faded looking-glasses and sconces and portraits in the kastély, staccato cries, high-pitched and muted by distance, as the bride was hoisted aloft, would come sailing up from the village below and through the long windows. “Hai! Hai! Hai! Hai!” The dancing was spurred on late into the night by the new apricot brandy, and the fiddles and zithers and clarinets and double-basses were heckled by the distant yelping of wild rustic epithalamia; then strings, hammers and the shrill reeds would be drowned once more by Dinah, and our own hullabaloo under the chandeliers.

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Musical Rapture and Melancholy, 1934

This one’s for Dumneazu.

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. 62-63:

We shared a paprika chicken in an eating-house and had coffee out of doors. Then noise and music enticed us into a much humbler vendéglö full of shepherds and drovers. They were tough, tousled and weather-beaten fellows in knee-boots or raw-hide moccasins lashed on with thongs, and they wore small black hats and smoked queer-looking pipes with lidded metal bowls and six-inch stems of reed or bamboo; the collars of the smarter ones, worn with no tie, were buttoned with apoplectic tightness. The instruments of the Gypsies were a violin, a ’cello, a double-bass, a czembalom and, most improbably, an ornate harp, chipped and gilded and six feet high between the knees of a very dark harpist; his sweeps across the strings added a liquid ripple to the languor and the sudden fury of the tunes. Some of the customers were groggy already: spilt liquor, glassy eyes and benign smiles abounded. Like all country people venturing into towns, new arrivals were shy and awkward at first, but this soon dissolved. One rowdy tableful, riotously calling for wilder music and for stronger wine, was close to collapse. “They will be in tears soon,” Miklos said with a smile, and he was right. But they were not tears of sorrow; it was a sort of ecstasy that damped those wrinkled eye-sockets. I learnt about mulatság for the first time—the high spirits, that is, the rapture and the melancholy and sometimes the breakage that the stringed instruments of Gypsies, abetted by constant fluid intake, can bring about. I loved this despised music too, and when we got up to go after a couple of hours, felt touched by the same maudlin delectation. A lot of wine had passed our lips.

I wonder how much Cuman and how much Jazygian blood mingled with Hungarian in the veins of all these revellers?

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Eliciting Romany 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. 44-47:

Three camp-fires, spreading spokes of light through the tree-trunks, lit up the canvas of tents and shapes of men and horses. A party of Gypsies had settled for the night by yet another sweep-well, and our arrival caused bewilderment. Except for the fires, there was no glimmer in any direction and I saw, half with excitement and half with a touch of fright, that we would have to spend the night there. I had heard many hair-raising stories about Gypsies recently and I was chiefly scared about Malek. … Shaggy and unkempt, they were the darkest Gypsies I had ever seen. Some of the men wore loose white Hungarian trousers, the others were in ordinary town clothes and black hats, all in the last stage of decay. … Beautiful girls, flounced and bedraggled in green and yellow and magenta, stared with effulgent eyes. Beyond the fires there was a munching of unyoked oxen; horses were hobbled under the branches and a couple of mares grazed loose with tall foals beside them. Dogs bickered and snarled and the poultry, loosed from their travelling coop, pecked about the dust. Black and brown tents were stretched over crossed poles and the ramshackle style and the jumbled scattering of household stuff gave no hint of a thousand or two thousand years’ practice in pitching camp; except for the reeds and withies and the half-woven baskets on which brown hands were already busy, the whole tribe might have fled half-an-hour ago from a burning slum. I think they were heading for the banks of the Tisza to cut a new stock.

I escaped the hubbub for ten minutes by walking Malek up and down before watering him at the trough, where a man called György helped with the bucket. I had been wondering whether to tether Malek to a tree; there were some oats and a headstall in the saddle-bag, but the halter was far too short for him to graze. Best to hobble him as the Gypsies had done with theirs, but I had no idea how to set about it. György showed me, linking Malek’s forelegs with a neat figure of eight. I was anxious about this: Malek couldn’t have been used to it; but he behaved with great forbearance. I gave him some of his feed and some hay from the Gypsy, then took the saddle and tack and settled with the rest of them by the fire.

Thank heavens, their informal supper was over! Apart from hedge-hogs, delicious by hearsay, the untoothsomeness and even danger of their usual food were famous. There was a sound of rattling metal: a dog was licking out a cooking-pot by the fire. Seeing my worried look, a girl of ten, who had just begged for a cigarette, hurled an accurate stone at the dog, which scuttled off with a surprised yelp; then, tossing up the vessel so that it caught on a convenient twig, she coiled to the ground again with an indulgent smile as she let the smoke stream lazily from her nostrils. The chief item of [his last host] Berta’s supplies was a salami nearly a yard long, ribboned half-way down with the national colours. I made a good impression by cutting off a third and handing it over; it was the signal for a brief uproar of grabs and curses and blows. Then thirty pairs of eyes, accompanied by a soft chorus of whispers, watched raptly as I ate a sandwich and an apple. I took three fast gigantic gulps out of my wine-bottle before surrendering it. They seemed half-fascinated; also, and I couldn’t make out why, half-alarmed by my presence: perhaps all strangers, except as prey, boded ill. We were incommunicado at first; but I had been alerted by what the oldest man had said to György before he helped me give Malek a drink: the mumbled sentence had ended, I thought, with the word pani—immediately recognisable, to anyone at all in touch with Anglo-India, as the Hindi for water. When I pointed questioningly at the water-jar and asked what was inside, they said “Víz,” using the Magyar word; I cunningly answered, “Nem [not] víz! Pani.” There was a sensation! Bewilderment and wonder were written on their firelit features. When I held up the fingers of my hand and said “Panch!”—the word for five in both Hindi and Romany (öt, in Magyar), the wonder grew. I tried the only other words I could remember from Lavengro, pointing to my tongue and saying “Lav?”; but drew a blank; tchib was their word for it. I drew another blank with “penning dukkerin,” Borrow’s—or rather Mr. Petulengro’s—word for ‘fortune-telling.’ But I had better luck with the word petulengro itself, at least with the first half. The whole word (‘horseshoe-master’ in Borrow, i.e. blacksmith) caused no reaction, but when I cut it down to petul, and pointed to the anvil, a small boy dashed into the dark and came back holding up a horseshoe in triumph.

As soon as they got the hang of it, each time I pointed at something with a questioning look, back came the Gypsy word. Most of them laughed but one or two looked worried, as though tribal secrets were being revealed. A finger pointing to Heaven, and “Isten?” (the Magyar word for God), at once evoked the cry of “Devel!,” which sounds odd at first; until one thinks of Deva in Hindi and its probable Sanskrit ancestor.

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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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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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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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A Night in a German Workhouse, 1933

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. 46-47:

I asked a policeman where the workhouse was. An hour’s walk led to a sparsely lit quarter. Warehouses and the factories and silent yards lay deep under the untrodden snow. I rang a bell and a bearded Franciscan in clogs unbarred a door and led the way to a dormitory lined with palliasses [tick mattresses] on plank beds and filled with an overpowering fug and a scattering of whispers. A street-lamp showed that all the beds round the stove were taken. I pulled off my boots and lay down, smoking in self-defence. I hadn’t slept in a room with so many people since leaving school. Some of my contemporaries would still be there, at the end of their last term, snug, at this very moment, (I thought as I fell asleep) in their green curtained cubicles, long after their house-master’s rounds and lights out with Bell Harry tolling the hours and the night-watchman’s voice in the precincts announcing a quiet night.

A long stertorous note and a guttural change of pitch from the next bed woke me with a start. The stove had gone out. Snores and groans and sighs were joining in chorus. Though everyone was fast asleep, there were broken sentences and occasional laughs; random explosions broke out. Someone sang a few bars of song and suddenly broke off. Lying in wait in the rafters all the nightmares of the Rhineland had descended on the sleepers.

It was dark in the yard and still snowing when the monk on duty supplied us with axes and saws. We set to work by lamplight on a pile of logs and when they were cut, we filed past a second silent monk and he handed each of us a tin bowl of coffee in exchange for our tools. Another distributed slices of black bread and when the bowls had been handed in, my chopping-mate broke the icicles off the spout of the pump and we worked the handle in turn to slosh the sleep from our faces. The doors were then unbarred.

My chopping-mate was a Saxon from Brunswick and he was heading for Aachen, where, after he had drawn blank in Cologne, Duisburg, Essen and Düsseldorf and combed the whole of the Ruhr, he hoped to find work in a pins-and-needles factory. “Gar kein Glück!” he said. He hunched his shoulders into his lumberjack’s coat and turned the flaps of his cap down over his ears.

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