Category Archives: labor

Meeting a Transylvanian Rabbi, 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. 210-213:

My interlocutors looked bewildered when I tried to explain my reasons for not staying at home. Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn’t quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly—I couldn’t think of the word at first—and when I found it—“for fun”—it didn’t sound right and their brows were still puckered. “Also, Sie treiben so herum aus Vergnügen?” The foreman shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. “Es ist a goyim naches!” they said. ‘A goyim naches,’ they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy’s delight or gentile’s relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head.

The initial reserve of the other dwellers in these mountains had not lasted long; nor did it here: but the Jews had other grounds for wariness. Their centuries of persecution were not ended; there had been trials for ritual murder late in the last century in Hungary and more recently in the Ukraine, and fierce deeds in Rumania and pogroms in Bessarabia and throughout the Russian Pale. Slanderous myths abounded and the dark rumours of the Elders of Zion had only been set in motion fifteen years earlier. In Germany, meanwhile, terrible omens were gathering, though how terrible none of us knew. They came into the conversation and—it seems utterly incredible now—we talked of Hitler and the Nazis as though they merely represented a dire phase of history, a sort of transitory aberration or a nightmare that might suddenly vanish, like a cloud evaporating or a bad dream. The Jews in England—a happier theme—came next: they knew much more than I, which was not hard; and Palestine. Sighs and fatalistic humour spaced out the conversation.

Everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafés, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Würste und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original, and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvellous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on the willows: this they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn.

By this time the other-worldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished—touched, too—that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews—“not like us”—employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good-night with laughter.

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Emblematic Attire in Transylvania, 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. 156-158:

But all along my itinerary the chief difference between country Hungarians and Rumanians had been the wide-skirted tunic or shirt, caught in by a wide belt, which the Rumanians wore outside their trousers. Both dressed in white homespun linen, but the Hungarians’ shirts always buttoned tightly at the throat; their trousers were unusually wide from the waist down and sometimes pleated, which almost gave them the look of long skirts. Gatya Hosen, István called them; these were often replaced by loose black breeches and shiny knee-boots. But here the peasants, almost to a man, wore narrow white homespun trews like tights stitched together out of felt. Across the Hungarian plain and in Transylvania, the women’s clothes had been varying all the time. Each village and valley enjoined a different assembly of colours and styles: braids, tunics, lace, ribands, goffering, ruffs, sashes, caps, kerchiefs, coifs and plaits free or coiled: a whole array of details announced whether they were betrothed, brides, married, spinsters or widows. Sometimes coifs framed these heads like spathe and spadix; among Saxons, they shot up in stiff scarlet cylinders. There were bodices, flowing or panelled sleeves, embroidery, gold coins at brow or throat or both, aprons front and back, a varying number of petticoats and skirts jutting at the hips like farthingales, and occasionally these were accompanied by coloured Russian boots. This village finery gave all gatherings a festal air, especially as the level of beauty among Hungarian and Rumanian girls was very high. Populations were inclined to remain aloof; but the more they overlapped and mingled—Magyar, Rumanian, Serb, Slovak, Saxon, Swabian and sometimes Armenian and perhaps some Ruthenes in the north—the more striking they looked. Their everyday dress was a sober version of their gala outfits; but these exploded on feast-days and at weddings in ravishing displays. Clothes were still emblematic, and not only among peasants: an expert in Rumanian and Hungarian symbols, looking at the passers-by in a market-place—a couple of soldiers, a captain in the Ros, iori [= Roșiori], an Ursuline prioress, a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, a Poor Clare, an Hasidic rabbi, an Armenian deacon, an Orthodox nun, a Uniat archimandrite, a Calvinist pastor, an Augustinian canon, a Benedictine, a Minorite friar, a Magyar nobleman, an ostrich-feathered coachman, a shrill-voiced Russian cab-driver, a bear-leading Gypsy with his spoon-carving fellow-tribesmen, a wool-carder, a blacksmith, a drover, a chimney-sweep, a woodman or a waggoner, and above all, women from a dozen villages and ploughmen and shepherds from widely scattered valleys and highlands—would have been able to reel off their provenances as swiftly as a herald glancing along the flags and surcoats of a fourteenth-century battle.

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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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Learning Magyar on the Go, 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. 60-62:

Later, as Malek and I tittuped past a sleepy railway-halt called Pusztapo, the scene clears a bit; its name has stuck only because of its oddity. Hamlets like this were hardly more than a row of thatched cottages on either side of the dusty way. Sometimes I would stop and buy some oats; when the word kocsma over a door or painted in white on a window-pane indicated a tavern, I would dismount and sit on the bench among the budding hollyhocks over a small glass of a fierce country schnapps called seprü, or cseresznye, when made of cherries. Sometimes, blinking in the sun and the dust, a waggoner or two might be on the same bench and, though we were incommunicado, I was among friends at once because of the prevalent sympathy for horses: Malek’s fine looks won all hearts, and everyone stroked him. “Nagyon szép!” they would murmur, “Very beautiful” or “Az egy szép ló,” “He’s a fine horse…” (Sketchy vocabularies are jotted in the journal here and there: zab, oats; ló, horse; lovagolok, I ride; lovagolni fogok, I will ride; lovagolni fogok holnap Mezötúrra, I will ride to Mezötúr tomorrow. Gyönyörü! excellent or first class, it continues, and Rettenetes!, terrible! and so on.) Sitting with the reins loose in my hands under the transparent leaves of the acacias, I felt like a lone cowboy venturing among little-known tribes and the Gypsies and the shepherds with their tomahawk-staves supplied corroborative detail.

When a village fell behind, we were alone once more in a flat and now familiar landscape, half desert and half sown, with its flocks and its herdsmen and its solitary sweep-wells and its cloud-processions along the horizon. In the late afternoon we were picking our way through another enormous herd of cattle with those long straight horns. Soon Gypsy hovels appeared and a straggle of kilns and sheds and thousands of bricks set out to dry and a rambling overgrown churchyard; then solider houses multiplied and we were on the outskirts of the substantial country-town of Mezötúr.

Smaller than Szolnok, it was a place of some consequence nevertheless. (Between two coffee-houses in the main street with kávéház helpfully inscribed across their fronts, another shop-window full of cosmetics and lotions and pictures of women with lowered lids stroking their soft complexions had a mysterious superscription: Szépség Szálón. After a few seconds’ delay, like the working of a slow calculating machine, ‘Beauty Parlour’ came to the surface…) Many of the shops had Jewish names, German in origin but spelt in the Hungarian way. Others were simple Hungarian words—Kis, Nagy, Fehér, Fekete—which may have been translations of Klein, Gross, Weiss and Schwarz, changed during Magyarising drives in the past. A grocer called Csillag—Stern?—set me on the right track for stabling. There were plenty of horses about and many country carts; old and battered four-wheelers with their hoods down waited patiently under the leaves or trundled about in the dusty evening light. Down a back lane at the stables I fell in with an ex-student called Miklos Lederer. He had just been apprenticed to a chemist; when Malek had been watered and fed, he helped me carry all the tack to a room in the house where he had taken digs. Half Hungarian and half Swabian, he too spoke German. Like everyone else at this time of the day, we strolled about the town, while busy swallows whisked by; there was something indefinably oriental in the atmosphere of the place. (I only discovered later on that south of varying parallels of latitude the corso—this universal evening promenade—was a phenomenon that stretched all the way from Portugal to the Great Wall of China.)

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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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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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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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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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