Category Archives: travel

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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From Ethnic to Criminal Networks

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 229-230:

A middle-aged writer, who comes to Montenegro often from an adjacent country, informs me soon after I arrive:

“The real issue here is the security problem on account of the cocaine wars between gangs located in the suburbs of Kotor. This is a function of the corruption, the nepotism, and the weak government institutions. Whoever runs the casinos runs Montenegro, so you don’t ask who runs the casinos. Criminal networks flourish at the same time as the building of resorts near the Adriatic. There is money here, I mean. Without the clans there is no mafia, but without the clans there is also no tradition. If you don’t hire your relatives, you’re a bad guy. Everyone privately cries for Tito. They want him back. Under Tito, there were almost no gangs, no rapes, much less drugs, more safety, more security, dignity to life. You didn’t have to worry about what could happen to your kids like you do now. People were not so rich and not so poor as today. And so what if you couldn’t vote every few years.”

With the exception of Slovenia, safely tucked inside Central Europe, this is the refrain that I have heard throughout the former Yugoslavia where the rule of law has sunk shallow roots and thus atavistic allegiances thrive. Of course, this is all a legacy of Communism, which Tito himself inflicted upon everyone. Except that in Montenegro I have reached a geographical juncture in my travels—far to the south and deep in the mountains—where the ethnic politics I observed in a place like Croatia has deteriorated into (and been replaced by) outright criminality.

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Trieste at the Edge of Empires

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 103-106:

Trieste signals a fault zone. It is a city that has hosted Romans from the West, Byzantines from the East, Goths, Venetians, Napoleon’s empire, the sprawling and multiethnic Habsburg Empire, Italy, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, and Italy again since 1954. That last handover took years of diplomatic wrangling, as if to confirm that Trieste’s very location—on a spit of territory that could have been placed in either Italy or Yugoslavia—constitutes proof of Trieste’s unstable position on the map. The mid-twentieth-century American journalist John Gunther noted that between 1913 and 1948, Trieste lived under no fewer than five different occupations. The race between Allied and Communist Yugoslav forces for control of Trieste in May 1945 was arguably the first major confrontation of the Cold War, perhaps providing a “reference point” for President Truman in the later crises of the Berlin blockade and the Korean War.

Trieste marks the borderline not only between the Latin world and the Slavic one, but also between the Latin world and the German one. Indeed, this city of Italians, Germans, Austrians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and so on registers Mitteleuropa, with its own unparalleled cosmopolitanism, broadening out into an international civilization. Though, if this neoclassical, utilitarian, and commercial city has one cultural identity or spirit above others, it might be that of the Austrian Habsburgs, who ruled here between 1392 and 1918, except for a short Napoleonic interlude.

Trieste does indeed put empire on your mind. I visit the castle of Miramare, just north of the city, built with round porthole-like windows by Maximilian, the younger brother of Franz Joseph, who believed that the Habsburgs had no choice but to control the Adriatic. It is a monument to imperial delusion…. Maximilian, who believed deeply in liberal reform as a means of preserving and sustaining empire, was fated (of all things!) to go to far-off Mexico in 1864 as its new emperor—encouraged by his wife—only to be executed by indigenous revolutionaries three years later, completing his dark and tragic imperial fantasy.

Trieste reminded historian and travel writer Jan Morris “poignantly of the passing of all empires, those seductive illusions of permanence, those monuments of hubris which have sometimes been all evil, but have sometimes had much good to them.” Because empires, by definition, are often multinational and multiethnic, it is when empires collapse that “racial zealotry,” in Morris’s words, can rear its head. When the Italians seized Trieste from the Habsburgs in 1919, they closed Slovene schools in the city and tolerated violence against the Slavs. When the Yugoslavs arrived in the city in 1945, they reopened the Slovene schools and forced many Italians to change their names. In 1946, when Morris first saw Trieste, the writer “pined” for a cohesive and “distilled” Europe, and imagined this city as “the ghost of that ideal.” But the “false passion of the nation-state,” Morris continues, “made my conceptual Europe no more than a chimera.” History isn’t over, though. And as Morris says in old age, “One day the very idea of nationality will seem as impossibly primitive as dynastic warfare or the divine right of kings…a hobby for antiquarians or re-enactment societies.”

In the present day, the port of Trieste will soon sign an agreement with Duisburg, the world’s largest inland port, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers in western Germany, with the aim of increasing traffic on the new Silk Road that China is organizing. Trieste will acquire through Duisburg access to the northern—land—part of the Silk Road that terminates at the Pacific; while Duisburg will acquire by way of Trieste access to the southern, maritime Silk Road that runs through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. A postmodern, multinational imperial system may re-emerge, this time supervised by the Chinese, and encompassing Trieste. A few months hence, I will get a message from a friend about “Chinese, Russian, American, and Mitteleuropean investors competing for bases in the port here—the second great opportunity after Maria Theresa,” during whose reign the city became a vibrant, multiethnic hub. Yes, Trieste always did prosper under a big project—this time maybe with the Chinese, who will make Trieste another imperial reference point.

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Republic of Venice, 726-1797

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 74-76:

Norwich writes: “Venice, alone of all the still-great cities of Italy, was born and brought up Greek…. Long after she shed her dependence on Constantinople, she continued to turn her back on Italy and to look resolutely eastward; the nightmare tangle of medieval Italian politics, of Guelf and Ghibelline, Emperor and Pope…none of this was for her.” Doges used Byzantine honorifics. The Venetian ruler’s dress was modeled on that of the Byzantine exarch. Byzantine girls were sent to Venice to marry; Venetians sent their sons to finish their education in Constantinople. Venice’s political links with Byzantium helped shield it from the quarrels among the other city-states of Italy, with their rapidly shifting tactical alliances that were the epitome of amorality. Because a rival commercial system, run by Arabs, stretched across North Africa and the Middle East, Venice became crucial to Constantinople as a Byzantine outlet to Europe. The Venetian model of beauty, as exemplified by the low domes and small windows of Saint Mark’s, recalling Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was mainly Eastern.

Of course, the underpinning of Venice’s fortuitous separation from the rest of Italy was at root geographical. That great lagoon, the few miles of shallow water that protected Venice from the mainland in all its aspects, allowed it to focus eastward toward Byzantium, and, in addition, was the savior against Saracens, Magyars, and other invaders in the early centuries of Venetian independence. The lagoon, by confining Venetians to so restricted a space, also fostered internal cohesion. “Among Venice’s rich merchant aristocracy,” Norwich explains, “everyone knew everyone else, and close acquaintance led to mutual trust of a kind that in other cities seldom extended far outside the family circle.” The result was efficient administration by which risky trading ventures, involving vast outlays of capital, “could be arranged on the Rialto in a matter of hours.” Neither utopian nor egalitarian, Venice represented the triumph of a closed elite. Optimism was banned, unless it could be grounded in facts and percentages. (It was from such a tightly woven merchant aristocracy that Marco Polo, the late-thirteenth-century Venetian explorer of China and Central Asia, originated—of whom more later.)

Without the lagoon and the canals—without the presence of water, that is—Venice simply would not have had the beauty that endowed its population with such love of their city-state: it was a love of the polity, rather than that of one man or king. This, and the internal peace they enjoyed, fostered a “humaneness of feeling” that, as Berenson suggests, made Venetians “the first really modern people in Europe.”

What ensues, with its succession of eighty-four doges from 726 to 1797, is a thousand-year history as long, intricate, dense, intoxicating, and overwhelming as that of Byzantium itself, mind-numbing in its constant intrigues and periodic insurrections. It is a comparatively dim and opaque canvas that produced few giants and larger-than-life heroes (Pietro II Orseolo, who governed toward the end of the tenth century, being one exception to this rule), for trade and commerce, dull as these things are, reduce the long-term impact of bloodshed and its accomplice, glory. Because it is so thematically uninspiring, Venetian history is generally hard to remember, and for the literate, non-expert public is known best through the works of Shakespeare—who uses Venice as a somewhat shameless and cynical backdrop to reveal vulnerability and passion contained in everyone, Moor and Jew alike, people otherwise depicted as one-dimensional and therefore uninteresting in his day.

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Operation Magic Carpet, 1945-46

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 261-262:

With broad vision, two years before VJ Day, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall anticipated the need to return millions of servicemen to their homes. He raised the subject as early as 1943, and after D-Day in June 1944 some planners thought that VE Day might dawn by year’s end. But whenever the timeframe, some essential factors forced themselves upon joint staffs.

First was the need for large-capacity staging areas and processing facilities, not only in Europe but in the much broader expanse of the Pacific. Internal concerns within the U.S. included receiving ports and railroads capable of absorbing huge numbers of personnel and delivering them to “separation centers” in every state.

Paramount was shipping, as the vast majority of returnees had to travel by sea. The U.S. Navy was only marginally available at the time, with millions of tons of vessels committed to the two-phase invasion of Japan in November 1945 and March 1946. Therefore, heavy reliance was placed upon Army and Merchant Marine ships with some augmentation by Coast Guard vessels.

Tasked with finding enough hulls to meet the demand, the War Shipping Administration (WSA) came through. Shortly after VE Day it identified nearly 550 vessels capable of carrying useful numbers of personnel.

In the actual event, absent Operation Downfall, the Navy suddenly afforded a huge bonus for Operation Magic Carpet. Ten aircraft carriers, six battleships, and 26 cruisers were hastily modified to accept cheek-by-jowl accommodations for troops who willingly endured long days and nights at sea, returning to “Uncle Sugar.”

Within two months of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender announcement, more than 700 ships of all types were available, notably Liberty and Victory cargo ships. Foreign vessels obtained for the project included origins as diverse as Panama and Italy.

The record for returning troops home belonged to the veteran aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3), which embarked some 29,000 grateful veterans, as fleet carriers were among the fastest ships afloat. But for maximum capacity, living space was likened to cramming 12 pounds into a ten-pound bag. The new carrier Lake Champlain (CV-39), only commissioned in June, was altered to accept 3,300 bunks. On her first Magic Carpet mission she set a transatlantic record of 32 knots, only surpassed by the liner United States in 1952.

The millions of personnel returned from war zones were not limited to American servicemen. The Army and WSA allocated 29 troop ships to transport nearly 500,000 European war brides. On the other side of the globe, it was estimated that 12,000 Australian women married American servicemen as well.

Magic Carpet was an immense success. At the time of VE Day in May 1945 more than 3 million soldiers were stationed in Europe alone. By year’s end, seven months later, the Army counted fewer than 700,000 troops.

The Navy also experienced a huge reduction: from 3.3 million personnel in 1945 to fewer than 500,000 at the end of 1946.

Overall, Magic Carpet spanned the year following the climax in Tokyo Bay. On average, between September 1945 and September 1946 the operation landed 22,000 men and women at a U.S. port every day for 13 months. As noted by the National WWII Museum, “The sum total of which provides the mathematical framework behind the staggering post-war baby boom nine months later.”

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Planning the Invasion of Japan, 1943-45

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 57-58:

While naval air combat carried on unabated, groundwork continued for the ultimate objective, an invasion of Japan. The overall Allied invasion plan, aptly titled Downfall, originally had been discussed at the 1943 Casablanca Conference, calling for a two-phase assault: Operation Olympic against the southern island of Kyushu in November, and Operation Coronet on the main island of Honshu the following March. Both would be enormous undertakings: Olympic involved about 350,000 men in combat units plus a further 125,000 support personnel; Coronet more than half a million. In comparison, the initial D-Day landings in Normandy committed approximately 150,000 Allied troops.

Building the force to invade Japan required a gargantuan combination of planning, coordination, and logistics. Previously, Admiral Ernest King, chief of naval operations, had reportedly quipped, “I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that General Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it.” In fact, the Navy was the essential factor in transferring troops from Europe and the United States. Nearly everything without wings had to go by sea, and so did many aircraft.

By August 1945 at least four armored divisions were based in the continental United States, with two or more infantry divisions preparing to deploy west.

The Army also intended to redeploy more than 395,000 men directly from Europe, all between September and December. They included units dedicated to Olympic or Coronet, representing Army Ground Forces, Air Forces, and Service Forces.

At the same time planning proceeded for 477,000 soldiers and airmen to round out the Coronet order of battle, moving from Europe through “ConUS” to the Pacific between September 1945 and April 1946. That amounted to a total of nearly 875,000 personnel moving halfway around the world in eight months. And that did not count Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel already in the Pacific. Nor did the redeployment figures include Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force units transitioning to B-29s with 102,000 aircrew and maintainers, either from Europe or originating in the States. The transport burden was further increased by 75,000 European Theater hospital patients beginning in late 1944.

Despite the clear logistical nightmare of such an undertaking, there was one clear advantage to the Allies. Throughout the war they had consistently outperformed the Axis in the crucial realm of supply, which was far more than simply building “stuff.” King’s quip concealed the Anglo-American mastery of the logistical trilogy: planning, production, and distribution. British historian Richard Overy properly noted that the American “tooth to tail” ratio of warfighters to rear-echelon and support personnel ran 18 to one; Japan operated at a support to combat ratio of a mere one to one.

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Romania’s Anti-Hoarding Laws, 1985

From The New York Review of Books, 23 October 1986, by “a writer who frequently travels in Eastern Europe and whose name must be withheld”:

One of my friends said to understand current developments I must first consult a decree by the Council of State of the Romanian Socialist Republic issued on October 10, 1981. The exact text ran as follows:

“It shall constitute illegal trading activities and, in accordance with the terms set down in the Penal Code, shall be punishable by up to six months to five years in prison, to purchase from any state commercial center or cooperative store, either with a view to hoarding or in any quantity that exceeds the requirements of a family for a period of a month, oil, sugar, wheat or corn flour, rice, coffee and all other foodstuffs the hoarding of which might affect the interests of other consumers and proper provisioning of the population.”

Since then, he said, the situation has changed drastically. Coffee can no longer be bought by private citizens and has been replaced by an ersatz substance disapproved of by physicians, which the public, guessing at the ingredients, has nicknamed “henna.” Meat, buttermilk, and bread are rationed in most districts, sugar and cooking oil throughout the country—and the ration is much more generous than the shops charged with distributing them can supply.

Since 1968, it should be explained, Romania has been divided into more than forty districts, each with a Party secretary, who is its supreme head. He is responsible for delivering a quota of food from his district to the central government—a task that must give him bad dreams. For it poses an insoluble problem: if he distributes locally less food than is called for by the plan—as he is virtually obliged to do—he will be popular with the authorities but held in contempt by the people of the district; and if he tries to help the population get more food, he will be unpopular with the authorities. Everyone has a different approach to the same dilemma—for even in the CP no district secretary is quite like another—and this psychological diversity makes for diversity in the distribution of food shortages throughout the country. In Cluj or Pitesti the situation, I was told, is frankly horrible; in Sibiu or Vilcea it is merely wretched. Thousands go from district to district on shopping excursions from which they often return empty-handed.

Romania seems unique in many ways. It is the only European country in which one can be sentenced to five years in prison for buying excessive quantities of food that is generally unavailable to the public. It is also, in my experience, the only such country in which the legal work week is forty-six hours and the urban population often spends three to four hours a day shopping for groceries. In Romania, President Ceausescu takes upon himself to compose lyrics for a new national anthem, rather than entrusting the task to a poet. And in spite of a republican form of government of which he is the constitutional head, the president carries a scepter and is grooming his son as his successor.

Workers often spend entire days waiting for raw materials that their factory cannot obtain. If they leave the premises without permission or bring alcoholic beverages, or cigarettes, or lighters, or matches onto the shop floor, they are regarded as having broken the law and can receive prison sentences from three months up to two years (Decree 400 of December 29, 1981, Article 18).

The average wage, according to experts I talked to, is less than one fifth of the average Common Market wage, while the minimum wage is ignored. The state each month withholds a percentage of wages that can be returned at the end of the year only if the government’s economic goals have been met—something that rarely happens.

Virtually every business establishment has (in addition to spies) a member of the Secret Police with a permanent desk, who reports to his superiors on the proper running of the business. All typewriters must be registered and presented for inspection at the police station every year to show that the keys have not been tampered with.

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Breaking the Ice in the Himalayas

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 6152ff.

The Himalayan party consisted of Robin and Renée Fedden, her friend Rosie Peto, Myles Hildyard, Carl Natar and Peter Lloyd, and Paddy. They flew north from Delhi, assembled a team of six Ladakhi porters and began their climb in mid-October. They were following the Beas river upstream, which marks the easternmost point of Alexander’s conquests in 326 BC. Their goal was Malana: one of the most isolated villages in the world, which lay to the north-east of the Kulu valley, dominated by the great peaks of Chanderkhani and Deo Tibba.

The people of this village worship an ancient god called Jamlu, and believe that even the sight of a foreigner, let alone his touch, risks pollution and defilement. The travellers spent their first night outside the village, waiting for permission to enter, and this permission was granted only on condition that they touch nothing, not even the walls. They also had to remove their watches, boots and belts, for leather is an abomination to Jamlu. As they entered the village ‘Men averted their gaze, children ran off as though ogres were coming down the street and the women at the spring . . . stood transfixed, and after a long disbelieving glance, turned away in a rictus of bewilderment and pain. Nearly all the village was out of bounds . . . and even along the permitted ways a flutter of anxious hands herded us innocuously into the middle.’

The holiest spot in the village was an open space, where a slab of stone lay embedded in the grass. One of the villagers, a kind man called Sangat, had made himself their guide and mentor. Under his direction the party made offerings, joined their hands in prayer and prostrated themselves before the stone. ‘Our pious homage to Jamlu had made a good impression, it seemed; and here, bit by bit, linguistic curiosity began to break the ice.’ Exchanging words was one of Paddy’s favourite games, and as usual his enthusiasm flung bridges over the chasms of fear, shyness and suspicion that separated the strangers and the local people. Soon sherpas, foreigners and villagers were swapping words in Tibetan, the Hindi dialect of Kulu, English, and Kanishta, the language spoken by the Malanis. ‘By now we were among friends.’

Malana was every bit as strange and mysterious as the travellers had hoped, but the whole expedition was overshadowed by the fact that Robin was becoming increasingly ill. He was diagnosed with cancer on his return to England, and within three months he was dead. The article that Paddy wrote about his last journey appeared two years later as ‘Paradox in the Himalayas’, in the London Magazine. It was dedicated to Robin’s memory, though neither Robin, nor Renée, nor any other member of the group was mentioned by name in the piece.

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Fate of Romania’s Cantacuzenes, 1965

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle locs. 5580ff & 6120ff.

Rumania in 1965 was just beginning to open up to the non-Communist world, although a meeting with the Cantacuzene sisters would involve considerable risks. As Paddy put it, ‘Mixing with foreigners incurred severe punishment, but harbouring them indoors was much worse . . .’ But it was too good an opportunity to miss, and Balasha and her family felt it was a risk worth taking.

By early June he was in Bucharest, now stripped of its pre-war gaiety, and made contact with Pomme’s daughter Ina who was then working as a draughtswoman in an architect’s office. She met him after work on a borrowed motorbike, and with Paddy riding pillion, they began the eighty-mile journey to the town of Pucioasa in the foothills of the Carpathians. It was a long ride over rutted roads, and by the time Ina let him into the house it was well after dark. They climbed upstairs as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the neighbours, but it was hard to stifle the cries of welcome that greeted his arrival at the top of the house.

Pomme, Constantin and Balasha had been sharing an attic studio since their eviction from Băleni on the night of 2–3 March 1949. On that evening, a small posse of Communist apparatchiks and police had arrived in a truck. Pomme and Constantin were forced to sign a document surrendering ownership of the house, and the family was told to pack a small suitcase each. They were advised to take warm clothes, and told they would be leaving in fifteen minutes. They were taken to Bucharest, where they lived until orders came through that they were to be transferred to Pucioasa.

‘In spite of the interval,’ wrote Paddy, ‘the good looks of my friends, the thoughtful clear glance and the humour were all intact; it was as though we had parted a few months ago, not twenty-six years.’ Hidden behind that carefully worded sentence was the shock of finding Balasha ‘a broken ruin’ of her former self. Though only in her early sixties, she was shrunken by hardship and anxiety; her black hair was grey, her face lined, and she was very deaf. She and Pomme managed to survive by teaching English and French. Constantin, already ill with the heart disease that would kill him two years later, was too frail to work.

‘Their horrible vicissitudes were narrated with detachment and speed,’ he continued. ‘Time was short and there were only brief pauses for sleep on a couple of chairs. The rest of our forty-eight hours – we dared risk no more – were filled with pre-war memories, the lives of all our friends, and a great deal of laughter.’ He had brought new watches for Pomme and Balasha, and later he set up an account for her at the Heywood Hill bookshop so she would never be short of books. He also knew that Balasha had a present for him. On her last night at Băleni, in the fifteen minutes she had been given to pack, she had seized a battered green notebook. It was Paddy’s last journal, the one he had begun in Bratislava in 1934; she now put it into his hands.

He was back home in December, elated and relieved, having been given the all-clear – and then he heard that Balasha was dying of breast cancer. Had she had it treated earlier, she might well have survived; but she had kept the symptoms to herself, refusing to see a doctor until it was too late to operate. It was a decade since Paddy had been to see her in Pucioasa and now he wanted to rush to her bedside, but Balasha forbade him to come: ‘nothing would upset me more,’ she told Pomme to write on her behalf. Her letters to Paddy, and Joan to whom she wrote separately, reveal that she had made a decision to live in books and her memories and expected nothing more from life. She died in March 1976. Seven months later her niece, Ina Catargi, who had taken him to Pucioasa on the back of a motorcycle, was also dead – of lung cancer. Of that generous family which had been such a part of his life only Pomme Donici remained, now bereft of husband, sister and daughter. She arranged for Balasha and Constantin’s remains to be buried in the Cantacuzene family crypt in the cemetery at Băleni, where she eventually joined them in 1983.

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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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