A continuation of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Green Diary
It doesn’t do to go prodding as critic into details and timelines of Fermor’s actual journey but there’s no foul play in observing bits of the transformation process in order to better appreciate the end product.
It is on the way through Slovakia that (old author) Fermor mentions recovery of the diary now digitized by the National Library of Scotland.
So I headed north-east instead of south. I was still on the wrong side of the Danube and getting further from the river with every step and deeper into Slovakia. My new plan was to make a wide Slovakian loop, strike the Danube again about a hundred miles downstream and cross into Hungary by the Parkan-Esztergom bridge.
Meanwhile, an important change has come over the raw-material of these pages.
Recently—after I had set down all I could remember of these ancient travels—I made a journey down the whole length of the Danube, starting in the Black Forest and ending at the Delta; and in Rumania, in a romantic and improbable way too complicated to recount, I recovered a diary I had left in a country house there in 1939.
I must have bought the manuscript book in Bratislava. It is a thick, battered, stiffly-bound cloth-backed volume containing 320 closely-written pages in pencil. After a long initial passage, the narrative breaks off for a month or two, then starts up again in notes, stops once more, and blossoms out again in proper diary form. And so it goes on, sporadically recording my travels in all the countries between Bratislava and Constantinople, whence it moves to Mount Athos and stops. In the back of the book is a helpful list of overnight sojourns; there are rudimentary vocabularies in Hungarian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Turkish and Modern Greek and a long list of names and addresses. As I read these, faces I had forgotten for many years began to come back to me: a vintner on the banks of the Tisza, an innkeeper in the Banat, a student in Berkovitza, a girl in Salonica, a Pomak hodja in the Rhodope mountains… There are one or two sketches of the details of buildings and costumes, some verses, the words of a few folk-songs and the alphabetical jottings I mentioned two chapters back. The stained covers are still warped from their unvarying position in my rucksack and the book seemed—it still seems—positively to smell of that old journey.
It was an exciting trove; a disturbing one too. There were some discrepancies of time and place between the diary and what I had already written but they didn’t matter as they could be put right. The trouble was that I had imagined—as one always does with lost property—that the contents were better than they were. Perhaps that earlier loss in Munich wasn’t as serious as it had seemed at the time. But, with all its drawbacks, the text did have one virtue: it was dashed down at full speed. I know it is dangerous to change key, but I can’t resist using a few passages of this old diary here and there. I have not interfered with the text except for cutting and condensing and clearing up obscurities. It begins on the day I set out from Bratislava.
Of the two days he prints, March 19 and 20 of 1934, I’ll give only the end of the second since it is a favorite scene of mine. First is the final Time of Gifts version:
At last we got there. The Schloss—the Kastely (pronounced koshtey) as the boy called it in Magyar—stood in a clump of trees. Only a few windows were lit. The baron’s housekeeper Sari let us in and gave the boy a drink. She was a dear old thing with a kerchief tied under her chin. Hand kissed for second time! I found Baron Schey in his library in a leather armchair and slippers reading Marcel Proust.
“I’m on the last volume,” Baron Pips said, lifting up a French paper-bound book. It was Le Temps Retrouvé and an ivory paper-knife marked the place three quarters of the way through. “I started the first volume in October and I’ve been reading it all winter.” He put it back on the table by his chair. “I feel so involved in them all, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’ve finished. Have you ever tried it?”
And now the same section from the Green Diary:
Only a few windows were lit up and the baron’s housekeeper, a sweet old thing, with a neckerchief tied Hungarian fashion, over(?) her head, with the rest under the chin. I found Baron Schey in his library, reading Marcel Proust in an easy chair and bedroom slippers. He greeted me warmly and we were soon sitting down to eat dinner in a little table in the corner of the room. He told me he had lived here quite alone all the winter, reading all the works of Marcel Proust volume by volume and said that he was the most wonderful author.
There’s rearranging of the material – the published version splits the introduction to Baron Pips with a description of his house and library where those passages entirely follow the introduction in the Green Diary – and some dialogue padding but the core of everything is in place.
Some bonus sketches from the diary: