I'm including in today's post excerpts from the book for your enjoyment, your education, and your empowerment, along with some pictures to help illustrate where he's talking about and what he's talking about.
And so we begin...
[While hiking along a stretch of the River Danube in Austria, about 16 miles from the current Slovakian border, Fermor approaches the town of Petronell. And so we learn of the The Miracle of the Thundering Legions.]
|Arch of Titus|
"...as I approached the little town of Petronell, by wondering what a distant object could be that was growing steadily larger as I advanced. It turned out to be a Roman triumphal gateway standing in the middle of a field like a provincial version of the Arch of Titus; alone, enormous and astonishing.
The vault sprang from massive piers and the marble facings had long fallen away, laying bare a battered and voluminous core of brick and rubble. Rooks crowded all over it and hopped among the half-buried fragments that scattered the furrows. Visible for miles, the arch of Carnuntum must have amazed the Marcomanni and the Quadi on the opposite side of the bank.
|A Marcomanni warrior (second century A.D.)|
|The Quadi (second century A.D.)|
The Edge of the Slav World
[Fermor wanders into a "lively drinking-hell" in rural Czechoslovakia.]
"...Enmeshed in smoke and the fumes of plum-brandy with paprika-pods sizzling on the charcoal, they were hiccupping festive dactyls to each other and unsteadily clinking their tenth thimblefuls of palinka: vigorous, angular-faced, dark-clad and dark-glanced men with black mustaches tipped down at the corners of their mouths. Their white shirts were buttoned at the throat.
They wore low-crowned black hats with narrow brims and high boots of shiny black leather with a Hessian notch at the knee. Hunnish whips were looped about their wrists. They might have just dismounted after sacking the palace of the Moravian kral." (p. 242)
[ On the next day, and down the street Fermor was in another tavern...]
"...the tow-haired Slovaks drinking there were dressed in conical fleece hats and patched sheepskin-jerkins with the matted wool turned inwards. They were shod in canoe-shaped cowhide moccasins. Their shanks, cross-gartered with uncured thongs, were bulbously swaddled in felt that would only be unwrapped in the spring. Swamp-and-conifer men they looked, with faces tundrablank and eyes as blue and as vague as unmapped lakes which the plum-brandy was misting over. But they might just as well have been swallowing hydromel a thousand years earlier, before setting off to track the cloven spoor of the aurochs across a frozen Trans-Carpathian bog." (p. 242)
Prague Under Snow
|Church of St. George|
"They separated, converged again, and crossed each other and as they sped away, enclosed slender spans of wall like the petals of tulips; and when two ribs intersected, they might both have been obliquely notched and then half-joggled together with studied carelessness. They writhed on their own axes and simultaneously followed the curve of the vault; and often, after these contorted intersections, the ribs that followed a concave thrust were chopped off short while the convex plunged headlong and were swallowed up in the masonry. The loose mesh tightened as it neared the rounded summit and the frantic reticulation jammed in momentary deadlock.
|Inside the cathedral at Hradschin|
Four truncated ribs, dovetailing in rough parallelograms, formed keystones and then broke loose again with a wildness which at first glance resembled organic violence clean out of control. But a second glance, embracing the wider design, captured a strange and marvellous coherence, as though petrifaction had arrested this whirling dynamism at a chance moment of balance and harmony," (p. 257)
|Inside the Trans-Carpathian forest (Hungary, Romania, Ukraine)|
Fermor, Patrick Leigh. A Time of Gifts, New York: New York Review Books, 2005.