22 August 2011
I've just returned from Uncivilisation, the Dark Mountain festival. Dark Mountain is extremely hard to define, but it's basically a journal of essays, short stories, poetry and artwork -- as well as a wider social movement -- exploring new myths and new narratives arising from the cultural confusion of environmental and economic collapse. They've published four of my short stories, and I hope to write them a piece of non-fiction during my walk to Istanbul: as an exploration of Europe's changes -- its landscapes, environments, cultures, people -- this project has a definite Dark Mountain feel, especially as Europe seems to be going through various collapses of its own.
Among the many incredible people I met at Uncivilisation was Adam Weymouth, a writer and storyteller who walked from England to Istanbul last year. He followed a very different route from Paddy's, through France, Italy and the Balkans (ie. the sunny bits!), over the course of 8 months. On a wander through the woods he talked about his reasons for the journey, and I'd like to share a few of his words with you here:
Walking into big cities isn't lots of fun. There are all these places that are dehumanised now -- unfit for walking. Places you zip through in a car, and only when you walk you realise they are real places.
During transport we're encouraged to forget about the journey -- we have the idea that good things only start happening when we arrive. But to walk is to inhabit the world. Wayfarers are not unsuccessful occupants, but successful inhabitants.
Before planes and trains, pilgrims had to return from their destination by walking. Constantinople or Rome was the journey's centre point -- your real destination was your front door.
He also talked about Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist who analysed the structure of myths to identify the basic narratives that underly all cultures. A mythical journey, Campbell says, does not end with the slaying of the beast, the apparent achievement of the quest -- it ends when the hero returns to integrate the knowledge he has gained into everyday life, to 'bestow boons on his fellow man.' In recent times, we have forgotten the importance of the return.
How does this relate to my journey? Will Istanbul be my centre point, before I turn round and walk home? To be honest, probably not. I am not undertaking a pilgrimage, and if you ever catch me referring to myself as an archetypal hero on a mythical journey, please give me a hefty slap. What I can try my best to do, though -- without sounding too ridiculous -- is to bestow boons on my fellow man through the writing I bring back. Europe is changing, the world is changing, and the stories we tell are important. Paddy's words are my map on this journey... perhaps my words can be a map for something else, who knows?Read and comment
18 August 2011Thank you, dank u wel, dankeschön, ďakujem, köszönöm, mulţumesc, благодаря and teşekkür ederim to everyone who supported this project on We Did This. Forty five people in seven different countries have funded me a grand total of £1,730 towards my walk to Istanbul. My feet will walk true, my eyes will be keen, I will be a bipedal writing machine. You're all marvellous. Read and comment
11 August 2011
I've just been talking to Matt Gross, the ex New York Times Frugal Traveller, who walked a section of Paddy's route -- from Vienna to Budapest -- last year. Matt Gross is a man who specialises in getting lost in foreign countries, and one of the things we discussed was the potential, mind-aching dreariness of trudging alongside major highways (numerous people have warned me that this is something I'll have to face, especially in Slovakia and Hungary). Two fine pieces of advice stand out:
Wave at each oncoming car. The proportion of people who wave back will tell you a lot about where you are.
Keep track of trash along the roads. See if the things people throw out of their cars differ from country to country.
Matt's Getting Lost column is well worth following. (If you can follow the lost.)Read and comment
8 August 2011
I've now reached (surpassed!) my We Did This funding target, and am up to an amazing £1,660.Thank you so much, everyone who's supported me, and I look forward to thanking you more eloquently in the form of postcards, books and CDs, which will be lovingly prepared and sent from the long walk across Europe.
Over the past three weeks, support has come from all over the world. It does seem as if this project has struck a chord with a lot of people, and I've had requests to document many aspects of Europe's changes. I'd just like to quote one person (someone I've never met) who funded me:
It wasn't Patrick Leigh Fermor's writing as such that sparked my interest in your project, but more my connection to Europe, having spent a lot of time travelling throughout Europe the last few years. I am an artist myself, and was wandering around the internet looking at funding sources, then came across your project. I loved the idea of uncovering 'wild' Europe. I had always sensed that in the land, as I'd been travelling, and was thrilled at the idea of someone investigating and documenting that -- the magic underneath the surface.
I will be doing my best to scratch at the surface to find the magic. Thank you so much, once more, everyone who's helping me do this.Read and comment
4 August 2011
An article was published today on 'the lost art of postcard writing.' As funding is still coming in, I haven't yet counted up the total number of postcards I'll be sending (each complete with a short short story) as rewards for funders on my walk through Europe, but it must be into the hundeds by now. It looks like I'll be doing to bring this dying art back from the brink.Read and comment
1 August 2011
I've been thinking a lot about the landscape and terrain. The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum is an excellent place to get advice, so I posted something about my journey on the thread for each of the countries I'll visit. I received some thoughtful and detailed responses, and even some kind offers of accommodation, along with many replies along the lines of 'why the hell don't you do this in summer?' and 'why don't you follow a more picturesque route?'
Of course, walking across Europe back then was probably simpler and safer, not as much traffic and slower at that. Also, then you didn't have artificial barriers of limited access highways where it is illegal to walk...
This is one of the least interesting regions of Slovakia to walk through, it's pancake flat with few sights to see apart from the Danube river itself. In the middle of winter it will be especially bleak...
You are basically going to spend all your time in Hungary walking through the boring agricultural landscape of the Great Hungarian Plain, most of the time along major roads, and unless you're very lucky, in miserable weather...
Wet, wind, foggy, snow even. All of those can be expected in December. The days will be short, and even shorter when the weather is dark and gloomy...
The puszta landscapes can indeed be deadly boring. Cycling from Romania to Budapest, with strong headwind and an endless succession of corn fields and nondescript villages, we just gave up after two days and hopped on a train. But all this is necessary if you're following PLF!
All of which serves to remind me that the route will not necessarily be pretty. (I have a dull recurrent nightmare of finding myself trudging down dual carriageways for hundreds of miles with nothing green in sight.) But my aim is to document the journey as it is, the changes to Europe's landscapes and cultures, not to stroll from one pretty village to another. Ugliness (or lack of beauty) must be mapped as well.Read and comment
20 July 2011
There's a long post about my project on this fine blog about Paddy's writing. Many thanks, Tom.Read and comment
19 July 2011
Today this project launched on We Did This -- basically an online marketplace which connects artists who need funding with people who want to fund the arts. I have exactly one month to raise £1,500 for the journey, and I'm offering a range of rewards for funding, including short stories sent on postcards, mysterious souvenir packages from the road, handbound books and CDs of audio from the road.
To get involved with funding (and rewards!) see here.
Read and comment
21 June 2011
From a recent Guardian editorial:
'Leigh Fermor was lucky, in that he walked through an archaic and aristocratic eastern Europe soon to be obliterated by the second world war. His two greatest books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, take readers into a time and place that can never exist again...
Few of today's writers have this advantage. They must describe a world in which it is easier to communicate, and travel, than ever before. No teenager setting off from Tower Bridge now would find themselves amid ballgowns, hunting parties and lonely mountaintop shepherds. Facebook and text messaging have brought Bucharest and Birmingham closer. Describing difference has been made harder.'
I think this is true, to a large extent. But this is partly why the journey excites me. I'm starting from the premise that Europe, and the world, is still an exciting and unfamiliar place, that it hasn't been Facebooked and easyJetted into monotonous dullness. Fascination and adventure still exist -- perhaps just in different forms.Read and comment
16 June 2011
Patrick Leigh Fermor died on 10th June 2011, at the age of 96. A common theme running through many of the obituaries was 'he was the last of his kind,' and it does seem that with his death a certain type of Englishness has disappeared. This blog has collected together many of the obituaries.Read and comment
14 June 2011
Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow has been on my wall for years. It was only recently that I was struck by the similarity between this painting and John Craxton's cover designs for A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Of course Bruegel's hunters are returning from a journey, while Craxton's figures are just setting out... but somehow both of them manage to capture a similar sense of exhilaration, a breathless feeling of excitement, at descending into a mysterious and unknown European landscape.
'I headed north-east, treading downhill through the snow, and each step sank deeper. Rooks crowded the trees and the fields below were white and grey parallelograms bordered by many willows. Streams crossed them under lids of ice to join a slatey loop of the river; and the hushed and muffled scenery was the background of Brueghel's Hunters in the Snow. Only the hunters themselves were missing, with their spears and their curly-tailed dogs.'
-- From A Time of GiftsRead and comment
13 June 2011
About a month ago I was thrilled to receive £1000 towards the cost of the project from the Globetrotters Club William Wood Legacy Award, which funds 'adventurous, unusual or enterprising foreign, solo, independent travel.' Many, many thanks.
The money must be spent before my departure on December 9th, so it means that, among other necessities, I can buy the best walking boots available to man. When Paddy set out in 1933 he was kitted out with 'an old Army greatcoat, different layers of jersey, grey flannel shirts, a couple of white linen ones for best, a soft leather windbreaker, puttees, nailed boots, a sleeping bag (to be lost within a month and neither missed nor replaced),' mostly purchased from Millet's army surplus store in The Strand.
While it's not my intention to try to imitate Paddy (dressing up like him is a step too far), it would be nice to source as much of my gear as possible from the same shop. There is no longer a store on The Strand, of course, and in the 70 years since Paddy went there Millets has grown from a family business into a 200-store wide leisure goods empire. But still...Read and comment