Reading Matters: A Time of Gifts

(In which we (part) explore Europe (with Patrick Leigh Fermor), touch on Brexit, consider a new world order and the horrible events in Nice last week and ask for hope to find an answer)

It has been fascinating to read this book in the light of Brexit.

Patrick Leigh Fermor travels aged 18 from England to Constantinople (Part 1 anyway) in the book, “A Time of Gifts”.

“At the end of 1933, (writes mookse and gripes) Patrick Leigh Fermor’s dream of setting up as a writer in London wasn’t becoming a reality. Struck with the idea, he decided to leave his troubles behind and walk across Europe to Constantinople as a tramp. He was only eighteen. World War I was barely a memory, and he didn’t yet know what to make of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Nearly a lifetime later, Leigh Fermor wrote about this trip in a planned trilogy. Originally published in 1977, A Time of Gifts is the first volume, and it takes us from London, to the Hook of Holland and to Hungary.”

Even the title strikes a chord with my thought of Brexit as this book trawls through Holland and Germany and Austria in the early 1930s, a time of “gifts” too.

It is a travel book full of history and description.

Quite a lot of it left me cold but then there are flashes of brilliance which took my breath away too and so I cheerfully recommend this book with a cautionary note (a la Eric Newby who so thoughtfully would provide asides in his writing) – for readers unimpressed with German knights and coats of arms please progress to page 64 – and so on.

But that’s me and I’m being real because other parts of the book especially those that deftly capture the growing menace of Nazi Germany – the Brown shirts – and in Austria are quite shocking, the undercurrent, the undertow, the slurry of hatred and mistrust already taking hold in 1933 and quietly observed by the author are repulsive and we would do well to take note.

Interestingly, even though the book is written in hindsight, what I get is the art of observation leaving the writer to make up their own mind on the horror being logged by the author.

Leigh Fermor writes:

“It was a time when friendships and families were breaking up all over Germany”.

Those words shook me and rang momentary alarms bells. For how true is that of Brexit and this whole horrible campaign that has set family members, friends and work colleagues against each other and left many others frightened to share themselves for fear of recrimination and judgment.

Last night I watched an interview with a clearly frightened Labour NEC member who recounted (within our democracy) fear and intimidation at the very highest eschelon of the party that had persisted unchecked during the NEC meeting to determine the names on the ballot paper and whether or not to include Jeremy Corbyn.

Her voice was talking an octave higher than normal and shook such that every word spilled out laced with horrible emotion and choke.

This fearfulness, this hostility is widely reminiscent of the militant tendency which I remember growing up in the 1980s (Degsy, Livingston et al) which was finally stamped out by a strong Labour party team effort only- it seems- to fester and flare up here, fanned by the kind of wild disregard encouraged by social media.

So i simply ask, Do we learn nothing from our history and our past?

And I turn full circle back to this book which I urge you to read for the very human observations, the youthful optimism of stepping out across another country and for a depth of understanding of a very different nation from my home country but one that also has huge parallels in history to our current way of life and people.

Whatever we do in life, make no decision based on fear and intimidation.

If we are not being heard, protest but learn to harness power from stillness, power from the silence to make our point.

If you want to change the world first change yourself and find a way to be heard in the silent quiet places.

First a trickle, then a stream then a flow into a tributary and then a roar out to sea. it can be done.

I recall the Maharishi sharing a tale of protest in Mexico in the 1960s (the red protest, I think he called it) in which tens of thousands of people stood together embracing the power of silence.  When I imagine this it makes the hear is on the back of my neck stand on end.  The power and unity of silence.

As I write, news reaches me of another atrocity this time on Promenade Des Anglaise in Nice.  A lorry kills many.

Above all then, be clear that the “new world order” sought will need to be a better world for all of us.

A woman called Maggi Trace wrote this scenario as a comment(found tucked into the comments section of this article by Anne Lamott) – the synchronicity of reading this was such that I recount her vision here:

“At a certain time, say, 7:00 pm Friday night, we all just walk out of the building we are in. Just out.

Just for a few minutes.
Not rally, not speeches, not organized.

Just OUT.

Quiet.
Talk to neighbor. Just OUT.
Solidarity.
Done.

Ready to move on.
Beyond guns.
Beyond oligarchy.
Beyond injustice.
Beyond racism.
Beyond homophobia.
Beyond sexism.
Beyond putting one another down to feel raised up.
Beyond fear.
Beyond hatred.
Beyond pitting one against another.
Beyond destroying this Earth that holds us.

Together we stand.
Stand.
I stand here, next to you.
You stand there, next to me.

Person by Person. Neighborhood by neighborhood.
City by City.
Land by Land.
Together.

We, the people.”

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