I have again picked up the two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor which bring to life the experiences of his nineteen year old self walking from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 1938, through a continent soon to be consumed by a cataclysmic war. ‘A time of Gifts’ concludes on the bridge between Sturovo and Esztergom, and the following volume, ‘Between the Woods and the Water’, begins there.
Passport stamped at the Czechoslovakian end of the Bridge, Fermor set out for a red, white and green barrier at the further end, but he lingered for some time in the middle (like many a Bridge Guard after him) ‘poised in no man’s air’. There follows a beautiful description of thousands of storks arriving on their spring migration, descending like a snow storm to occupy the roof tiles on both sides of the river – then rivalled by his portrayal of the candle lit gathering of hundreds of people en route to the Basilica on the eve of Easter’s Resurrection Sunday. He even has a word for the Archbishop’s horse chestnut trees in cathedral Square, which ‘have opened a thousand fans under the tall windows, each to be pronged with a pink or white steeple before the month is out’. The trees still form quite a large congregation around the Basilica today.
Leigh–Fermor’s bridge would be destroyed six years later, and the colourful cultural scenes he captured in prose, overwhelmed by death, destruction and a long term demise of freedom. He died in June this year aged 96 with the new bridge celebrating its tenth anniversary in a new Europe. I wonder if he was ever able to come and visit?