If you’re not singing the weird little Simple Gifts Shaker song I dunno.
Anyway, speaking of dilettantes, which I was in my last review. Patrick Leigh Fermor is the best kind of dilettante in this book, one completely without the kind of annoying ego that would make him insufferable instead of an amazing observer.
A young Patrick finished up public school and doesn’t want to go to college so he figures he’ll walk across Europe all the way to Istanbul (Constantinople at the time) and record his journey along the way. Given that this is 1933 and the map of Europe has already been rewritten about 100 times in the last twenty years and would be 100 more times in the next twenty, he finds himself in the weird position of being an affable, inoffensive young British kid who people trust with their homes and cultures and he just writes everything down. He wrote this when he was in his 50s, but he notes in the book multiple times where his journal comes into the play.
It’s an interesting set of musings on literature and culture, especially as the interplay with language and National/ethnic identity, and so he ends up letting the experts in those fields he comes across tell him everything they can. He often sinks back into English literature (or better English literature translated into all kinds of European languages) as a way to connect with home and gladly accepts books in exchange.
The result is a funny set of adventures and misadventures, as well as some really keen observations of a time in Europe so shadowed by the hindsight of history to come that we lose the sense of what life actually was. So when Patrick Leigh Fermor is meeting Germans in the early 1930s, he almost refuses to only see it through a lens of future Nazis and just lets the be. At the same time, one of the funniest moments is when comes across a Brownshirt puking his guts out outside of a bar which he refers to “Loves’ Labours’ lost.”
But he’s a wonderfully inept dilettante at times too, wholly associating literary characters for whole nations and not caring. He’s not dumb, but he’s a lad. It’s not picaresque per se, but it’s something. It’s full of charm for sure.