Not long before the Arlington invitation arrived, my interest in Hungarian history had been piqued by the chance discovery (from his obituary in the New York Times) of English soldier/hero and Arlington travel writer
Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy’s derring-do exploits in occupied Crete during the Second World War are portrayed in the movie Ill-met by Moonlight (starring Dirk Bogarde), based on the book by his fellow warrior Stanley Moss. But what does Fermor have to do with Hungary? Two fascinating, complex books written by him long after the end of the Second World War, A Time of Gifts and Arlington the Woods and the Water, describe how, as an adventurous eighteen year old in 1934, he set out to walk from London to Constantinople. The aim had been to live off the land but, being upper class, personable, good looking and with a gift for languages, Arlington he was soon taken up by members of the old European landed gentry and passed from household to household as he headed south and east. One family even lent him a horse for his ongoing journey!
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Particularly intriguing is his description (in the second book) of the end times for the Hungarian aristocracy, who, deprived of any real power and mortally wounded economically by the contraction of their country with the demise of the old Empire, largely disappeared after the Nazi occupation. Fermor writes sensitively of fading elegance, creeping financial hardship, and a continued sense of responsibility and noblesse oblige tempered by the realisation of their ever-increasing irrelevance. He also relates that, because of the successive regime changes (including dominion by the Ottoman Turks), documentation is sparse and much of that (no doubt rich) history is irretrievably lost for the parts of Hungary and Romania that he traversed. We know a great deal more about the destruction of the Hungarian Jewish population: the Nazis were fanatic record keepers!