01 February 2014

The third window on the left

Patrick Leigh Fermor has arrived exactly 80 years ago, in late january, 1934 to the Austrian town Persenbeug. After having supper in the town inn and filling his journals for the day he made a sketch of the innkeeper's daughter. And he's been talking to an old polymath aristocrat till late night. About the Danube, its fish, especially the catfish, kraken of the Danube, about hydroelectric dams, Romans, Markomanns, archaeology, flora and fauna, about Hans, ritter of Ybbs, the tartars, Schubert, Wagner and about the Dodo bird of Mauritius. 

...The others had stolen away to bed hours before. The third bottle of Langenlois was empty and we stood up too. He paused in front of a glass case in which a bright-eyed and enermous stuffed trout was swimming urgently through a tangle of tin water-weed. It's a pity you didn't go on over the hills from St. Florian,' he said. 'You would have got to the little town of Steyr, and the Enns valley' - this was the green tributary I had watched curling out of the hills opposite Mauthausen - 'It's only half a dozen miles. Schubert wrote the Trout quintet there. He was on a walking tour, like you. 

He whistled the tune as we strolled along the snow-covered quay, with Dick bounding ahead and sliding comically out of control on the concealed ice. The steeple of Ybbs stood clear above the roofs and the tree-tops the other side. Above the roofs of our own shore, almost inevitably, a large baroque castle soared into the starlight. 'You see the third window on the left?' the polymath asked. 'It's the room where Karl, our last emperor was born.' After a pause, he went on whistling the tune of The Trout. 'I always think of streams running down to the Danube,' he said, 'whenever I hear it...

Patrick Leigh Feromor: A Time of Gifts. On foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube.