Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1915-2011

Friends and neighbors, he explained, sit up all night round the coffin, telling funny and often improper stories, dancing, and drinking rum, and even, after concealing small objects in the mouth or other natural hiding-places of the corpse, playing games of hunt-the-thimble. If the corpse has been a heavy drinker during his lifetime, bottles of rum are poured down his throat; if a dancer, his body may be removed from the coffin and whirled round the room…

~ Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Traveller’s Tree

Something similar happens when a figure in world affairs or the arts passes over River Styx. By means of print and commentary, the corpse is explored, predilections and achievements are rehearsed for memory’s sake, and the floor is cleared for a posthumous last dance. I was sick over the weekend and only learned today of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s death. His feats of wartime daring are literally the stuff of celluloid legend, but (like others of my generation) I only came to know him through the first two volumes of the unfinished trilogy that he began with A Time of Gifts. Here’s to hoping that the time of gifts isn’t ended just yet and that among the abandoned articles of his long and magnificent life there’s a manuscript copy of that dearly missed third installment.

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