Memorials

A day of endings. This morning Paddy Leigh Fermor’s memorial service was held at St James’s Church Piccadilly, where I happen to be churchwarden. I never met him, but Penelope was devoted to him, which seemed a good enough combination of reasons to go along. He got to know Larry in 1942 in Cairo, just as Nancy was about to leave; I don’t think she really knew him at all – certainly I don’t remember her ever talking about him. Then came the news that George Whitman who ran the wonderful Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris, and was a friend of LD’s from the ’50s, had died age 98. And another hero of mine, Russell Hoban, has also died, aged 86. Sometimes, especially at this time of year, you get the feeling that a generation is slipping away.

The church looked beautiful – two Christmas trees on either side of the altar and in front of them a Mediterranean touch: two beautiful orange trees covered in oranges. The memorial was suitably full of zest and enthusiasm for life and included a stunning Romanian poem – it was read out in Romanian, but for the 99.9% of the congregation whose Romanian was a little rusty, the following translation was thoughtfully provided in the service sheet:

But of my death,
tell them no word!
Just tell them outright
that I married tonight
a king’s daughter, the bride
of the world, and its pride.
At my wedding, tell
how a star fell,
that the sun and the moon
were holding our crown,
how the guests at the feast
were maples and firs,
the high mountains, priests,
and minstrels, the birds,
a thousand small birds,
and our candles the stars.

It’s from Between the Woods and the Water and it sounded terrific in Romanian, a beautiful language.

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