I was in an aisle at the library that I don’t usually venture down…..and came across The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Anatomy.  Well, something different, I thought, and since I had recently read an article  about the operation of the gut which in a strange way had been interesting, I thought I’d delve a little deeper into the subject!

I know that anatomy is second nature to health professionals – for good reason –  but I certainly can’t say that I absorbed even a fraction of the information.   Just as well I never enrolled in a course that involved studying anatomy.   Soooo many names to learn!  I wouldn’t have stood a chance.     What amazingly complex things our bodies are!   I learned that the skin is 16% of the body’s weight, and that the lymph system is actually part of the circulatory system (and the immune system) in that it returns excess issue fluid to the veins, via  the lymph nodes which filter out and destroy bacteria and other harmful nasties.

Looking at the chapter about the arms. I paused to wonder if the scapula (shoulder blade) is actually attached to the rest of the skeleton.   No, it’s not, it isn’t connected by way of a joint to the spine, only by numerous muscles and ligaments to the ribs.   There is a “fake joint” called the scapulothoracic joint, where the scapula moves against the rib cage, but isn’t connected by any bony connection.  The only bony link between the shoulder arm bones and the spine is by way of the collar bone (clavicle), which actually serves as a strut to keep the shoulder away from the body.

And of course there’s a great deal more!

Maigret sets a trap

I really like Georges Simenon’s writing.  Now Channel 2 have started a series of Maigret detective shows.

“Mr Bean” (Rowan Atkinson) plays Maigret!    Somehow, I would never have connected Mr Bean with Maigret, so this aspect felt a little odd, but I got used to it.   Nor would I have picked the location where the program was made as being Budapest (and Szentendrea, just out of Budapest), but it did seem to achieve the desired effect of giving the feel of Paris in the early 1950s.  I also had misgivings about the up-market English accents, but someone told me that, in French, the Parisian accent is rather “proper”, so in a way the use of an equivalent English accent wasn’t out of place.

As said above, I really like Simenon’s writing, especially the “mental” aspects of his stories, and although TV adaptions often don’t reflect the essence of the written works, I felt that this wasn’t an issue here and in fact this show captured Simenon’s writing very well.   The fact that the show lasted 90 minutes allowed adequate time for this to occur.

Unfortunately, from what I can see in the Wikipedia entry, there are only four episodes in the series.  I’ll be looking out for the remaining episodes.


The Carter of La Providence

Penguin are re-translating and re-publishing Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series, but  the only one of the new series I’ve yet seen is The Carter of La Providence (perhaps I haven’t been looking hard enough?).   This indeed is a fascinating book.  It revolves around life on the French canals in the late 1920s, often in bleak conditions, complete with horse drawn barges, the “carters” (horse handlers), the locks and lock-keepers, the congestion, the cafes that served the people working on the barges and lots more.   Apparently Simenon spent six months in 1928 navigating the rivers and canals of France, on board his own boat, and his experiences clearly shine through in this book.

img_0070aHere, who “dunnit” is no surprise, because the title of the book says it all.    Like many of Simenon’s Maigret books, the plot is rather far-fetched, but the writing is great and Maigret’s methods and persistence make for interesting reading!

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Having read  A Time of Gifts and The Broken Road, I sought out Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor, Patrick Leigh Fermor – an Adventure.   I haven’t yet located a copy of Between the Woods and the Water, but will keep an eye out for this.

img_9538aCooper writes in a fairly matter-of-fact style, so the biography is interesting in that it fills in some of the details that in Fermor’s own books sometimes appear a little elusive or, perhaps more accurately, get a little lost or out of logical order in the mass of impressions that he records.

While the biography seems to cover covers most aspects of Fermor’s life, I would have like a little more detail on the years spent pre-war with Balasha.  Perhaps, however, the sources for these years aren’t there?    On the other hand, the time in Crete during World War 2 is covered in great detail.

I found the table  included in an appendix listing the places mentioned in each of the accounts of the walks very interesting, as also the mention in the acknowledgements that the author is John Julian Norwich‘s daughter.

As is my habit with biographies, I “dipped into” the parts that interested me, rather than read it from cover to cover.    As this was a library book, and I was to be away for a few days, I returned it before reading it completely, so I certainly intend to return to it.


A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts is the first in the series of three works describing Patrick Leigh Fermor’s walk from Hook of Holland to “Constantinople” (the name still apparently used by some English-speakers until well into the 20th century).   This work deals with the section of the walk up to his crossing into Hungary.   Like others, I found the book absorbing (as was also The Broken Road).

Fermor had had an “interesting” upbringing, being described in one of his school reports as “.. a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”. After studying for entrance to the Army and then trying his hand at writing, he set off at age 18 on his walk.

It’s interesting that, in 1934 the traditional custom of hospitality to pilgrims and travelling students survived;  for example, in many parts of Germany, he received at the inn supper and mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning – all on the parish.   No slur was attached, the welcome was always friendly, all based on ancient charity extended to wandering students and pilgrims..   But although Fermor also slept on occasions in barns, he had some good connections!  Letters of introduction to well-connected families led to generous hospitality from them, and further introductions to more friends.     And when Fermor had his passport and belongings stolen in Munich, an interview the next morning with the British consul resulted in a passport being reissued on the spot, together with an advance of £5.    Obviously there were fewer travellers in those days, at least to places “off the beaten track”.

He comments on the characteristics of the people, such as “the civilized Rhinelanders [and] the diligent and homey Swabians”, compared with with the perhaps rougher Bavarians.   Hitler had come to over 10 months earlier and in Germany the early signs of the regime were beginning to be seen.    He describes the ebbs and tides of historical conquests and the regional and sub-regional characteristics of the people,  the connection between some of the places he visits and art and far, far more.

img_8963Whatever the defects in his education, he was clearly well-schooled in many respects, although some of the detail may have been filled in by him between the time between the walk and publication of the book some decades later.


The Broken Road

I recently mentioned the section on Mount Athos contained in Patrick Leigh Former’s book The Broken Road.

However, the larger portion of  The Broken Road deals with his walk from the Iron Gates through Bulgaria and Romania and back along the Black Sea coast again in Bulgaria towards (what he calls) Constantinople.   The detailed descriptions of those he met and his impressions of the countryside are fascinating.  Of course, as is sometimes said,  the best way to see a country is on foot, and there was much to observe, including the numerous ethnic groups he encountered and their lives in an era that in many ways were yet to change much from the way things had been for centuries.   Only for a little while in Bulgaria does he admit to a touch of dejection, while “in the most primitive village house I had so far seen”, where there could have been “little change since Omurtag’s day“.

Fermor seems to have had an uncanny knack of landing on his feet, and so it was in Bucharest where, after initially staying at a cheap hotel where the main clients were “ladies of the night” – with whom he struck up good (platonic) relationships – he ended up staying with a German diplomat and thus was introduced to the upper echelons of Bucharest society.   In the next few years, he spent quite some time in Romania, so his initial impressions as set out in this book are (as he admits) influenced by his later experiences.

img_8936In relation to Romania, he also states that nearly all the people mentioned in this book “were attached to tails of powder which were invisibly burning, to explode during the next decade and a half, in unhappy endings” (during World War 2 and the subsequent communist regime in Romania).

He also gives an “overview” of Romanian history.  “Overview” is perhaps over-stating it;  his description is more an extremely high-level account of what is now Romania over the last 1000 years.  I can’t pretend to have absorbed it all, but clearly there’s a lot of history behind the principalities of Wallahia and Moldavia, the boyars, the relationships with the Ottomans and the emergence of “modern Romania” under King Carol 1 – aspects of history that we don’t learn about here.

Also of interest was an insight into how Fermor managed to keep up his supply of cash,  before the advent of travellers cheques and ATMs.   This was by having money sent by registered mail from England, several pounds at a time (those were the days), apparently on an approximately weekly basis.  He wrote to whoever was the source of the funds naming the town he was heading for, and collect the funds at the poste restante.

Seemingly the mail was reliable in those days, as he says not once during his entire journey did any money ever go astray.   And it seems that English currency could be quite readily exchanged, although in Romania and Bulgaria the black market rate – readily available in shops or at money changers – was almost double the official rate given by banks.

The book finishes half-way through a sentence – as Fermor had left it – while he was in Burgas, a Bulgarian town on the Back Sea.   Cursory fragments of his diary while in “Constantinople” are set out, although the editors comment that, had he put his mind to it, Fermor’s description of that city would have been fascinating.

A fascinating read.

UPDATE:   Since first posting this post, I have started reading A Time for Gifts.  In that book, Fermor mentions that he did study classical Greek at school which subsequently helped him come to grips with modern Greek.   He also explains his allowance was £1 a week.

Christmas Cards

I really like Christmas cards, but our list became unmanageable so now wherever possible we send email greetings.   Even this has proven to be a “challenge” to manage, but I’m doing my best.   I know that some people manage to keep a data-base, but somehow I don’t seem to have the mental discipline to keep it up-to-date!

But another challenge that comes up occasionally is to identity some of the cards we receive.   This year, we received one from a couple that we just couldn’t identify.   True, we knew a couple with those names many years ago, but last heard (years back), they’d split up.   The card came through the mail with no return address, so we were scratching our heads!

img_8864Finally it dawned on us – it was a couple we’ve got to know in a different context and we were accustomed to calling one of them by a shortened version of their name (not the full name on the card)!