The crabs of the world seem to fly to me
An uncomfortable letter from Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor was a dashing English war hero and journalist who produced some of the most celebrated travel writing of modern times, not least in A Time of Gifts, a compelling account of a year-long trek from Rotterdam to the ancient city of Constantinople. The journey took place in 1934, forty-three years before the book’s eventual publication. Fermor’s charms and propensity to party were well known, resulting in affairs with various women in numerous countries over the years, including, in the 1960s, ballerina Enrica ‘Ricki’ Huston, who happened to be married to Hollywood filmmaker John Huston. It was to her that Fermor wrote in August of 1961, in relation to a mutual infestation they were both itching to get to the bottom of.
11 August 1961
1,000 thanks for your Paris letter, and apologies for delay. I’ve committed myself, only yesterday too, to devoting myself to my mama in the country this weekend, and I’m such a neglectful and intermittent son that I can’t put it off now. I am longing to see you and hate the thought of your vanishing out of reach for what seems such an age, all unembraced!
I say, what gloomy tidings about the CRABS! Could it be me? I’ll tell you why this odd doubt exists: just after arriving back in London from Athens, I was suddenly alerted by what felt like the beginnings of troop movements in the fork, but on scrutiny, expecting an aerial view of general mobilisation, there was nothing to be seen, not even a scout, a spy, or a dispatch rider. Puzzled, I watched and waited and soon even the preliminary tramplings died away, so I assumed, as the happy summer days of peace followed one another, that the incident, or the delusive shudder through the chancelleries, was over. While this faint scare was on, knowing that, thanks to lunar tyranny, it couldn’t be from you, I assumed (and please spare my blushes here!) that the handover bid must have occurred by dint of a meeting with an old pal in Paris, which, I’m sorry to announce, ended in brief carnal knowledge, more for auld lang syne than any more pressing reason.
On getting your letter, I made a dash for privacy and thrashed through the undergrowth, but found everything almost eerily calm: fragrant and silent glades that might never have known the invader’s tread. The whole thing makes me scratch my head, if I may so put it. But I bet your trouble does come from me, because the crabs of the world seem to fly to me, like the children of Israel to Abraham’s bosom, a sort of ambulant Canaan. I’ve been a real martyr to them. What must have happened is this. A tiny, picked, cunning, and well-camouflaged commando must have landed while I was in Paris and then lain up, seeing me merely as a stepping-stone or a springboard to better things, and, when you came within striking distance, knowing the highest when they saw it, they struck (as who wouldn’t?) and then deployed in force, leaving their first beachhead empty. Or so I think! (Security will be tightened up. They may have left an agent with a radio who is playing a waiting game...)
I wonder whether I have reconstructed the facts all right. I do hope so; I couldn’t bear it to be anyone but me. But at the same time, if it is me, v. v. many apologies. There’s some wonderful Italian powder you can get in France called MOM—another indication of a matriarchal society—which is worth its weight in gold dust. It is rather sad to think that their revels now are ended, that the happy woods (where I would fain be, wandering in pensive mood) where they held high holiday will soon be a silent grove. Where are all their quips and quiddities? The pattering of tiny feet will be stilled. Bare, ruin’d choirs. Don’t tell anyone about this private fauna. Mom’s the word, gentle reader.
No more now, my darling, as I must leap into my faithful Standard Companion and dash to the post with this, hoping and praying it gets you in time. No need to say how much I‘m going to miss you; you know I will. Not only the moon’s a rival now, but the sun and Greece as well, and I know what potent allies the are. But no moping! We’ll make some glowing plan when you get back, and see what magic the mysterious north can offer. Anyway, bless you a billion times, my dearest darling, and lots of love, hugs and kisses.
Letter originally from Dashing for the Post:The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Murray, 2016. Reproduced by permission of John Murray Publishers, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton Limited.