Balkan History. Balkan Heritage. Balkan Ethnicity. Montenegro, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Sofia, Serbia. Kosovo. Romania. Alpine Plants, Alpine Plant Hunters. Alpine Plant Hunting. Asphodel.
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To all our Balkan and English Readers
Please write in if you have any comments or identifications...
This Site is being continuously updated, most recently on February 6th 2020.
A Historic Balkan Photographic Archive. 1920 - 1940.
This new site is still having new things added to it, as people write in and contribute with identifications.
We anticipate it taking several more years, as there is still a substantial quantity of material to describe.
So, we recount here and in the following pages the background and the results of our researches so far.
Only very recently has it become apparent that the archive contains a number of still unidentified locations in remote areas of the Balkans in the 1920's and 1930's.
These images are of considerable historic interest and, in many instances, are quite certainly the only record we will ever have. We believe they represent a valuable contribution to the Balkan National Heritage. In addition they are contemporaneous with the locations and travels of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Starting in 1933, he travelled through the Balkans on foot with no camera and only a sketch book. Any reader is invited invited to participate in their identification (with full public acknowledgement) on this site. More on this later. Twenty-five pages are currently planned, as there are over two hundred images (two hundred and fifty-seven in fact). The full site with all images may take a while to complete.
A parallel click through version of each page, but in Bulgarian, is planned for next year.
N.B. The Pages In Progress so far, are:
Our Home Page: Our Introduction: The Adventures of the Travellers: The Archive Itself: Plant Hunting & the Kew Connection: The Participants: The Photographer: "Then & Now" (1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Series): Unidentified Locations (Towns, Villages & People) and: How to Contact Us.N.B. Our most recent "Unidentified Locations" 2nd Series updates were uploaded here on January 31st 2020.
Thank You Everybody for Writing in.[To view: please scroll down the vertical green panel on the left, then mouseover the page of interest, then left click].
PREFACE: The Find.
It was cold indeed....a biting Easterly on a Sunday morning. A farmer's field in Rousdon, a tiny village on the West Devon-Dorset border. Late April 2005. A pound at the gate. A few stragglers at 6.00 am and then maybe a dozen cars and vans by 7.00 am. A sprinkling of stalls. Twenty minutes and all done.
7.30 am and back to the warmth of the car. What have we here (see above)? Some books..assorted Agatha Christie pbs (20 p each); a second printing of Symonds “Quest for Corvo” together with a life of Maundy Gregory (£2.00 the pair). A Pentax OM3 with jammed shutter (£4.00) and, what’s this lying behind the open doors of a white van …? Several black oblong slide boxes with perished leather straps (see far right image above)...and about 3kg from the feel (£10.00 only and the deal was done).
Gloves off..a quick look. Camera probably repairable, two books for the April weeks ahead…the paperbacks for stock...and…well…a collection of magic lantern slides by the look of things..far gone..fragile..disintegrating. Inch thick blocks of them bonded together with age and damp. 1920’s? 1930's? Pre-war certainly.
One faint postage size label remnant hanging by a thread……. ”Bul…” something…”Bulg..33/34..” .
One taken out at random,…cover glass detached, grime…black paper tape edges all far gone….but there, faded, but just legible, across the top in a minute hand…
“Asphodeline lutea. The Yellow Asphodel”.
Nothing of interest here then and the box lid snapped shut.
Time to get out of the cold and get some breakfast.
Nine years would pass before those words were read again, in a 1950 first edition copy of Hugh Roger-Smith's "Plant Hunting in Europe" (Bedford Rush & Warwick Ltd).
“The mountain peak of Karadjitza can be climbed from Skoplji. The ascent is made from Dracavo….from Skoplji to Veles on the Struma and then over the Babiana Pass and across the great Macedonian plain to the Bitolj, the old Monastir.
A long but interesting journey, and plentiful in the fields and meadows, the Yellow Asphodel”.
And so this is the story of six people, now with their lives intertwined, and each with their tale to tell to those who might listen. One of them, a Dr Hugh Roubilliac Roger-Smith, faithfully recorded his twin passions of alpine plant hunting and mountaineering down the crowded interwar years (and then wrote them up in 1950! see quote above). His two main companions The Reverend H. P. Thompson & his wife Maud Thompson were also avid Alpine Plant Hunters, but, H. P. Thompson carried a camera and used it to great effect. Without this there would be no film archive and no story to tell.
And then we have the three others writing these words, now almost ninety years on, and retracing their steps. Around each corner a gasp of surprise.
And, how wonderful, how apposite, to report that Homer is our source. The source of an English poetic tradition that describes the meadows of the afterlife, as being covered in Asphodel*.
The passage in question is from The Odyssey, (Book 2) and is rendered:
"…. …with long steps the ghost of clean-heeled Achilles marched away over the meadow of Asphodel."
In Book 24 in the same translation, we find
“the spirit of the departed…came to the meadows of Asphodel where abide the souls of those whose work is done”.
So be it. Rarely has the sheer aptness of something spoken with so clear a voice.
This then was no mere whim, this was a duty.
Step forward Mrs Maud Thompson, The Rev. Hugh Thompson and Dr. Hugh Roubiliac Roger-Smith.
This site is our memorial to your extraordinary records of a Balkan age long past.
* One of the Lily family (Asphodeline lutea. Liliaceae). See images above.
Popular folk names: Yellow Asphodel. "The King’s Spear". "The Flower of the Dead".
Also we find the fascinating etymology: Asphodeline…Asphodel…Affodill…Daffodil. (O.E.D.).
Interestingly, The Royal Horticultural Society notes:"A handsome plant for sun or partial shade, with blue-green grass-like leaves and fragrant yellow flowers in late spring. These gorgeous star-shaped blooms are carried in long, dense, unbranched spikes up to 20cm (8in) long. Found growing wild in the eastern Mediterranean, it enjoys well-drained, sandy soil".
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