Far to Go and Many to Love : People and Places is a selection of Lesley Blanch’s early journalism, essays and traveller’s tales and forms an irresistible sequel to her posthumous memoirs, On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life.
God-daughter Georgia de Chamberet is sharing with us today an evocative article “The Romantic Retreat Created by Lesley Blanch with Treasures from a Lifetime of Travel” which I know you will enjoy as much as I have.
First, here’s more about Far to Go and Many to Love.
Hardcover: 376 pages
Publisher: Quartet Books; New edition edition (1 Jun. 2017)
Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer; travelling at a time when women were expected to be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. Illustrated with photos and a selection of Blanch’s line drawings and with an insightful introduction by Blanch’s god-daughter, Far to Go and Many to Love: People and Places brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy and the Orient Express. She remembers life in post-war Bulgaria with her husband, the diplomat-novelist Romain Gary, and Christmas in Mexico with him. Specific places were of particular significance to her: the Sahara, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Central Asia. Her descriptions make for disturbing reading given the cumulative impact of a century of war on the Middle East.
The Romantic Retreat Created by Lesley Blanch with Treasures from a Lifetime of Travel
Lesley Blanch, MBE, published 12 books in her lifetime and was a prolific journalist. For her, living was a journey into the imagination, an escape into the Oriental history which informs her books, the titles of which conjure romance and faraway places: The Sabres of Paradise, The Wilder Shores of Love, Journey Into the Mind’s Eye, Round the World in Eighty Dishes . . . She had a soft spot for Russian men, and was mad about the East. “I don’t belong in England,” she once said. “I don’t belong anywhere.”
Born in London in 1904, she left in 1946, spurred on by her instinctive rebelliousness, never to return except as a visitor. It seems unbelievable today, but Lesley explored the Sahara, Syria, Jordan and many other – now dangerous – places on her own. “I had a way of conducting myself as if I were always among friends,” she would explain. “Nothing bad happened to me anywhere, even in the wildest places.”
Her little Mediterranean villa in Garavan, on the French-Italian border, was a glorious eyrie filled with precious things collected during her travels across the Balkans, Turkey, Russia, Central Asia, Iran, North Africa and Central America – initially as the wife of award-winning diplomat-novelist, Roman Gary; and later, after their divorce in 1963, as travel writer.
Her house was hidden from the small road winding up to the Grande Corniche by a profusion of creepers, flowers, wild vines, cypresses and a majestic 400-year old olive tree. The terrace outside her living room was turned into an outdoor work nest by dropping pillows on to a favourite Persian carpet. Research material, clippings, letters, books and manuscripts were scattered across a café table.
She said, “I never decorate. I just make what I’m going to be comfortable in and let the effect come with the living.” Cultures, races, climates, colours and epochs mixed in harmony, as did chintz alongside bargains found in street markets.
Known for her hospitality, Lesley Blanch had a special way of blending the exotic with the intimate, creating a voluptuous atmosphere. Gore Vidal was an ardent fan – of both Lesley, whom he knew personally, and of her writing. She wrote, longhand, at a desk in the living room, watched over by portraits of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, Fath Ali Shah Qajar’s Persian ministers, and various others. Photographs of Imam Shamyl (the Muslim chieftain whom many regard as the father of the Chechen independence movement), and his family, adorned one relaxing corner, where there was a specially-made Turkish fireplace with a cone hood. Opposite, Lesley had created a traditional icon corner evocative of the mysteries of Othodoxy, the “solemn chants, shadowy depths” of remote Balkan monasteries. Along the south wall, the raised narrow dais, or takht, had over it the “Nancy Mitford memorial window” – a moucharabieh from a Tunisian harem, acquired by Lesley thanks to her friend’s legacy. She recreated as gros point cushions “a land of memory, stretching from Cairo to Constantinople,” and they were coveted by friends.
Lesley painted the small entrance hall red, sponged it with brown, then yellow, and finished it with three coats of varnish – a technique learned during her time at the Slade School of Fine Art. A teak rocking elephant from India was on the table, and an Algerian mirror above it.
Her bedroom featured a romantic alcove bed swathed with Indian cotton and crowned by a Victorian coach ornament. All the rooms including her bathroom were lined with bookshelves. Precious things and useful things were mixed together incongruously, yet it worked. Lesley painted the four panels of the mottled azure-blue kitchen cupboard to represent the churches of Moscow, Kazan, Kiev and Leningrad. She said, “Surround yourself with the things you love and your house will make you happy.”
She had a superb collection of embroidered kaftans. Having introduced them to Hollywood in the 1950s they became the epitome of hostess chic, complete with turbans, velvet slippers and Berber jewellery. I still have a man’s velvet wedding costume from Afghanistan which she gave to me. Lesley was a pioneer of what is known as “’bohemian chic”. She died in 2007, at the age of 103.
Copyright © Georgia de Chamberet.
Georgia de Chamberet is a freelance editor, translator and promoter @bookblast and currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Her journalism has appeared in The Lady, Prospect, Independent, Times Literary Supplement, BANIPAL, 3ammagazine.com, wordswithoutborders.org, booktrust.org.uk
Far to Go and Many to Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch, edited & with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet | Quartet Books ISBN: 9780704374348 Hardback Illus. £25 | 1 June 2017
On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited & with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet | Little, Brown Book Group ISBN: 9780349005461 Paperback Illus. £10.99 | 12 January 2017