Brief Spring - A Journey Through Eastern Europe. In the spring of 1990, as the barriers of Eastern Europe were crumbling, Iris Gioia and Clifford Thurlow set out to travel through the cities and remote regions of the six former Warsaw Pact countries - East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. It was a journey in which they discovered much about the countries they travelled through - where they saw towns filled with business men, openly on the make; country people for whom they were frequently the first foreigners to be met for over fifty years; half-forgotten museums; ancient treasures and more sobering reminders of repression. They also found out much about themselves, and about each other.
They were an unlikely pair for such an adventure: a recently divorced New York socialite and a London journalist, coloured by his experiences in India and Cambodia. During a chance meeting in Manhattan something clicked, and with but a little hesitation they found themselves en route to Berlin. As the two voices alternate throughout the book, a sharp and witty picture of their journey emerges: they run out of petrol on the deserted plains of Silesia; they live through the terror of an earthquake in Romania; they are robbed in Bulgaria; they witness the growing protestations against communism; they struggle with surly hotel clerks, corrupt waiters, inadequate plumbing and places where there is bad food, only expensive food, or sometimes no food at all. In Bucharest they befriended a mathematics professor whose involvement in the demonstrations for democracy later led to his death.
Through it all, they remained cheered by the kindness and courage of all those they met, and in spite of - or perhaps because of - each other they returned to London together. Serious and funny by turn, a document of ordinary life and the extraordinary happenings of those few months at the beginning of 1990, Brief Spring is both an entertaining travel book and a vivid depiction of an Eastern Europe in the process of rebirth.
|01 Nov 2004
"A journey realised in fascinating detail by two sensitive and humane writers."
- Brendan O'Keefe, The Observer
"....images of the region's spectacular corruption, Kafkaesque greyness, criminal pollution and inefficiency. Quite Amazing."
- Daily Telegraph
"An interesting tale of Eastern Europe in flux. It takes the unusual form of alternate entries by the duo as they cross from East Germany through to Romania."
- Time Out
"....the strengths of the book lie in their evident curiosity and affability which again and again bring fascinating exchanges with the people who in some cases have not met a foreigner for over half a century."
- Kent Life
"The amusing but sharp account of the travels of a New York socialite divorcee who fell in with a British journalist just as the barriers of Eastern Europe were crumbling."
- The Traveller
It had not been our intention to dwell on the problems of pollution but they were ever present on our journey from Berlin to the Black Sea, a legacy of Communism that is going to be more difficult to cure than the ailing economies. The forests were dying. The rivers were dead. The buildings were crumbling. For a thousand years, foreign invaders had been sacking Poland but, where the Russians, Prussians, Austrians and even Adolf Hitler had failed to destroy the cathedral and medieval castle on Cracow's Wawel Hill, chemical poisons were succeeding in eroding the intricate stonework.
The villages slipped by, all identical except for the place names fading on wooden signboards. From the distance, everything appeared picturesque and in good order but, close-up, the paint was peeling, the wooden gables rotting, the road broken, the people awfully poor. There was less misery than we had seen in the capital; life in the country was backward more than deprived, preserved in formaldehyde, suspended like the bottled apricots you see in huge glass jars on the shelves in every Comturist shop. It was another age; another century: the clothes, the farm tools, the covered wagons, the bullock carts like dinosaurs, the man on horseback, even the expressions worn by the people in Transylvania seemed otherworldly, uncertain more than unfriendly. Almost no cars passed us or approached us. The Sherwood-green Range Rover could have been a spaceship and we travellers from far across the universe.