lethargic_man: (Default)

Notes from the NNLS/ZF Israel 60th Anniversary celebrations

The Story of Israel's Creation

Yitzhak Navon (former president of the State of Israel)

Biography ) Talk transcript; contains reminiscing about Ben Gurion )
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
On the train across Germany the other day, I looked up and saw we were pulling into Herford, and for a moment almost thought I was back in the UK.

Speaking of which, did you know the Bosporus translates into English as "Oxford"? (They must have impressive cattle in Turkey, from what I know of it!)
lethargic_man: (Default)

The other week, I was asked to lead bentshing in shul after lunch. We were using the shul's shiny new own bentshers, and I saw they lacked the four lines beginning תהילת ה׳ ידבר פי after the introductory psalm; but I launched into them cheerfully anyway. "It's not the German custom to say these," said the rabbi. "So sue me," I riposted; "I'm a Litvak!"

Well, I got the laugh I was after out of that, but afterwards it occurred to me I'd never sat down and worked out how much of my ancestry came from where; so I did, and here's the result, as far as I can trace my family back, with each concentric ring out from the centre representing one generation back in my ancestry from myself at the centre, and an alternation of males and females among my ancestors clockwise from the top.

(Some of the outermost rings are a bit tentative; and in places I've interpreted a vague "Russia" as probably meaning the Pale of Settlement—the part of historical Poland that came under Russian sovereignity following the eighteenth-century partition of Poland, and to which Catherine the Great, who had suddenly acquired a large Jewish population, and didn't want them dispersing into the rest of her empire, legally confined the Jews.)

View pie chart )

Computer woes

Monday, September 19th, 2016 08:15 pm
lethargic_man: (computer geekery)

My Windows laptop has managed to render itself almost completely useless, with very little help from me.* :-(

So now I've got the question of what I do about it. Either I can spend probably a long time googling for solutions, with no guarantee of success; or I can pay through the nose to get the thing fixed at a computer shop (which I've not done or had to do before—and I have no idea how much thigs would cost; how much have such repairs cost you?). Or, alternatively, I can write off the ability to use Windows programs like Word for good, erase Windows and install Xubuntu instead. (I'd still have access to Word, etc, on [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's machine, on request.)

Atm, I'm leaning towards the third of these, because atm Linux is annoying me less than Windows (or MacOS, which seems as unstable for me on my work machine as Windows was fifteen year ago); but it would be annoying to lose ready access (meaning: at in my lunch break at work, or any time [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m is using her machine) to Windows. Also, I've yet to find a music player on Linux that can play tracks without a momentary silence between (the one advantage Windows Media Player has over VLC)—anyone recommend anything?

* What happened is that in February Windows updates stopped downloading (progress downloading would stick at 0%). The laptop has spent most of the intervening time offline anyway (I took it to work, to listen to music on, because work won't allow me to plug a foreign device into my work laptop, meaning I can't get my music onto it, and I (still) don't have an MP3 player; and it doesn't recognise the guest wifi at work). But recently I did a bit of googling to try and solve the prolem, which suggested that I should use MSConfig to turn off non-Microsoft services and reboot. Lo and behold, when I did that, the large batch of updates pending already in February (it hadn't yet retrieved the ones from since then) downloaded as far as 68%, and then it put up a message about an invalid certificate. Unfortunately, after I noticed and dealt with this, it refused to download any further; and nor did it when I cancelled the update and tried again. But when I tried rebooting the machine, the moment I touched a key or the trackpad when the user selection menu was displayed to logon, the screen went blank and stayed that way; and this has happened every time I've rebooted since, except when I reboot into Safe Mode. But (a) I can't play music in Safe Mode (or I could live with the problem), (b) reverting to a previous state is broken, and (c) reinstalling Windows doesn't work in Safe Mode. And I can't do a clean install from DVD because I don't have a Windows DVD; I got the laptop secondhand with Windows preinstalled on it.

lethargic_man: (Default)
I am posting my entry for this book in my not-usually-blogged reading log to preemptively head off any comments from [livejournal.com profile] ewx following my reference to it (this book) in my last blog post. :o)

The author's quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Knowing Hancock's reputation, I approached the book with an air of scepticism, but found most of his arguments convincing—though a few the opposite.

Amongst the former: that Ethiopia has a long tradition that it had the Ark of the Covenant, that there has been a connection between there and Jerusalem for two thousand years, that although the Ark of the Covenant disappears from the Bible after the time of Solomon, if you read between the lines, there's evidence that it was still present in the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah referring to God dwelling between the cherubim) but absent by the time of Josiah (I'm not entirely convinced by his "the lady doth protest too much" argument, more so by Josiah telling the Levites (2 Chron. 35:3) to put the Ark in the Temple when you'd have thought it was already there, and no reference to the Levites complying, as opposed to the ceremony when Solomon first installed it there), implying the Levites had removed it during the reign of Menashe when the latter put pagan idols in the Temple.

Based on Ethiopian traditions that the Ark arrived in Ethiopia a few centuries later via the Nile, he then claims that it spent the intervening time in the temple at Elephantine, which nicely explains why the temple even existed.

I'm prepared to buy his argument that the first Templars were searching for the Ark, and that (given that there was always an Ethiopian Christian presence in Jerusalem) there may even have been Templars in Ethiopia, but I'm more sceptical of his claims that the Holy Grail was just a cipher for the Ark, and that the Templars gained architectural expertise from documents they found on the Temple site, and left coded messages in the layout of Chartres Cathedral; and whilst it's possible that the shape of the Ark was influenced by Egyptian culture, his claims that Priests and Levites retained knowledge of that Egyptian past in Temple times, or that the Ark was a high-tech artefact, left me cringing and wanting the chapter to end.

He also frequently used midrashic or aggadic evidence in support of the Bible, despite the intervening centuries; the fact he points this out for another source near the end as evidence against that source suggests poor scholarship to me.

The book then concludes with the hair-raising story of his journey back to Axum when it was in rebel hands, and his attempt to see the Ark taken out of its chapel on the one time in the year when that allegedly happened (though he ends up proving it was only a replica that was taken out). The book was also fascinating for its insight into Ethiopian Christianity, which appears to be overlaid on an earlier Judaism (and for a now dying sect which practised Hebraic worship that looked like it dated from the patriarchal (IIRC) period).
lethargic_man: (Default)
At school I was taught that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded and conquered Britain, pushing the Britons to the extreme west of the country and settling the rest themselves.

Later, I learned this was simplistic: The genetic evidence points to a mixed Celtic/Saxon population in England, so the Britons were still around there (though they may have been slaves).

Now I've learned another couple of interesting twists from the History of English podcast: First, there's documentary evidence that twenty years after the Roman legions left Britain to defend Rome, the Britons were successfully holding the Saxons at bay: they weren't the pampered civilians reliant on the Romans for defence we thought they had by then become. It was only later that the sheer weight of invading Saxons overwhelmed British defences.

And secondly, when William Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066, reducing the Saxons themselves to a conquered people, one third of his army was not Norman but Breton. That's to say, descendants of the Britons who fled the Saxon advance by crossing the channel, lending their name to their area of France, and taking their Brythonic language and culture with them. So, for one third of William's army, they weren't invading a foreign country; they were coming back to the land of their ancestors and avenging their unjust displacement from it—and their bringing with them the Arthurian mythos in its most fully developed form suggests they themselves were aware of this.

That's pretty cool, I thought.
lethargic_man: (Berlin)

Last Sunday I went to what I thought was my local Soviet war memorial, but turned out to be an war cemetery. It seemed cohen-friendly, so I went in anyway.

There are eight mass graves either side of the central aisle, each equipped with a plaque showing the names of around 150 soldiers buried there. Wikipedia informs me these total 1182 names in all—but those are only the fallen soldiers it was possible to identify. There are further mass graves and plaques all the way around the edge (I didn't investigate these closely as they aren't cohen-friendly—there are trees overhanging them), but Wikipedia tells me that in total there are 13,200 Soviet soldiers buried there, who fell during the Battle of Berlin. The numbers are staggering.

I've never been anywhere like that before, and found it unexpectedly moving, despite the sunshine and warm temperatures. Or maybe those contributed to the feeling of peacefulness for the final rest of all those dead soldiers.

Click through for larger photos.

View photos )

Tacitus' "Germania"

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 08:49 pm
lethargic_man: (Berlin)

A little while ago, having repeatedly come across references to Tacitus' essay "On the Origin and Situation of the Germanic Peoples", better known as "Germania", I decided I ought to read it myself.

This is the oldest work describing the Germanic peoples—it dates from the year 98—hence its interest to modern Germans, and people interested in Germany, myself included—though I should point out that the Roman use of "German" refers to the ancestors of all the Germanic peoples, including today's Nordic peoples, and the peoples of the Low Countries and of England. Indeed, today German distinguishes between "Germanisch", describing the ancients, and "Deutsch", describing today's Germans—and so did English too once upon a time (see below).

Moreover the distinction between Germans and Celts then wasn't as clear cut as it is today; and even the name "German" is possibly of Celtic origin.

Anyhow, I thought I'd write up a little about the essay here, in case anyone's interested, and to record my own reaction for my own futurity; what follows is a combination of my own insights, what I've read online, and what I've heard in the History of English podcast.

Read more... )
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)

Back when I posted my English-through-1500-years video, David Curwin of the Balashon blog recommended I send it to Kevin Stroud of the History of English podcast, who tweeted it to his followers.

Ever since, I've been playing catch-up on the podcast; I'm currently up to episode 30 (and have also listened to episodes 75 (I think) to 82 which were podcast since then). Stroud is an amateur linguist, and makes a few mistakes (particularly regarding historical pronunciation, and the Semitic languages), but what he lacks occasionally in depth he makes up for in breadth, and I'm thoroughly enjoying listening to his podcast. Some of the earlier episodes (he begins his history of English with the proto-Indo Europeans) didn't tell me much I didn't know already, but the further he goes, the more I'm learning.

Anyhow, the reason I'm blogging this is because I recently learned through this podcast of the existence of the fifth-century Undley bracteate (medallion), which contains the oldest Germanic inscription found in England, and hence can be argued to be the oldest sentence known in English.

It reads g͡æg͡og͡æ mægæ medu, which Stroud translated "This she-wolf [depicted on the bracteate] is a reward for my kinsmen"; Wikipedia demurs about the first word, deeming it a "magical invocation or battle cry"; so that leaves mægæ medu "meed for the kinsmen", which seems disappointingly opaque for an English sentence at first glance. (Translating medu into modern English "meed" doesn't particularly help if you're not familiar with this word.)

However, a closer inspection does actually shed a little light, particularly if you know German. Mæg (nominative of mægæ) had a female form, mægþ, upon which the diminutive suffix -en (as in "chick-en") was appended to give mæġden, or to wind the clock on 1500 years, "maiden" in modern English. And medu "reward", turns out to be cognate to modern German mieten, "to rent" or "hire".

So despite this first recorded English sentence looking at first sight completely opaque, it turns out on close examination to involve roots I am indeed familiar with. I thought this was cool.

lethargic_man: (Berlin)
Here's a rant which some of you will not be able to see, but which those of you who can will at least be more likely here to become aware exists here, than on Facebook where's it's the luck of the dice inscrutable algorithm whether you get to see anything a friend of yours has posted.
lethargic_man: (MHEG)
It's nine months now since I got made redundant by my last employer, bringing my fifteen-year career in interactive television to a close, but only today did it occur to me to point out that I left without being able to write this one last time:
{:Scene "/m.m"
 :Items (
 :SceneCS 720 576
 :InputEventReg 3
On the upside, I might have been made redundant, but I was able to leave without making a scene.
lethargic_man: (Default)


Like The Lord of the Rings, I foolishly presented you my readers with all these foreign names, but gave you no guide on how to pronounce them until the end. So, a brief guide to Romanian orthography: ş is pronounced SH, ţ as TS, and, like in Italian, "ce" and "ci" indicate a CH sound. So, the moniker of Vlad Ţepeş is "tsepesh", and Ceauşescu's name pronounced "chau-shesku". Î and â represent a sound (/ɨ/) similar (but not identical) to a short I, and ă = represents a schwa (the unstressed vowel in "about").


There's a script I would see occasionally, particularly in religious contexts, that had a distinctive appearance; here's an example of it (slightly overdone compared to what I saw in Romania; the letter As I saw there were much easier to read):


As you can see, it's readily recognised by the form of the letter U. A tour guide of ours told us that, though it looks old, it was actually an invention of the communists. The Net of a Million Lies, however, disagrees and says this was a script used during the transitional period starting in the 1860s when Romania dropped the Cyrillic alphabet and switched to the Latin one; the letter forms were presumably intended to strike a compromise in readability for people familiar with either alphabet.

History of Romania

[Strada Vlad Ţepeş street sign]

I could point you here to a Wikipedia article, but the chances are you'd not read it, because it's too long. So here's a summary by me, written without checking Wikipedia, for the same reason.

In ancient times, Romania was inhabited by the Dacians and Getans, who may or may not have been the same people, and who may or may not have been a sub-people of the Thracians (Thrace being in modern-day Bulgaria). The modern Romanians seem proud of their Dacian heritage; I think it plays a similar role in the national founding myth to "nos ancêtres les Galles" in France.

Eventually, the Romans conquered the Dacians, but only stayed for about one hundred and fifty years before the Visigoths (on their centuries-long tour-of-Europe migration) drove them out. During the barbarian invasions of Roman territory, however, lots more Latin speakers poured for refuge into Transylvania, protected as it is on three sides by the Carpathian Mountains, and that's why Romania has a Romance tongue to this day, whereas Britain, which was Roman for twice as long, does not.

After this, there followed centuries of invasions by various Germanic tribes, then Huns (probably Alans too), Magyars and other peoples as well (can't remember who, probably Pechenegs and the like). The Saxons called the Romanised Dacians by the same word they used for the Romanised inhabitants of the lands they came to elsewhere, which is why "Wallachia" comes from the same root as "Wales", "Wallonia" and the second half of "Cornwall".

When I learn about the history of a country I'm visiting, there's often a single leader who stands out in its history, as presiding over a golden age in its history. In the case of Romania, that's probably Mircea the Elder, prince of Wallachia, grandfather of Vlad III Dracula; but even he was only ruler of part of present-day Romania. Wallachia and Bessarabia only came to be united in the mid nineteenth century, and Transylvania only became part of Romania following the removal of one third of Hungary's territory following the First World War.

Romania's borders were, however, pretty much written on water; they fluctuated back and forth over the years, such that Bessarabia is now part of Moldova and the Ukraine.

I already mentioned the coup led by King Michael I of Romania during the Second World War, which led to the country switching sides to fight the Axis powers, apparently shortening the course of the war by six months. Michael, who was forced by the communists to abdicate in 1947, is the only monarch still alive from the interwar period, and one of only three from during the War.

As for the rest, since I remember watching the fall of Ceauşescu (and indeed his execution) on TV as it happened, I'll count that as current events and not history,* and bring this history to an end here.

* If you think that's an odd view, [livejournal.com profile] papersky counts anything more recent than the fifth century as current events. That was when the Romans left Britain, on a temporary basis, so they said, to defend Rome, and she's still waiting for them to come back.

lethargic_man: (Default)


In my last blog post on this subject, I was writing about Jewish life in Romania, and finished by talking about the kosher restaurant in Braşov. Romania's not an easy country to keep kosher in if you're on holidays; there aren't many vegetarian restaurants, and most of those there are are raw food places.

This is a phenomenon I'd seen beforehand when researching veggie eateries abroad, but until now ignored in favour of more conventional restaurants. This was a luxury I wasn't able to afford in Romania.

TBH, I don't get the appeal of raw food restaurants, nor how they can succeed in a country where there's insufficient demand for vegetarian food to sustain conventional vegetarian restaurants. Of the three times I had soup in one (in two different restaurants, one of which claimed to serve both raw veggie and vegan food), two times it was served lukewarm (the final time, after I'd given up hoping otherwise, I got nice hot soup)—yet that couldn't have been on the grounds that it was "raw"; you can't prepare soup (apart from the likes of gazpacho) without cooking it, otherwise what you have is vegetables or pulses floating in water.

The main courses available at the place in Braşov we went to were nice enough; that at the place in Bucharest was a bit of an effort to get through. All the raw good places I saw advertised online showed beautiful desserts (chocolate cakes, etc), enough to make one think that raw food wasn't so bad... but when we actually tried them out, none of them lived up to their promise.

*shrug* Well, it's past now; I'm not going back to such a place until the next time I have no choice. :-S

Aside from that, I did get to try a few Romanian specialities (including at the shul meals in Bucharest). Can't remember much about them, but they were nice.

Speaking of which, one thing we were introduced to in Transylvania I haven't until now mentioned is the Kürtőskalács, a "spit bread" according to Wikipedia, which means a hollow cylinder of dough baked with sugar on the outside, to which [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m took a great shine. Wikipedia says they are "specific to Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania, more predominantly the Szekely land". You might recognise the name of the Szekelys, as I did, from Dracula, which brings me nicely onto the subject of:

Vlad Ţepeş

Of course, I couldn't write an account of holidaying in Romania without mentioning its most infamous son (I think in the long run he'll be remembered whilst Ceauşescu gets relegated to a footnote in history).

Vlad III Ţepeş ("the Impaler") was of course brought to international attention by Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula; however, if you read Dracula, you'll get a rather false impression of the man himself. For a start, Dracula was not prince of Transylvania but of Wallachia; but Wallachia is flatland, and rather boring scenery. Stoker wanted mountains and spooky forests for his novel, so he moved the location of Dracula's castle.

Today, Dracula is associated with Bran Castle, a short distance southwest from Braşov, but a long way from either Dracula's principality of Wallachia or from the Borgo Pass, where Stoker sets his novel (it is at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, but the Carpathians form a horseshoe shape, and this is on the other side of the horseshoe).

It turns out that the connection of Bran Castle with Dracula, aside from the fact he might have visited it once, was manufactured in the second half of the last century by the Americans, who noticed that Bran Castle has a circular tower and a square tower, which made it a good match for Castle Dracula in the novel, and therefore a good tourist selling point. We'll just have to ignore the fact that Castle Dracula is described as being at the edge of a long ridge high above the forest, with steep cliffs on three sides, whereas Bran Castle is on a small hill only a few metres above the Transylvanian plain.

Oh well. Well, they know in Romania that Dracula is a good tourist sell nowadays. I suspect that the natives are probably sick of the name, but the shops in Bran and at Bucharest airport are full of Dracula merchandise, with everything from kitsch T-shirts to bottles of Draquila.

lethargic_man: (Default)


From Braşov, we went on trips into the surrounding countryside, to climb the mountain above the ski resort of Pioana Braşov, and hike on the Babele tableland nearly 2300m above sea level. On one trip we passed through a forest lapping the feet of the Carpathians; [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's father informed us that in his parents' days this used to be the haunt of highwaymen, who would chop down trees so they crossed the road, then hold up travellers when they found their way blocked and demand money to let them proceed on their way.

Fortunately, no such incident befell us on our excursion to Sibiu, or Hermannstadt, which, as the German name gives away is another of the Siebenbürgen. 2500 Saxons originally came to Hermannstadt, but only 100 survived the Magyar conquest.

Like Braşov, Sibiu has a picturesque old centre, but we were lucky still to be able to visit it today: Ceauşescu planned to raze the lot, and only the fact the revolution happened first saved it.

As a cohen, I can't go into churches where there are people buried; kudos to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's parents for doing the research first to discover whether this was actually the case before taking me into any. As a result of this research, I learned two interesting things: Firstly, burying people in churches is a western Christian thing; they don't do it in Orthodox churches. (Romania is split between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and (in Saxon areas) Lutheranism.) And secondly, like Britain, Romania passed legislation in the nineteenth century prohibiting burial indoors; however, unlike Britain it seems they actually exhumed all bodies that were already buried in churches. In some cases, the tombstones were left in place in the church floor; in other cases, they were subsequently mounted on the walls. In one case, the bodies were reinterred beneath a flowerbed outside the church. ("So that's why the roses are growing so well," I commented.)

After Sibiu, we had planned to see Sighișoara (Schäßburg), another pretty Saxon town, but [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m preferred to go hiking in the mountains instead. Her parents asked my opinion, but I said this holiday was all about her family, and I was just tagging along, so I would go with whatever she preferred.

Jewish life

As Jews travelling abroad, [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m and I are always on the lookout for sites of Jewish interest and synagogues. Romania was unusual for a communist country in that it let Jews who wanted to emigrate (such as [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's parents) go, provided they went to Israel. Of course; once they did so, there was nothing keeping them there; [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's father stuck it out for a few years, her mother headed instead for Germany, where, thanks to her education in Braşov, she already spoke the language.

As a result, the community is considerably shrunken today. We found the shul in Tulcea in the Danube delta; I believe it's still functioning, but we didn't get to meet the community.

In Constanţa the small community was still meeting in the synagogue as recently as 1996 according to Wikipedia, but maintenance was paid for by the state, and after the revolution in 1990, the money dried up, and now the roof has fallen in (and Wikipedia says anything not nailed to the floor has been looted). I went to have a look from the outside; [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m said it was too depressing and chose not to join me.

What was surprising was the number of Israelis we met all over Romania: it's a cheap and not too distant holiday destination for them. Our tour guide in Bucharest told us he frequently has Jewish clients exploring their family roots in Romania. As it happens, the other two people on [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m and my tour, a young American couple, turned out also to be Jewish; and went ended up spending a half-hour break at a café entirely schmoozing and playing Jewish geography.

As a result of the small Jewish population but prevalence of Israelis, non-Jewish Romanians seem to have a worse problem than in other countries of keeping the concepts of Jewish and Israeli separate.

In Bucharest, there are several synagogues, but only one still functioning, the cathedral synagogue Templul Coral (the name means "choral", not "coral"). Furthermore, while in the rest of the Jewish world, only progressive denominations call their synagogues temples, because for Orthodoxy and Masorti/Conservative Judaism, the only Temples were the two in Jerusalem, Romania seems to be like Italy in that even Orthodox synagogues are called temples. At least one of the other synagogues has been converted to use as a museum, but we didn't go there.

When we wrote asking about Shabbos meals, the community in Bucharest (which was Ashkenazi but דרפס חסונ in rite) invited us to join us for both Friday night and Shabbos lunch. At the end of the Friday night service, a boy of about twelve called Joseph went up to the bimah to drink the kiddush wine, following which the congregation sang "siman tov umazal tov" to him, so we assumed he was about to be barmitzvahed. It turned out, however, that he had rather just had his bris (circumcision, which is normally done at the age of eight days amongst Jews): ulp! The community made a bit of a fuss over him over the course of Shabbos, and I'm not surprised!

In Braşov there were according to two synagogues according to Wikipedia, one Neolog and one Orthodox. (Neolog is an indigenous Hungarian denomination (Transylvania used to be part of Hungary until the end of the First World War) just to the left of Orthodoxy, but which affiliates with Masorti Olami.) The Orthodox one had closed (we looked for it but couldn't find it) and the Neolog one is now Orthodox in practice. We davened there on Shabbos morning, but they didn't have a Friday night service that week. There's also a kosher restaurant in Braşov, but it's only open on weekdays, and until four o'clock, so we didn't eat there.

lethargic_man: (Default)


After Bucharest, we headed north to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's mother's hometown of Braşov. This is one of the Siebenbürgen (Seven Castles) built by Saxon colonists in Transylvania early last millennium as defence against the Magyars and Tatars.

It's only since I started going out with [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m that I became aware German traders founded colonies right the way across Europe in the Middle Ages, deep into Russia. As well as the Saxons, there was also a later settlement of Swabians in Transylvania. Today as well as the Siebenbürgen, there are a string of villages with traditional Saxon architecture across Transylvania.

Following World War II, in which most of the countries with German colonies had suffered under Nazi invasion and occupation, the Germans were expelled from most of them (into a homeland and culture their ancestors had generally not lived in for centuries—one of the less known stories of the immediately postwar period).

Romania, however, escaped German invasion, and the Germans were allowed to remain. Most fled following the revolution after the fall of communism, though; there (are 1000 according to our tour guide and according to Wikipedia there) were 36,884 in 2011, down from 300,000 before the revolution (and a high of 745k in 1930). Unlike other countries I've visited like the Czech Republic, where German was once the prestige language but since the War, it's been entirely displaced by Czech, in Transylvania they are not only au fait but indeed proud of their German heritage; there were lots of signs and shops referring to Braşov by its German name of Kronstadt (not to be confused with the fortress of the same name off the coast of St Petersburgx).

However, between 1950 and 1960 the city was known as Stalin City. I was astonished to discover the name lasted so long after Krushchev's denouncement of Stalin, but a quick check reveals the name Stalingrad also lasted until then.

The city has a picturesque centre, and a spur of the Carpathian mountains extends into the middle of the city, heavily forested and adorned with a light-up sign reading BRASOV. (We thought the city had delusions of being the new Hollywood, but when we visited a hilltop fortress Râşnov, we found it was similarly adorned.)

In the city centre, we found a café done up as an old pharmacy named Doctor Jekelius, after the chemist who set up Braşov's first pharmacy on the site. Hang on a tic, I thought: Jekelius... I wonder whether Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll (or the real-life Jekyll he was named after) had Romanian roots...

To be still further continued...

The Black Sea

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 06:50 pm
lethargic_man: (beardy)
So that's why they call it the Black Sea.


lethargic_man: (Default)

The Black Sea

From the Danube delta we travelled south to Mamaia for a few days on the beach at the Black Sea. In the evenings we would pass a stall selling Turkish icecream, where they were mixing it with a long and stout metal pole and lots of elbow grease; the stuff appeared to have more the consistency of a thick paste than what one expects of icecream. [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m declared she had to try it. Apparently the taste was unexceptional, but it was worth it for the entertainment vale of the way the seller handed it over to us, repeatedly leaving [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m unexpectedly empty-handed whilst the icecream instead hung upside down from the metal pole, or had been deftly transferred in a second cone leaving the one [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m was holding empty.

Mamaia is just north of the city of Constanţa, which is where the Roman poet Ovid was exiled in the first century. (I remember learning in Latin class in school about how he complained about being sent to a half-barbaric place at the edge of the empire, where the natives were so un-Roman as to wear trousers.) Constanţa is proud of the connection with him; there's a statue of him in the big square in the centre of the old town, which is now named Ovid Square, and the town outside Constanţa where Ovid died has been renamed Ovidiu. I myself met an Ovidiu whilst I was there; presumably it's a popular name in the area.

Actually, Ovid's not the only Roman connection that Romania has; when Romania was created as a country in the nineteenth century it took, on account of the Romance language spoken there, the name by which what we now call the Roman Empire was known in antiquity. In central Bucharest there's a reproduction of the famous statue of the Capitoline wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (which Wikipedia tells me was a gift from Italy to Romania a century ago), and I also saw other representations of the statue in Bucharest.


From the Black Sea, we travelled to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's father's old stomping grounds in Bucharest. Bucharest is barely on the radar at all today when one thinks of great European capitals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but apparently there was a time when it was known as the Paris of the east, and there's a lot of grandiose architecture dating from that time there.

Of course, since then it spent a time as the capital of a communist period, which left its own mark on the city. For example, as Bucharest grew (it's much bigger nowadays than it was at the end of the war), the sewerage system was unable to deal with the growth in population, and the river became effectively an open sewer running through the city. The communist authorities didn't have the technology to clean up the water properly before discharging it into the river, so they instead split the river into two layers: the lower layer, hidden from sight, is still little more than a sewer, but sitting on top of that is a nice clean waterway of only a fraction of the depth of the original.

Speaking of communist management, we learned of a couple of mind-boggling incidents during our tour of the city, whilst viewing the outside of the Palace of the People (the second largest administrative building in the world, second only to the Pentagon, commissioned by Ceauşescu but not finished until after his fall—and which Rupert Murdoch tried, unsuccessfully, to buy after the revolution to turn into a casino)... but unfortunately I've forgotten the details. :-(

One was that upon an occasion, perhaps marking some anniversary, a famous American said something about Romania which the communist authorities took great liking to; they printed it on the byline of the most prestigious newspaper in Romania for two weeks... and then they worked out he was being sarcastic; so they managed (under pain of criminal punishment) to recall all issues of the newspaper, nation-wide, that had been issued during that fortnight, to destroy the evidence of their culpability.

(The other story was similar, but I can't remember any of it.)

To be further continued...


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Lethargic Man (anag.)

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