what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Praise of Fault Lines


I used to boast that the border of Transylvania ran through my back garden since Arges county to the south belongs to Wallachia and Brasov County to Transylvania - two of the original countries before the creation of Romania, with Wallachia being a (fairly autonomous) part of the Ottoman Empire and Transylvania part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Thanks to the Brasov City website, I now realise that I sit on an even more important dividing line – that of Samuel Huntington’s (in)famous fault line between western and the eastern civilization.
I don’t visit Brasov as often as I should, given that it is only 40 spectacular kilometres’ drive from the mountain house. I am too caught up in the delights of the house - its library, music and scenery; and in reading and blogging. But, to my shame, perform all too little of the hard practical work carried out by my old neighbours – although I have just helped Viciu secure some of the fence with a heavy mallet.  He tells me another Amazon packet has arrived – so this post must be finished before I am seduced by its latest offerings! 
Normal post always gets here; it’s the DHL delivery (which Amazon occasionally chooses for no apparent reason) which I fear since they don’t have the flexibility to deal with my absence. The good old post system is part of the community network and knows to deliver all packages to my old neighbours down the hill. DHL aren’t and don’t – and the package is returned in my absence par avion to whence it came. This local knowledge is what James Scott called “metis” in his famous book Seeing Like a State. It is a counterweight to the type of technical or theoretical knowledge held by bureaucrats and scientists. Most such practical knowledge held by those in the field cannot be reduced to simple formulae and rules - and much of it remains implicit. 

The heart of Brasov is a medieval Saxon town – slowly (oh so slowly) being restored.  In the 14th century Brasov became one of the most economical and political strongholds in the Southeast of Europe and, in the 16th century, also a cultural centre. Johannes Honterus, a great German humanist, worked most of the time in Brasov; and Deaconu Coresi printed the first Romanian book in Brasov
When I first visited the town in 1991 (in an ambulance since I was a WHO representative then), I heard German spoken in the street; and could buy 2 German language newspapers. My lodgings overlooked the huge and famous Black Church (with its ancient hanging kilims) – so called because of the soot which coated it after the fire of April 1689 which destroyed most houses and killed 3,000 inhabitants.
Most of the German-speakers left Transylvania in the early 1990s – as a result of increased German government financial blandishments (which had existed even in Ceaucescu’s time). Spacious, sturdy and superbly maintained houses fell subsequently into disrepair – not least because they were quickly occupied by gypsies.
Compared with Bulgaria, Romanian citizens and leaders do not seem to respect the past and tradition. They have bought the American dream – and it is the purchase and consumption of material products. Old houses are left to rot – or their old features and charm destroyed in modernisation. 
I was, therefore, glad to see in the Carteresti bookshop in the heart of old Brasov (itself in a sensitively restored old house) a great book on the restoration of old Romanian houses. The link shows many of the pictures in the book. 
For some reason, being on the edge of cultures appeals to me. I was, a few years back, vaguely interested in buying somewhere at the corner of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. And here I am on this significant faultline. Perhaps it's all due to my Greenock upbringing - still then a significant shipbuilding town. I lived in the church manse in the town's munificent Victorian West End - but had most of my being, both as a schoolboy and politician, in the town's east end (except for my cricket and rugby!). I didn't belong to either west or east - but I understood both. And I seem to have developed a niche in encouraging and helping different cultures (whether of class, professional group, party or country) to come together and talk! 

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