14 September 2007

Liverpool bookshops

I have a day to spend in Liverpool. Naturally, I visited some bookshops. It turns out they are much better than the ones in Dublin. Most of them actually have a section with scientific books that go beyond the for dummies and teach yourself in 2 seconds type of books. Of course, strange things remain. For example, I have no idea how they decided to put side-by-side a textbook on Calculus and a "textbook" on plumbing. In fact, I've heard recently that plumbers and car repairers in England are called "Engineers."

I was pleasantly surprised to notice that they even have travel guides for Bucharest and Romania. So I spent about 30 minutes reading these. The one on Bucharest started by saying that it is "the most unappealing European capital." Fair enough. From what I've seen that might well be true. The main good point was that it is a "lively" city. That sounds right too. Besides, all the places recommended in there seemed OK. Of course, there were plenty of misspellings and, at some point, the "English phonetic" translation of some phrase made absolutely no sense and was probably in some other language.

Then I looked at the Lonely Planet guide to Romania. It started with a picture of icons in a monastery. Yep, Romania has lots of small monasteries, usually placed in picturesque places. The next picture was with a group of Gypsies celebrating something. Hmm, well, there are many Gypsies in Romania but their behavior, traditions, way of life, and even appearance are quite different than that of an average Romanian. I think that choice of a picture was inappropriate. Such guides should show typical people in the beginning.

Then I continued to read a bit about history and I got quite upset. There is a well-known controversy between Romanians and Hungarians concerning the history of Transylvania. But the way it was presented in this travel-guide was simply made to generate more animosity. Which is a pity. There were lots of slightly imprecise statements and small omissions that made me feel this way.

For example, they said that "Iancu de Hunedoara is claimed by both Hungaria and Romania but he is probably of Serb lineage." What I learned in school was simply that he was born in Transylvania and that he had Serb ancestors.

Another statement was that "there is simply no evidence for the theory of continuity" which is "simply" not true as you can tell by reading the Wikipedia article linked above. This theory is also presented as being fabricated by the Communists. Also, what they say there about what this theory is about does not match either what Wikipedia says or what I have been taught in school. The latter is as follows: It is unlikely that all Dacians left from Transylvania when the Roman administration left Dacia; one piece of evidence is a couple of art objects we found that date after the Roman administration left (271-275) and look like they are made by Dacians. By no means have I been taught the obnoxious version presented in that guide, which I won't even spell out.

Finally, they say that many Magyars left Transylvania after 1920 because they have been discriminated against. Fair enough. I don't actually know about 1920 but I do know that they were discriminated against during communism. And they still are but to a much lesser extent and only by uneducated people. This is a pity and I hope things will improve. This kind of discrimination determines Magyars living in areas where they are a majority to not serve Romanians in stores sometimes, for example. (This happened to my wife.) It's regrettable but entirely understandable. The guide also says that for most of the period 1000-2000 the Transylvania was under Hungarian control. Also true. But I find it a bit strange that nowhere is mentioned that during those periods there were laws that precluded Romanians to own land and in some cases even restricted their freedom of movement.

I'd wish this kind of historical studies will be made by specialists from now on without any political pressure. In particular, I think that events from 1000 years ago cannot be sensibly used in any political claim nowadays. In fact, I hope frontiers in Europe will gradually disappear. This should reduce hate among people.

Oh, yes: Please use more reliable sources than Lonely Planet from now on when traveling. Even Wikipedia is better.

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