Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Sardinia is a place steeped in superstition, as the English novelist DH Lawrence discovered when he rushed through the island and found it a curious place, 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere', as he wrote in Sea and Sardinia (1921). Blood feud in the Sardinian hills may be a thing of the past, but there remains an enigmatic quality to life in the remoter parts of this island.

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Dear fellow travellers

It is not so often that you simultaneously receive a lesson in both numerology and in Latin at the airport check-in desk. So it was recently at Olbia airport in Sardinia. 'Are you sure you want a seat in row seventeen?' asked the agent, in a tone that suggested that few sane citizens would even consider the possibility of taking a seat in that row. Naturally we queried why one might not want a seat in row seventeen, only to find that, for some Italians, seventeen is as laden with superstitious overtones as the number thirteen is elsewhere. Evidently 17 (XVII) is an anagram of VIXI, which in Latin, so the airline agent explained, means 'I have lived'. Enlightened by this splendid piece of Sardinian occult numerology, we judged it best to settle on row 18, which transpired to be a perfectly safe choice on a plane which, though crowded, was entirely empty in row 17.

Sardinia is a place steeped in superstition, as the English novelist DH Lawrence discovered when he rushed through the island and found it a curious place, 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere', as he wrote in Sea and Sardinia (1921). Blood feud in the Sardinian hills may be a thing of the past, but there remains an enigmatic quality to life in the remoter parts of this island. Driving the tortuous roads that Lawrence followed en route from Sorgono to Nuoro, one still has the sense that these are by-ways that link villages that might somehow prefer to stay apart. Suspicion and superstition are the pillars that define convention in some of the more out of the way spots on this island.

In the next issue of hidden europe we return to Sardinia with a feature on this corner of Europe that contrives to juggle more languages and cultures than most of us could ever handle. It is a place of villages and faces that are all richly textured. And, also in our January issue, alerted by the episode at Olbia airport to the importance of keeping up to speed with our Latin language skills, we go in search of European radio stations that regularly broadcast the news in Latin.

The Moldova - Romania border

The demonstrations outside the Romanian embassy in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, this past day or two highlight the difficulties of people living in the villages along the Prut river valley. Nowadays the west bank belongs to Romania, and the east bank to Moldova. Iasi, on the Romanian side, is the handsome regional centre that serves a dense network of villages on both sides of the border. Romania is committed to introducing next year a requirement that visiting Moldovans must first of all secure a visa, so this looks set to be another case of a community being divided by a tough border regime. Just as the Setu who live on either side of the Russian - Estonian border now find it difficult to maintain links across that divide, so villagers along the Prut valley in Moldova may find that the weekly trip to a nearby Romanian market quickly becomes a thing of the past. Romania's growing rapprochement with the EU has its price - a price that, in part at least, is paid by the Moldovan villagers who find themselves on the wrong side of the Prut river.

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This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.