Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2016/16 posted by hidden europe on

Few European cities are so enshrined in myth, fable, stories and song as Odessa. And that's why we judged Odessa a fabulous choice for our lead feature in the new issue of hidden europe. This is an immensely likeable city, one which we visited for the very first time this spring but a place to which we shall surely return.

article summary —

hidden europe 49 is now available. An investment of 8 euros is a fine way of discovering another side of Europe: a continent enriched by the ebb and flow of ideas and peoples. If you have been a regular reader of our Letter from Europe, but have never actually seen a copy of the print magazine, why not support our work by buying hidden europe 49 now? Just visit our online shop.

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Dear fellow travellers

Ze'ev Jabotinsky would surely like the latest issue of hidden europe which was just published this week. Jabotinsky was born in Odessa in 1880 and died in the United States. He is buried in Jerusalem. During his three score years on this earth, he roamed far and wide, helping create the British Army's Jewish Legion in the First World War and later founding a number of Zionist organisations. We probably would not have seen eye to eye with Jabotinsky over many political issues, but we would have loved to spend a few evenings just listening to Jabotinsky talk about his Odessa childhood. For, wherever he went, Ze'ev Jabotinsky remained an Odessan at heart. And in the complex game of identity in late-Tsarist Russia, Jabotinsky was Odessan and Jewish — juggling those identities to suit the needs of the moment. Any affinity with Russia trailed a poor third.

“In Odessa, everyone was an Odessan,” Jabotinsky recalled in his memoirs. “Odessa was not really a Russian city. Nor was it a Jewish city,” wrote Jabotinsky. For this Jewish intellectual, identity was like something hewn in marble and a childhood in Odessa left a person marked for life.

Few European cities are so enshrined in myth, fable, stories and song as Odessa. And that's why we judged Odessa a fabulous choice for our lead feature in the new issue of hidden europe. This is an immensely likeable city, one which we visited for the very first time this spring but a place to which we shall surely return. We subtitle our Odessa feature "Between the Steppe and the Sea", a phrase which captures the liminality of this Ukrainian city. It is on the edge of the Pontic steppe and on the shores of the Black Sea. But Odessa has historically been in the centre of everything and its noisy, multilingual and multicultural character has shaped the city and its citizens. The greatest entrepôt of the Yiddish-speaking world welcomed not just Jews, but Armenians, Greeks, Tatars, Italians, French and traders from around the Black Sea and beyond. "It was the merchants who made Odessa," wrote Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

The colour of Odessa was created by migrants. Indeed, Catherine the Great's entire Novorossiya project, of which Odessa was the centrepiece, relied on a rich stream of migrants. The first governor of Odessa was born in Naples with an Irish mother and a Spanish father. His successor was an aristocratic Frenchman. But there was nothing aristocratic about much of Odessan life. It teemed with trade and talk of finance, it teemed with scams and swindlers. There were Greek coffee houses, and rough bars which sold cheap wine from Bessarabia. And of course all Odessa tales return eventually to the city's most distinctive landmark: the Potemkin Steps, which lead from the harbour up to the city. We picture that staircase, the locale for Eisenstein's iconic cinema scenes (in Battleship Potemkin), on the front cover of the new hidden europe.

Between the covers of hidden europe 49, we have much more beyond Odessa. We learn about the art of crafting cowbells in Portugal's Alentejo region and witness a traditional pig slaughter in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We meet Igor who sells berries on a roadside in Karelia, follow Dutch dredgers and drainers, and take the train south to Sicily. We throw in Serbia and Switzerland too. This issue of the magazine really does roam widely across the continent. You can preview the content online on our website.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Posted in Places
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.