Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/14 posted by hidden europe on

Some modern travellers jet from one end of Europe to the other, often only to find on arrival at their chosen destination that the place seems uncannily like home. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss bemoaned the fact that everywhere was somehow becoming ever more similar.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

thriving locally in a global economy

Some modern travellers jet from one end of Europe to the other, often only to find on arrival at their chosen destination that the place seems uncannily like home. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss bemoaned the fact that everywhere was somehow becoming ever more similar. Writing more than fifty years ago in his memoir and travelogue Tristes Tropiques, Lévi-Strauss declared "I wish I had lived in the days of real journeys," going on to lament the loss of customs, ceremonies and beliefs that differentiated one community from another.

Bear in mind that Lévi-Strauss was writing long before brand names like Tesco and Starbucks brought a dull uniformity to retailing and consumption. Yet even with these global brands cluttering some of Europe's cityscapes, it seems to us on our travels around the continent that there is infinitely more variety and difference across Europe than some commentators might credit. Yes, there really is a Transylvanian Housing Estate in Budapest, and you will not find a lot of those in Manchester, Moscow or Madrid. Only Brussels can boast Le Plasticarium, an exhibition that celebrates all things plastic, and when did you last run across sakotis outside Lithuania? Sakotis? That Lithuanian trademark dessert, a sort of spiky punk confection, goes down a treat in Vilnius.

So we wonder if Lévi-Strauss missed the point. Europe is absolutely full of variety. The issue is that you just need to look for it. The big brands are not quite everywhere, and Europe is still a continent characterised more by its variety than by its homogeneity. In the new issue of hidden europe magazine (number 26 - May/June 2009) we pick up on this idea of the global versus the local, and it'll be no surprise that we come down firmly on the side of the local. No-one will be especially impressed when you return home from Budapest with reports of the best deli-brunch on the planet. But they might well be intrigued to hear of that Transylvanian Housing Estate or of a museum devoted to the history of equipment used by hairdressers.

And that's a theme that pervades so much of our writing, and that of other authors who have influenced us deeply. Among the latter is Isabelle Eberhardt, a remarkable woman of Russian extraction who was born in Geneva in 1877. Eberhardt described in her diaries how "there are certain special times, certain mysteriously privileged moments when, intuitively and fleetingly, a country will reveal its soul." And it is just such moments that we try to capture in hidden europe.

Yes, yes, global currents and trends are well worth monitoring, but we set our store by the local. Despite Lévi-Strauss' assertions to the contrary, real journeys are still very possible in Europe today. It is all a matter of your own state of mind.

hidden europe subscription offer

Yes, we travel too. Our offices will be closed from the evening of Monday 4 May until Friday 15 May. So any copies of hidden europe ordered during that period will be posted on 16 May.

However: By way of atoning for this unusual break in our regular despatches, we offer two free back issues for any one year subscription taken out from now till Friday 15 May. You'll be able to specify which back issues you would like to have during checkout. This also applies to gift subscriptions.

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

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.