18 December 2013

Migration: Paul Salopek's Out of Eden Walk

December 18 is International Migrants Day.

Migrations have frequently occurred in the recent history of mankind, almost everywhere around the world. Now, since the world is becoming smaller and smaller, the migration routes are becoming big highways: today more than 200 million people are migrants, according to the data of the United Nations.

Yet, migration is far from being considered a normal phenomenon, especially when it comes to seeing foreigners arrive in our own country. Immigration and emigration have changed the history of many European countries, with some dramatic cases standing out: around half of the Albanians live away from their countries of origin (Albania and Kosovo).
Millions of Europeans left in search of a better life in North and South America, and it's been only after World War II that Europe has started receiving a considerable amount of immigrants.

But... Where did it all begin? Africa, Rift Valley. After wandering around the Continent for a while, our common ancestors decided to walk around the globe and set foot on most of the lands of this planet.

Now, in 2013, the journalist Paul Salopek (read biography here) has decided to walk on the pathways of the humans who first colonized the world: he started an awesome, mind-blowing 7-year journey by foot, beautifully documented in his project called Out of Eden Walk.

Give a look to the website and to the related contents: simply amazing!
"The guiding star of the walk’s storyline isn’t me. It’s the journey itself, the swarm of ideas and people encountered along the road. The opportunities to link the ambulatory journalism to education are nearly limitless." (Paul Salopek)


Out of Eden Walk Trailer from Out of Eden Walk on Vimeo.

13 December 2013

European toponymy* and synecdoches**

* Toponymy: "the study of place names"
** Synecdoche: "a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa [...]"

The following post wants to address an important issue, because, as Chris McCandless said, it is important "to call each thing by its right name". As Mandela said, it is also important not to randomly quote famous people, but that's another issue.

"Bosnia"

Level 1: Bosnia is a geographical region, but it is not a country. Bosnia and Herzegovina IS a country. Herzegovina is also a region. The region of Bosnia and the region of Herzegovina together form (guess what?) Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Level 2: People from Bosnia are called Bosnians. People from Herzegovina are called Herzegovinians. People from Bosnia and Herzegovina are generally called Bosnians, even though if you say "Bosnian" to a person from Mostar you might be corrected to "Herzegovinian".
Level 3: Bosnia and Herzegovina (abbreviation: BiH) is divided into 2 entities, Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (or simply "Federation"). Republika Srpska of course IS NOT the Republic of Serbia (which is the formal name for Serbia, by the way). Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina obviously IS NOT Bosnia and Herzegovina, just one of its two parts.
Level 4: The official capital of Republika Srpska is Sarajevo, but the National Assembly and the Government are based in Banja Luka. The capital of the Federation is also Sarajevo. The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is... (drum beats) ...Sarajevo!
Level 5: In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are 3 "ethnic groups", which mostly reflect the religious affiliation of the Bosnians: Bosniaks (= Bosnian Muslims), Croats (Catholic) and Serbs (Orthodox). Republika Srpska has a majority of Serbs, the Federation has a majority of Bosniaks, although some cities (especially in Herzegovina) have a Croat majority.
Level 6: Bosnian Croats are Croats (of course!). Croatians are also Croats. If I understood correctly (it's level 6, guys!), a Croatian is a citizen of Croatia; "Croats", on the other hand, defines the "ethnic group". But in Italian, Croatian and Croat are both translated with "croati"...

"Macedonia"

- The Republic of Macedonia is the formal name of the country that is called Macedonia by most people in the world.
- Macedonia is also a region of Greece. Its biggest city is Thessaloniki.
- Macedonia is also an historical region which includes Macedonia (region of Greece), the Republic of Macedonia, and parts of surrounding countries.
- The Republic of Macedonia IS NOT called Macedonia by the Greek people. Instead, it is called "Former Yugoslavian Republic Of Macedonia" (FYROM).


Last but not least, macedonia is the common word used in Italy to indicate the fruit salad...

"Holland"

HOLLANDE IS NOT A COUNTRY! (caps lock required...)
This funny video explains the whole deal:


"England"

Although this blog specifically deals with Europe, this is als... What? Oh yes, "England" is actually a part of Europe, they told me.


"Friuli"

Andate a Trieste e rivolgetevi ad un triestino chiamandolo "furlan". E capirete.

10 December 2013

One important thing and many boring statistics

Important thing

This is something I wrote a few months ago, after I started hosting and meeting people through Couchsurfing and Warmshowers in Coimbra. After 2 months playing the part of the "surfer", it got an even greater meaning:
[...] maybe the greatest life lesson has come from couchsurfing. We are often warned about how dangerous the world is and how wrong it is to trust a stranger. But we forget that we are strangers in the eyes of every traveller and that our behaviour can influence his/her opinion about our own town, our country or even the goodness of mankind. By defeating fear and prejudice towards other people, we are always rewarded with some good moments which remind us that, after all, "there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for". Stay human.
Thanks to all the "strangers" that turned into friends!


Boring statistics

64 days.
63 nights in 43 different places.
44 nights hosted by someone, 17 nights in hostels/rooms, 2 nights on overnight trains.

18 borders crossed.
11 countries.
7 capitals: Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, Athens, Tirana and Sarajevo.

2580 km by bike.
2500-3000 km by train or bus.
135 km on the longest biking day (November 18, from Parga to Sarande).

16 trains.
4 buses.
1 ferryboat.
1 bicycle.

15 km/h: normal average on a hilly day for the first week, when I was out of shape.
18 km/h: normal average on a hilly day after 1 month.
8 km/h: reasonable speed on a 6-8% climb.
58 km/h: maximum speed.

33x16, 33x18, 33x20: most used gears (= 3,5-4,5 metres per pedal revolution).
10^5 - 10^6: order of magnitude for the number of pedal revolutions during the journey.

75 kg: my weight.
~ 18-20 kg: total weight of the bags.
~ 15 kg: weight of the bicycle.

Max temperature: 28°C, 4/11/2013 in Thessaly, Greece
Min temperature: -3°C, 29/11/2013 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (not biking though...)

1 puncture.
0 other significant problems with the bicycle.

~ 850 € spent during the journey, of which:
230 € on accomodation
200 € on transportation
30-40 € on museum entrances and other tickets
20 € on the bicycle
almost all the rest on food/drinks (5-6 € per day)

Countries for number of visits in the blog: Italy (3000), Croatia (1100), USA (300), Greece, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Slovenia, Portugal...

0 kg lost while travelling.
100-120 g: average quantity of chocolate I ate everyday.
3 damn good tiramis├╣ made.


9 December 2013

Borders

"Mitakuye Oyasin" is a Lakota prayer. It means "we are all related" or "all my connections".
We are all related, so there is no difference among people, so need for borders. "Imagine there's no country...", using more famous words. I don't know if it is just a coincidence, but I immediately thought at where the Lakota people live: in the never-ending Great Plains. How can you imagine setting a border in a place like that?

64 days travelling through the Balkans, 18 borders crossed:
1) Italy-Slovenia
2) Slovenia-Croatia
3) Croatia-Hungary
4) Hungary-Croatia
5) Croatia-Serbia
6) Serbia-Bulgaria
7) Bulgaria-Greece
8) Greece-Macedonia
9) Macedonia-Greece
10) Greece-Albania
11) Albania-Montenegro
12) Montenegro-Croatia
13) Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina
14) Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia
15) Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina
16) Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia
17) Croatia-Slovenia
18) Slovenia-Italy


Many people asked me how it is to cross a border on a bicycle. The answer is: nothing special. The first time is fun, then it becomes just a matter of showing your ID (Italian citizens don't need passport for any country that I visited, even for those that don't belong to the EU) twice to the Police of both countries on the border. They might ask you where you are going, and nothing more.

A lot of blood was spilled to determine whether a certain border should be in the place it is or a few kilometres away. Borders changed the lives of many people: am I part of a majority or minority? Was I born in the "wrong" place? Lakota people would not understand this, I bet.

Questions:
1) Why do borders exist?
2) Are borders immutable?

While borders have a certain political and administrative function, I think it is everybody's task to question their existence, at least on a "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" base. Thinking that the current borders have always existed, have historical legitimacy and therefore will always exist is just useful propaganda, most of the times. In fact, borders don't exist, if you try to convince yourself of it.

It seems common to all countries to declare their current borders immutable to prevent parts of their territory to secede and declare independence. For example, Article 5 of the Italian Constitution states: "The Republic, one and indivisible, [...]". The United States of America also don't give the right to secede peacefully to parts of its territory, although the 1776 Declaration of Independence would suggest the opposite, when saying that "[...] whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness".

Without aiming at writing a political essay, I just wanted to introduce the topic because I feel that there is too much nationalist crap everywhere in the Balkans (and not only there...). I'm saying it straight just because I started loving the history, the culture and the people who live in this area, and when you love a place you try to understand its past and care about its future.

For nationalists, borders separate "us" from "them". Even though those borders changed several times in the past 100 years, now they can't change anymore, they say. Tradition, culture and language of the homeland must be preserved, apparently.

But seriously, how can people (not politicians, who do it just for their own interest) give so much importance to these fictitious lines?
Any Serb will find happiness when the last Bosniak leaves Republika Srpska?
Any Croatian will find happiness when Vukovar becomes a cyrillic-free city?

Mitakuye oyasin.