Monday, September 4, 2017

And now the Balkans

We're currently in the Balkans. I know very little about this area. I'm not even certain which countries are in the Balkans. Opinions differ, plus it depends on which century you're referring to. The one thing people do seem to agree on is that they're in eastern and southeastern Europe.

In general, the Balkans

The history here is wildly complicated but one thing I have learned is that, from the 15th century, most of the Balkans were under Ottoman rule for about 500 years. By the mid-20th century Balkan countries, free of Ottoman influence began experimenting with socialism and communism. Today, the Balkan countries are all more or less democratic but still very raw. Romania, where we are now, only got rid of its strong man dictator in 1989.

But back to now. On August 9, we took the train from Venice to Slovenia, our first country in the Balkans. We stayed three days there, in Ljubljana - then five in Belgrade (Serbia) - six in Athens and five in Thessaloniki (Greece), and then five days in Sofia (Bulgaria). Now, after a ten hour train from Sofia to Bucharest, we're in Romania for 11 days . . . five in Bucharest then on to Brasov for six including, of course, Transylvania. It's hard to keep up with all this here. We're out every day and when I'm online, sadly, the current Trump and Republican shit show in America occupies a fair amount of my attention. Paltry as they be, the following notes are all I've got for now.

Our apartment in Ljubljana was a tiny quasi-fascist era flat, very basic but good internet, quiet, centrally located, with a very friendly host, an American fellow married to a Slovenian. And Ljubljana itself is a nice town built along a river in an area first settled about 2000 B.C. According to legend, it is guarded by dragons. It's a very livable place, with pedestrian streets, lively open air cafes and markets. There's even an anarchist neighborhood in Ljubljana famous for its graffiti, art projects and night life. Luckily, the world wars of the 20th century mostly bypassed Ljubljana though it was under fascist rule from WWII until 1991 which, predictably, left it somewhat bleak.

Reminder of war - Belgrade, Serbia
Sad reminder of the Kosovo War
Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade was a different story. Its history dates back to at least 7000 BC and, because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, it has endured 115 wars and been razed to the ground 44 times, including by Attila the Hun in 471. Most recently, 1999, Belgrade was bombed again, this time for 78 days straight during the Kosovo War by both sides in the conflict.

Downtown Belgrade - Serbia
Downtown Belgrade with bombed out building

It was eerie being in a city my "own" country helped bomb. I could see the remains of a bombed out building from the window of our flat. And, as if that were not spectral enough, on what had been the fourth or fifth floor, a house nestled in the hollow of the building's skeleton. There were bombed out buildings in the center of town as well. I kept reminding myself that I am simply another bystander along the road as history marches by but, after hearing our tour guide's take on things, I have the distinct impression that poor Belgrade, hanging by its hinges, disagrees.

To be continued . . .


Roy said...

re history being wildly complicated, I'm finding this out as I try to research my family in Naples and Sicily in the 1700s. Good grief. This may be why this part of the world, especially the Balkans and Anatolia, doesn't get much coverage in World History classes in grade school and high school--it's just too damn convoluted. Much easier to stick with the standard "Western Civilization" and wish everybody luck.

asha said...

That would be hard. A couple of my relatives did some unraveling of our family roots but they both had to go to Europe to do it. Not something I'd want to do. I really did enjoy doing a DNA test though. It was really surprising to see where that led. Turns out I have ancestors all over Europe and even in Africa. I liked that part best . . . Africa, India and even a bit of Russian Jew. Wonderful.

Roy said...

I did the DNA thing and it didn't correspond with the family history that I thought I knew! (probably a common occurrence.) Probably the most fun part was the higher than average percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Hmm. What outfit did you use for your DNA testing?

asha said...

I used How about you?

Yes, I agree with you. I think the results probably surprise most people. Of course this is totally simplistic but the way I see genetic inheritance now is that each parent has a bag of marbles but only contributes a handful to each child. Don't quote me on this but this is how I explain why my sister and I look so different different. I got a more DNA from the Mediterranean than she did. Anyway, Neanderthal DNA, eh? I didn't realize it went back that far.

Roy said...

I used National Geographic. The results were very generic, with things like, in my case, in order of predominance, Mediterranean, Northern European, Southwest Asian, ("Anatolia.") Native American, Eastern Asian (?). The clinker was about half the amount of Native American that I expected, making my grandmother only 1/4 Indian, instead of at least half. I guess for her the rest was French, (fur trappers?) which explained the greater than 1/4 Mediterranean that I expected in my DNA. And so on and so on. I took away the idea that 1.) there are no "white" people, and 2.) throw the family stories out the window. You are what you are. OH, and 3.) We are all pretty damn exotic! Darset never had her DNA tested, but I'm pretty sure she was a Viking.

Roy said...

I'm not sure how they do the Neanderthal tests. Certain markers they know are from Neanderthals, or attribute to the Neanderthal influence. Virtually every person alive who is not 100% sub-Saharan African has a couple percent at least of Neanderthal DNA. It's an interesting afternoon's worth of Google hits.

asha said...

If I understand this correctly, again, DNA is like a bag of marbles. We only get a handful from each parent's bag, not the whole bag from each that then somehow becomes a perfect "half and half". I came to this conclusion after seeing Lee and his mom's charts. He didn't get all the things in her mix. It blew my old 1/2 and 1/2 concept away. His Dad has passed but he talked his dad's brother into doing a test. His chart really blew our minds. Way different than expected. So don't throw the old family stories out just yet. Nature/nurture, right? It all hangs together somehow but yeah, DNA testing destroys the naive idea of "racial purity". Tosses it into the trash and good riddance.

What say you? Does my "marble bag" idea fit into anything you've read on the subject?

Roy said...

It sure doesn't seem to be a mathematically exact process. One of those probability things, like where electrons might be at any given moment. I think you're right though. My mother is one of four sisters, where the other three have a lot of family resemblance, but not her. Specifically, she looks the least Native American, as their mother, my grandmother, was a significant percentage of Indian. Does that mean I am less Indian than my cousins? In fact, that may explain why I tested out with such a small percentage of Native American DNA. It'd be interesting to have them all tested, including my sister.
It's fun, but as you say, we are all humans with some statistically slight differences among us. I had no African DNA, but I expected something weird to pop up due to the Sicilian connection.
When I was a kid, we always said we were "Heinz 57." Now, I'm going to say, sort of like the medium sized, short haired yellow cur dog you saw begging for food in Istanbul.

Roy said...

I meant to mention a little factoid I picked up while reading up on this stuff. The DNA markers NatGeo uses for Native American shows up ONLY in Native American populations in the Americas--and in very small amounts in two populations in Mongolia and Siberia.

asha said...

At least in the dog world, mutts seem to fare far better than pure breeds in the long run so I'm fine with being a mutt. After all, what does "pure breed" even mean other than that the descendants draw from a smaller and smaller pool as time goes on. Inbreds, dogs or humans, don't fare well. Ozark inbreds for example or gimpy German Shepherds. The well runs dry.

One family photo from my early 20s always comes to mind regarding this. I look like a foreign exchange student from Morocco or Turkey while my sister looks perfectly Northern European. Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest" has been challenged by the theory of random luck, right place/right time. IMO, diversity is our strength not clone "perfection". Clones have nothing to contribute. How can they adapt?