East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Like Outer Mongolia

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middleton-extremes-on-the-silk-roadIt took me a while (…) but I’m finally getting into Nick Middleton’s Extremes along the Silk Road.
I’m kicking myself for having waited so long, as the book is turning out to be a lot of fun, and filled with information and nicely-observed detail.

Middleton’s a good writer – to the point and amusing, very British in his approach to the idea of crossing the Gobi Desert as part of his exploration of the Silk Road.

And there’s a point where I had to stop and pause for a moment.

Early in his adventure, Middleton is spending some time as a guest in a local family’s ger, the round yurt typical of Mongolian nomads, and he observes how the daily routines and the lifestyle of these people has not changed in generations.

And I thought, well, neither has it changed hereabouts.

And it’s true, you see – only I don’t live in Outer Mongolia, but only in Southern Piedmont, about one hour drive from Turin (for over a century the industrial capital of my country) and one hour drive from Milan (still the economic capital of Italy).
And yet here, here where I live, this sad 900-people town, I could as well be in 1910.
This is rural country, and things are done like the fathers and grandfathers did them.
School is optional – but if you want to study, you can get a diploma as quantity surveyor.
The changes to lifestyle – leisure, entertainment, culture – are all superficial and somewhat watered down, distant.


People here watch football matches on the big screen in my cousin”s bar – you won’t catch them discussing the Game of Thrones end of season,or what Big Bang Theory character is their favorite. They don’t give one hot damn about the new Star Wars movie, or the Tarzan remake.
I mean, hereabouts Iron Maiden is a popular band with young rebels.
These people’s basic interests and their concerns are generally the same of their fathers and their grandfathers. They make a living in the same way, working in the same fields, having the same expectations.
Tractors have replaced oxen in working the fields, and everybody’s got a car – but that’s just like sidecar motorbikes replacing camels in Middleton’s book.


So I was thinking that we often dream about far away places and exotic locales “where time has stopped” – places like Outer Mongolia.
But actually, take a short drive from any big city, and you might as well find yourself in a place that’s two or three generations behind what you call “present”.
And it’s not romantic, and it’s not fun.
It feels more like Deliverance, with none of the amusement.

And I’m really thinking about moving to Outer Mongolia – at least they have camels.
And sidecar motorbikes.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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