Letter from Europe

Thoughts for the 8th of March

Issue no. 2017/8

Picture above: image © Tamarindarts / dreamstime.com


Today is International Women's Day (IWD). In the ecclesiastical calendar, Rome assigns 8 March to St John of God, who died on this day in 1550. He was, as it happens, a thoroughly decent guy who in the latter years of his life worked in Granada (Spain) as a printer, publisher and bookseller.

Dear fellow travellers

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). In an ideal world, the Catholic Church might have arranged to mark the feast of one or more illustrious female saints on this day, but it's likely that a day dedicated to celebrating the rights and achievements of women does not strike a chord with the Catholic hierarchy in many countries.

In the ecclesiastical calendar, Rome assigns 8 March to St John of God, who died on this day in 1550. He was, as it happens, a thoroughly decent guy who in the latter years of his life worked in Granada (Spain) as a printer, publisher and bookseller. He is the patron saint of booksellers, and we hope that small booksellers in Catholic areas of Europe will today spare a thought for St John of God.

We have no gripe with St John of God and we sense that, had he known that he would end up competing with (or complementing) IWD in the commemoration stakes, he'd surely have taken care to breathe his last a day or two earlier or later. He died in a very saintly manner, having contracted pneumonia after diving into a river to save a drowning child.

There is nothing saintly about hidden europe magazine, the latest issue of which was published yesterday. The logic of the production cycle might have suggested today as publication date, but we didn't dare clash with IWD (or St John of God). So we settled on 7 March, the Feast of Saints Felicity and Perpetua, as the launch date for hidden europe 51. Both women came to an unhappy end, martyred in 203AD, but we've a soft spot for Felicity in particular who seems by all accounts to have been a pretty unconventional type. We like to think that, had she lived much later, she'd have been just the sort of woman to fly the feminist flag.

It is interesting to note that in hidden europe 51 most of the words were written by women. Over 95% of them in fact. Our data elves counted every word, just to check. We wonder if any other travel magazine can quite match that. We do aim to be just slightly subversive, and in this new issue of the magazine there are plenty of words to make you think.

We look at how history is appropriated, reworked and packaged to suit the interests of the moment. In hidden europe 51 we see instances of that at Butrint in Albania and Malbork in Poland.

Such weighty matters aside, we take time out to reflect on mules and cold baths and to investigate the untold delights tucked away in the latest edition of the national rail timetable of the Czech Republic.

It is our mission to report on places which pass without remark in mainstream media, and we do just that in hidden europe 51. We would wager that you have never heard of the Kene Plateau or the Emile Baudot Escarpment.

There are four main features in this new issue of the magazine. We look at religious iconography in villages in Brittany and explore the threads of Jewish faith in Warsaw. We have a fine report on the crafting of filigree in Prizren in Kosovo and we recall a decisive moment in the Cold War when Nikita Khrushchev travelled to Albania to tell Enver Hoxha that Albania should plant bay trees and focus on the production of citrus fruits. Enver was not amused!

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

If you have regularly read our 'Letter from Europe' but never seen the actual magazine, now is surely a good moment to put that right. You can purchase single issues or subscriptions in our online shop. Or call us on +49 30 755 16128 to place your order.

Related note

The warm shadow of Isabelle Eberhardt

Many years ago, I spent a long hot summer in and around a sleepy ksar on the edge of the Sahara. I read many books that summer, but it was 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam' that tugged and tugged again, urging me to return to its pages. That book was my introduction to Isabelle Eberhardt, a writer who — perhaps more than any other — has influenced my life and my thinking. This summer, so far from the desert and in a country where the most charming of all oases is my garden, I turned to Sharon Bangert’s English translation of 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam'. It appears under the Peter Owen imprint in a pocket-sized paperback.

Related note

Liturgical adventures during Coronavirus times

Across much of Europe, church services and other faith gatherings were very limited or non-existent at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, churches remained open for private prayer, but there were some countries where churches were locked. For me, as perhaps for many others in these difficult times, the online services streamed by various congregations have been an unexpected blessing.