The usual over-abundance of great, enlightening, challenging things in this month’s National Geographic, from a look at the alien worlds of sea mounts to a maddeningly wimpy profile of the cataclysmic recent changes in weather-patterns to a great, comprehensive piece on the frontiers of ancient Rome and what they meant (and didn’t mean) to both the Romans and the ‘barbarians’ on the other side. Especially interesting was Tom O’Neill’s article on the Gypsies of Romania, many communities of which are now finding themselves rich on a booming trade of silver and other metals (on and off the black market). Since human nature is a constant, these newly wealthy Roma are busy building ugly, gaudy new mansions with enormous satellite dishes and Gone with the Wind-style staircases, although O’Neill comments on the strange ways in which age-old customs jockey side-by-side with new twists:

 

… I asked to use the toilet. [My host] showed me not to the Jacuzzi-equipped bathroom inside but to an outhouse at the back of the lot, the same one he and his wife use. For reasons of ritual purity, many Roma, especially older ones, do not cook and use the toilet under the same roof. In other houses, I saw teenage wives serving meals to teenage husbands. Arranged matches of children as young as 13 remain common among the town’s wealthy families.

The article is accompanied by excellent photographs by Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky, showing many of the indigenous treasures of this suddenly-prosperous city in a formerly-despised corner of Europe. Readers already familiar with the peculiar attractions of the region will feel nostalgic twinge at how well they’re captured here.

It’s all a captivating glance into another world – just the thing we rely on National Geographic to do so well.

 

 

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