Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I enquire in Spain about the Visigoths

Denia and its castle
Just back from the Costa Blanca, a place called Denia.  In general Costa Blanca is dire but there are nuggets.  Also it’s near Granada and the Alhambra, which is just as wonderful as people say.  
The known history of Denia dates only from the Arab Conquest (8th-13th Centuries). Denia Castle (built by the Arabs during the 11th Century) houses a small Archaeological Museum.  I was interested in the Visigoths, who preceded the Arabs, and I asked the museum director about them.  They didn't leave any traces in this area and I didn't quite follow his explanation of why not, but when I asked how the Visigoths lived he said they carried on Roman civilisation, and said their advent in Spain was only a "political change".  If I understood him right he even referred to the 6th and 7th centuries as the "late Roman period".
Later, I checked this out with an archaeologist friend of mine who confirmed that the accepted orthodoxy now is that the incoming "barbarians" were in effect an elite (much as the Normans were in England in 1066) and they took over a lot of the existing administration and infrastructure.  Pottery production, for instance, continued in the Roman pottery production centres and new tastes and styles demanded by the new elites were assimilated into the existing ceramic traditions.  Much the same goes for agriculture, architectural styles and land organisation.  So the museum director who referred to the 6th and 7th centuries as "late Roman" reflects this point of view. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Improperly pronounced in the West

Extract from Insight guide to China, 8th ed 1998, p 156 :-

The third Ming emperor, Yongle, is credited with the planning of the capital. In 1421 he moved his government from Nanjing to Beiping (Northern Peace) and renamed it Beijing (Northern Capital).  Improperly pronounced in the West, the city became known as Peking, a name that persists in such instances as Peking duck.
It’s this improperly pronounced in the West business that gets my goat.  How do we pronounce the capital of France? Sweden’s largest port?  Sweden itself for that matter or Germany or Spain?  The capital of Austria?  The principal cities of Italy?  Are all of these improperly pronounced?  If so it ought to cease forthwith.