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A 1,000-year-old road lost to time (bbc.com)
83 points by MiriamWeiner 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments





This writing is so pretentious.

> As I trudged through the streets of Lucca on my first day, the sun shone hot on my skin and the wind brushed my face. Without the protection of a car or bus, I smelled every rubbish bin and felt the whoosh of passing cyclists. I heard the gentle thud of my feet and noticed how the texture of the ground – whether earth, grass, cobblestone or cement – changed my stride.

That is walking. He is literally just describing walking.

> On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest).

Here is the Italian version of the 7-11 in this "vertiginous hill town." https://www.google.com/maps/@43.5352956,10.9519354,3a,71.1y,.... He's not in the wilderness here. He's walking through semi-rural/suburban Italy between populated towns.

> As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce)

Oh FFS.


I share your sentiment on the piece, but recognize there are two responses here;

1) You have no romance in your soul.

2) You have lost sight of the 'now'.

For #1, people who transport themselves elsewhere into different times, different places, different people consider this quite satisfying. This is especially true in religious contexts which are short on 'modern' validation. So walking the same path as Christ did to be crucified, traveling the same path as Mohammed to Mecca, burnt offerings in druid shrines, etc. The act of re-creating or 'being in the shoes of' someone whom you know now only in writings. For some brings them closer to that person, it evokes the question "This is what it must have felt like to be <the person being emulated.>".

#2 is the one I run into more often though, which is that I don't appreciate the instant in time that is "now." These are the people, these are the smells, these are the feeling (good and bad), these are the sounds, Etc. I have met people who work very hard to "freeze the moment" in their consciousness so that they can use it in their art (be it painting, sculpting, acting, whatever). I don't feel like I have enough spare memory cycles to do that but I recognize that is just me.

So this article is written by someone who is trying to connect with a paycheck in a meaningful way, and that means words, at least 2,500 of them, on a topic that is essentially walking from here to there, along a path that a lot of people knew about and walked before. I expect they know their audience and want to connect with people who feel history 'speaks' to them when it is recreated and folks who seek out experiences that they can catalog in some sort of singular way.

In that regard I think the author was quite successful.


It's under BBC Travel. Travel writing reads a lot like this article. When I used to read the magazines they have in airlines, there destination travel sections highlighting a city serviced by the airline.

This writing style must appeal (or must have appealed) to the target audience. Since I don't come across the style all too often, I'm not bothered by it, but I can see myself becoming frustrated by it if I had to read a lot of it without other redeeming benefits.


> This writing is so pretentious.

That may be so, but also more information-dense, as well.

For example, what we can determine from just your excerpt:

> the sun shone hot on my skin and the wind brushed my face

There does not appear to be much overhead protection for the sun, it is an area where the sun is hot and prominent, and you are likely to need protection. In addition, the building density was not such that shade was readily available.

> Without the protection of a car or bus, I smelled every rubbish bin and felt the whoosh of passing cyclists.

The place is likely dirty, garbage takes a while to smell, even under hot sun. The pedestrian route is frequently travelled by cyclists, rather than the roads, so it is be prudent to keep a watchful eye for them. In addition, if one wishes to cycle, it is not frowned upon (or at least common practice) to use the pedestrian routes, rather than the roads. Contrast with a country like the UK where cycling on the pavement is illegal and seemingly uncommon in cities except where it is utterly necessary.

> I heard the gentle thud of my feet and noticed how the texture of the ground – whether earth, grass, cobblestone or cement – changed my stride.

Most cities are paved over completely with concrete or cobblestone. It seems that Lucca instead has a variety of surfaces despite being in the city, this allows someone to change their footwear appropriately -- in addition, cobblestone is common for some cities, but in the UK or US is relatively uncommon, and could provide difficulty for people with mobility issues depending on the ruggedness of it.

> That is walking. He is literally just describing walking.

The entire point of writing is to create a scene or describe a place. Sure, you can say instead "I walked through the streets of Lucca" or something of the sort, but that is inherently bad writing because it triggers the brain to ask "ok, what was it like", and provides no detail or information whatsoever.

That's not to mention that the entire point of these sorts of articles is to give people some taste of being there (who maybe are not priviledged enough to be able to travel, even). The alternative of "I walked through the streets of Lucca", is so sparse of information to be instantly forgotten, and does not give any hint of a reason for why Lucca is different from other places.

Your comment is effectively like looking at the story of Macbeth and saying "oh this is so pretentious, why didn't he just distill it down into a paragraph, maybe a page, tops"


I'd say the main fault of the writing is that it gives virtually no indication of why Lucca is different from other places because it's honed in on details like the "gentle thud of his feet" instead. The centre of Lucca is a grid of immaculately-preserved narrow medieval streets which contrast markedly with the modern city so it's not like there's no observations to make there. And I'm sure that his destination, San Gimignano appears far more arresting when its fairytale towers sit on the horizon for hours as you ramble across the rolling green Tuscan countryside, but you'd have to be tempted into doing the walk to realize this...

The actual route sounds really quite interesting, but mainly because I've seen aspects of it before.


You're so lucky you never had Thomas Hardy as the author of a set book in English Literature.

Hah! Wow.

Originally I was going to say you were being a bit harsh, but then when you quoted him as mentioning pasta al pomodoro as if it was high italian cuisine, I wanted to exile him or his editor to deep Siberia.


> This writing is so pretentious.

What is it pretending?


That its subject isn't banal. That's usually what people mean when they say something is "pretentious".


It's just a form of it. "Characterized by assumption [...]" that's pretending. "making an exaggerated outward show"; pretending. "full of pretense"; hey, what does the definition for that return? - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pretense

If it can be characterized as such, then one ought to be able to elucidate why.


> "Characterized by assumption [...]" that's pretending

Maybe by a meaning of "assumption" or "pretending" that I'm not too familiar with. Normally, I would think that someone "assuming" thinks something is true and acts like so, and someone "pretending" thinks it's not true but acts like it is.

> "making an exaggerated outward show"; pretending

My English must be lacking... Exaggerated just means making something more apparent than it needs to be. That's also different to pretending.

> "full of pretense"; hey, what does the definition for that return?

Ok, you convince me there's related meanings with that.


Here is a link to a map of the whole road as the article and official website don't seem to have one[1]. There are nice interactive maps for each country at the official site though[2].

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Francigena#/media/File:VF_...

[2]https://www.viefrancigene.org/en/resource/tour/la-via-franci...


> Lucca had faded into semi-rural, semi-industrial outskirts that will likely never be on any tour itinerary. It was not particularly impressive or photo-worthy – it was a moment that would be hard to justify to someone else, to explain why, out of all the things I could have done, I had chosen to be there.

I beg to differ. My wife and I made a day trip there when we were staying in Florence. Lucca is a beautiful little town with some cool medieval architecture and history. It's a rare example of a town that still has its original walls intact. There were tourists but it wasn't crowded, and for under 10 euros you can climb a couple towers from the 14th century for a spectacular view of the town and rural countryside. Highly recommended if you're in the area.


I believe he is referring to the area he traveled through after he left Lucca, not Lucca itself, which is on many tour itineraries.

> he

her


> her

she


Werds. Better grammar than gender.

It was on BBC's Top Gear some time ago: https://youtu.be/c_eLViH7_YI

Official site of the Via Francigena: https://www.viefrancigene.org/en/

Side note:

>The saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ has become a quaint and somewhat clichéd turn-of-phrase these days. But when the Roman Empire ruled over places such as England, present-day Spain, North Africa, and even modern-day Israel and Turkey, it was true.

https://sashat.me/2017/06/03/roman-roads/

discussed here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14511627



Not far from where I live is a completely overgrown path/road known as the "Old North Road" - looking at the landscape it takes a route that was probably the easiest way through the hills before more modern roads of recent centuries.

Maybe Agricola's armies marched that way from their camp on a nearby hill to help rescue the 9th Legion... who knows?


For those who might prefer less story, and more 'meat and bones'.

A little known fact: Many of Australia's roads were originally mapped out by Aboriginals, who used songlines (/the stars) to navigate. This means many of Australia's main roads are 10's of thousands years old. (Admittedly, the roads didn't actually exist, even though the pathway did)

Research by Ray Norris (of CSIRO) is very interesting: https://arxiv.org/abs/1607.02215

His website on Aboriginal Astronomy: emudreaming.com


Thanks for this. I've recently been reading Bruce Pascoe's 'Dark Emu', which is on how Aboriginal Australians had agriculture too, even recorded in the journals of the original Euro explorers but now lost to public consciousness.

Fascinating.

I wish the article had actual pictures along the route, instead of bland standin pictures of anywhere (feet, streams, roads that aren't the Francigena etc)


The BBC is awesome in many ways but this 'travel' show is such bollocks it's amazing. They tourist like a MF instead of doing the Bourdain and actually speaking to people who live there. EDIT: actually rather than interview I would like to stress

I have traveled to Europe a handful of times and never heard of this until now! Time to add this to the list of things to check out next time. Very cool. :)

> Walking over long distances, sometimes as far as 24km a day, was new to me.

24 km ain't a long distance to walk in a day




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