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Having, in several trips, followed the Silk Road from Xian and Urumqi in China across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan our next visit had to be to the Caucuses.  So in May 2019 we purchased an organised tour to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia from ExPat Explore.  If this is all that interests you you might want to skip straight to Azerbaijan. Click here...

 

Geology and pre-history

In geological terms the Caucasus Mountains are very new, resulting of the collision of the Eurasian and Arabian plates that began around 200 million years ago and remains ongoing, generating regular earthquakes and occasional eruptions. The mountains and valleys were glaciated less than 20,000 years ago and are geologically unstable, with high rates of active erosion.  So the rivers run grey with silt and pebbles.

 

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Georgian landforms

 

There are two roughly parallel ranges, like a diagonal slash, with the north-western end on the Black Sea and south-eastern end on the Caspian Sea near Baku.  Since prehistoric times they have created a difficult to cross physical barrier between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. 

In an early anthropological theory, based on linguistics, it was argued that the Caucuses Mountains must be the origin of the 'Caucasian Race'.  Today 'Caucasian' is not considered to be an actual race but a broad medical classification, meaning a white person.  Nevertheless modern genetics seems to confirm that white skin is a relatively recent genetic adaptation, enhancing vitamin D production, allowing humans to first inhabit inland areas of northern Europe and Asia, about 12,000 years ago.  So all of us with white skin might feel some affinity to these lands.

Until the ice melted a little over ten thousand years ago at the end of the last glaciation, the upland areas were effectively uninhabitable by modern humans. The more mountainous areas still experience heavy snow in winter, limiting agriculture to grazing.

Yet the convoluted twists of these mountains created many separate habitable valleys so, in relative isolation, the early inhabitants developed into many separate communities. Today these groups have coalesced, or have been coerced, into a handful of modern countries, each with several ethnic identities.

As fanatical sporting loyalties demonstrate, the human animal is genetically driven, by survival evolution, to join like-minded groups. Over time these mutually supportive groups develop a common language; and with language comes common beliefs and common cultural traditions.

History shows that these divergent groups don't need much encouragement to make war on each other to: capture sustaining resources; to avenge past insults and injuries; or to honour alliances against a perceived common threat.  This is rarely more evident than in the Caucuses.

 

 


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Travel

Cambodia and Vietnam

 

 

 In April 2010 we travelled to the previous French territories of Cambodia and Vietnam: ‘French Indochina’, as they had been called when I started school; until 1954. Since then many things have changed.  But of course, this has been a region of change for tens of thousands of years. Our trip ‘filled in’ areas of the map between our previous trips to India and China and did not disappoint.  There is certainly a sense in which Indochina is a blend of China and India; with differences tangential to both. Both have recovered from recent conflicts of which there is still evidence everywhere, like the smell of gunpowder after fireworks.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Merry Christmas

 

 

 

2020 is a year we are unlikely to soon forget.  No travel after a very fortuitous cruise to PNG in February and March that we just got in before COVID-19 hit. Last year my German grandchildren were able to visit Australia with Emily their mother. Leander got to improve his English, and he and Tilda, now 3, got to enjoy an Australian beach. Thanks to WhatsApp we can still get together face-to-face and I can report that Tilda also understands English, in addition to her native German. Yet it's not quite like us being there or them being here.

As Tim Minchin sings in White Wine in the Sun [turn on your sound...] Christmas is a time for family.  So the lyrics:

 

And if my baby girl
When you're twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You'll know what ever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
When Christmas comes
Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun Darling, whenever you come
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun Darling, when Christmas comes
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Waiting
  

have a special meaning:  I really like Christmas - It's sentimental, I know.

 

Those of you who read last year's message will find what follows familiar. Apart from acknowledging grandchildren: Billy and Vivienne for assistance in assembling (usefully) and now becoming the sole Christmas Tree decorators I haven't changed a word.

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Opinions and Philosophy

In Defence of Secrecy

 

 

Julian Assange is in the news again. 

I have commented on his theories and his worries before.

I know no more than you do about his worries; except to say that in his shoes I would be worried too.  

But I take issue with his unqualified crusade to reveal the World’s secrets.  I disagree that secrets are always a bad thing.

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