America and Romania

Starting with Bill Bryson’s great book to spread science (About all in a nutshell)which we recommended a few weeks ago, I discovered another gem of this American realist writer, perhaps best known, titled Simply He said walk in the woods. It is the story of a journey the author took in the 1990s with a friend along the Appalachian Mountains. And because we’re dealing with a really great writer, the story of the journey somehow turns into a story about America.

The story became even more famous after it was shown in 2015, with an amazing cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. The two men’s journey through the Appalachian Mountains follows a famous route, a route of about 3,500 kilometers (not wrong), called the Appalachian Trail. It is a tourist route that, like the mountain range it crosses, has one end in the southeast, in the state of Georgia, and the other in Maine in the northeastern United States. A path some dare to take entirely (they are called integrator). This adventure can take about half a year, if you are able to walk at least 20 kilometers per day over the hills and valleys. The mountains are not very high, they rarely exceed 2,000 meters in height, but they have as much wild parts as possible. There are also regions where for days you lose all contact with the civilized world, traversing endless forests. The risks should not be ignored either, and if you start reviewing everything in the manuals, as Bryson did, you will inevitably consider giving up. It’s like reading the contraindications on some drug leaflets.

I don’t necessarily want to tell Bill Bryson’s book. But what struck me in reading it were some of the similarities with the roads on our mountains. Better with the problems in our mountains. Maybe it’s just a slight impression, but in this respect, the most powerful country in the world seems to have a lot in common with our country (or at least it was in the ’90s, with us and them). For example: shelters with staggered prices, even, in their case, in three rows, not only in two, as in our country; sleeping places where you encounter loose and smelly pillows; Shelters with perforated roofs through which different types of rodents roam. Similarly, there are places where you can find food, but you still have to be very careful, so as not to end up with food poisoning. Sometimes it seems that some of the owners of their cabins are being more rude than ours. The problems with bears are also similar, as are the contradictory advice regarding actions that hikers should take to reduce risk (in the Appalachian Mountains there are no grizzly bears, but black bears, a little closer to our brown bears, like size and behaviour).

The maps that Bryson had at his disposal proved too poor to use them. The author does not miss the opportunity to describe in detail, as a true environmental journalist, the poor management of the American state in relation to forests. In other words, I would point out that the journey into the wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains today is nothing compared to what we see in the West. That is, no one seems to make a wood fire from the forest to prepare their own food and warm themselves all night and there is no doubt that someone will survive from hunting or fishing. Premiums for gas or gasoline and semi-finished products are enjoyed by all hikers, and their stock must be replenished every few days. No one really breaks with civilization. From place to place there are paved roads, there are camping sites with shops (even if they are poor), and some nearby towns are accessible.

And hikers of all kinds, from those who travel very short distances, only on weekends, and leave their car in a parking lot, to the “integrative” purists I mentioned at the beginning, or from the insensitive patents to the funny people who carefully bury their excrement in the forest. There are also perfect shoemakers, who do not step on foot, but congregate around great tourist attractions where they can get to by car or cable car.

Bryson’s book is irreverent, as one calls it, full of humor and delicious political inaccuracies. A balanced, tolerant and wise man, the author at the same time allows himself to have fun at the expense of all the mischief, pampering and laziness that he encounters. The description of a young woman (“a pretty plump girl in a red jacket and usually an oversized backpack”), with whom Bryson and his companion Katz reluctantly traveled for three days, is simply murderous. “I had known for a long time that he had written to me to spend time with all of the dumbest people on the planet, and Mary Ellen was proof that I would not be spared from it even in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains. From the first moment I knew it was a rarity.” The details of this fellowship are still admirable.

Going back to my comparisons, it is quite clear that other than the wild and beautiful nature, neither America nor Romania lacks fools.

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