Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Zona industrială

The Curse of the BBC strikes again, but this time it claims a worthy victim in its Lonely Planet subsidiary.

I felt vaguely sorry for the various Jocelyns sacked over the Brendarama and Socksgate scandals, in the way you do on hearing how a remote Persian satrap was once forced to eat his own hands by gurning Yazidi madmen.

I have no sympathy, however, for the Lonely Planet writer who got sacked for rhapsodising about countries he'd not been to.

I would normally salute a louche fellow slacker, even though he looks like a medical student who larks around the morgue at midnight. But not this time, as Mrs Boyo and I once orbited Lonely Planet long enough to fall for its advocacy of the Romanian city of Suceava.

Suceava, the guide to Romania & Moldova assured us, has a "real charm", and "harbours some of the funkiest, most happening clubs and bars" in the country. No it hasn't, and no it doesn't. Three categories of people might disagree:

1. The Suceava Guild of Licenced Victuallers.

2. The Suceava District Psychiatric Hospital Concert Party.

3. Someone who has talked to, and believed, one or both of the above.


The few cars had straggled away across the inky plain, carrying our fellow-travellers into the dust that was settling around Suceava airport like an elderly dog.

A series of requests for lifts from local thugs got nowhere, as Romanian is an Esperanto for Etruscan centurions and soundly defeated my every attempt at more than "two beers and the bucket of polenta you always bring whatever I order, please".

Mrs Boyo eventually found a soul at the ghostly terminal who called us a taxi. As Mad Iancu ferried us across the acres of murk that surround Suceava, he muttered "zona industrială". Little did we know we'd just past the city's chief attraction.

I am being rather unfair, as Suceava has a fine castle, working synagogue, splendid graveyard and a rain-soaked ethnographic museum to rival the one I tricked Mrs Boyo into visiting in Cluj.

It has an excellent Italian restaurant, and is the ideal base for visiting the painted monasteries of Moldavia. I also drank the best afinată fruit brandy of the whole journey in the nearby village of Marginea.

It's difficult to dislike a place that has a signpost to the Borgo Pass, but it is not the Seattle of the Carpathians that we were misled into expecting. The nightlife is dominated, as everywhere in smalltown Europe, by clumps of hair gel and hormones hanging out of badly-modified cars.

The Lonely Planet didn't even have the grace to get the map of the tiny downtown right, so it took ages to find the one travel agent who could get us back to Bucharest, where the dead travel fast but at least don't pause for handbrake turns outside our hotel window.

Some time later I was reading Tim Moore's sublime Frost on My Moustache and came across a casual comment about the refined indignities to which he and his wife would like to subject the author of the Lonely Planet guide to Romania at the wretch's inevitable show trial.

So I rushed off to read the LP guides to Central Asia and Ukraine, areas I know well. Sure enough, they too were pants.

Once BBC Worldwide announced they were buying this tie-dyed sack of patchouli-stained porkies, it was only a matter of time before the subprime travel guide market leapt off the window ledge into the "always bustling town piazza" that's been closed for years due to that massacre.


Gorilla Bananas said...

The Welshman in search of adventure is duped into an ordeal in a Godforsaken land. It reminds me of the well-trodden path of your ancestors in British Army. Perhaps you should offer to translate the guidebook into Welsh as an ironic quip at the expense of the BBC.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I was always a Rough Guide man myself; and now I’m reminded – ha, as if I needed reminding! – that I was right. The Rough Guide to Romania is very good; about Suceava it says: ...belching factories...difficult to imagine it the old princely capital...hasty industrialization – the consequences of which blight the town...poisoned the Suceava River...the "Suceava Syndrome" of malformed babies...noxious odours...nightlife is scarce. You can't go wrong there. All the poor town needs now is a urinating statue of Pisswizzard the Cat.

No Good Boyo said...

So true, GB. Howard Marks got off lucky compared to most of us wandering Welshes. I could write my own candid guides for my compatriots called the "You Is Ffyct" series:

"Where ever you goes by there, what ever you does, you is ffyct coz you is a Welsh.

"For most people Hamerica means Disneyland, the Golden Gates and New York, New York. Let's face it, for you it will be mugging, Vegas scams and fun in the San Quentin shower room with Señor Grande."

It'll be a big hit with everyone except the Welshes, who will continue to buy Lonely Planet.

Gadjo, I share your admiration for Rough Guides, and they have Suceava off to a tee. AS I grow older I feel I ought to turn to the Blue Guides - scholarly articles, no pictures, no recommendations that won't cost you a second mortgage.

I'm going back to Suceava one day. I'm going back, and I'm going to do something about it.

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M C Ward said...

At least it gave you a delightfully entertaining story to tell. Imagine if you had found the funkiest, most happening clubs and bars - then it would have been just like any other night out in Tollard Royal (north Dorset).

No Good Boyo said...

True enough. We'd have bopped, toked, supped and split, with murmured thanks to Lonely Planet. Not the sort of happy ending one expects on this or any other blog.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I worked on some guides for a couple of well known publishers a few years back, and even though I did actually visit the places I wrote about, I swore that I would never again trust travel guides now that I knew they were writtten by people like me.

Gadjo Dilo said...

:-) What guides did you write, Indie? I'm a chap who develops an unswerving and probably unwise brand loyalty to these things, so I'd be interested to hear you opinions, on your blog or wherever. There should be a Guide of Guides.

I'd also like to see a Blue Guide to Suceava. Or Hemel Hempstead, perhaps.

No Good Boyo said...

Pop, that's a good life principle there, along the lines of Groucho Marx's views on any club that would have him as a member.

Gadjo, I recall that the Spectator once wrote a guide to London with mischevious advice for visiting Americans, including "try out the echo in the British Library reading room".

The same principle seems to be at work with Lonely Planet. The scope for trouble at other people's expense is vast.

"The French police are always happy to help visitors with directions."

"Cross the road where ever you like in Germany, it's that sort of place."

"The basket of paper next to a Russian public toilet for your use. Take as much as you need to finish the job."

"Palestinians all understand Hebrew, and a hearty 'shalom!' will open many a door in Gaza."

And I haven't even started on Wales yet.

The Birdwatcher said...

And bald headed thugs in pubs in Peckham liked to be stared at.

Ian Plenderleith said...

Gadjo, I worked freelance for Fodor's, who were extremely thorough - no sooner had you sent off your finished chapter and sat back to pat yourself on the arsecheek and bask in the satisfaction of a job happily done, than you'd get a 15-page fax back from the editor asking you to treble-check and super-clarify everything you'd added to or changed from the previous year's edition. So you're probably safe with them, although they edited out all my wisecracks. One day I'll tell the story of the hotel owner in Sion who chased me down the street shouting oaths in Swiss-French for not paying my bill (a misunderstanding, I assure you).

The other one was a smaller job for Rough Guides - someone asked me to help them with the chapter on Zurich in the Rough Guide to European Football, promising me a credit and a free copy. They failed to deliver on either, and my contact was less than complimentary about the publisher's working practices. When I threatened to invoice them at 85 quid a day, though, they soon fell into line - it turned out to be much cheaper giving me a mention in the next edition and posting me my solitary comp. Never bought a thing by them since.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Thanks Indie-Pop. I've been aware of Fodor's but never really considered them - maybe they're a US thing. I also got a credit for a book and a mention - in the Rough Guide to Andalusia - for supplying some helpful (I hope) but quite minor information. I didn't need to hussle for these rewards - heck, I felt I'd become a published author, which was reward enough - but maybe Rough Guides were more cuddly back in those days.

NGB, I told your anecdote to my (Romanian) wife, and she was perplexed as she really likes Suceava :-) Horses for courses.

No Good Boyo said...

Now now, Gadjo, I think an attentive reading of the post will show that I too liked Suceava, apart from the "zona" and inevitable teenagers, and was complaining about the overhype by the LP author.

Pleasant provincial city it is; Amsterdam it ain't.

I can in particular recommend the riverside walk to the castle, and the friendly eatery there.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ach, you're right! But then we came close to one of those backpackers' slag-off dialogues that give both under-resourced boroughs and rucksacks a bad name. And I've never even been there.... Rough Guide also mentions a great Italian restaurant in Suceava.

Gyppo Byard said...

The most despicable guide-writer of all is an American stoner who wrote a hefty tome on Indonesia written in a tone pitying those 'who rush through in only a few weeks' and hinting at his deep and abiding love for the country.

As it turned out, the bloke had spent all of 6 weeks in the country and his command of the language was limited to "beer" and "is your sister for hire?"

Anyone attempting to follow his directions would have met a sticky end at the hands of assorted chippy spear- and blowpipe-wielding tribesmen. And that would be before he'd left the airport.

No Good Boyo said...

Gyppo, Indonesians sound like fine melonheaded fellows. They have beer and sisters, and aren't shy to defend then with hand-whittled tools.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Dunno, folks, I still feel a lot of sympathy to the guy who caused this indignant post. I mean, of course he is a cheeky lying SOB, but the idea and its execution were sublime.

I do carry travel guides with me, but rarely use them, depending more on my keen sense of smell and common sense. When somebody points a spear at you, it is usually a good time to run. This is the most important point.

And most restaurateurs cheat. Simple, really.

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