Getting my Moscow on

Friday, May 24, 2019

Spasskaia tower, Kremlin
These first two weeks in Moscow have been busy but fun. Frankly, it's great to be here again after two years, although I did feel some sense of trepidation prior to arrival. For one thing, my Russian was rusty. Whereas I speak Turkish on Skype to friends and, to be honest, never really feel uncomfortable when communicating in a Turkic language, the fact that I hadn't had a real honest-to-goodness conversation in Russian since returning to the US from my sabbatical two years ago weighed heavily on my mind prior to coming back to Moscow this year. How would I do? 

Lighting out for the territory again...

Friday, May 17, 2019

School got out a couple of weeks ago and I headed out of town as quickly as possible. That's been my m.o. the last couple of years. By May, the snow in Montana is no longer so charming. The joke has worn off, and the fact that it has snowed in May and June  every year that I've been in Montana during these months does nothing to make me want to stick around. The weather is typically blustery and chilly, even when it's not snowing. So I reckoned it was time I light out for the territory, as they say. 

Montana isn't the only place with open roads
And what territory might that be? Why, the Eurasian borderlands, of course. There's research to be undertaken and knowledge to be produced, not to mention a few places to visit along the open road. 

Children of Trans-Empire: New Article re Nâzım Hikmet

December 12, 2018

It was springtime in Moscow, 1922, and Nâzım Hikmet was signing up for classes at the Communist University for the Toilers of the East.  KUTV, as the university was known by its Russian initials, was the Moscow-based school for communism where Nâzım Hikmet would study and teach for most of thenext six years.  Nâzım, who would go on to become one of Turkey’s most beloved yet controversial writers, was just twenty years old when he arrived in Moscow. The university had been opened the year before, in 1921. 

Nâzım Hikmet (left) with his friend 
and boon companion Vâlâ 
Nâzım had arrived in Moscow from Batumi, Georgia, with four comrades— Vâlâ (Nureddin), Şevket Süreyya (Aydemir), Şevket’s wife, Leman (Aydemir), and Ahmet Cevat (Emre)—whose surnames are all well-known to students of modern Turkey. The questionnaires that the five filled out were a couple of pages long and relatively straightforward, focusing mainly upon the prospective student’s family history and recent past. “What is your family’s social position?” “Did you participate in the civil war and, if so, in what capacity?” “What is your party background?”

“Do you write?” asked the questionnaire. “If so, then what?” 

“I write everything,” responded Nâzım.

“What is your street address in Moscow?”

Gde ia zhivu, Nâzım wrote. “Where I live.”

New Projects, New Writing: Getting Caught up at the Borderlands Lodge

December 10, 2018

Over the past year or so, a number of people (okay, two) have asked me why I'm not keeping up with the blog as much as I used to. In truth, there are a lot of reasons behind this--not least of which the fact that I've been researching a lot in Turkey and Russia, and feel like I should probably be a bit more careful about what I post. So, a lot of the sort of writing that used to appear on this blog has gone into abeyance. And frankly, the less time I spend on this blog, the less I get caught up in daily politics and the online world more generally--which is fine with me.

Trying to stay offline and out of doors...
Mainly, though, I've been trying to focus on my professional writing, and have perhaps been a little reluctant to discuss this work until it had begun to yield results. I put up a handful of posts during my sabbatical in 2016-2017, but even then I was mainly interested in getting work done in the archives and keeping a low profile (well, mostly). Up at the Borderlands Lodge, after all, that's something we can do pretty much without even trying.  

Iceland: The Return

June 29, 2018

I made a trip back to Iceland after finishing off my research in Amsterdam, Budapest, and Istanbul. All in all, my travels in May and June lasted for about seven weeks. Most of the time was spent researching, but I also spent about 10 days in various places in Iceland at the beginning and end of the trip. Shots from my first visit to Iceland, which took place in the first half of May, can be found here and here

On the ferry from Heimaey back to the "mainland"
June is apparently high season in Iceland, and my guidebook had advised me to arrange accommodation ahead of time. I'd therefore decided back in Turkey where I was going to stay--I booked a night's stay in Hveragerði, followed by two nights in Heimaey, on the Western Islands. Last I'd spend one night in Vik, on the southern coast, before driving back to the airport outside Reykjavik to drop off the car and fly back to the US. Ultimately, my trip would take me as far east as Jökulsárlón before I turned back. 

Taking the Long Road to the Imperial Metropole

June 25, 2018

Back when I was living in Turkey in the 1990s, I made a point of taking a vacation every summer for 6-8 weeks. It made sense, and I could afford it. After all, most of my English teaching work dried up in the summer anyway. From the beginning of July until the end of September, there wasn't a lot of work to do, and frankly I appreciate the opportunity to get out of Istanbul and visit some other countries in the region. My daughter was living in southern Hungary at the time, so pretty much every year I'd trek through the Balkans to go see her, usually traveling up through Bulgaria and parts of ex-Yugoslavia, then coming back down via Romania and, again, Bulgaria. Other summertime excursions took me through various places in central Europe, the ex-USSR, the Middle East, and east Asia. 


Reading, writing, and walking around in St. Petersburg

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I've been in St. Petersburg for about a week now. This is the fourth time I've researched here. The first was in 2002, when I came here for two months as a second-year PhD student for language training and exploratory research in the archive. I returned for three months in 2004 during the course of an academic year spent in Russia under the auspices of a Fulbright student grant, most of which was spent in Kazan. And then, in June of 2010, I spent a month here after finishing up my first year at Montana State, doing supplemental research for my dissertation that ended up going into Turks Across Empires. So, up until the moment that I stepped off the night train from Moscow last Sunday morning, it had been nearly seven years since I'd set foot in this town. 

Moscow-Kazan-St. Petersburg

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Since getting back from Morocco two weeks ago, I've been pretty busy. Mainly, I've been finishing up work in the archives where I've been working in Moscow, but I also managed to head down to Kazan last weekend for a short visit. 

Bauman Street in Kazan

A quick break: Morocco

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'd been in Moscow for six months, and it was time to leave the country. According to the terms of my visa, I need to exit Russia at least once every six months, even if only to turn around and immediately head back. At the same time, however, the Fulbright grant that brought me to Russia makes allowance for up to two weeks out of the country, and we're encouraged to make use of it. 

So, I decided to take their advice. 

Arriving in Marrakesh  

Emerging from winter...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I woke up the other day from a dream. It was a version of the classic student dream that many people have, the one where it's the day of your final exam and you haven't been to class all semester and don't know where the exam is being held, and one hurdle after another emerges to stymie all efforts to get to where you need to go.

Only in the version of the dream I'd had, it was the first day of class. I had suddenly realized that I was supposed to teach that day, but had done no preparation, had made no copies of the syllabus, let alone write one, and had not even ordered books for the class yet. And where was I when it occurred to me, in this dream, that I had to go to school and teach? A banya, of course. 

Fortunately, I soon woke up from this nightmare to realize that I was safe and sound in my apartment in Moscow, still six months away from the beginning of my next class. Nevertheless, I found the symbolism apt. A Russian bath probably would be the best place to realize that the school year had started without me. 

Time away and reinventing oneself

Sunday, December 5, 2016

When I was thirteen, my parents and I took a sabbatical to Paris. It was the spring semester of 1983, and my Dad was a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. We were due to stay a little over six months. I was adamantly against the idea.

A semester of eighth grade at an American junior high school in the early 1980s--who could possibly want to miss out on that? As it was, I had hardly any friends. I'd grown apart from most of my friends from elementary school, which ended after eighth grade, and hadn't made many new ones in my first year of junior high. Nevertheless, the prospect of going to France terrified me. For months before our departure in early January, every time my parents started talking about our trip at the dinner table, I always said the same thing: why not just stay in Ann Arbor?  My bitching and moaning continued after our arrival. The first couple of weeks we stayed with friends in Meudon while my parents trudged into Paris every day to meet with real estate agents and look at apartments. I'd brought one book with me, and finished it within ten days. It was called "Successful Investing," and my parents had given it to me for Christmas a few weeks earlier. In those days, I was very interested in the stock market. 

Getting Settled In Moscow

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I've been in Russia ten days so far. After leaving Bozeman at the beginning of September I was in Amsterdam for ten days, then spent a month in Istanbul. I then went back to Amsterdam for a couple of days before flying here last week. 

Sabbatical kickoff: Amsterdam-Istanbul-Amsterdam

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's been a busy five weeks since I left Bozeman. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm on sabbatical for this academic year, and I'll be spending most of my time in Russia. Prior to heading to Russia, though, I spent about ten days in Amsterdam and a month in Istanbul. 

Reflections on a summer and the past seven years

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I wake up at around 6 and glance out the window. Through the cracks in the blinds I see that the sun is up, barely. Nevertheless, once I actually get out of bed thirty minutes later, the interior of my apartment is coldish. The windows were all left open a couple of inches the night before, but with the temperatures dipping into the low forties at night that's enough to make things chilly.  

Summer vacation began with a snowy start

What we saw this weekend

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

At first it seemed like a joke. What do you mean, the Turkish military couldn't pull off a coup? Since when? It's like when the Big 3 in Detroit started turning out lemons or when Team USA lost in men's basketball in the 2004 Olympics. What is the world coming to when the Turkish military is no longer capable of executing a successful military intervention? 

Was this the Ford Pinto of military coups?

But then the humor lost force pretty quickly in the face of what we all were watching. I was glued to my computer, watching live streams of people's television sets in Istanbul. Of course, it always looks worse from outside. I was in Istanbul during the earthquake of August 1999 and the Gezi protests, and I knew that certain striking images taken in often remote locales could quickly become generalized to form a sort of intellectual shorthand for people. But if you're there, you can see that in many ways life carried on as always. In America, we just proved this point by hosting yet another mass shooting. Everything's getting back to normal, right?

Turkish coup attempt: my hot take

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Yesterday was a typically beautiful example of Bozeman in the summertime. It was gorgeous out. Cool, clear, nice and dry. I'd worked at home in the morning and then met up with a friend for beers in the afternoon. 

I'd left my phone at home, but by the time I'd returned I could tell that something weird was going on. There were a bunch of cryptic messages in my email and on Facebook, as well as a number of calls from friends. All
of them were just asking: have you heard the news in Turkey? 

Blechsit: the Breakup of Britain?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wow. Just wow. 

I have to admit, even as I was listening to news reports saying the vote was going to be close, I didn’t imagine that this would happen. And with the markets all crashing worldwide--now I understand why they held the vote on a Thursday. 

Is there any chance that this could all just be a New Coke-style promotion and they'll start rolling out the EU Classic now? 

UK to world: Just burn it all down

More than anything, I think, all of this is starting to feel like 1989 in reverse. 

News and Propaganda: Snowy Summer Fun Edition

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's been a while since we've had an N & P, but I couldn't help doing so this week amid all of time that I seem to have now. 

Hang on a second, something seems somehow different these days? What is it? Oh wait--now I remember: school's out.

Things change in Bozeman pretty quickly in the wake of graduation and the end of the school year. There's still a fair bit going on downtown, but the area around the university (which is on  the opposite side of a large residential area) is so quiet these days. There's hardly any traffic, so the biking is a lot easier. That is, it's a lot easier to bike these days so long as you're not pedaling in the midst of a snowstorm. 

The "Obama Doctrine," part II

Friday, March 18, 2016

Whoa! Three JMB posts in one week? I guess it must be spring break at the Borderlands Lodge. 

The snow has been a tad light up here lately

Earlier this week I put up a post detailing what I see as the bright side of the "Obama Doctrine" discussed in a recent article in the Atlantic. In this post, by contrast, I'd like to discuss some of the disadvantages of Obama's approach to foreign policy. 

As was discussed a fair bit in the Atlantic piece, Obama is seeking to disengage--as much as possible--from the Middle East. And frankly, I think that this could end up being good for the region. At the same time, however, I think that relative US disengagement from the region has also contributed to some issues which, over the long term, may end up being more problematic for both the US and the region more generally.  

Looking at the Bright Side of the "Obama Doctrine"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Like a lot of people, I was interested to read the Atlantic piece on President Obama's emerging approach to foreign policy

While I have often been critical of some aspects of Obama's foreign policy, the Atlantic piece serves as a reminder, I think, of how much worse things would like be now had voters made different choices during the elections--both primary and general--of 2008. In particular, I liked the manner in which he usually avoided the sort of empty and counter-productive bluster that American politicians are often so fond of. 

So here are some of the occasions references by the article in which I think that Obama's words and/or actions have made sense to me. If I get the chance, I hope to put up a second part to this post later on this week in which I explore some of the disadvantages that I associate with Obama's approach to foreign policy.