Decompressing in the Bozone

Friday, July 12, 2019


I got back to Bozeman earlier this week after ten weeks on the road. It's good to be back, of course. Sleeping in my own bed, being surrounded by my books and things in my own place--it's a great feeling. I've been unwinding, too. I had a massage on Wednesday, and I'll probably schedule another one next week. I've also been spending a lot of time lying around with my feet up. 

The Winding Road Back to Michigan

Friday, July 5, 2019

An ordinary middle-aged man was on his way from the archives of Moscow to Amsterdam, in the province of North Holland. It was the height of summer, and he planned to stay for ninety minutes. 

(Apologies to Thomas Mann). 

Mountains in Central Mongolia
I've been reading Magic Mountain for much of this trip, so these were the words that came to mind when, just five minutes before we were to begin boarding, an announcement came on over the loudspeakers at the airport in Munich, telling us that the 7 pm flight to Amsterdam had been canceled. It was the latest unexpected development in a week of travel that has had its fair share of them. Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly a disappointment. After a month in Moscow, two weeks in Mongolia, and a week in Istanbul, I had been looking forward to a couple of nights in Amsterdam--where I research at the International Institute of Social History by day and prowl the Spui at night. Instead, I was headed for an evening at the Munich Airport Hilton. 

My wooden shoes would have to remain in their bag for one more night. 

Searching for Lost Youth in Istanbul

Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday the 21st was a very long day. It started at 4.30 am in Ulaanbaatar with a knock on the door of the guesthouse where I was staying. Juje, the guy who had driven me down to the Gobi desert twelve days earlier, was back--through an arrangement I'd made with the guesthouse to drive me to the airport. 

I'd come back to Ulaanbaatar after having spent ten days in the Gobi and central Mongolia. While I'd been somewhat dismissive of Ulaanbaatar's charms upon my first arrival there, by the time the desert tour was over I had become much more enthusiastic about the city's advantages. I spent my last two days in Mongolia there, visiting some of the sites that I hadn't managed to see the first time around--like the Dinosaur Museum and the Black Market, where I bought some pretty cool Mongolian duds. I had a really great last dinner, and event went to a small music festival that was taking place close to my hotel. 

Now, however, it was time to leave. I was heading back to the land of my youth. I was flying back to Istanbul.

10 Days in the Gobi and Central Mongolia

Friday, June 21, 2019

I'm baack in Ulaanbaatar after a thrilling--but quite physically taxing--ten-day trip through the Gobi desert and central Mongolia. 

Rough route that we took through
Gobi desert and central Mongolia
I'm frankly still processing the trip, which in many ways passed in a blur. Nevertheless, I took careful notes, and will make an attempt to piece things together once I'm back in Montana later in the summer. At that point, I plan to write things out here in more detail. For now, however, I can add just a few telegraphic points, as I am still in Ulaanbaatar at present. 

Ulaanbaatar

Friday, June 14, 2019

It's been a busy week. On my last day in Moscow, I got up early and headed to the archive to work on my last set of documents. Then I headed back home, had a quick lunch, then set off for the airport. My destination? Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 

Central State Department Store, Ulaanbaatar
Why Mongolia? Good question. I had originally been thinking about taking the Trans-Siberian Express out from Moscow, because I'm really interested in seeing Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, and Ulan-Ude. The idea had been to drop down into Mongolia for 2-3 weeks after Ulan-Ude. For a variety of reasons, though, such a trip wasn't really possible for me this year. So, I'd pretty much resigned myself to forgetting about Mongolia, and trying to get here some other time. 

But then I remembered Lebanon. Several years ago I was invited to give a talk at the American University of Beirut. For reasons I won't get into now I declined--and I've regretted it ever since. I'm turning 50 this summer and, while I seem to be in pretty good health, nothing is certain at any age, let alone now. Even though spending just two weeks in Mongolia strikes me in some ways as a bit silly and self-indulgent--how much of such an enormous country can one expect to see in such a short time?--I decided to do it. So here I am in Ulaanbaatar. 

Moving on from Moscow

Friday, June 7, 2019

This is my last full week in Moscow. Given that I love to dish out banalities on this blog, I'll provide one more: the time here has really flown by. I've been busy--most of my time in Moscow was spent at the archive, but I also tried to catch up on other work. I finished a couple of articles that I'd been working on for a while and sent them off to journals, and I had about a million photographs on my computer--rare books that I'd found in Amsterdam, Moscow, and Istanbul, as well as archival materials from Amsterdam and Istanbul--so I've been spending a lot of time sifting through these. I'm not really in a position right now to do a lot of writing on my book, so I've been trying to take care of what I can in the meantime.   

Moscow Routines

Friday, May 31, 2019

Stadium from the 1980 Olympics
This was my third week in Moscow, with just one more to go. The time has been flying, as they say. Mainly, I've been settling into routines and trying to get my work done. I've been battling a cold, but otherwise have spent most of my time writing and walking around town. 

Getting my Moscow on

Friday, May 24, 2019


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. 



    Reykjavik

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.