Review of Charles King's Midnight at the Pera Palace

Friday, July 19, 2019

Charles King’s Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul is an excellent book that is highly enjoyable to read. Especially for readers with little or no familiarity with Turkey’s early republican history, Midnight at the Pera Palace provides a fascinating look into aspects of Istanbul in the 1920s and 1930s. Using examples that draw mainly from the lives of individuals from the country’s Jewish and Christian minorities, as well as the experiences of foreigners living in Turkey, King tells the story of what he calls the“hidden origins of modern Istanbul” (377). The book has seventeen chapters in all, as well as a prologue and epilogue, but no introduction or conclusion. The organization of the book is narrative-based and loosely chronological, using the lives of both the famous and relatively unknown to introduce the reader to the interwar history of Turkey’s biggest and most important city.

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.