Fresh Prince of Belgrade

Monday, June 21, 2021

Back in the waning months of quarantine, I read Gone With the Wind for the first time. To be honest, I was mainly interested in the book due to the connections I assumed I would find with War and Peace, which is one of my favorites. However, it was Anna Karenina that Margaret Mitchell's book would end up reminding me of the most. 

The common denominator is land. Most people are familiar with Gerald O'Hara's admonition that "land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for." In Anna Karenina, meanwhile, Levin throws himself into working on his estate in response to an outside world that has disappointed him. 

Other than revealing a predilection for reading unfashionable literature, what does any of this have to do with me? Well, as I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, I have recently purchased some land of my own in Belgrade, MT, the little mountain town with a Balkan flavor. 

Somehow, I'd managed to go this long without ever buying a place of my own. While my friends from high school and college were having kids and setting up lives with their families, I was in Turkey and the former USSR researching Russian and Ottoman history. At times, I had fantasized about buying a house--it's a dream I'd had ever since getting my own apartment in the 90s--but for the most part doing so seemed like too much work. Almost like getting a dog or something. As someone who typically travels internationally for at least a couple of months each year, the idea of having a house to maintain was more than a little intimidating. 

Ultimately, I didn't have much choice in the matter. My employer, Montana State University, chose the pandemic as the time to evict
 78 faculty and staff members, as well as their families, from their homes in university-owned housing. Because, you know, we're all in this together. 

I have to admit, I wasn't very happy about any of this. I'd really liked my old place and felt very attached to it. Being booted out of my home in the middle of a public health crisis felt like a real betrayal. Nevertheless, I'd fortunately saved enough over the years to purchase a place, and I closed on my new home in mid-March. 

Over the next six weeks, I gradually moved my stuff to Belgrade. I remained in my apartment until the beginning of May, when the semester ended, and started spending the nights in my new home on May 2 while still driving back to Bozeman every day over the next week to clean out the old place. 

Moving to Belgrade was a bit discombobulating at first--I'd spent 12 years in my previous apartment, and the last 14 months under quarantine conditions. So, just detaching myself from the old place took some work, and I'm not just talking about cleaning under the refrigerator. Slowly, however, I've been getting used to living in the new place. I bought a bunch of furniture from a lady who operates out of four storage lockers in a place called Four Corners. One storage locker per corner. 

Site of house where
Tolstoy was born
Leo the T was the one who initially inspired me to think about home ownership some twenty-five years ago when I first read
Anna Karenina. More recently, meanwhile,
 Gone With the Wind bucked up my courage at a crucial time by reassuring me that land "is the only thing in the world that lasts." In all honesty, this is my literary dream house. Especially after all that has happened over the past year or so, it's a wonderful feeling to sit on my front patio, soak in the sun, and look out at the mountains while I read a book. 

Belgrade is smaller and less busy than Bozeman, which has been growing at a white-hot rate since even before I moved to Montana in 2009. What attracted me to the house I eventually purchased was the fact that it's relatively small and centrally-located. I'm close to the library and post office, ride my bike to do most of my errands in town, and am a close walk to the YellowStream bus to MSU. All of the benefits of living in Historic Downtown Belgrade!

I've already met a lot of my neighbors. Some are, like me, new to the neighborhood, others have been here since before I was born. Overall, it seems like a pretty friendly place. Not only do my neighbors and I wave at one another a lot, it also seems like a lot of random people passing by in cars wave when they see me in front of my place. Some friends have told me that I've moved from Bozeman to Montana. 

Big plans are afoot
for the new BL
And then there are the improvements that I'm making, in my best attempt at coming up with a Levinesque vision for the BL. So, this will be a summer of projects, as a continuation of my springtime of projects. 
Among other things, this means I won't be making my regular summer pilgrimage to the Eurasian borderlands. 

Last year marked the first since the late 1980s (1986, I think) that I did not spend at least some time outside of the US. And this year might make it two in a row. Partly it's for pandemic-related reasons: the countries I want to visit still have pretty serious Covid issues. In Belgrade and Bozeman, most people are now living pretty much as they did before the pandemic, including me. So, I'm not particularly eager to go out of my way to return to the good old days of protocols and lockdowns, no matter how much a) I like these countries, and b) I understand why these measures are still in place in these places. 

But more importantly: I want to live in my house. Even if I weren't working on a bunch of projects, I think I would feel a need to do this. As summer begins, it feels like the months ahead will (I hope at least) constitute something of a honeymoon period between myself and the new BL. The house is still new and in nice shape, and I have lots of ideas and plans.   

Moving out of the previous iteration of the Borderlands Lodge might not have been my choice, but now that it's over I'm happy to have done so. I've managed to make it this far without falling into a few of life's major commitments, including but not limited to home ownership. But since it was thrust upon me, and seemed like the most practical alternative following eviction, I'm glad to be doing this. 

Of course, only two steps in this process are finished: buying a house, and moving out of the old one. The third step, setting up the Borderlands Lodge of Belgrade, will constitute a much more drawn-out list of activities, one that sometimes seems like it might last for as long as I live here.  

Also see: Road to Russia


Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.