Catching up in the 'Grade

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Today we had the Fall Festival parade in Belgrade. I'd forgotten about the event, but while Zooming with my parents and brother this morning I noticed the large numbers of people parking in front of my house and pedestrians walking up the street. 

Time to grab your fez and head to Belgrade

But that's how things go when you're living in the tenderloin district of Belgrade, Montana. Whether it's the Jingle Jog, the Christmas Convoy, or the Fall Festival, some form of alliterative amusement is always on the agenda. 


Since my last post from Istanbul, things have been pretty good. I've been doing a fair bit of things, but my schedule has been pretty steady and by no means crazy. 

I loved this place

Our old building     
From Istanbul I went to Paris. I wasn't doing any research, just taking some personal time at the end of my Amsterdam-Istanbul research trip. I wasn't planning on doing much other than walking around, speaking French, and reflecting on life. I'd booked four nights at a hotel located just a few blocks from the apartment where my parents and I lived in 1983. 

The flight was uneventful. I sat next to a Turkish fifteen year-old who, along with about forty other kids from his high school (St. Michel), was going to be spending a month with a French family. In this kid's case, the family was in a suburb of Rouen. I told him that I, too, had spent a month with a French family in a suburb of Rouen the summer that I turned sixteen. We both marveled at this coincidence, before lapsing into silence. 

Unfortunately for him and everyone else on the plane, I started to feel vaguely ill that evening. I had, after all, gotten up at 5 am that day, and had spent an extra two hours hanging out in the airport waiting for my delayed plane to depart. The next morning I felt okay but then, after breakfast, I suddenly felt quite tired and mucousy. I self-tested and saw that it was Covid. 

It was definitely a bummer and made me regretful of some of my actions. I'd been feeling bulletproof during the trip, having received a second booster just before departing Belgrade at the end of May. Then, in Amsterdam, I saw that no one was wearing masks, and I eventually followed suit. Same with Istanbul, although the number of mask-wearers was higher there. It was one thing to go maskless while walking around outside or eating at an outdoor cafe, but I still probably could have done a better job on public transportation or when researching inside libraries and archives. It shouldn't have to be all or nothing at all. 

I spent about $1200 on airline fees and extra days in the hotel, postponing my departure. I still ended up walking around quite a bit, although I avoided the Metro until the final days. I was mainly outside, which is pretty close to what I had been planning to do anyway. The weather was gorgeous. I spent the mornings going over my Nâzım Hikmet manuscript, usually until about 1.30 or so. Then I'd go out and walk for several hours. At around 3.30 or so I'd go to a sidewalk restaurant, as they were usually totally deserted at that hour. I sat outside and tried to be as responsible as possible, but no--I didn't stay inside by hotel room for days on end. 

Covid slowed down the rest of my schedule as well. One reason why I ended up spending so much on airline fees was that I also changed my Detroit-Belgrade flight, as I was going to spend several days with my parents as well. By the time I got back to the 'Grade, it was the second week of July. 

Back in the 'Grade

For the rest of the summer, I was back at the Borderlands Lodge. A critical miscalculation on my part had led to a devastatingly dry lawn in front of my house, and the death of one tree. I felt sick about it, and spent a fair bit of time this summer trying to reverse the damage. I never thought I would be one of those homeowners striving to establish a carpet-like lush-green lawn in front of his house. But hey--I didn't choose to have a lawn. It came with the house. So, since I've got one, I try to keep it healthy-looking.

The photo makes it look as if I was working 
hard on my manuscript, but I was actually
about to order food at a restaurant in
I spent a lot of time this summer working on the final revisions of my book about Nâzım Hikmet. I had originally been asked to turn in a final version in April, which I did. But immediately after I had submitted what I considered to be the final pre-proofs draft, I was asked by my editor to do a number of things that would end up taking time before the manuscript could be sent to a copy-editor. Not all of this work--such as getting the images to a publishable quality--was in my hands. So, while I waited for this other stuff to be taken care of, I went back to my manuscript. I didn't change the book's argument or what I understand to be its value by one iota. I did, however, tighten the style of the writing considerably. Ultimately, I was glad to have the extra time. I ended up putting literally hundreds of hours of work into it just between April and August. 

It's nice to have turned it in, even though I'll still have to go through the proofs later this year. Apparently, the book will be coming out sometime in March of next year. In a couple of weeks, I'll be giving a talk about it at the University of Texas

30 years ago

On September 22, 1992, I flew from Detroit Metro Airport to Istanbul to start a new job working as a teacher of English as a second language. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I ended up living in Turkey for seven years before returning to the US to begin graduate school in 1999. 

Going into academia was the absolute last thing on my mind when I first arrived in Istanbul. Instead, I wanted to write a novel and see something of the world. While I never finished the novel, at least I gave myself the chance to try writing it. 

In the meantime, I learned a lot about Russia and the Middle East, and even more about myself. By the time I decided to apply to graduate school, I had already become proficient in Turkish and halfway decent in Russian, had published a number of articles about politics in Turkey and the Balkans, and had traveled extensively through Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, among other places. More importantly, the interest I had developed in the parts of the world in which I would go on to specialize was an organic one.  

By the time I did begin graduate school, this background gave me a huge advantage, and I feel like it still does. Not because I necessarily learned certain facts during these years that I wouldn't have known otherwise, but rather because my pre-grad school experiences would later give me staying power during my studies and beyond. I knew why I was in graduate school and what kind of research I wanted to do because I'd learned something about myself in the meantime.  


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.   

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