58 out of 410 days: Language Test Failure

[Such a sad little photo! I’ll do better with my next from-the-phone post.]
So standing in line at the consulate waiting to pick up our visas and a man starts talking to me in Turkish. Did I use the very lesson I learned this morning? Did I say “Türkçe bilmiyorum”? Nope. I stood there like a deer in headlights and waited for him to switch to English. Oh well.

AND I just learned SDA’s companion visa hasn’t yet been approved. Just my research visa. This will not be the last trip here…

57 out of 410 Days: Long Hand

I resorted to long hand. I left the house in the pouring rain and headed for a place of Milk and Honey. [It’s actually called that, but I drank coffee instead.] I brought a print out of chapter six to date and gave it a careful editing and started writing. Six new pages later I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Still am really.

I left because a man left a backpack and ran out of the coffee shop. A clean cut white man with all the trappings of privilege. He asked if me and another anonymous coffee shop surfer would we be there for a while, dropped an expensive looking computer bag, and hustled out. He didn’t even wait for a response. He didn’t buy anything or even look towards the register. When he crossed the street and started walking down the opposite block, he slowed and began tucking in his shirt as he moved out of view. Yes, I watched him go. Maybe he hasn’t been in Brooklyn long. You just don’t do that. Who am I to him? And frankly, in this day and age I’m no more likely to carry a package on plane for a stranger than I am to watch a bag. Paranoid? Maybe. Is that a true representation of myself and my actions? Nope. I’ve watched a lot of bags for a lot of strangers over the years in a variety of locations and always ALWAYS turned down invitations to be a mule. [That’s another story.] Something must have hit me differently this time.

Most of my emigrant neighbors and friends of color are treated with suspicion on public transportation and in many other public and private spaces. It sucks. The pervasive culture of fear erodes trust in our shared institutions.

I was faced with a choice: Do I let myself think the worst of the kind of person whom no-one usually suspects? Something about his manner just made me nervy and on edge. Or, do I tell myself to get over it, tamp down my anxiety, and keep on drinking coffee and scribbling away?

I gave the backpack one last look and glanced around the place and decided that maybe I really could do with an afternoon run. I feel a little silly, but I don’t regret it. I guess the better thing to do would have been to say “No, you really shouldn’t leave your bag here unattended.” But after the fact (and his fast exit), I decided not to infect my overblown imagination regarding what the backpack could contain on my fellow coffee drinkers in our little gentrified haven. Frankly, I doubted anyone would share my sense that something was off. I’d “camped” enough for the day any how.

The run was lovely. Then I got to fight with the bank about a wire transfer to Turkey for a very long time. Again. That killed what forward momentum I had, besides entering edits during the discordant hold music. I had clear forgotten my little bout of paranoia earlier, until I came to this ritual confession of the contents of my day.

I keep wondering why I might have thought something was off. What was the trigger?

The owner of the previous establishment to occupy that space was the victim of a mob-style execution. The body was dumped in nearly unidentifiable condition a few states away. Actually, it was found quite close to where SDA’s parents live. Maybe that.

Maybe something else entirely.

Maybe I was just angry at his thoughtless (and largely correct) assumption that his privilege would let him drop a bag and walk away from it with no consequences.

I’m really glad the “trick” of writing by hand worked to get the words flowing in a continuous manner. My learning disability also means my fine motor skills are crap. I doubt anyone but me could decipher the scrawl.

45, 46 out of 410 Days: Honesty

I didn’t write here yesterday because a friend’s daughter died an hour after birth.  We’re not terribly close, but I found I could not let the news go.  I lit a candle and worked until about 4.30 and then gave up.

Modern medicine can make us feel like we have limitless options and tortuous decisions to make.  And, that illusion of control can lead to a sense of culpability.   In facing the inevitability of death, grief and fear are surely enough pain, without guilt as well.

Is this too heavy for a sabbatical blog?  Maybe.  Though it is certainly part of the answer to “where did the time go?”.  I learned the news on a social media site and that’s the primary venue in which I talked about it and offered what comfort I could.  That shocked some of my friends to whom I mentioned it in passing.  But, that is one of the venues where the family chose to share the news and who the heck is any one to judge what is easiest or most comforting or comes most naturally in a time of crisis.  We live online and death is one big part of life.

I’m going to DC this weekend to catch up with old friends, some of mine, some of SDA’s, pre Turkey.  None have any connection to my undergraduate days there.  I don’t have a single friend from those 2.5 years.  Odd, as I’ve collected them from all the other years and geographic locations of my life.  I do, however, have an abiding love of Lincoln at night.  It will be good to see him again and think about the vices and virtues of my nation.

40 and 41 out of 410 days: The Dangers of Reading Roman History on the Subway

I took Rosenstein with me on my way to apply for the Turkish Visas yesterday. This drew more attention than reading porn in public.   Apparently in the age of private Kindle reading selections having a real book with a few pictures in it is an open invitation to conversation.  On my way there a nice man decided he must give me a section of the NY Times with an article about Egyptian Cats at Brooklyn Museum.  He was nervous to break the code of subway silence but couldn’t repress his desire to engage about culture.  He explained he tried to take an art history course or similar every summer.  I said I wished more people did that.  He responded fervently that the world would be a better, more humane place if they did.

On the way back, it was standing room only and I was smashed in next to a police officer, Officer O’Reilly his badge said.   He wanted to know if I was an avid reader and how he should go about becoming a reader himself.   He was bored with video games and the like.  He wanted substance.  I asked him what subjects interested him, history? science? Definitely science.  What kind of shows did he watch on television?  Did he need plot resolution?  a narrative arc?  mystery?  intensity?  I settled on recommending The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  One wasn’t good enough.  So I moved on to describing the writing style of Erik Larson.  Apparently my narration of the Devil in the White City was so gripping that a nearby junky (I know making such assumptions is less than PC, but if he wasn’t a junky, he certainly had adopted a similar aesthetic for his self-presentation.) interrupted and demand to know if I was describing the book in my hand.  I said, no, another book.  He needed all the details straight away.

I love New York.  I adore public transportation.

The visa application process was nerve wrecking I had to fill out by hand my CV including publications.  Four to eight weeks for any answers.  On the bright side, I met a nice girl going on Fulbright to paint Seljuk carpets with whom we might connect in Istanbul.  This morning I identified a coin set into jewelry for a friend of a friend.  A fun little test.  Now onto coins. SDA is away and as today is 10% of my sabbatical complete I hope to make it a good one…

And I almost forgot, my beloved is on the radio on our favorite show, Splendid Table.  Start listening at minute 36.30, if you want to skip to the good part.

39 out of 410 days: Progress not Perfection

The weather was cool.  This helped.   It helped many things.  I averaged under a 10 minute mile for 3.4 miles.  I’ve never ran that fast anywhere but a tread mill.  That is something.  

I spoke to the Turkish consulate. 6-8 weeks for the visa. Yikes.  Tomorrow will not be a coinfest, but a bureaucratic love-in.  SDA wants me to renew my driver’s license too.  

Today while trying to learn about coins and the Decii, I instead ended up back deep in the literature on the oath scene coins.  No bad thing really.  A false start on writing a narrative but a start.  I worked until after 8 pm and then made whole wheat pasta from scratch.  Just sayin’.  A pretty nice day all in all.  Oh and banking.  I spent a chunk of the morning on the phone with my bank.  I hate talking to humans.  Good thing they were nice ones.

17 out 410 Days: Moving Money

I started wasting time trying to figure out where this image of a Roman banker came from.  I stopped.  It’s one of those wiki images floating around the internet without proper attribution.

Update June 8: A colleague solved the mystery for me!  I love that.  AND she introduced me to another great database I’m ashamed to say I did not yet know about!  Click on the image to be enlightened. 

I find it a little ironic that I spend a good chunk of time worrying how to pay rent in Turkey with money earned in the US.  Moving money internationally isn’t hard, just expensive.  There seems to be no way to avoid paying high transaction fees or trying to operate in cash, though even cash comes with exchange rate difficulties.  All these problems existed in the Roman world.  They had to find ways of shift large sums over large distances.  Maybe I should just bring gold…

Subletter is arranged and our Turkish Landlords are in touch. All very reassuring.  Now I just have to worry about the money.  Modern and ancient.

16 out of 410 Days: Planning Rollercoaster

This is a pre-run post.  I want to give the phone like five minutes on the charger so I get a full dose of mind numbing music while I pound the pavement.  

The potential Istanbul house for 10 months had begun to terrify me.  Luckily, SDA’s enthusiasm is unwavering.    So, it was something of a relief that the owners hadn’t written back since last Thursday.  Maybe it would fall through and not be my fault.  But!  Then a close colleague/friend wrote to me this morning interested in subletting and cat-sitting for us.   I hadn’t realized how much of my anxiety was about leaving my home to strangers and moving the kitties out of their familiar territory.  Now that we might have that solved I want to put the money down on the Turkish home lickety-split!   I am sure to change my mind a dozen more times about how I feel about the whole thing.

9 out of 410 Days: It’s all work



The mirror list got longer.  An editor contacted me and let me know proofs for a long ago submitted chapter were likely to show up in a week or two and I said yes to a new book review.  I really didn’t need another book review.  But the book is so good and needs to get the attention it deserves.  And, by a strange twist of fate it is about the same subject as that obscure chapter I was hunting down last week.  So when the request came in I was actually reading about the very subject.  Seemed a positive omen.

The morning has been spent on the relocation to Turkey project.  The house looks like its ago but now I need some sort of institutional affiliation to make me seem legit for the visa.  The home owner is a historian and offered to reach out to her department.  I wrote a begging email.  I kicked myself for not looking for fellowships last Nov/Dec.  Although I was in the throes of planning my wedding, running a department, and conducting a major search back then.  I’m telling myself I don’t need the ‘permission’ of a fellowship to go adventuring.    Good thing there are mirrors in most houses as I’ll need to write up my list again when we get there.  If we get there…