Peregrinations


What does it say about my ability to abide by the eponymous resolution of this post, when it took me three tries to even get the spelling of the word right in the title? Not, as I imagine many people might think, that I’m out of practice typing–because I’m not not–but perhaps it’s a Freudian slip because I don’t want to make a resolution I may not keep?

So what’s this resolution? Well inspired by a similar one that I just finished reading about in a different blog/articles website, it is simply to contribute something to this blog once a week. At least once a week I should say. Regardless of what else I write or not, or what I’m doing, I think writing here just once a week is not an un-keepable goal. I did start something like this based on a book a few years ago, but other than putting down the prompts for several in the drafts section of this blog, it didn’t go very far. Not because I think I owe anyone anything really.. early on when I created the blog it was with a promise to myself to be guilt-free for not writing. I stand by that sentiment, but this once-a-week exercise is more of a discipline-building one. Just to prove to myself that I can. No other conditions or stipulations about topic, etc etc. Just write… at least one entry per week here, in my peregrine chronicles, which means it cannot be about food really, since that topic I reserve for my other site.

So where am I? I just took a quick read back at my blogs over the past two years, and actually have to admit that the record wasn’t too shabby compared to the previous three. But almost exactly 3 years ago, I entered something about the flight of this peregrine, and reading the optimism of that post, makes me want to weep. Because optimistic is certainly not the way I’d describe myself any more. Exhausted, disheartened and yes, even defeated is how I feel more often than not.

Having said that though… not all is bad, even now. Though jobless for two years now, I’m in Madison Wisconsin on a short fellowship to work at the archives of a scientist who features in my book (that at least is still progressing even if the move to India turned out to be a jump from one frying pan into another or to be ethnic about it from the Korean barbeque into the kadhai). Madison is a lovely town–not quite big enough to merit the label city–with lots of lakes and the University Union building sits on one of them and I’ve spent a lot of my waking hours here.

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In some ways Ravenna is the perfect metaphor for my approach to blogging about my Italian travels over Easter break 2008, because rather than approach it with any sort of plan or chronology, I’ve been filling in chips providing a mosaic of my experiences rather than a single canvas. Actually, to take that metaphor even further, I’ve been filling in these chips in a the larger mosaic of my pergrinations in general but… I’ll stop with the analogy. And the reason for this perfect match is that Ravenna (as many might know already though I didn’t until my visit there) is certainly full of mosaics. It’s a real shame that I haven’t written about this place earlier actually, because of all the places that Shraddha and visited over our Italian week together, this was certainly the treasure chest of sights previously unseen. And after a long day of visual feasts we had yet another of those edible experiences that had us both swooning in rhapsodies of delight…

7 years later…

After so much time, the memory of those mosaics still delight, not only of the the bit above from one of the churches, but that of a small baptistry which brought to mind a Van Gogh starry night, with brilliant blues and purples and teals. It also recalls that line from the oft-quoted, never tired Yeats, of the blue and gold etc etc in the “Tread softly” poem. Same trip a week or so later took me to Trieste where more mosaics delighted as well. The memories haven’t gone anywhere though the impulse to write more has. ’tis best this were published. Or else I’ll have to trash it.

The structure of the Korean academic calendar being as it was, in cycles of 4 months on and 2 months off, I didn’t treat myself to many (read any) term-time getaways as I did with such frequency while in Egypt (both in and out of the country) though summer and winter breaks are another story. In fact, a short trip to Hong Kong in October, 2013 during the Chuseok holiday was the first time since my arrival to the country in 2011 that I went anywhere during the term. But I seem to have made up for it my last semester (Spring 2014) there as evidenced by the weekend jaunt to Bo-seong of the green tea fame, and a  mid-term week flight to Bali for 5 days in April where I met up with Anthony Osiris & parents, and a Buddha’s birthday venture into Vietnam in early May. The latter two are the references in the title. Details may follow in future posts or my food blog but here’s a collage/montage of photos from the trips:

Our villa grounds in Sanur

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Spongy purple flotsam

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Viet-lodge & views

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Cruising at sunset

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Or is about to. As so many friends wrote in when I last made a similar announcement in January 2011, that fact that I’m moving may not surprise anyone who knows me. Nor will the fact that true to type, everything happened suddenly and rapidly. But the destination might be a surprise to many for after traipsing around the world for nearly 30 years (I left in 1986) this peregrine is coming to roost a mere 4 hours from the one place in in the world that was a stable home for more than a decade of my life. The actual place is called Kundli and it’s near Sonepat in Haryana, on oft-traveled road between Delhi and Chandigarh. But basically I’m going to be in Delhi! The new job is at a brand new liberal arts school called Ashoka University. My new job title will be associate professor (that’s right.. finally 8.5 years after I took up my first job in Eau Claire, I’ve managed a promotion!) of history of science. And that might well be the first time there’s been a job with the history of science written into it’s title in India. I’m excited naturally, but also approach this job with some trepidation because of the enormous changes it represents for me. More details on everything soon but for now wanted to at least announce the news.

images-1 Different cities match up to to different descriptors and monikers, some better known examples being the Big Apple for New York, La Serenisima (Venice), Tinseltown (LA) and El Kahira or the City Victorious for Cairo. For me,  the word that personifies Vienna is “gracious.” Of course this choice has to do with my experiences there, but compared to other European cities that I have enjoyed, this city truly wields her considerable charms with a grace unmatched (for me at least) by others I have visited.

I began this post last (2011) summer, after my second extended visit to Vienna, when I got to relive my first enchanted stay there in the same enchanted apartment, revisit old haunts and discover new favorites places to enjoy the next time I get there (whenever that will be). But why gracious of all words? There is despite it’s basically positive tone, a note of something perhaps a little staid, not so young and maybe even just a little condescending in the word gracious. And funnily enough I think it’s the full import of the word with all it’s positive and negative baggage that makes it such a perfect match for Vienna. For Vienna is not primarily a young city, teeming with energy and offering something for everyone. No, it’s a city for a peculiar sort of tourist,  indisputably beautiful with gorgeous facades on buildings churches, and Gustav Klimt lurking in unexpected nooks – but also less energetic than your usual holiday fare and somewhat expensive (hence the note of condescension?) Cafes look like living rooms with velvet lined furniture and evoke images of bygone eras when gentlemen still kissed the hands of ladies. not their cheeks as they do now. For some reason, these cafes reminded me of Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin who pined for the days when one could sip champagne from a lady’s slipper. Culturally apt or not, the scene (it has to be a pink satin slipper) is just the sort of graciousness that I imagine when I think of Vienna.

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For some reason I never posted this one when I actually wrote it… and looking at it now it seems complete enough. So let me take you back to the summer of 2009 (not written until November though, hence the Nobel reference):

Obama’s Nobel for Peace may or may not turn to be a remarkable feat of foresight on the part of committee or it may simply be, as so many Republicans claim, the world thumbing its nose at GWB finally relinquishing power. I’ll admit I’m ambivalent about the whole thing (GASP!!! am I actually agreeing with the Republicans?) not for the politics of the prize-givers, which I’m in sympathy with, but because politics rather than performance seemed to have motivated the decision. I’m not sure I have much more to say on that topic, but meanwhile it serves as a peg for me to hang my overdue post about my summer-solstice visit to Oslo where I not only visited the Peace museum but also some monuments to various childhood heroes (hence the title of the post).

Stories of polar expeditions, Peary and the North Pole and the race between Amundsen and Scott to the South, were gobbled up voraciously by my 8-to-9-year old self, oddly enough through the text books of my older cousins when I would visit them over holidays. I rejoiced in the victories of the victors. And though I felt truly sorry for the defeat of Scott, back in those days, Amundsen was my clear favorite. Until…

Fast forward a couple of decades to Yale, where I as a new graduate student in the history of science was working on a paper on the history of neuroscience for one of the introductory courses. During the course of my research I came across another name, Nansen, whom I did not remember from the Polar stories but was a true Renaissance man. He was a contributor to a fundamental concept known as the neuron theory, that incomplete as it might be, is the basis for understanding of how the brain does the various things its supposed to. He was also an explorer – polar expeditions, ski trips across Greenland the works… and finally, as I found out in a conversation with a doctor, also won the Nobel Peace Prize for post WWI humanitarian work. I had my (unfortunately too brief) flirtation of studying this guy further as a diss possibility but language barriers, other courses, papers etc soon sent him to the bottom of the pile. And over the next decade his name got lost in the recesses of my memory.

Fast forward again to summer solstice, 2009. There I am in Oslo, and decide to go to see the Viking boat museum. Only I found out that with my ticket I could visit an entire slew of museums all over town, in Oslo and on the peninsula by the Fjord were not one but 3 museums whose main themes were boats. There was the viking museum, where I could look at the vessels of Eric the Great (or Rapine depending on perspective I suppose); the Kon-Tiki Museum whose name jogged memories of yet another book/adventure I’d read about when I was young (very nerdy kid, what can I say?) and also the Polar boat museum aka the FRAM museum. So on a lovely clear summer’s day – the quality of light in Norway at that time of year is something to write songs about and maybe one day I inshallah – I took off for my land-bound maritime adventures. And reacquainted myself with some heroes from the days when I believed in them.

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Finally I have some good news – make that great news – on the job front. But as often seems to be the case with me, things have been moving rapidly and in the last month, I’ve interviewed twice (via Skype – Hurray for modern technology) and received unofficial and now mostly official confirmation, again via the net, of the offer. And (drumroll please) the new job is in…

A place called Yonsei University. In Seoul, S. Korea! And it’s a tenure track position in the history of science to boot. Am I thrilled or what?

Talk about out of nowhere, I swear, Korea wasn’t even on the horizon of considerations even as a tourist destination but then a job ad floated my way in late October (Thanks to my fellow post-doc and scientific thinking colleague Brandon for first bringing it to my attention) and I added it to the growing list of applications. An interview in December led to a Christmas present (bright and early when I powered on the computer in Doha at Yasir and Suf’s place) in the guise of an email from the search committee chair that I was the chosen candidate, and while vacationing in India I had a second interview, also on Skype, with the higher-ups, which was followed a few days later with an unofficial offer. Its been a whirlwind naturally, but for the most part in a good way (the not-so-good is the prospect of good-byes to dear friends here in Cairo) and over the next few weeks I’ll be packing up and leaving for the school year and new semester in Korea begins in March! Meanwhile another interview, at MIT .. THE MIT in Boston .. went reasonably well also and more importantly went a long long way in bolstering my greatly flagging morale. Results for that search won’t be out till later, and besides, its a WAC (writing across the curriculum for the uninitiated) position not History of Science, but hey! I get to say that I interviewed at MIT. It’s a cool feeling.

But enough bragging. I’m delighted, thrilled, ecstatic and all those other words, besides being grateful for this opportunity, to travel yet again and learn about an entirely new world and culture. And the job seems fantastic for me as well. And as more than one friend has mentioned, the foodie in me is going to have a very interesting life indeed.

So watch out for changes soon, as the pyramids will recede to give way to Kim-Chee or some other Korean icon (or Hello Kitty whom I understand is immensely popular in Japan & Korea). Until I learn some Korean words then, its Sayanora everyone. And good night.

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