Who Navigated Complexities
I suppose this is going to be yet another iteration of that essay I keep writing and rewriting, whose ancestors long-time readers will already have encountered here, each of which engages from some angle or other with that deceptively difficult question: What is Russia? At least since the time of the great Russian historian Vasily Tatishchev (1686-1750, a distant forefather of Jacques Tati, who was among the last of his noble Rurikid dynasty), this question has often taken the form of a dilemma, as between Europe and Asia, with Russia compelled to choose a side. But the dilemma is false, as it is only in recognition of a third term that the history and ongoing dynamics of the Eurasian supercontinent can make any sense at all. That third term is the one that for several centuries now has been provided, grosso modo, by the Russian Empire.
Among Mikhail Lermontov’s better-known short poems is the untitled 1832 composition often called « Парус » / “The Sail”, whose first two lines run:
Белеет парус одинокий,
В тумане моря голубом!
Translators do the best they can, with what is ultimately an impossible task. Thus Alexander Hutchison:
A single sail a blaze of white
through haze on a pale blue sea!
And thus Robert Chandler:
White sail out in the bay
billowing in the wind.
Yevgeny Bonver gets somewhat closer to capturing the peculiarity of Russian that interests me, by rendering the whiteness of the sail as an active participle within a verb phrase:
The sail is whitening alone
In blue obscurity of sea.
Dmitri Smirnov-Sadovsky likewise attempts to approximate the Russian verb белеть, as best English will permit, by means of a verb phrase constructed from “to show”, plus the relevant color adjective:
The lonely sail is showing white
Among the haze of the blue sea!
But none of these efforts can possibly capture the meaning of the verb in question, as there simply is no notion in English, or in any other European language modern or classical, by which it would make any sense to speak of being a certain color, stably and unchangingly, by means of a verb. Of course we have verbs like “to yellow”, or indeed “to whiten” or “to blacken”, but these imply change in a given body from a prior condition where that body was not yet yellow or white or black. Similarly we have adjectives like “rubescent”, derived from a Latin participle meaning “to redden” or “to blush”, but again in Latin as in English the implication is that the cheek that rubesces was not, the moment before, the slightest bit ruddy. Russian too has a number of color-derived verbs that signify a change into the color in question, e.g., зеленеть = “to turn green”, краснеть = “to turn red” or, if you prefer, “to rubesce”. But these do not change the fact that Lermontov had a Russian verb to draw from his treasury that means, simply, to be white. What are we to make of this East Slavic curiosity?
In my own subjective apprehension of the language, this feature perhaps more than any other represents Russia’s deep Inner Asian legacy. Often this legacy is invoked for chauvinistic reasons, by those who want to play up the civilizational distance between Russian and Europe and to depict the Russians as a surviving vestige of the Golden Horde — though here the chauvinism might, as in the Eurasianist ideology crystallized by Aleksandr Dugin, be a point of pride, just as much as it might be intended to denigrate the Russians and to portray them as eternally condemned to civilizational backwardness and barbarism.
But I don’t mean it this way. For a long time not only Russians, but all Europeans whose ancient ethnogenesis occurred outside of the bounds of the Pax Romana, were conceptualized as Asians of a sort. In his Relation de l’Islande (1663), the seventeenth-century French historian and libertine Isaac La Peyrère repeatedly describes Odin and the other Norse gods as “Asiatic”. This theme is echoed in numerous early modern Scandinavian authors themselves, notably the Swedish polymath and Atlantis-theorist Olaus Rudbeck, who is concerned to reinforce the relatively recent membership of his country within the bounds of Christendom, and to distance it from the forms of pagan worship that are presumed to prevail the further one penetrates into the forests to the North and to the East of the European mainland.
At other times the stigma of the Asiatic has been flipped into a virtue. Thus in the eighteenth century the Polish aristocracy, far from drawing its court fashions from France, took a romantic turn and instead went all in for “Sarmatianism”, adopting styles and gestures thought to be typical of the ancient Indo-European people who dwelled somewhere near the Caspian Sea and who seem to have been closely related to the Scythians. The stigmatizing expression of this same idea is surely familiar to most of us in the slurring of Germans as “Huns” by American GI’s as recently as World War II.
There is some historical truth to this appellation. If you go to the region around Ruse, in northern Bulgaria just south of the Danube, you will find many museums and landmarks claiming that this is the birthplace of German literature: it’s where St. Wulfila (“little wolf”) comes from, who in the fourth century produced a Gothic translation of the Bible. Wulfila’s family was probably of Cappadocian origin, but it is difficult to hear his name without thinking of another great figure who came along two centuries later with the same diminutive suffix, Attila, “little father”, whom we call a “Hun” but who inhabited a world that was equally shaped by Gothic language and cultural forms, and who after his death became far more central to Germanic heroic epic than to the cultures of the Slavs or the Turks. The dwarf jester Zerco, taken as a slave from Mauretania, is said by the historian Priscus to have engaged in quick trilingual word-play between Gothic, Hunnic, and Latin, when he entertained at Attila’s court.
The conflation, and perhaps the hybridity, of Hunnic and Gothic identity in German history continued even into the post-war construction of the Bundesrepublik, even among the leading German statesmen involved. In his excellent Five Germanys I Have Known, Fritz Stern relates that Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of West Germany, used to close the blinds when he took the train through the DDR to arrive in West Berlin, on the explanation that he did not wish to catch a glimpse of “Asia”. Adenauer had been born in Cologne, founded as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium by the Romans in 50 AD.
And indeed the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which roughly divide the Southwestern Germany of the Rhineland from the Northeastern Germany of Prussia (which corresponds very roughly to the boundaries of the DDR, which in turn corresponds to the boundaries of Germania Slavica, marked by countless toponyms of Wendish origin: Pankow, Prenzlau, Spandau, Treptow), do not really mark any significant division, once we remember what hash was made of them during the Great Migration Period. As Hyun Jin Kim argues in a remarkable chapter of a recent book he co-edited on Eurasian Empires in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, even the earliest emergence of a distinctly French polity with the rise of the Merovingian Empire in the fifth century shows signs of significant Inner Asian influence. “The Hunnic system of ‘fief’ allocation to royal family members,” Kim writes, “division of the patrimonial inheritance… among royal heirs, the gradation of rank among nobles and territorial/tribal lords, and the allocation of political office based on these ranks, is very similar to the system found among the Merovingian and Carolingian Franks… This can hardly be a coincidence.”1
And even before the restructuring of Western European polities after the arrival of the “barbarians”, there had been repeated radiations of cultural and religious forms out of Asia, notably the cult of Mithraism, centered on bull sacrifice, which had emerged in Persia and spread throughout the Roman Empire, and was particularly widely attested in Gaul. And indeed later, too, the Cathar rebellions in Occitania from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries were a Western echo of the earlier neo-Gnostic Bogomil movement of the First Bulgarian Empire, which had only recently established itself in the Balkans west of Constantinople, and still preserved many distinctive traits of the Turkic Bulgar nomads who arrived there not long before from the Pontic steppe, somewhere to the North and the East of the Black Sea.
In his posthumously published 1969 work, La Mer Noire. Des origines à la conquète ottomane, the great Romanian historian Gheorghe Brătianu attempts to do for that neglected body of water what Fernand Braudel, to great acclaim, had done for the Mediterranean: to show that it is at the heart of a great transcontinental system, that it is the sun as it were around which the land-masses and empires rotate. Its shores host Turks, Goths, Slavs, “Rumelians”, the descendants of the Huns, the Cumans, the Pechenegs, the Dacians… It seems to me now that much more could be learned about the present war in Ukraine by reading Brătianu than by daily exposure to the New York Times.
There would be “a whole nother” essay to write on what Romania is, too, and it would surely have much to say about Ovid’s Black Sea exile, about the oft-neglected Ottoman perspective on the question of who is to count as a “Roman”, and much else besides. That will be for a different day. Briefly, I have sometimes heard said of Romania that it is as if Russia and Italy had a child (one perhaps raised in part by a Turkish stepdad). Carpets on the walls; young men who squat as their default attitude, favored over sitting and standing; a fear that sitting on cold marble benches will make a girl sterile; an even greater fear of drafts that enter an indoor space at one end and exit at the other, often represented almost as supernatural entities with malign agency; marriages that are conceptualized symbolically as kidnappings. I could keep going with this list of traits that span the steppe, that broadly cover the region of the world from the Black Sea to Lake Baikal, the region of the world where you will find people speaking either Slavic or Turkic languages (whose westernmost representative is spoken by the Gagauz of Moldova and the Danube delta), or, to put these geographical and linguistic points in more overtly geopolitical terms: the part of the world the Russian Empire has generally found an interest in directly controlling.
We might be tempted to see the Russians, especially in their most recent imperial aggressions, as the surviving rump of the hyper-expansionist Mongol Horde. But then again you can also find an angle from which the Poles turn out to be Scythians, the Germans turn out to be Huns, and even the French owe their earliest ethnogenesis, at the moment of the almost mythical baptism of Clovis, to an Inner Asian tribe first identified by the Chinese under the name “Xiongnu”. Who then is “truly” European? The Basques, perhaps, whom some take to be the only surviving remnants of the earliest Paleolithic inhabitation of this peninsula by anatomically modern humans. But that would seem overly restrictive.
For Americans —who, I’m sorry, but on average really don’t know much at all about the world, and who seem hopelessly trapped in a crude sub-Blumenbachian racial schema that can only make out three or four different kinds of people— “Asia” as a geographical concept generally gets elided with “East Asia”, which at least appears to be something quite clearly distinguishable, in its cultural forms and its physiognomies, from Europe. But for most of European history, as Hyun Jin Kim compellingly emphasizes, “Asia” was first and foremostly the Asia of the steppe, of caravansaries, falconry, mounted archery, and consumption of raw meat (à la Tartare) and massive quantities of dairy, which extends roughly from Manchuria in the East to the Pannonian Plain in the West, and which effectively unites the worlds of the Chinese and the Roman empires through the intermediation mostly of Mongolic, Turkic, Indo-Aryan, and indeed one might also add Slavic peoples. Nothing of the history of either Asia or Europe makes any sense if you fail to take the tertium quid of the steppe world into account.
There are several features of Slavic languages, and of Russian in particular, that at least seem to testify to their “Asiatic” past. For a while the far-right nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky —a nationalist of a decidedly non-Duginite, non-Eurasianist variety— was campaigning to eliminate the letter ы from the Russian language, on the grounds that it had entered the language in the first place through infection from Turkic Tatar — the letter in question is roughly equivalent to the modern dotless Turkish ı, the close back unrounded vowel that is the counterpart to the more familiar front vowel i.
There are other more serious claims of Asian influence as well. Many authors have noted that the Slavic languages are unique in Europe for their grammatical marking of the animate class of nouns as distinct from the inanimate, at least in the masculine accusative. Thus “house” is дом (a regrettable Latinate impurity), and the word remains morphologically unchanged when it occurs as the direct object: Я вижу дом, “I see a house”. But consider the wolf, which is волк in the nominative, and which takes a special ending, indeed the same as the ending that would be given to “man” (человек in the nominative, человека in the accusative), when it occurs in the accusative: Я вижу волка = “I see a wolf”; or, in the accusative plural, to cite a moving ballad of Vladimir Vysotsky’s, Идёт охота на волков = “The wolf hunt is on”. This dimension of Russian grammar has seemed to hint, at least for some commentators, at a vestigial animism, one that, so much unlike the ontology prevailing in the modern West, understands men and wolves and fish to be more like one another than wolves and fish and stones are. This would be, roughly, the same sort of animism that Olaus Rudbeck was trying to distance his nation from in early modern Sweden: the kind that prevails among the forest people.
Nor is the “Asianness” of the Slavic languages to be entirely explained by their cross-hybridity or their Sprachbund convergences with Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Yeniseian, and other language families. They are also, often, held to preserve many of the archaic features of the Indo-European family that are more familiar from this wide grouping’s Asian representatives. It is a familiar theme among scholars of the Baltic languages —Latvian and Lithuanian, as well as their dialectal variants and their extinct cousins such as Yotvingian and Old Prussian—, which are part of the broader grouping we call “Balto-Slavic”, that these languages preserve certain features of ancient Sanskrit far better than this South Asian language’s direct descendants such as Hindi or Punjabi. And again, from an early modern European perspective, the suspicions of “Asianness” that a Christian in an only recently converted region such as Lithuania would be keen to disavow were little different from the cultural forms with which missionaries were at the same time beginning to get acquainted in India, and that would only a few centuries later come to be designated by the generic exonym of “Hinduism”, which really just unifies under a single umbrella the continuum of rites that were practiced from temple to temple, from village to village.
The Baltics provide the clearest illustration of the point — perhaps in part because their conversion was so late, and in part because so many of the great Soviet linguists and ethnologists were of Baltic origin. (Soviet “Orientalism”, I will always insist, never fit the crude interpretation of this scholarly field we all know from Edward Saïd — it was not motivated by exoticism or, at least in the first instance, by imperialism, but by an unimpeachable desire for self-knowledge.) But the Slavic languages are not far behind, with their grammatical marking of animateness, the survival of the marked dual number between the singular and the plural, and other features I can’t possibly address here.
But if I’m stuck, myself, on the possible story behind that verb deployed by Lermontov, with which we began, it is because I’m also stuck on some rather frustrating obstacles to the mastery, which I have been pursuing for over five years now, of the Northeast Siberian language of the Turkic family known variously as Sakha or Yakut. Virtually the only reference works that exist for this language are written in Russian. Very frequently, in looking up unfamiliar vocabulary items in a Sakha-Russian bilingual dictionary, I’m struck by the added complication that the Russian word given as the translation is itself so obscure that I have to go and look it up in a Russian-English dictionary in turn. It’s a pain, but I do it anyway.
Over time I find myself increasingly amazed at this rather little-discussed feature of not-very-well-documented non-Western languages, that they seem to float freely, that there exists no clear and simple system of correspondence between their words and the words you can more or less be confident you’ll find, in one-to-one mappings, in any bilingual dictionary of English, on the one hand, and French, German, Latin, or Greek on the other. All of Western Europe, or perhaps the part of the world that has shaped its literary traditions in reference to Greek and Latin antiquity, has in effect evolved into a sort of Sprachbund, such as the one that in the Balkans has left Romanian, Bulgarian, and Albanian with enclitic articles, even if these languages otherwise have very different phylogenies. Over the past several centuries the conventional translations for every word of Homer and Virgil have been standardized, so that we can know with a high degree of confidence whether we are getting the meaning of the original text or not.
In this respect there is very little in common between the tasks of learning, say, Italian, and of learning Sakha. After five years of diligent work, my Italian is still significantly better than my Sakha. But I’ve never studied Italian. I simply use my grasp of the system of correspondences that governs European languages —the community of standardized vulgates that became so central to European identity in the modern period, as Peter Burke has compellingly shown— in order to infer what is going on. And it generally works.
Russian, for its part, lies partly within, and partly without, this system. It was the first foreign language I studied, when my mind was particularly plastic and when I had nothing else to compare it to in terms of difficulty or distance, so I just plodded ahead and mastered all sorts of strange things that I would only later discover to be entirely absent in modern and classical European languages — notably, the system of perfective and imperfective verbs, the lack of a present form of the perfective, the dual number for nouns, the instrumental and prepositional cases, and so on.
But establishing such a system of correspondences with Western Europe has been part of Russia’s efforts at constructing its national identity, and at choosing an orientation for itself, since the end of the seventeenth century. The Sakha language, by contrast, only gets inserted into this system two hundred years later, and when it does this is almost always through the mediation of Russian — in this respect, to try to render meanings of Sakha words in English amounts to something of a game of telephone.
So when you’re looking at Sakha, you’re looking at something that is quite untamed by the process of cross-linguistic standardization I have described, and, notwithstanding its many borrowings from Russian, seems to exemplify in a pure form what is sometimes, rightly or wrongly, held in an attenuated form to be “Asian” in the Russian language. For one thing, the letter ы abounds — unlike Russian, where it only ever occurs medially or terminally, in Sakha it is often the first letter of a word, for example, ыт = “dog”, ынах = “cow”, ыраас = “clean, clear”, Ыһыах = “Ysyakh” (the summer solstice festival centered on ritual consumption of fermented mare’s milk). Even direct borrowings from Russian, which of course do not start with ы in their language of origin, often get transformed almost beyond recognition: thus рубашка (“shirt”) becomes ырбаахы, and even “Tsar” (which of course ultimately descends from “Caesar”) somehow mutates into ыраахтааҕы. After five years, it still looks weird to me, as it no doubt did, I regret to acknowledge, to Zhirinovsky.
But what really confounds me is that there are numerous verbs that to my mind really should not be verbs at all. I learn new ones every single day. Thus, just to give you a small taste: ньолой = “to have a very long, narrow head”, халчай = “to have a very large, sloping forehead”, лэппэй = “to be thickset”, толлой = “to have big, thick lips”, кигэдий = “to be an object that is smooth over the entirety of its surface”. And so on. I could keep going. I’ve got a list of hundreds of these perplexing verbs. Collectively, they make Lermontov’s белеть look as familiar as “Arrivederci, Roma”. Of course, in English and other European languages we do have verbs that describe a stable state, e.g., “to abide”. But it seems to me that even here, when we say “The Dude abides”, we are highlighting the surprising fact that the Dude is not, as might be expected, changing, or declining, or passing into non-existence, and to this extent we are drawing attention to the potentiality for change —to the δύναμις— even when the manifest content of our claim concerns stability. Not so with белеть or толлой.
It’s hard to say what lessons we may draw from these words, or, if we wish to venture into the perilous territory of ethnophilosophy, what ontological commitments they might reveal. One is tempted, of course, to take them as evidence, far greater evidence surely than the grammatical marking of animate nouns in the Slavic languages, as a reflection of a certain pananimism, a linguistic hint of something like Spinoza’s idea that there is only one thing or substance, and every thing we ordinarily call a “thing” is in fact only a modification of it. Thus strictly speaking the only subject of a sentence, on this view, should be “it”, while all of our nouns get converted to verbs, and our verbs get converted to adverbs (along with indirect objects, dative clauses, etc.). So, instead of “The dog is barking at me”, we might have something like “It dogs, barkingly and me-wardly”.
But one should resist this temptation to give a Spinozist reading of Siberian Turkic languages, just as surely as one must resist Alexis Kagame’s Thomist interpretation of the Bantu language family. Nouns are doing just fine in Sakha, and no native speaker gives any indication of wishing to reduce the individual things these nouns denote to mere modifications of the one big Substance. The strangeness of the verbs we are focusing on here is that they do the work of accounting for what we would ordinarily understand to be not substances, but the properties of substances, which are ordinarily accounted for in the predicate of a sentence along with the verb.
In recent years a number of entrepreneurial Americans, who don’t seem to know much about grammar or language, have taken to declaring, of a variety of nouns (God, love, marriage, success), that these are in fact “verbs”. I think what they mean is that these are entities whose reality is established through action. This is very different, almost the obverse, of the feature of Sakha I am trying to account for, where we are confronted with things that appear grammatically as actions but that ordinarily one would be tempted to take as entities, or at least as the properties of entities (whether properties are themselves entities I suppose is another problem I will not address).
I really don’t know what this says about the latent ontological commitments of Sakha speakers. I’m still trying to figure that out, by the hard work of entering into their linguistic world. What I do know is that I caught my first glimpse of something like this world when I first learned that Lermontov poem thirty years ago. “The sail whites”, “The forehead longs and narrows”, “The surface smooths”… and I all lost and uncomprehending.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union Sakha has only drifted further from the system of correspondences that attached it, via Russian, to the European languages. After a century of concerted top-down efforts to create for it a modern literary language, a high-register style suitable for theater and for novels, it is now probably more free-floating and unanchored than when the first penal colonists and missionaries arrived there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is both good and bad news, or, rather, it is neither good nor bad. But one does fear that these top-down efforts are required in order for a language to steer clear of endangered status.
Even as Russian has long been the ultimate lingua franca of North Asia, Sakha was for almost as long a sort of secondary lingua franca, as a typical speaker of Even or Yukaghir within the Sakha Republic would have to revert to it for intercultural communication. Now Sakha seems at risk of falling to the same status as the so-called коренные языки малочисленных народов Севера — the Indigenous languages of the small-numbered peoples of the North. It takes state intervention to ensure that minority languages thrive within a multicultural republic, and for complicated reasons such intervention is something the Soviets considered important. The post-Soviet Russian government, considerably less so. Publishing in the Sakha Republic has degenerated to the point where only the cheapest and most low-quality editions continue to appear. In the larger population centers, especially among younger people, code-switching between Russian and Sakha is the norm, often multiple times within the same sentence, much as in New York City Spanglish.
At the same time something very interesting, and as far as I can tell completely overlooked, is occurring: the largest administrative division of any country in the world is reverting back to its traditional religious forms, which do not have a name —no one came along and imposed a term like “Hinduism” in these parts, as they did in India—, but which may broadly if contestedly be called “shamanism” or, to emphasize the Turkic aspects of it over the Tungusic and likely paleo-Siberian influences, “Tengrism”. So, in brief, it’s a world pervaded by spirits, managed by ritual “magic”, and characterized by a continuity between the human realm and the non-human natural and supernatural worlds. Much symbolic and ritual significance is attached to the fissure in the top of the skull, which must sometimes be covered by special headgear to prevent malign spirits from entering the body through it. And so on.
By now I’ve probably watched or listened to thousands of hours of Sakha-language news programs, podcasts, and so on. There have been on these guest appearances from countless shamans, village medicine men, and other vessels of traditional folkways, all of whom may be placed somewhere on a continuum from “the real deal” to fraudulent opportunists looking to make a buck on the internet like the rest of us. I have never once seen an Orthodox priest making a similar appearance, even if, nominally, the Sakha Republic, as part of the Russian Federation, is “majority Christian”.
It would be a mistake to describe this phenomenon as an explosion of interest in “neopaganism”. The process of Christianization only began in the nineteenth century, and it was soon curtailed by socialism — we can debate whether that counts as a religion or not, but what’s clear is that unlike in Scandinavia or the Baltics, or indeed Russia itself, missionary efforts at mass conversion only had some decades, rather than several centuries, to take root. Now that the entire world is being shaped neither by Christian missionary imperialism nor by socialist efforts at bringing into being a new Homo Sovieticus, but by market forces circulating over instantaneous communication networks, the Sakha people are free to “customize their profiles” in the sphere of utmost commitment, and overwhelmingly they seem to prefer, in doing so, to return to the principal points of reference that were there before the Christians and the socialists entered the fray.
There is of course a nationalist dimension to this, and it would probably be coded as “right wing” if it weren’t so small-scale and harmless, just as the pagan movement of the so-called Rodnovery within Russia is plainly a variety of right-wing ethnonationalism. Some things are too deep in culture to be captured easily by a dichotomy that only came into usage to describe the seating arrangement in the Assemblée Nationale shortly after the French Revolution.
But what’s most interesting to me —and I don’t know if I can express this as clearly as I would like— is that this resurgence of paganism seems to be of a pair with the linguistic “drift” I have attempted to describe. It is as if the standardization of national languages, and the imposition of a system of correspondence between these languages, has been but one part, all along, of the global missionary project. This is, again, perhaps, clearest in the Baltics, where the successful implantation of Christianity only occurs at the same moment as the first publication of standardized, or standardizing, dictionaries and grammars. The Christian ecumene positively requires fixed conventions of intertranslatability. These conventions were developed by great conscious effort over the course of the modern period, only to be lost again in whatever period this is — the period of fragmentation, hyperfinancialization, and infinitely fine-grained opportunities for individualized profile curation.
But let us, for our coda, go back to Russia proper, to the narrowly русский rather than the всероссийский. Or at least let us try.
When I was studying in Leningrad in 1990 one of the American girls on the program with me went and picked up a Russian boyfriend who had not long before returned from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he seems for his part to have picked up a bad case of PTSD. Who the fuck knows what happened to him there. He used to take long drags from a hash pipe and stare off into space with bloodshot eyes. If you got worried and asked him whether everything was alright, he would keep staring, and say: Всё в кайф. That кайф entered Russian via Central Asia as the pan-Turkic keyif, and ultimately from the Arabic كايف, a term used in the Qu’ran to describe the vibe that will prevail in Paradise.
“Everything’s cool,” that traumatized boy kept insisting in his Inner Asian pidgin. “Everything’s real nice.” I don’t remember his name, but he will always be, for me, the very embodiment of the Russian nation.
Hyun Jun Kim, “The Political Organization of Steppe Empires and their Contribution to Eurasian Interconnectivity:The Case of the Huns and their Impact on the Frankish West,” in Kim et al., Eurasian Empires in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Contact and Exchange between the Graeco-Roman World, Inner Asia, and China, Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp. 15-33.
In other news, I’m just now back in Paris after nine months away. This is an unusual sensation for me, but up until now no one knows I’m back yet and I find that I’m a bit lonely. I messed up both my legs on the Bucharest metro about a week ago, having literally failed to “mind the gap” when I was transferring at Piața Victoriei (see photos below), and I can barely walk. Some victory! (Yes, if you are wondering, I was lost in contemplation of some abstruse philosophical question, completely unaware of my surroundings, head in the clouds, at the moment of my fall.) Most tragically, for me, I can’t go to the gym for the foreseeable future.
My visit to the Bucharest emergency room was not as bad as might have been imagined by anyone who has watched The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, though admittedly the attitudes of the first responders were closer to what you might expect of a World War I battlefield feldsher than of anyone who could properly be said to work in the “care” profession. I had to miss the wedding I had so looked forward to attending in Normandy, for which I had even had a suit specially tailored back in Sacramento.
I’m not looking for pity here, but only perhaps for a bit of company. If we are old friends, and you are likewise in Paris, I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch recently, but please know that I’d be thrilled if you were to drop me a line. (I’m probably not up for making new acquaintances right now, to be honest — even in the best physical condition that’s a daunting prospect!) I might be able to come out as far as my local Stammtisch here in the 19th arrondissement, close enough to home that the primary distance traversed in getting there is in the elevator from our sixth-floor apartment.
Otherwise, stay safe, dear readers, and watch where you step!