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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Mundane stuff... and a bit of Turkey

Spending today in multi-tasking mode again, but now with some bit of relief from my back problems -- at least enough so that I can get some work done in a sitting position and can actually walk upright (see friend Ciaran's comments on my Quasimodo-like demeanor of the past several days). Most of what I'm doing today is in preparation for a week filled with tasks from the mundane to the celebratory.

On the mundane side, I've been doing the usual weekly laundry and actually straightening up a bit in anticipation of a move from my ground-floor flat to a "room with a view" in the next building. As I posted earlier, a recent break-in in my flat made the decision to move that much easier, but I've had this move in mind ever since I learned that friends John and Maria were planning to vacate after purchasing a new home. Thankfully I'll be able to do the move slowly over several days and I hope not to lose access to the Internet for more than a few hours.

This week is also filled with meetings and classes, although that all seems to come to an abrupt halt on Thursday as St. Patrick's Day effectively marks the beginning of a three-week plus "spring break" here at Queen's University. Last year I planned my trip back to the states badly, and ended up flying out of Dublin on the morning of St. Patrick's Day. This year I'll be around for the "festivities" -- or at least to get a taste of how this very nationalist of holidays is celebrated up here in Northern Ireland. Don't know quite what to expect, although I hear that things get a bit noisy down around City Hall where a large, noisy, and 'unofficial' (as far as I know) concert is staged.

I'm also preparing for a quick trip to London for a meeting related to those fellowship applications I spoke of in yesterday's post. That stack of applications I'm scoring is now down to less than ten, and they all are still pretty impressive. We're using a 60 point rating system, and I'm finding it difficult to come up with scores lower than 50. It's hard to differentiate among members of a group who are so talented and interesting, although there was one candidate whose credentials at age 19 were nothing short of "genius"-level (this kid has already completed a year of medical school and is still unable to legally buy a drink).

In the midst of all this I was able to take a few minutes off for a trek to "Roast", my local coffee hang-out, to read at least one or two pieces from Saturday's Guardian Review section. The featured article was by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk -- actually an excerpt of his soon-to-be published memoirs. My knowledge of Turkey, like that of Northern Ireland before I got here, is filled with stereotypes generated by the media. In the case of Turkey, however, there was even less media coverage than of Northern Ireland. While here in Belfast I have become a friend of a colleague who grew up in Turkey, but he is as British as he is Turkish in most respects. Pamuk, in contrast, has never really left his native Istanbul, and the images he provides in this excerpt of growing up in (what I assume to be) an upper-middle-class, secular family is truly fascinating. His story has whetted my appetite not only for reading his much acclaimed fiction, but also for learning more about Turkey. Just as Northern Ireland provides insight into the kinds of sectarian-driven violence that has now experienced in many other parts of the world, so Turkey may offer us lessons about the internal clash of secular and religious lifestyles that we are now confronting in the US, the UK and Europe in general.

It's time to get the clothes out of the dryer and to finish off those fellowship applications....

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