In recent years I turned to cycle touring, a passion I share with my partner Galit. Together we pedaled the road from Minneapolis to Duluth (U.S. Bicycle Route 41), cruised among castles in Transylvania, and tasted a bit of rural France.
When thinking about it, both activities are a bit like academia. They require endurance and can get quite painful at times. Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite novelists and an avid runner, phrased it well:
I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative often self-centered nature that still doubts itself--that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I'm not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I've carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
Academia is important, but that is not all that occupies my mind. I enjoy the great outdoors, and in particular backpacking trips and cycle touring. In my youth I would go on overnight hikes at least once a month. Over time, these trips grew longer and transported me to remote locations, climaxing in a six week solo trek in western Mongolia, and three months of crossing the South Island of New Zealand on foot. A fun trivia fact is that the peak on the center-left is (Friedrich) Engels Peak in Tajikistan. There is also a Marx Peak not far away, but I didn’t have the chance to see it on that trip. In retrospect, this must have been a sign that foreshadowed my current sociological career. And the endless cups of kumis (fermented mare’s milk), tea and vodka that I drank with random Mongolian nomads also had their influence on sparking my interest in different cultures.
Other than that, and faced by the unavoidable reality that dictates that I spend more time on academia than hiking or cycling, I turn to reading . Recent gems from last year are:
The Gardener's Year by Karel Čapek
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Runaway by Alice Munro
Vertigo by W. G. Sebald
While working and reading I often listen to music. And no, I don’t play any instrument. I listen to anything from jazz and classical music, up to folk (someone said Bob Dylan?) and indie (Arcade Fire at Montreux Jazz Festival 2011 was one of the best concerts I have ever been to!). I also enjoy the cinema. I find Netflix confusing (too many bad choices). Mubi is my go-to streaming service, but the movies can be a bit too arty at times. Here are a couple of titles I watched recently:
Compartment No. 6 (2021) by Juho Kuosmane
Nomadland (2020) by Chloe Zhao
Storkman (2020) by Tomislav Jelinčić
Drive my car (2021) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Flee (2021) by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Ultimately, the thing that brings all the above together is an ample degree of wanderlust. It’s not only about the physical side of things, but more importantly, about the cultural and social part. That is, I value meaningful engagement with human complexity. It can be via a work of fiction or a movie. If I am lucky, I get to visit a new place. And at other times, it is done through my sociological imagination.
Thus, I am looking forward to a good conversation!