Great to be back in Belfast. I'm hosted by Dr Redden, who's moved from the most (criminally) interesting neighbourhood to the least interesting--he moved next to a cemetery, so his neighbours are quiet, and he knows how to deal with them when they're not... I have great fun giving my Early-Modern-World Romp paper at the Queen's University Belfast Postcolonial Research Forum, where the audience had great suggestions and was not impolite when I made reverential references to the Queen of Canada. If you can't give her a shoutout in Belfast, amidst post-colonialists, where can you?

Leaving, I forget to take scissors out of my carry-on bag, and set off all sorts of alarms. The nicest security guard woman ever explains that I also have a “wee problem with the wee Eee computer you have in the wee bag.”

London was meant to be a quick stopever en route to Istanbul, but the worst winter ever thought it would be fun to meet me there. Flying in was rough, though the pilot reassuringly(!) told us that he thought(!) we would(!) make it. But getting out the next day was the trick:

Checking in at Gatwick for Easyjet flight EZY859 for Istanbul, there's a massive line, but soon only three people wait ahead of me... and everything freezes. Weather is shutting down runways, and they'll give an update at 8:30, in about two hours. Easyjet staff encourages us to go away, no updates until at least 8:30, but those of us at the front of the line decide to stay, so that we'll be the first for service in case of cancellation. I'd just listened the night before to Ven. Sona explaining the difference between patience and waiting (which isn't patience, because you're stretching off into the future in anticipation of the thing expected), so I practice being patience without waiting, occassionally coming up for air when a moderately plausible rumour wafts by. Then about 8am (i.e. well before the earliest possible time for an update) a woman hands out photocopies of instructions on how to go online to reschedule or refund your flight if it is disrupted. She then announces that each flight before 11:00 has been delayed and cancelled. Widespread confusion. An angry woman passanger screams, "DELAYED OR CANCELLED? THEY'RE NOT THE SAME!" The Easyjet spokeswoman disappears, never to be seen again. By this point we notice all the Easyjet staff has disappeared, except for a woman at the customer service desk. She's helping a lucky customer at the front of a very very long queue, but then she herself goes to consult the backroom, and hundreds of angry customers are left alone. People mill around aimlessly, I rummage through some papers left on the podium (including a "customer's rights handout") looking for instructions, another hops over to try to use their phone, but nothing. The mob slowly breaks apart as people go questing for internet access.

Eventually British Airways got me to Istanbul, and an evil taxidriver got me not very close to my hotel (at 3am), and my own two feet got me the rest of the way. There I met up with Mr Marriott (MA Simon Fraser, doctorandus Oxford), who would be joining me for the next few weeks. He is the expedition's chief navigator and chief photographer, and you may notice the photographs improve markedly in Istanbul and after.

left: The JesusHunters circumnavigate the old Roman cities walls looking for a Jesus-related inscription (something like “Protect this city from the infidels,” so about as effective as it was easy to find)...

... we did, however, manage to locate between the inner and outer city walls Istanbul's combination garbage-dump / flea-market. It was not always clear where one ended and the other began.

A “baptising basin” at the sultans' palace. This historian is suspicious.

We saw surprisingly few Ataturk icons, and suprisingly many references to 1453, the year the Turks conquered the city.

We took the 10-hour night bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia, which was cool and rich with Jesuses, but we were spending a lot more time waiting for buses, or taking taxis to bus stations, than we were actually doing research. So I lost my patience and rented a car. This was probably stupid because (1) it and petrol was hugely expensive, (2) it is winter in the mountains, (3) I'd not driven a manual transmission since 1993, (4) people drive like it's the wild west. I asked the rental clerk about tolls, as you have to pay them at a bank in advance, and he replied, “Sir, there are no toll highways in the east. [pause] There are no highways in the east!” I had ordered a low-budget economy car, but they wouldn't let us take it east, so they gave us this at the same rate (we think it might have been the clerk's own car.)

We began driving through a snowstorm. The first car we saw was stuck in a snow bank, and the second was an ambulance, but then the weather eased up and I had the most fun driving ever. No rules except to yield to cars with more momentum (=mass * velocity) than you, just as it was in Tamerlane's days.

left: The proud captain posing in front of the noble Family Truckster.

Driving in Turkey involved numerous traffic jams, many natural...

... as natural and urban coexisted in an uneasy utopia.

This is our favourite city, Diyarbakir, which was the centre of the Kurdish resistance movement. Still a heavy military presence in the area, and we had been warned about children throwing stones at foreigners, etc.

There was a surprisingly high number of well armed children, waiting for the next rebellion to break out. We think some of their sidearms may have been toys.

The city centre was a labyrinth, but the locals were amazinigly helpful. Some schoolboys went way out of their way to bring us to a Nestorian church. Some women seemed to be leading us to another church, but turned out to be inviting us into their home for cookies. This dog (left), guarding the ruins of an Armenian chruch, was distinctly unimpressed by our scholarly credentials, so we moved on.

We tried to get into a Syriac church by saying the Turkish word for “church” while motioning to the door, and were corrected: “kapali.” Being Italophile linguists, we understood this to be a cousin of the Italian word for chapel, “cappella,” so tried again repeating our insistent sigh-language requests for admission to the kapali. (The next day I saw kapali written on the back of an “open” sign, and realized it meant “closed.”)

Disappointed! The biggest 'Jesus market' in all of eastern Turkey turned out to be the biggest cheeses market....

This is our favourite chef, although almost all the food in eastern Turkey tended to be amazingly good, lots of tomatos and onions and lemon and honey and cheese and bread...

He's smiling because he hasn't realized his skulls are upstaging him.

My favourite adventure was going deep into nowhere to hunt for the ruins of an old Armenian church. The road was terrifying, and Mr Marriott kept his hands on the passanger-door handle at all times, ready to jump. That is Lake Van we're about to fall into.

There's the church on the top of the wee hill.

The Family Truckster decided a third of the way up the hill that it would climb no more. (We rationed handywipes from restaurants so we could clean the back window). Nothing to do but hoof it...

Near the top we met a couple of very bemused shepherds and their herd and sheepdog. I guessed, “Canada!” when one of them in Turkish (or Kurdish?) asked me, perhaps, where we were from. If he had in fact asked, “Won't you stay with us forever, eating bread and honey, shooting our guns at wolves, sleeping under the stars with our dogs, do you like dogs?” and I had answered “Canada!”... well, best not to think of the missed opportunities in life...

Finally at the church. Full of amazing Jesuses, but I'll save those pictures for the book.

Here's the view over Lake Van from what was once the altar.

The next church would not prove so easy to reach...

...until we rented a boat and its captain! If I had won a SSHRC research grant, we could have afforded lifejackets, too.

At one point we became slightly disoriented, but probably headed mostly in the right direction. By then we had gotten used to numerous military checkpoints, but now we were approaching a really big checkpoint. With the word “Turkey” written on the hill under a flag. With such a long line of lorries that I had been driving, British-style, on the wrong side of the road for some time. Lorries with little green flags. Then it hit us: We were driving at high speed into the Islamic Republic of Iran. A part of us (the part that didn't carry an American passport) wanted to continue, but we hadn't been invited, so I U-turned back towards Turkey.

Diyarbakir was 100 km from the Iraqi border, also very tempting...

Mr Marriott awarded this the worst-washroom with-the-best-view prize. That's Mt Ararat in the distance. Noah's Ark is covered by clouds.

Beautiful downtown Zugdidi, where the population has doubled with refugees from the recent Abkhazian war.

We had to wait for the minibus to Mestia to fill up, but that would only take 10 minutes. Well, 30 minutes. We'll leave at 2pm. Just another few minutes. Is it 2pm already? 3pm at the latest. Okay, maybe 4pm. (me: “This is ridiculous; at 4:30 we're getting a hotel or a taxi.”) Just a few minutes. We'll leave at 5pm. Or just after...

We actually left around 6pm... and drove one (of the scheduled eight) hours before having a very long, very cold leisurely dinner. (Why didn't everyone just eat during the five hours we were waiting in Zugdigi, I outraged quietly.) The trip in the dark, cold, crowded minibus up the most deadly road in the country, sometimes sliding on ice right up to the edge of the cliff, conveniently allowed me to exlore various miseries and phobias at the same time. Things improved when we realized the minibus was full of university students going home for Christmas, and I could revert to professor-mode, quizing them with a Georgian-German dictionary.

This is what Mestia looks like during the day, although we arrived after midnight. For centuries it had been the least accessible region in Georgia, so that when the Mongols or Turks invaded, all the treasures would have been secreted away there. Over time, not all the treasures were returned, so there was a substantial horde of Jesus-related goodies waiting for us. Still, in hindsight, wisdom dictates, If a place was inacessible to the MONGOLS, we can probably go ahead and cross it off our itinerary.

We arrived in the middle of the night, but our host (away in Tiblisi) had made arrangements so that we could stay with his parents (no hotels in Mestia). Despite the late (actually, early) hour, they happily prepared dinner for us, a local variation of the cheese pizza, from scratch. “From scratch” begins with a trip to the cow for milk...

The Georgian travel books agree that there's only one cultural rule: never refuse a toast. Here's me looking forward, sigh, to another glass of locally distilled chacha.

left: Mr. Marriott enjoys a Georgian breakfast. Note the very fresh yoghurt he's pretending to eat, and the chacha--never too early--at the lower left.

The low point of the trip was getting fabulously sick in Mestia, either from 1.2 shots of chacha or 1.0 mugs of yoghurt, or both. Digestive system meltdown, combined with a night of a series of blackouts and wakeups in odd places (outside in the snow, in the outhouse, in a living room I had managed to trash in my delerium...), bleeding from cuts obtained who-knows-how.

At least it now gives me a good excuse for refusing alcohol--even/especially in Georgia: “The last time I drank I woke up the next morning in the snow outside an outhouse with a head wound fifteen kilometres away from a highly militarized portion of the Russian border.”

Downtown Mestia, with a pre-modern version of the Prius hybrid parked.

Hard to appreciate the beauty when it's that cold...

The cute thing approaching us is a “nahgaz,” which is a dog-like animal used for herding sheep and keeping out Russians. We had seen a reference to a medieval Italian ambassador who saw one and panicked: “Before I approach, would you please be so good as to remove the lion from the throne?” We laughed at the cowardice of medieval Italians... until a ways off in the distance we saw a lion tied to a tree...

A nahgaz shakes all his snow off, onto me.

Time to leave Mestia. There'll be a slight delay as they plough the road...

...and wait for cars going up to Mestia to get dug out...

...and to clear the road of falling mountain.

It occurred to us that we were the #2 and #3 most evil people in the region (#1 being the evil taxi driver in Istanbul), as when we had the Family Truckster we never stopped for hitchhikers. We made up for it a bit on the way out of Mestia by having our taxijeep driver pick people up.

All the locals were always very generous with empty seats and with food. We learned that a hand extended with an orange meant, “would you like an orange,” and after our “no thank you!”s, we learned that a violently shaking hand with an orange meant, “you would like an orange.”

At this point we had become obsessed with the idea of finding ice cream. This is as close as we came... heartbreaking after seeing the freezer from a distance got up our hopes. For some reason they don't sell ice cream in Georgia in the dead of winter.

One of many amazing Georgian and Armenian churches, most with amazing views.

Strict rules in Georgian churches: Men can't carry firearms, and women can't wear skirts. Apparently men in skirts and women with handguns aren't yet in even the forbidden parts of their conceptual universes...

Yerevan! Crossing the border into Armenia coincided with me not feeling sick, so good times!

Yerevan was surprisingly (after Georgia) western, even the restaurants had menus that made sense. “Food drugs” we think is “spices.” It was fun to make a special request for food that had “greenness” but no “met.”

By this point we had hunger not even Yerevan could cure, so we flew to Rome. Wonderful, wonderful meals, with the good company of Mauro and Nino and Fabio and Andrea and Francesco and Alberto...

Mr Marriott left for Venice/home, and he and his descendants shall forever be known as Deputy JesusHunters and Navigators of the Turkish Seas.

I abandoned Rome for Paris, which had friend Astrid, nice old ladies in churches that would help with directions, lots of people who didn't mind me speaking “French” to them (unlike in Quebec). On the other hand, the food was vile, and we survived only because the local market sold Barilla-brand pastas and pestos.

left: “Saveurs Georgiennes”! Only in Paris could Georgian food be considered gourmet...

Then back to Belfast, then Los Angeles, and now camped out in San Diego, waiting for the Apocolympics to leave Vancouver. Appropriately, my special request for Canadian citizenship (special because I was out of the country too often to qualify normally) was approved while I was out of the country, so I ended up missing my oath-swearing ceremony. But the Queen is forgiving, and we're hoping to reschedule...

And that's that. Next planned trip is India next winter with Mr Jackson (BA Simon Fraser, MA SOAS), but hopefully there will be adventures in the meantime.

A big THANK YOU! to everyone who offered moral and logistical support, especially to Dr Redden for his hospitality and patience, Mr Modica-Amore, Mr Pistor, Prof Sedra, and Prof Garfinkel for covering for me at work, ex-Dr Prange for negotiating on my behalf with Immigration Canada, and especially-especially to Mr Marriott for his good company and keeping it real.