Author Archives: Kelly Grotke

About Kelly Grotke

Intellectual historian and postdoctoral fellow with the Research Project Europe 1815-1914 (EReRe) at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki. Co-director of a research group on constitutional history, she is also currently finishing a monograph with the working title Time, History, and Epistemology in the Long Nineteenth Century: A Study in German Philosophical Culture. Prior to joining EReRe, she was director of research at Harvest Investments, an independent securities evaluation firm.

What gets lost: reflection

Any place on its way to hell or already there has been preceded by stories like this. Small things that insist on attention and remain in memory, because that is the world people spontaneously create and sustain all the time in their daily lives when they are free to do so, alongside whatever authorities and governments and media regimes they may live under. Violence disrupts this everyday freedom, as it has disrupted even my memories from a distance.

What gets lost: Palmyra

After several days of conferencing, our group of twenty or so takes a day-trip to the ruins of ancient Palmyra, over 200 kilometers northeast. The journey takes about two hours by bus. On the far outskirts as we leave the city before entering the desert, we drive through a monumental construction site covering an area of what looks to be several square miles, extending on either side of the highway. It is a housing project, a large-scale settlement clearly intended for and anticipating hundreds if not thousands of people.

What gets lost: the city

I pay the bill and we head out walking for an hour or so in the neighborhood, which is outside the old city. With no particular place to go and the barest of maps, we circle the area of our hotel, sometimes retracing our steps but all in the process of orientation. It is not late when we start, maybe eight o’clock or so, but there are few people around and most of the businesses are closed. We pass pastry shops displaying pyramids of sweets, and several others that seem devoted entirely to wedding announcement cards, examples of which are exhibited in the windows.

What gets lost: impetus

Just over two years ago, in March 2010, I was a tourist in Damascus: I ate things, I bought things, I danced around a tiled fountain with the cigar-wielding brother of a restaurant owner in the Christian Quarter. I walked through souks, madrassas, caravanserais and hammams; I was guided around the Umayyad Mosque by a young Arabic teacher who doubled as a guide for extra cash, as families sat around in the sunny inner courtyard passing the time, eating, watching their children play. I was on holiday in Syria. This hardly seems possible now.

What gets lost: introduction

Over the next couple of weeks, the Humanity blog will feature a series of posts penned by Kelly Grotke, a postdoctoral fellow at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki. In her political travel memoir, which concerns a visit to Damascus in March 2010, Grotke ruminates on expectation and exception from the visitor's point of view.