Sometimes I phrase things to my students like “if you were to live in ancient Athens…” or whatever. 

Now, obviously, this is just a thought experiment, and I’m not suggesting they could have. After all, if they lived in ancient Athens, they wouldn’t be them. They’d be Athenians, right? 

I sometimes wonder how pronounced the differences between me and some me-analogue in some past culture. About ten years ago, I wrote this while struggling with getting a visa to travel to Russia: 

You know, like a hundred and fifty years ago I’d just have a letter from some old school-mate (of Bene’t College) saying that I was a Capital Fellow, and I’d breeze through passport control by giving the fellow there a hundred kopecks and joining him in a dish of tea. On the down side, my trip would take like six months and I’d probably die of typhus, or the cholera morbus. On the up side, my travels could be made into a book, called something like Travels of an Archaeologist in European Russia, or, Into the Unknown with Derringer and Electrocromatophorogram. On the down side, my travels could be made into a popular ballad, called something like An Irish-Man in Muscovy, or, Paddy and the Knouter.

So I guess it all balances out. Mind you, weren’t we at war with Russia around 150 years ago? Nope! Not until 150 years ago next year. So I guess I dodged a bullet there. 

Of course, I wouldn’t have had a letter from an old boy of Bene’t College 150 years ago because they didn’t admit either Catholics (the religion of my family) or atheists (the non-religion of my day-to-day existence). Plus I would probably screw up the dish of tea. 

Every time I buy something online, I wonder if I would have had better social skills if I had come of age in an era where every commercial transaction started by walking into someone’s warehouse and going “what price Eastern spices today, fellow?” or something. 

That is all. 


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