Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
Once there lived a man named Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, (محمد بن موسى الخوارزمی). He was born into a Persian family in Khwarezm (hence the last name “al-Khwarizmi,” meaning “of Khwarezm”)), also variously spelled Chorasmia, Khwarezmia, Khwarizm, Khwarazm, Khorezm, Khoresm, Khorasam, Kharazm, Harezm, Horezm, and Chorezm. It was Χορασίμα (Chorasíma) to Herodotus and 花剌子模 (Hualazimo) to the Chinese. According to local tradition, Shem, son of Noah, founded the city of Khiva, a center of Khorezm life, soon after the flood.
Once an independent Khanate and slave-trading entrepot, Khorezm was incorporated into the Russian empire in the 19th century before becoming part of the Soviet Union, and now of Uzbekistan. When I visited Khiva in the summer of last year, I found a dreamy medieval town ringed by crenellated mud fortifications, with a cityscape punctuated by magnificent minarets.
A few weeks ago I was in Hakone, Japan, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, famous for its hot springs. I was playing cards with some backpackers when an American couple in their 20s, Kevin and Jenny, came in. We asked if they wanted to join us. They demurred. I asked what they did. Kevin turned out to be a programer, board game designer, and former pro-StarCraft gamer. Jenny was working on a math Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon.
So they were huge nerds, but so am I. In college I originally meant to study math and physics and become a physicist. I mentioned this to Jenny as the card game wound down and Kevin and I began to play Go, the ancient chess (except far more complex than chess) game that Confucius used to play. Then somehow I mentioned that many of the writers on The Simpsons were mathematicians and wrote many a math joke into the show. “There was one, for example,” I said, “about taxicab numbers.” (Actually I was wrong about this - it was Futurama.)
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."