Sunday, September 29, 2002 ::: So saturday I tried to go to the Corcoran since it was the last weekend to see the Jackie Kennedy dressed before the exhibit closed. Little did I know that the museum had been barricaded inside the world bank/imf perimeter. So I walked down 17th street and discovered a big barricade with an awful lot of policemen and no obvious way to get to the museum. I tried to get to the white house but the way was barred too. They sent me a few blocks west and I ran into a bunch of other people who were trying to get to the corcoran also and who were talking to a policeman who was telling us we couldn't go the way they had said we could. We had to go around the white house, down to the mall and up from there. It seemed needlessly difficult, and nobody seemed to know anything. Eventually I did walk around the white house and found out that the way to get in was through the ellipse to a little corner that was in now way clear or obvious to anyone. But I did see the dresses and they were all quite something, but then that's what you would expect from jackie.
But I have to say that the whole police presence seemed like overkill and the police seemed like JUST TOO MUCH. I saw about two thousand police and about thirty protesters on saturday. And the helicopters weren't helping things, as they were loud and everpresent and over my apartment when I came home and they were still very loud and I had to close my window and apartment really needed the breeze since my building tends to be rather hot.
There was, by the way, a demonstration in dupont circle today at which things seemed much more civil and reasonable. There were police, but they were actually kind of friendly compared to the day before and everyone seemed generally pretty reasonable. It seemed a much better way to do things.
Thursday, September 26, 2002 ::: I'm in the process of putting up and organizing pictures from my vacation, but they aren't ready yet. But they are very very good. They'll be better when you don't have to view them sideways. So hang on.
Friday, September 20, 2002 ::: I made it back last sunday, became very very sick, spent the night in the hospital and the next couple days recuperating, and I'm all better now. That's why I haven't really been posting. But the trip was superamazing anyway. Will write more soon.
Saturday, September 14, 2002 ::: So we arrived in Samarkand and first visited the site of the observatory built by astronomer and ruler Ulugbek, which was set atop a hill overlooking the city. From there we went to go see the partially excavated ruins of the old city of Samarkand, destroyed by Genghis Khan. We also visited the nearby museum, which was filled the usual assortment of historical artifacts - pottery, small clay figurines, various metal objects and perhaps not as exciting as we had hoped. We eventually went on to our hotel and dropped off all our stuff, and then went out for lunch at an outdoor cafe, where there was shashlik but also an assortment of salads, which in uzbekistan are very very good (and for which vegeterians are eternally grateful.) I'm going to look up some recipes and post them when I get the chance.
After lunch we went to go do some more sightseeing. I had noticed some tallish buildings on the horizon as we were driving in, but wasn't looking at them very closely and hadn't really thought about what they might be. I now realized that they were monumentally tall mosques, mausoleums and madrassahs - All meticulously restored in the past ten years.
I must confess that many the monuments of Samarkand have sort of blurred together in my memory, but they have a number of similary featurs - immense pointed archways marking the main entrance, surrounded by majolica tiles decorated with an elaborate floral motif. The madrassahs, ancient schools, have rooms around a central courtyard, and many of them have been given over to artisans who sell their works there.
The most next day we went to bukhara, which had been a semindependent emirate under the czars. The Emir's palace was part of a great walled citadel, which was as imposing and impressive as it no doubt was intended to be. As the city was also a great emporium along the silk road, we visited the restored bazaars, which while smaller than the tashkent market, were much more beautiful than the decayed soviet-style building. We also walked around the narrow, crooked streets of the town.
We then had a truly wonderful dinner in the old jewish quarter of the city, in a house that had been beautifully restored. We had more uzbek salads and some very good plov, all the while marveling at the carpets and the intricate wall patterns, and looking out the windows past the columns and into the courtyard.
The next day I came back to kyrgyzstan, where I have been doing some more low-key hanging out and relaxing and generally enjoying myself. I'm going to a wedding this afternoon, and then flying back to states from almaty in the wee hours of the morning.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 ::: I've been traveling for a while, and have finally had the chance to write a bit and the chance to get some internet access at the same time, and it seems high time I say what I've been up to. It's about 4pm here, and so far it has been a thankfully dull september 11. Hopefully it will continue to be so. I have a lot more to write, but I'm going to post what I have so far below:
I arrived in almaty, kazakhstan after my flight from amsterdam and from there proceeded on to bishkek in kyrgyzstan, where we spent the night and then headed out towards issyk kul the next morning. The drive was a long one, but very beautiful - Steep mountainsides and sheer cliff faces, badlands, and high desert. We came to a flatter area and the desert gave way to green fields and treelined roads, with beautiful high mountains shrouded in clouds to our left. We drove throw small town after small town, taking care to dodge flocks of sheep and cows as they crossed the road, as well as stubborn, slow-moving and rather careless gaggles of geese, who proved the most dangerous obstacles of all along the road. Eventually we turned off the main road and began to head up a valley to our destination - a high plateau 12000 feet above sea level. The valley was stunningly beautiful - as we drove along the road to either side waterfalls cascaded down cliffsides next to which stands of pine clung precariously. It began to rain and misty clouds mingled among the peaks as we drove higher and higher along the increasingly narrower and sharper switchbacks. Eventually we came to the plateau and it began to snow. We drove on and it began to get dark and we finally arrived at our destination, a mining camp where we were going to spend the night.
The next day we saw some of the camp and equipment, and also visited a glacial lake with the glacier feeding into it on the other side, and everything ringed all around with icy, snowcapped peaks. The whole landscape was stark and barren.
Although my father had a slight case of altitude sickness, he was feeling better later, and after lunch we headed on our way back down through the same valley, with the same amazing scenery. We got back onto the main road, after making a brief detour to buy a shirdak, and came right up against the shoreline of issyk kul, and we all got out of the car and walked up to the beach. I put my hand in the water and it was just a little too cold to go swimming in.
We spent the night in a town called Karakol, at the eastern end of Issyk Kul, and saw the chinese mosque there. The next day we drive along the north shore of the lake, up into another valley, then back along the shore and stopped at a lakeside resort for some lunch. Later we went and saw some petroglyphs. Oh, and we had seen some sogdian grave mounds earlier that day. We drove on back to bishkek and got there in the evening.
So then we set out for uzbekistan the next day - uzbek airways from bishkek to tashkent, a short one-hour flight in a plane that had no air conditioning, but oriental tekke carpeting on the floors.
Tashkent is big and elegant in a way that I had not been expecting. I had been forewarned that it was going to be hot and desertlike and that I had better dress accordingly, but the weather was mild and the city is full of irrigated gardens and canals. We took the metro into the center of town, and the metro is quite beautiful, much like the moscow metro, but with more subdued decoration. The trains were full of schoolchildren since it was early afternoon and I guess most of them were headed home. We strolled around the main part of the city and enjoyed ourselves.
The next day, things were a bit more organized, and I went with my mom and a small group of other americans around to see the sights - some mausoleums, some madrassahs, but the big highlight of the day was the tashkent market, where everything was chaos, with carts of produce being wheeled through thick crowds of shoppers, while the stalls were full of everything imaginable. We spent a good deal of time looking at spices, and we bought some saffron.
Our guide was an uzbek woman of a certain age, who seemed to be rather fond of showing out some of the old soviet monuments and squares, which were admittedly rather grand and imposing in their own way. She also enjoyed telling us in her gossipy way about past people she had shown around uzbekistan, taking care to linger over some of the more scandalous events that had transpired in her career as a tour guide.
The next morning we set out on our drive to Samarkand. There were a LOT of cotton fields, and I came to a realization of sorts as we made our way through the countryside, namely: It is a very easy thing to look at environmental problems from a distance and say that things are bad and that they should be fixed and that people shouldn't be wasteful and all that. The Aral sea is going dry and the reason is is that water is being taken from the main river flowing into the Aral Sea and diverted into irrigating the cotton fields which would otherwise be desert. And before coming out here it seems to be fairly simple to say that people shouldn't do that. But now that I have seen these fields for myself, I realize that things are not so easy - This is how people support themselves and earn a living. Where is everyone going to live if all this lush farmland becomes a desert again? How are they going to get enough to eat if they can't irrigate their produce? To let the fields go dry is a very difficult thing indeed.