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Field Reporting – Afgan Irony

September 16th, 2009 Tristan No comments

Last night, after bowling three games at UzBowl, I was sitting in the shoe return area waiting for Peretz to come back from a phone call. I had on my blue MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) shirt, when a hefty, well dressed gentleman of Central Asian ethnicity sat down next to me. I heard him mutter MBL, huh?, and immediately he slapped me on the shoulder in a jovial manner and asked, So what state are you from?Pleasantly surprised to hear some English (the last few countries have, at times, been very linguistically isolating) I responded that I grew in New Jersey and now live in California. Turns out he went to high school in Philly, and is now the head of an Afghani construction company. Over the next few minutes of speedy conversation I assembled the following picture. The US military hires his firm as a primary contractor for reconstruction projects in the war torn regions of Afghanistan. He manages the projects, finding local sub-contractors to perform various, specific construction tasks like masonry, carpentry or excavation.As in the US, the sub-contractors are chosen in a bidding process; specific plans are laid out, costs are estimated in-detail for labor, materials, and transportation. From the primary cash flow his company receives from the US military, he sub-divides it to the subcontractors. Mixed in with the seemingly innocuous costs of each sub-contract is a non-trivial local business tax. Want to take a guess? Yup, thats right, its a payoff in cold hard cash to the Taliban, after all, we wouldnt want any unfortunate accidents to happen on your construction site. In typical bureaucratic style, the US military tracks where each dollar is spent and is fully aware of this cost of doing business.I guess I find it funny that the US military knowinglypays off the Taliban so that buildings can be rebuilt after US bombs destroyed them in an effort to eradicate the Taliban … ahhh … the sad irony of it all. Reporting from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, this is Tristan Ursell for Offsilkroadin.

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Boy did I get lucky with this shot ;)

September 16th, 2009 peretz 4 comments

This was a timely capture

I was waiting for my visa outside of the Kyrgyz embassy in Tashkent and I heard the sounds of animal battle and instinctively snapped the camera.

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Edik, Taxi driver in Tbilisi

September 13th, 2009 peretz No comments

Below is a short post about our experiences with Edik, our taxi driver who took us to various interesting places while we stayed in Tbilisi. Taxi drivers are a wealth of information regardless of whether you’re wanting to go play bingo or looking for somewhere to have a fantastic meal, and Edik certainly served us well in this regard. He was quite a character, and if you read on you should come to the same conclusion.

We parked our car and took a day off from driving. Our taxi driver Edik, Armenian 71, family from the Artvin area of present day northeast Turkey – obsessively sought out the shade when he looked for parking. He’d rather park further, walk longer, if the car was a little shadier.

He wiped his brow and talked about shade obsessively, as he did about many other things. When we would get out at one destination or another, and then we’d look for him, we’d have to look around for places of shade, where he might likely be.

Edik had a theory about where and how to honk. When we were driving against traffic on a one way street, he let out a long one. “This is because he is not staying on his side of the road.”"You have to reserve some honks for the ladies also, just to let them know,” and as we drive past, “oops, she’s not so good from in front, I regret that honk.”"I like it when girls wear black. Black is a color of elegance.”

I asked him about the signs advertising apartments with the adjective “Euroremodel”.

“Da, eto u nas tak seichas delayut” = “Yes, this is how it is done nowdays.”"Eto kak?” = “This being what exactly?”"Eto znachet vse kak nado, vse kharosho.” = “This means it’s done how it is supposed to be, all good.”

The appartment we were staying in was definately not a euroremodel. (Though we stayed in one soon after.)

He advertised himself further, “You got to go where the cabbies go to eat.” No one knows the city like the cabbies. And he did take us to a good place, “where the intellectuals eat” and we had delicious soup dumplings called Khingali, (the leftovers of which we packed up for Edik’s mother in law.) After endearing us most of the day, visting old town, syngagogue, hill top park where Stalin’s mom is burried, to embassies and banks, he extracted too much from us playing the sympathy card, and we let on, being vulnerable to that.

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Photo Studio, Batumi, Georgia

September 13th, 2009 peretz No comments

I popped into a Photo studio for some visa pictures. The three guys who ran the shop were Armenian and eagerly recounted the histry of their families, which lived in what is now northeastern Turkey (where we had just come from) before the “Armenian Genocide” (something I have to learn more about having heard so many conflicting accounts. They sat around, solved crosswords, drank coffee, brewed us a tasty batch, and when they got wind of our journey, pulled out an old Soviet Atlas, pointed at things and recounted stories of their service in the Soviet Army that took them places where we were going to go. A sailor came in and introduced himself as a “semen” (seaman) and when I took a picture of him, suggested I not post it since he travels to the US frequently, and doesn’t want to be listed in the rolodex of the CIA (to which I was presumably contributing.) We encountered this kind of Soviet relic paranoia in several instances, particularly Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan so far.

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Mini Abortion, Georgia

September 13th, 2009 peretz 1 comment

I saw peculiar sign in Russian, advetising “Mini Abortion”:

"MINI ABORTION"

There was an older couple vending ice creams beside the sign and I figured, I’d ask them for clarifications and also learn something from the charecter of their response. While handing me some old Soviet style ‘Plombir’ ice cream, they eagerly told me the details of how such an proceedure works. Mini refers to the first trimester, whereas later abortions are at a clinic around the corner and not mini. Abortion is the most prominent method of contraception in the ex- Soviet Republics, and I recalled how it struck me how many girls I met on a trip to Moscow in 2003 that had and spoke freely about multiple abortions (at which point, I conceived the term ‘pentabort’.)

The guy vending ice cream had several tatoos on his arms, all from his days in the Soviet army. “Raya, that is the name of a of a special girl,” and also translates to “paradise”.

I barely resisted asking whether Raya, well, you know …

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A Midday’s Cappadocian Dream: Part 2 (of 3)

September 13th, 2009 Tristan No comments

We descended to the car and prepared our packs and our minds for the adventure ahead.  On the south side of the town square, each step down the cobble-stoned street turned back the hands of time.  Cars were replaced by donkeys eating grass and dried bread; the mild hum of activity from the town square fell all but silent.  Winding our way closer to the remains the ancient urban center, a set of dirty stone steps between two walls led downward.  They seemed our best bet for direct descent to the valley floor.  We walked past reconstructed homes whose facades blended seamlessly with uninhabited rock dwellings.  When the people had left, where they had gone, and why they had vacated this paradise setting were unclear, questions further complicated by numbered stone porticos with old wooden doors and the debris of a timeless livelihood.  Pointed stone archways led onto the porches of houses dug deep into the rock.  Multiple layers of rooms extended inward, left and right.  Inside, the light was dim and air musty, the walls cob-webbed and spectacularly dusty.  Far from lifeless, the space was heavy with the flutter of small grey, brown and blue moths, who, in their hospitality to the first guest in ages, beckoned me to dance with them in their home.  Peretz and I watched their performance, while Amanda and Hari explored the street outside.

We walked along the grassy path of this nestled shire until the road forked, one heading deeper into the dendritic valley, the other closer to Ortahisar.   At this corner, an old stone wall marked the bounds of a formerly cultivated field so verdant we questioned whether it was still in use.  Where crops once grew, a grove of thin birch trees now speckled angled sunlight onto the ground, and mushrooms proclaimed the soil’s virtues.  On the northwest hillside of the field, a lean-to covered the opening of a small cave.  Dusty bedding materials, a dented pot and old walking stick told the story of a nomad that had once inhabited the dark inside.

Momentarily distracted by the beauty of the urban cliff-side dwellings on the right fork, we turned left to hike deeper into the main valley as the last sounds of Ortahisar faded. Mournful coos and the sound of beating wings darted above our heads; where bare sandstone met the brown, grassy plateau, dozens of pigeons navigated networks of small holes in the rock, roosting in the homes built for them by farmers long ago.  We later learned that pigeons held an important role in ancient times, when guano served as fertilizer, housing pigeons was tantamount to winning bread – after all, how could a man care for a fair dove girl if he could not care for a flock of pigeons?

Algae bubbled green and frogs sprang in the small brook that trickled down the path, its source now diverted to farther fields.  Edges of the once tended landscape, smoothed by time, ran along the path.  The fields above now grew wild-haired grasses that revealed the flow of the prevailing wind, and hints of the eons-tilled land waved over the ground.  Suburban homes of stone packed the walls of the widening valley with paths leading into neighborhoods of adjacent sub-valleys.  A switch-backed trail weaved up the hillside to our right.  Like a sandstone egg, cracked in half, the remains of an ancient church stood on the hill top, its ornately carved insides and maroon murals exposed to the elements southwest.  As the largest and most decorated structure we had seen in some time, this was clearly the next destination.

With stallion speed I ran towards the structure.  Thistles poked through my wool socks, their bite screaming respect; and I lived every boy’s dream of following Indiana to the temple’s center.  The chapel’s floor was pitted with stone coffins; some for men, some for children, some for infants.  In the half-domed ceiling above, weathered carvings wove intricate patterns and sun light gleamed through a second story balcony.  Where an altar once stood, an unintentional window now revealed a view of the valley downstream.    A gritty path wound circular to the unofficial balcony above, where a sandstone cone formed a natural dome over the chapel below.  Down the slope, just yards west, the shattered façade of a stone mansion fell into focus.

At the base of the large domestic complex we reprieved, peach juice dripping from our chins.  From the flat land at the front of the complex we surveyed the scene; like enormous piles of white sugar, the sandstone hills flowed one into another, the repository of a great candied civilization.  At different elevations, doorways and paths led deeper into their caramel-colored centers.  Awe-struck, we sat silent; munching our sweet fruit, as sunlight slowly baked visual cupcakes in this huge sandstone oven.  Behind us, no less than three stories of rooms, chambers and tunnels bore into the rock.  Dropping our packs, we set off to explore the bowels of this ancient residence.  Designed with the intuition of everyday living, handholds and tunnels’ width were perfectly suited to dim maneuvers within – move fast, search for balance, and in mild desperation fingers fell on grooves already cut into the rock of this antique jungle-gym.  Passages led to upper levels, and a large crack-passage exited through a small hole onto the sunny plateau above the valley.  The same ground-hugging grapes we had seen earlier now littered the landscape.  On its own accord, a lone tree nurtured sweet tasting apples, and past branches the rock castle of Ortahisar gleamed in the distance.  From the desiccated pages of an alien fairy-tale, the tower stood watch like a stone god over the expanse, purveying the entirety of its verdant valley kingdom.  Under the castle’s parental gaze, I felt the legend of mankind and narrative of creation stretch over the land.  It dawned on me that when untended land gave harvest plenty and peace reigned longer than family blood lines flowed, time could wash clean the markers of history, and oral tradition became fertile ground for tales of gods and snakes, and the first romance between two naked children in the wilderness.

Running free from plateau to slope, tunnel to chamber, we assumed our roles as the elated inhabitants of this forgotten land.    In a field towards the valley floor, a lone donkey bayed us to continue our journey.  As we packed our bags, three Turkish farmers strolled up the path to the domestic complex.  Grass mouthed, their relaxed pose, wrinkled back-country hats, and leather vests said “welcome home.”  With waves and wordless, we passed each other, they to take our roost, and we to move onwards.

The sun had begun the final leg of its journey to the horizon, and we accordingly picked up pace.  Descending back towards the valley floor we followed old trails further up the valley.   As we explored our surroundings, Peretz agreed to run ahead and scout for new directions.  He dove into the mix of brush and trail, only to reappear fifteen minutes later with wild excitement in his eyes, “You must follow me.”  Dodging trees and brush we ran to the base of the sugary sandstone we had marveled at from our previous perch.   In a moment, he was gone, his voice calling us to continue into the crushing darkness of a huge cavern.    I followed his voice and direction to a point many meters within.  At first, it seemed that this was simply a cavern under the rock, a place to cool off or store food.  As my eyes adjusted, the true nature of the cave became apparent.  A vast underground highway led further than I could see, with only the faintest light entering the cave from points deeper within.  On the fringe of invisibility, rock forms on the cavern walls and ceilings around us took on a delightfully eerie repose.  In the darkness, the distant light funneled around me forming a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors that resulted in a pleasant level of disorientation, and the wonders of a dark space called us inward; there could be anything down there.

Like part of a primeval metro system, the tunnel gently turned under the rock dwellings above, with the occasional access point to the surface, perfectly spaced so as to provide just enough light between ‘stops.’  Walking down the tunnel, I was impressed that my eyes could accommodate the ever decreasing levels of light – as one waited at the darkest point of the cave, new light would reveal itself, allowing a traveler to continue.  Whether this was a designed feature or natural convenience was unclear.  I consciously let my mind wander towards child-like fear; what if a small band of ancient inhabitants still darkly lingered, feasting on the last set of tourists who foolishly wandered into their domain, or maybe the last inhabitants had been devoured by the enormous spider that had dug, and now inhabits this cave; this last, grotesquely detailed image sending a slight shudder down my spine, or might the world’s most awesome subterranean rave be thumping ahead, just out of ear shot.  Water trickled on the cave floor as we headed upward, maybe towards the surface again?  Light seeped into the cave as we reached the end of the ‘Rockway’ line in the neighboring sub-valley, now slightly unsure exactly where we were.

Still deep between the sandstone walls, we followed a mixture of trail and streambed on the rising valley floor.  We passed apples, walnuts, and apricots that grew plump and wild, happy to sip the last dregs of sunlight that lapped against the plateau overhead.  We were now in the more rural area of the stone metropolis.  In a small clearing ahead, the brush subsided into grass, and sticks, worn barkless by the beating sun, were stacked against each other to form a fence, needlessly cordoning off the last section of the valley.  A gate in the fence opened into this last, private space.  As we entered the small field within, twilight began, and the white sandstone walls glowed, lighting our way to the valley’s end.  A lone apple tree stood in the natural courtyard, and again my mind drifted to question the myth of creation.  I had always thought The Garden of Eden was a proxy, a conceptual place that lurked in halos beyond the toil and tribulations of agrarian life, beyond the horror and turmoil of war; but in the romance of my mind I saw the reality, that this was it – a perpetually hidden place of peace and plenty.  In words and want, news would spread far and wide of such a paradise, and legend would replace reality about a land where fruit laid low and the nucleus of man first divided.  I couldn’t blame them.  Before our modern understandings, tools and realizations, the perfection of such a place must have begged explanation, especially when compared with the sweat and grime, the disease and the pestilence of the outside world.

At the knoll’s back, the sandstone cliffs overhung to form an enclosed space many meters high, the walls of which could not be scaled.  Water had once flowed through the back of the enclosure, forming a smooth white, natural sky light.   This was the valley’s end.  To our left, gravel covered the ground, and the lazy remains of a wagon sat in shadows, whispering the story of the last inhabitants.  To our right a rickety, single-beam ladder led to a small opening in the rock that presumably opened into the second floor of a residence, but alas the ladder could no longer hold human weight.  On the first floor, a dusty ladder in a cubic room led up to a kitchen on the left, and on the right a dark, well-crafted tunnel burrowed into the rock.  Shining my headlamp around the tunnel uncovered the home’s new residents; crawling insects galore and dusted cob-webs flapped in the air that gently flowed through the tunnel.  Inside, my headlamp pierced through the inky blackness of a tunnel that stretched in a wide arch to the right.  I walked for a distance and reached the adjacent sub-valley from an elevated opening, through which I could I see the deep twilight blue of the evening sky.  About-faced, I extinguished my headlamp and headed back through the tunnel to Eden.  Walking hunched in the darkness, I searched for the tunnel walls and easily found them, again realizing that intelligence and pragmatism had played a role in their design.  I was a caveman – in the pitch black, I could walk at speed with only my knuckles barely touching the tunnel walls, giving the necessary guidance to make it from tunnel end to end – it felt invigorating and beautifully primitive.

The sun had set while we were exploring this last enclave, and sweet darkness now floated onto the plateau.  We back-tracked down the valley to a trail that could take us to the western side of the plateau.   Atop, in the growing darkness, fields of grape plants looked like armies of strange, tentacled creatures scouring the ground, though they paid us no mind.  On the plateau, the fading western light arched eastward; grading exquisitely from blue to black, it shaped the sky into a magnificent dome whose pinnacle towered far beyond the description of mere words, and whose innumerable star spires every cathedral on earth pitifully strives to imitate.  A single tear ran down my cheek, carrying with it the day’s emotions; a concentrated elixir to be left as the desert’s gift.  Ground crunched beneath our feet as we made our way westward, toward the only incandescent lights in sight.

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1$ Haircut in Samarkand

September 12th, 2009 peretz No comments

So long as you are willing to listen, many people are eager to tell you their life stories.  Zofar was a hair dresser recommended by Askar, “he cuts it like you tell him.”  He wears blue scrubs and is shadowed by an apprentice, who keeps his nose close to to the action but doesn’t get any hands on practice.

Zofar pointed to elements of my hair and head and talked out his scheme to fit my specifications.  ”In case you are worried that you won’t like it, we’ll issue you a gauarantee, one meal at Zofar’s restaurant.”

Considering we agreed for 1$ for the cut, I told him that I had complete trust in him, and it turned out to be with good reason.

“I was always drawn to cutting hair.  I didn’t do so well in school, and I stopped studying at 13.  My uncle was a hair dresser and took me as an apprentice.  I followed him around, occasionally I got to practice, but he wounldn’t give me advice, just said work it out on your own — fix your own mistakes.”

“Eventually, I came up with a plan.  I woke at dawn and went to the Army baraks near by, just as the soldiers were waking up, and hung a sign advertising free haircuts since I needed the practice.  The soldiers didn’t care what it looked like, only that it was clean around the neck, and so I had a whole line and worked through them quickly.  I worked all day, taking breaks when the soldiers were summoned for lunches, and by the time 3AM rolled around, I leaned back in the hairdresser’s chair to relax and started counting the names which I asked the soldiers to write down for me.”

“There were 529 names on it…  My uncle took notice, and let me weild the scissors in his shop.  He’d leave me alone in the morning and only pop by to count and take the money from the drawer at lunch time and again at dinner, seemingly pleased.  Three months later, he let me keep some profits.  In six months, I moved into the center of town [Samarkand] and opened this shop.”

“Not everyone can cut hair, it takes a particular constitution.  I can be on my feet all day and not get tired.  When I was in the army my commander tried to wear me down by making me stand and march all day, but eventually they moved me to the honor guard — that is how long and firm I can stand!”

“Do you have barber schools in America?  We don’t.  We study by shadowing a master.  See this kid.  He is my apprentice.  If he screws up with a hair cut, I punch him in the face.”

When he finished the cut and styled my hair, he said, “to keep this shape you have to get haircuts frequently.  Once every 6 months is not enough, hair dressers have families also!”

He found Tristan’s beard offensive and insisted on trimming it down with scissors.  He suggested that having mustache hairs long enough to bite was unsanitary (on top of being againt Muslim tradition).

Zofar shares the shop with Tatiana, who cuts women’s hair and was wearing purple shoes, shorts, belt, top, bracelet,ring, earings, eyeliner and headband.  Tristan and I paid 3$ for two haircuts (including the tip).  And they liked us so much that, Tatiana gave us a jar of honey from her husband’s apiary.

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Opportunistic vs. Hospitable

September 8th, 2009 peretz 1 comment
opportunistic vs. hospitable
When we asked him where we could get “good local wine” Omar, the taxi driver offered to take us if we pay him a dollar since we wouldn’t otherwise find it and he needs to leave his taxi post on our behalf.  We agree, and we follow him for not more than a few blocks.  He gets out of the car, rings a bell on an iron gate, and says “here it is.”
The lights were out and it seemed like no one was inside,
but behold, an elderly gentleman, Anzor, with a melancholy gaze
and a silver crown emerged from the dark and invited us to his basement.
He talked to us at a methodical pace as he syphoned out wine from large glass jars into plastic bottles.  Yes, he grew the grapes himself. They
came from a vinyard of 300 plants that has been in his family for
generations.  Most of the village came to him for wine. He built this house himself.  He had the aura of someone honest, pious, and hardworking.
His wife was Russian.  He likes visitors and travellers.  Turns out his son lives with his family in Minisota.
He handed us 2L of purple, velvety georgian wine from (fill in) grapes both semi sweet and dry and another liter of white wine that is fermented like red wine, with the skin still on the grapes leaving the tannins, and tastes very unusual for a white.
And this — presumably the wine, the company, the tour of the basement, the conversation — he said, is my gift.  Please enjoy my wine, and have a safe voyage, wherever it takes you.  He declined our entrities to pay, and so were left with accepting his genuine and hostpitable gesture.
We took our wine to dinner at a place without a menu where they ask you want you want, and assist you in ordering the two dishes they do have.  The food was served in the courtyard by a mossy brook. The staff asked us to pay and went home, telling us to just leave the plates on the table until tomorrow.
It was not long that we were alone.  A man of crooked and wabbly stature walked in probed a door in the corner, proded along with his cane, mumbling things all the while.  He was followed by a more respectably dressed and smelling gentleman, who wandered over to our table, and looked more puzzled by us than the guy mumbling and peeing in the corner.
I offered him some wine.  He declined, “I do not drink.  I just came here for some tea and company, but they are gone.”  He sat down, reached over and put an empty glass in front of himself.  I offered juice then water.  He declined both.  He seemed as if he was expecting something, so I decided to fill his glass with wine anyhow.  Then he came alive, patted me on the head and said, “good boy.”  Turned out he was the local village police officer during Soviet times and the man in the corner was just “a lunatic joker that respects me since I never arrested him.”  When the guy was done peeing, he made a mock salute.  ”Sometimes the dumb are the wise,” said the ex-police officer who doesn’t drink and downed his glass. After this, he spent the rest of the evening with us, making toasts, pattering endlessly, all of which I was translating in real time for Tristan and Hari.  The toasts ranged from world peace, to Georgian Russian relations, to all that have fallen, to his mother, (from whose grave he just returned and to whom he kept on lighting small candles which kept on going out), to friendship (for which he entreated each of us to light a candle and craddle it), and then he switched gears and started toasting to Stalin, the great man from Georgia who is globally misunderstood and underappreciated.  He climed into our car when we finished.  We passed his house on Lenin street, but while he pointed at it, he insisited on riding with us to the campground.  The park rangers eventually peeled him off from us, threatening to kick his ass (and other such nice things) but not before I gave him a whole sheet of paper with an endless but false list of contact details.  We sped by house #87 Lenin Street and looked the other way when driving by the following day.
I saw the crazy man in the market the following day, and when I aimed my camera to take a picture of him, he lunged his cane at me.  It turned out to be brass and quite heavy, which was both a good and bad thing.  It didn’t fly as he had intended, but bounced before hurting my shin and ankle.

When we asked him where we could get “good local wine” Omar, the taxi driver offered to take us if we pay him a dollar since we wouldn’t otherwise find it and he needs to leave his taxi post on our behalf.  We agree, and we follow him for not more than a few blocks.  He gets out of the car, rings a bell on an iron gate, and says “here it is.”

The lights were out and it seemed like no one was inside, but behold, an elderly gentleman, Anzor, with a melancholy gaze and a silver crown emerged from the dark and invited us to his basement.

He talked to us at a methodical pace as he syphoned out wine from large glass jars into plastic bottles.  Yes, he grew the grapes himself. They came from a vinyard of 300 plants that has been in his family for generations.  Most of the village came to him for wine. He built this house himself.  He had the aura of someone honest, pious, and hardworking.

His wife was Russian.  He likes visitors and travellers.  Turns out his son lives with his family in Minisota.

He handed us 2L of purple, velvety georgian Saperavi wine good for life extension both semi sweet and dry and another liter of white wine that is fermented like red wine, with the skin still on the grapes leaving the tannins, and tastes very unusual for a white.Anzor - Homemade Wine

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_wine (my link embeddin pluggin crapped out now, so accept it like this and there is lots of interesting stuff there.)

“And this” — presumably the wine, the company, the tour of the basement, the conversation — he said, “is my gift.”  Please enjoy my wine, and have a safe voyage, wherever it takes you.  He declined our entrities to pay, and so were left with accepting his genuine and hostpitable gesture.

We took our wine to dinner at a place without a menu where they ask you want you want, and assist you in ordering the two dishes they do have.  The food was served in the courtyard by a mossy brook. The staff asked us to pay and went home, telling us to just leave the plates on the table until tomorrow.

It was not long that we were alone.  A man of crooked and wabbly stature walked in probed a door in the corner, proded along with his cane, mumbling things all the while.  He was followed by a more respectably dressed and smelling gentleman, who wandered over to our table, and looked more puzzled by us than the guy mumbling and peeing in the corner.

I offered him some wine.  He declined, “I do not drink.  I just came here for some tea and company, but they are gone.”  He sat down, reached over and put an empty glass in front of himself.  I offered juice then water.  He declined both.  He seemed as if he was expecting something, so I decided to fill his glass with wine anyhow.  Then he came alive, patted me on the head and said, “good boy.”  Turned out he was the local village police officer during Soviet times and the man in the corner was just “a lunatic joker that respects me since I never arrested him.”  When the guy was done peeing, he made a mock salute.  ”Sometimes the dumb are the wise,” said the ex-police officer who doesn’t drink and downed his glass. After this, he spent the rest of the evening with us, making toasts, pattering endlessly, all of which I was translating in real time for Tristan and Hari.  The toasts ranged from world peace, to Georgian Russian relations, to all that have fallen, to his mother, (from whose grave he just returned and to whom he kept on lighting small candles which kept on going out), to friendship (for which he entreated each of us to light a candle and craddle it), and then he switched gears and started toasting to Stalin, the great man from Georgia who is globally misunderstood and underappreciated.  He climed into our car when we finished.  We passed his house on Lenin street, but while he pointed at it, he insisited on riding with us to the campground.  The park rangers eventually peeled him off from us, threatening to kick his ass (and other such nice things) but not before I gave him a whole sheet of paper with an endless but false list of contact details.  We sped by house #87 Lenin Street and looked the other way when driving by the following day.

I saw the crazy man in the market the following day, and when I aimed my camera to take a picture of him, he lunged his cane at me.  It turned out to be brass and quite heavy, which was both a good and bad thing.  It didn’t fly as he had intended, but bounced before hurting my shin and ankle.

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Vivid image on the way to Lagodekhi

September 7th, 2009 peretz No comments

I have a vivid image ingraned on retina, sadly without a photo to back it up.  It reminded me of another such moment from my travels in the American South, probably also in a Georgia. While driving, I caught a glimpse of a large African American man seated on a magnificant white horse, backlit majestically by the sun, all in a lush green grove.

On the way to Lagodekhi, I saw an old carriage with a load of hay, an older driver with rags accompanied by a younger child with a goat by his side. A large horse was yolked, but there was a lot of young farm animals leashed and walking beside it. A colt, a donkey, and a calf. They road at us thorugh a shady grove and were illuminated from behind by a bright sun with the view of the rising snow capped Caucus mountains in the distance.

This scene is not as majestic, but has the same fairy tale feel:

This looks like a fairy tale to me.

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A Midday’s Cappadocian Dream: Part 1 (of 3)

September 6th, 2009 Tristan 1 comment
A Midday’s Cappadocian Dream:  Part 1
In our cave home, the blankets were damp again with the light and pleasant smell of earth pervading.  We slowly stirred to life and made our way to the upper terrace for breakfast.  On the sunlight and dusty streets below merchants were starting to lay out their carpets.  Car horns, tractors engines and cow bells tunneled their way through the old stone streets to our perch.  The town of Goreme lay among the capped-stone fairy chimneys like the desert’s child – made of the same stone it blended with the eroded cliffs and arid plateau that lay beyond.  A single minaret stood tall with adolescent arrogance, comparing itself to the minarets perfectly crafted by the wind and ice.
Quickly finishing our tea and bread, we made our way down to the car, past house stoops with shoes outside and thin veils of ornate cloth, woven by time and isolation, separating us from the mystery lives inside.   On a covered porch three generations of women gabbed, their progressively sun-wrinkled eyes watched us with reserved curiosity.  Street-wise cats lurked and watched our every movement, fearing reprisal for the small bits they’d stolen the night before.  In the makeshift parking lot a thin block away, tractors rolled by with loads of bricks and local produce, billowing black fumes as they loudly plodded by.   In the town square, we enquired with a local tour organizer where adventure was hiding that day.  Our ingredients were ‘simple’, we wanted nothing short of amazing natural and anthropological beauty, absolutely no tourists, and a healthy portion Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure.  He replied in a quintessential Turkish accent, “So you like adventure?” and fatefully directed us to a valley beginning from Ortahisar, a small town 9 km northeast of Goreme.
With pocket change jingling, Peretz and I walked to the market in search of tasty treats to be enjoyed at far-gone points:  pears, peaches, grapes and nectarines for all, 4.80 Turkish Lyra in total.  We packed the car and prepared our bags, making sure we had the necessary provisions for the day’s travels:  water, headlamp, camera, jacket, journal, and fruit.  First stop: the Goreme Open Air Museum, 1 km down a wide, black reflective road towards Ortahisar.  Along the road, European backpackers walked with jubilation and local shepherd boys road on jalopy donkeys toward destinations unknown.  A sun-scorched motel advertised the only swimming pool in town:  free for patrons, 9 TL for everyone else.
We parked in the bus parking lot, our station wagon nudged among the larger vehicles.  Par for the course, souvenir shops and ice cream stands lined the short walk to the museum entrance.  Having already been picked apart by dime vultures throughout our travels, the prospect of each paying a steep 15 TL museum fee was wholly unappealing; a not-so-ninja break-in was brewing.  Our ascent was witnessed by anyone who cared to look; we hiked round a fairy chimney that rimmed the valley, to reach the barbed-wire border fence.  Having spent less time culturing the comfort of clandestine activities, Amanda and Hari opted outright to turn back and pay the entrance fee. As they descended, Peretz turned to me, smirked and motioned toward our route of entry.  Like Carnival ninjas – he in a fire-engine red shirt and Gilligan hat, I in my incongruent fedora and bright yellow T-shirt – we descended down the sandstone, past broken glass, thorny plants and rusted barbed-wire fence towards a shady grove on the edge of the museum.  From atop the only modern building in sight, we suspected a plain-clothes museum guard might have spotted us.  As we approached the grove Peretz and I split, he heading for a shady section behind the wall of the ticket office and I strolling through a verdant section, attempting to blend myself with the other museum patrons as quickly as possible.  The guard immediately approached Peretz.  From the corner of my eye I watched as they briefly conversed, Peretz pointing in my general direction.  I later found out that Peretz had told him that his “friends on the hill have my ticket.”  They parted, Peretz heading deeper into the museum and the guard slowly walking in my direction.  I made my way to the first sight – a church carved into the rock – and like a good, ticket-buying tourist began to read the English information sign.   The guard greeted me and asked to see my ticket, I hesitated briefly and explained that I had “hiked” into the museum – a half-truth.  Without incident he pointed me towards the ticket booth.  We parted, and I began to walk towards the ticket booth just as Hari and Amanda were coming through.  I quickly asked Amanda for her ticket, to be momentarily passed off as my own.  Half her fault and half my own, we very conspicuously exchanged the ticket and immediately I knew this could have been done more smoothly.  As I began to walk back into the museum, I felt a tug at my right arm.  Without a word the guard walked me back to the ticket booth where I begrudgingly purchased my ticket.
Inside the museum tourists strolled and signs indicated the purpose of each underground structure, the architectured remains of lives all but beyond the reach of recorded history.  Churches dug into the rock, adorned with columns built under the pretense of structural support, within stone that had known how to support itself since long before the appearance of mankind.   Cracked and crumbled, faded wall paintings depicted Biblical history in flat, pre-Orthodox style.  The birth of the world, the fall of man, and his subsequent redemption were drawn in basic and once bright colors, with a degree of skill likely limited by the coarseness of their brushes, the thickness of the paint, and the at best dim light.  Other rooms served as kitchens and food store-houses, their tool-hewn ceilings still soot black from the countless fires that had burned within.  The air inside was still and old, with hints of creosote.  I wondered when the last time a fire had burned in the shallow pits on the floor, centuries at least, maybe more.  In those close quarters the smoke must have been unbearable.  Walking up the cliff side, a portico led into the long dark expanse of a dining room that could seat forty people.  The only other tourist left the room, and I sat on the fixed stone bench less than a foot from the monolithic stone table, with stone walls, stone ceilings and stone floors.  With the room empty, I spoke out loud to get a better idea of the acoustics –  they were terrible – with forty people gossiping, trading, praying, singing or whatever their employment of speech, it must have been a deafening hum of noise, out of which one could pick up only what their seat mate said.  What did they talk about during their meals?  There was no notion of international current events, no grand political parties, no new iphone to pine over, nowhere far lands to explore.  I can only guess it was the more pragmatic things of life:  their harvest, their stock, their romances, their god.
I walked around the cliff side to a higher elevation taking in a view of the surrounding, defunct rock village trying to erase the telescopic camera-carrying tourists and buses from view.  I let the view meld with my mind’s eye, I saw donkeys wandering, small lamps lighting the inside of stone homes, men talking about what to plant where, smoke rising from porticos, the sound of tool against rock, children in simple, earthen-tone garments yelling and playing with sticks, others fetching water from the brook that ran down the valley floor, as their mothers washed clothes.
I met the gang at a preordained shady location.  Peretz was now wearing Amanda’s off-pink, tight-fitting shirt in a successful effort to evade detection by the guards.
The car climbed up cobble stone switch-backs to the top of the plateau.  A few minutes and wrong turns later, we were trolling through the outskirts of Ortahisar.  A sun-bleached sign depicted an intriguing rock tower and guided us to the right.  Our car clattered down the main street, attracting the scare-crowed gaze of the men seated outside each shop.  We approached the village center and parked just south of the town square.  The surrounding streets fell out of view from our current elevation, and an enormous natural rock tower with Turkish flag atop, stood watch over us– clearly what the sign had shown.  At the foot of the tower were two antique shops with antique owners, a small café and a mosque, whose minaret looked sickly thin in comparison to the towering rock above.   Tinny  music floated through the noon air from the green copper amplifier of an old wind-up record player. Forlorn farm equipment lay against the walls of two buildings whose alley way led up a cobble stone path to a sun-light terrace.  Raggedy, wind-beaten umbrellas shaded the tables of the dining area.  All around flowers proudly basked themselves in the midday sun, their colors so sharp, vibrant and varied that is was hard to break their deep gaze.  Below the terrace lay a small underground café whose patterned, carpeted floors, beaded doorways and dusty shelves immediately warped me back to a much older time, when camel riding merchants sipped apple tea and bargained over the price of wool.  Outside, blue spray paint arrows and rusty sign indicated how to ascend the rock castle.
At its base the shattered remains of a decades-old café occupied a large cavern.  Broken glass lay on the ground spelling out the boundaries of a jig-saw puzzle, and a desert-dusted cooler housed one lone, hot soda can.  Past a broken gate and up stone steps, we began to ascend the castle.  A welded angle-iron ladder led us up the first two levels, into rooms with dark pits and shadowed passages heading in different directions.  Watching our heads, we scampered up and up, collecting dirt and dust along the way.  Passages led to crumbled porticos overlooking the valley below; balconies had once been here as indicated by the steps outside that led now only to the crushing fall below.   Ten stories of climbing opened on the upper look-out point where the Turkish flag flapped in the breeze.  From our craggy hold, the lay of the land was clear.  The castle was the headstone of an entire abandoned civilization, complete with downtown, suburbs and rural areas, in a microcosmic layout that stretched from northeast to southwest.   Water, wind and ice had carved an elaborate network of branched valleys stretching to the limits of sight towards distant occupied villages, only to coalesce not far from the base of the castle.  On the plateau above the valley, fields of ground-hugging grapes grew wild in the sun, living remnants of ancient agricultural efforts.  Down fairy tale slopes, the sandstone flowed like thick cream to a verdant valley floor.  In the early afternoon sun, routes were appraised and our index fingers charted the course southwest from the castle’s base to the village of Ibrahimsa in the distance.
We descended to the car and prepared our packs and our minds for the adventure ahead.  On the south side of the town square, each step down the cobble-stoned street turned back the hands of time.

In our cave home, the blankets were damp again with the light and pleasant smell of earth pervading.  We slowly stirred to life and made our way to the upper terrace for breakfast.  On the sunlight and dusty streets below merchants were starting to lay out their carpets.  Car horns, tractors engines and cow bells tunneled their way through the old stone streets to our perch.  The town of Goreme lay among the capped-stone fairy chimneys like the desert’s child – made of the same stone it blended with the eroded cliffs and arid plateau that lay beyond.  A single minaret stood tall with adolescent arrogance, comparing itself to the minarets perfectly crafted by the wind and ice.

Quickly finishing our tea and bread, we made our way down to the car, past house stoops with shoes outside and thin veils of ornate cloth, woven by time and isolation, separating us from the mystery lives inside.   On a covered porch three generations of women gabbed, their progressively sun-wrinkled eyes watched us with reserved curiosity.  Street-wise cats lurked and watched our every movement, fearing reprisal for the small bits they’d stolen the night before.  In the makeshift parking lot a thin block away, tractors rolled by with loads of bricks and local produce, billowing black fumes as they loudly plodded by.   In the town square, we enquired with a local tour organizer where adventure was hiding that day.  Our ingredients were ‘simple’, we wanted nothing short of amazing natural and anthropological beauty, absolutely no tourists, and a healthy portion Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure.  He replied in a quintessential Turkish accent, “So you like adventure?” and fatefully directed us to a valley beginning from Ortahisar, a small town 9 km northeast of Goreme.

With pocket change jingling, Peretz and I walked to the market in search of tasty treats to be enjoyed at far-gone points:  pears, peaches, grapes and nectarines for all, 4.80 Turkish Lyra in total.  We packed the car and prepared our bags, making sure we had the necessary provisions for the day’s travels:  water, headlamp, camera, jacket, journal, and fruit.  First stop: the Goreme Open Air Museum, 1 km down a wide, black reflective road towards Ortahisar.  Along the road, European backpackers walked with jubilation and local shepherd boys road on jalopy donkeys toward destinations unknown.  A sun-scorched motel advertised the only swimming pool in town:  free for patrons, 9 TL for everyone else.

We parked in the bus parking lot, our station wagon nudged among the larger vehicles.  Par for the course, souvenir shops and ice cream stands lined the short walk to the museum entrance.  Having already been picked apart by dime vultures throughout our travels, the prospect of each paying a steep 15 TL museum fee was wholly unappealing; a not-so-ninja break-in was brewing.  Our ascent was witnessed by anyone who cared to look; we hiked round a fairy chimney that rimmed the valley, to reach the barbed-wire border fence.  Having spent less time culturing the comfort of clandestine activities, Amanda and Hari opted outright to turn back and pay the entrance fee. As they descended, Peretz turned to me, smirked and motioned toward our route of entry.  Like Carnival ninjas – he in a fire-engine red shirt and Gilligan hat, I in my incongruent fedora and bright yellow T-shirt – we descended down the sandstone, past broken glass, thorny plants and rusted barbed-wire fence towards a shady grove on the edge of the museum.  From atop the only modern building in sight, we suspected a plain-clothes museum guard might have spotted us.  As we approached the grove Peretz and I split, he heading for a shady section behind the wall of the ticket office and I strolling through a verdant section, attempting to blend myself with the other museum patrons as quickly as possible.  The guard immediately approached Peretz.  From the corner of my eye I watched as they briefly conversed, Peretz pointing in my general direction.  I later found out that Peretz had told him that his “friends on the hill have my ticket.”  They parted, Peretz heading deeper into the museum and the guard slowly walking in my direction.  I made my way to the first sight – a church carved into the rock – and like a good, ticket-buying tourist began to read the English information sign.   The guard greeted me and asked to see my ticket, I hesitated briefly and explained that I had “hiked” into the museum – a half-truth.  Without incident he pointed me towards the ticket booth.  We parted, and I began to walk towards the ticket booth just as Hari and Amanda were coming through.  I quickly asked Amanda for her ticket, to be momentarily passed off as my own.  Half her fault and half my own, we very conspicuously exchanged the ticket and immediately I knew this could have been done more smoothly.  As I began to walk back into the museum, I felt a tug at my right arm.  Without a word the guard walked me back to the ticket booth where I begrudgingly purchased my ticket.

Inside the museum tourists strolled and signs indicated the purpose of each underground structure, the architectured remains of lives all but beyond the reach of recorded history.  Churches dug into the rock, adorned with columns built under the pretense of structural support, within stone that had known how to support itself since long before the appearance of mankind.   Cracked and crumbled, faded wall paintings depicted Biblical history in flat, pre-Orthodox style.  The birth of the world, the fall of man, and his subsequent redemption were drawn in basic and once bright colors, with a degree of skill likely limited by the coarseness of their brushes, the thickness of the paint, and the at best dim light.  Other rooms served as kitchens and food store-houses, their tool-hewn ceilings still soot black from the countless fires that had burned within.  The air inside was still and old, with hints of creosote.  I wondered when the last time a fire had burned in the shallow pits on the floor, centuries at least, maybe more.  In those close quarters the smoke must have been unbearable.  Walking up the cliff side, a portico led into the long dark expanse of a dining room that could seat forty people.  The only other tourist left the room, and I sat on the fixed stone bench less than a foot from the monolithic stone table, with stone walls, stone ceilings and stone floors.  With the room empty, I spoke out loud to get a better idea of the acoustics –  they were terrible – with forty people gossiping, trading, praying, singing or whatever their employment of speech, it must have been a deafening hum of noise, out of which one could pick up only what their seat mate said.  What did they talk about during their meals?  There was no notion of international current events, no grand political parties, no new iphone to pine over, nowhere far lands to explore.  I can only guess it was the more pragmatic things of life:  their harvest, their stock, their romances, their god.

I walked around the cliff side to a higher elevation taking in a view of the surrounding, defunct rock village trying to erase the telescopic camera-carrying tourists and buses from view.  I let the view meld with my mind’s eye, I saw donkeys wandering, small lamps lighting the inside of stone homes, men talking about what to plant where, smoke rising from porticos, the sound of tool against rock, children in simple, earthen-tone garments yelling and playing with sticks, others fetching water from the brook that ran down the valley floor, as their mothers washed clothes.

I met the gang at a preordained shady location.  Peretz was now wearing Amanda’s off-pink, tight-fitting shirt in a successful effort to evade detection by the guards.

The car climbed up cobble stone switch-backs to the top of the plateau.  A few minutes and wrong turns later, we were trolling through the outskirts of Ortahisar.  A sun-bleached sign depicted an intriguing rock tower and guided us to the right.  Our car clattered down the main street, attracting the scare-crowed gaze of the men seated outside each shop.  We approached the village center and parked just south of the town square.  The surrounding streets fell out of view from our current elevation, and an enormous natural rock tower with Turkish flag atop, stood watch over us– clearly what the sign had shown.  At the foot of the tower were two antique shops with antique owners, a small café and a mosque, whose minaret looked sickly thin in comparison to the towering rock above.   Tinny  music floated through the noon air from the green copper amplifier of an old wind-up record player. Forlorn farm equipment lay against the walls of two buildings whose alley way led up a cobble stone path to a sun-light terrace.  Raggedy, wind-beaten umbrellas shaded the tables of the dining area.  All around flowers proudly basked themselves in the midday sun, their colors so sharp, vibrant and varied that is was hard to break their deep gaze.  Below the terrace lay a small underground café whose patterned, carpeted floors, beaded doorways and dusty shelves immediately warped me back to a much older time, when camel riding merchants sipped apple tea and bargained over the price of wool.  Outside, blue spray paint arrows and rusty sign indicated how to ascend the rock castle.

At its base the shattered remains of a decades-old café occupied a large cavern.  Broken glass lay on the ground spelling out the boundaries of a jig-saw puzzle, and a desert-dusted cooler housed one lone, hot soda can.  Past a broken gate and up stone steps, we began to ascend the castle.  A welded angle-iron ladder led us up the first two levels, into rooms with dark pits and shadowed passages heading in different directions.  Watching our heads, we scampered up and up, collecting dirt and dust along the way.  Passages led to crumbled porticos overlooking the valley below; balconies had once been here as indicated by the steps outside that led now only to the crushing fall below.   Ten stories of climbing opened on the upper look-out point where the Turkish flag flapped in the breeze.  From our craggy hold, the lay of the land was clear.  The castle was the headstone of an entire abandoned civilization, complete with downtown, suburbs and rural areas, in a microcosmic layout that stretched from northeast to southwest.   Water, wind and ice had carved an elaborate network of branched valleys stretching to the limits of sight towards distant occupied villages, only to coalesce not far from the base of the castle.  On the plateau above the valley, fields of ground-hugging grapes grew wild in the sun, living remnants of ancient agricultural efforts.  Down fairy tale slopes, the sandstone flowed like thick cream to a verdant valley floor.  In the early afternoon sun, routes were appraised and our index fingers charted the course southwest from the castle’s base to the village of Ibrahimsa in the distance.

We descended to the car and prepared our packs and our minds for the adventure ahead.  On the south side of the town square, each step down the cobble-stoned street turned back the hands of time.

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