Samarkand is for Lovers… Crashing Weddings
My main inspiration to be in Samarkand at this particular time was to attend the biennial Sharq Taronalari music festival, but once past that event, I extended my stay. I kinda’ like this place. I was always a bit skeptical of the ‘famous Turkish hospitality’ of Istanbul and Turkey, but this seems more genuine to me, and is really quite endearing, I’ll have to admit. There is always something special about a nation ‘coming out’ for the first time—think Laos 1994, or Cuba 2020—and this is no exception.
And if you figure a nation of ex-Commies and Muslims to be some bad-ass mothers—sleeping with Kalashnikovs (good name for a movie, I think) and bent
on jihad, then you’d be wrong. There is an optimism on the faces, and a sincerity in the smiles. Old men want to compare beard lengths with me. They invite me to tea, and take pictures with me, their long-lost other brother from a different mother. We can’t communicate much, of course, but that’s okay. I’d like to pretend that we have some non-linguistic mystic thing going on, but no, we just exchange smiles and stare in silence. Still it’s nice… and I’m studying Russian, so it should get better. The kids are studying English.
The city itself is pretty spectacular, in the tourist centers at least—domes and spires, adobe and majolica, with major monuments to Timur (Tamerlane) and his assorted tribe, including his favorite Chinese bride, whose monument is as big as his. Legend is she had it built while he was away. Hmmm… that sounds familiar; there’s a pattern forming here. Today she’d probably settle for a Mercedes-Benz. Most of the city is faux ancient, though, a la Santa Fe, NM, maintaining color schemes and reasonably good taste, no small feat, given typical Soviet esthetic sensibilities. There are broad avenues, vast parks, and fountains shooting water skyward, always a good sign in the desert.
But mostly there are babies. This country is undergoing a Baby Boom unlike
anything I’ve ever seen, with the possible exception of the Philippines. They’re pumping out the little poopers faster than I can count them. It seems like every eligible female has a little team following her down the street like ducks in formation on the surface of a pond. I’d figure the average age of an Uzbeki at about eight years old, and it seems the whole next generation is in the oven at any given moment. This is significant for a region that has always been fairly sparsely populated.
If Turkey the country has some of the cutest guys and frumpiest femmes in the world, then here the equation is maybe reversed or at least ‘normalized’ (thank you Feynman). When women dress in their Friday-go-to-masjid best, as they frequently do, it’s truly quite stunning, queen-like with sparkles and tiaras, and no veils. That’ll keep the babies flowing. As a matter of fact, on a per capita basis, I’d rate these girls as some of the world’s prettiest, and I’m comparing to Thailand and Spain, Colombia and Macedonia, not just Delta girls from up around Clarksdale and Greenville. Now this may be a welcome change from tales of Afghan burkhas and public stonings, but it’s still a country which requires marriage licenses for conjugal visits between opposite sexes in hotels.
What else? Teens all have cell phones, a basic meal is $2, private rooms start at
$20, and at Fur Cat’s funky caravanserai I’ve got 14 oriental rugs in my room. And, oh yeah, DO NOT tempt your fate with drivers here. As in other ex-Soviet Republics, they are maniacs. I guess they are making up for the time lost pushing their Ladas around. Once you get them going, you definitely don’t want to slow them down. The ‘new city’ across town is Soviet standard-issue BTW, like a different world, in fact, imminently forgettable.
There is another race or two of people here in smaller numbers, with slightly darker skin, one of which is probably a northern tribe, maybe Kyrgs (Kirgiz?), the other that look a lot like… Gypsies. They’re wearing the same cheap flowery prints I last saw on their antipodal compatriots in Atacama, Chile, that must come from Gypsy Central Supply. They act the same, too, hanging out, selling trinkets, and begging. They like to put their hands on you, too, especially kids. I always have to check for my wallet afterward. Kids are the best pickpockets. Their littler paws slip right in. The love potion the lady had in Chile didn’t work very well. Turns out it was curry powder. The curry wasn’t very good, either.
Gypsies here carry around a little censer of burning herbs. They might go well in curry. If these truly ARE of the same stock, lineage, and culture, then that would be truly amazing, since this might be an original path of migration, not likely a return from Europe. I’ll come back next year, after I’ve studied some Persian and Hindi, try to communicate. That’s the only time I’ve felt at any risk here, though. Otherwise it’s the safest I’ve ever felt, including LA. Commies make good cops, I guess.
The streets are pretty empty by 10 p.m. A guy could seriously get caught up on some sleep here, and I’ve been doing just that. When I get bored, I just look for some kids to play with. We don’t need iPhones or motorcars or fancy tours to get happy. We just need a ball, that’s all. Tashkent may have an entertainment scene, but I can’t find it here… except for weddings, which are spectacular. There are few restaurants—or bars—specifically geared to tourists, though tourists are certainly welcome at what there are, mostly shishka-joints. It’s tough to be a vegetarian; be forewarned. A real bar would probably have to be semi-private, though, like at my hotel. Anything else would probably draw in the Taliban. It’s nothing new to me. I was raised under the Mississippi mullahs. It’s time to travel again, next stop—Bukhara.