I finished reading the Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry last night. I was up and down regarding my enjoyment of the book. In part it was the my busy time at work on not finding chunks of time to read and the other is the format of the book. Barry writes in an unusual style and the story jumps between the present and past. The main characters are two former Irish drug traffickers in the 50s. In the present, they are at a ferry terminal in Spain, waiting for the arrival of the estranged daughter of Maurice who is the real center of the novel. The story goes back through the men’s past. They earned a living through trafficking heroin and marijuana between Morocco, Spain and Ireland. I liked the past scenes best and it gave me insight into this type of lifestyle. I would not want to be a drug trafficker! It is a pretty miserable and risky life that creates a lot of pain for many people. Not only are they selling drugs, but they are also using them quite a bit and it causes so many problems in their lives. Living a lifestyle like this, they have many regrets, but also they reminisce on the thrills of a life of crime where they never got caught. The book is sad in many parts, joyous in others and is a real rollercoaster of vignettes. I didn’t like the present parts, not much happens and too much time spent describing the station and the men drinking in the bar. However, the flashbacks are gripping and it caused me to read through to the end.
It was a relaxing day yesterday, spending time with my family and running errands. The highlight for Nadia was finding a new store with imported delicacies such as olive paste from Spain, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. The Maison de Gout is located near the Minor Mosque and the Little Ring Road in Tashkent. There is moderately sized shopping mall and outdoor market attached to it. She felt like “she was out of Tashkent for a little while” and the kids appreciated the snacks. There were lots of people, many without masks as many people seemed unconcerned about the spread of Covid. I think after 7 months, people are getting worn down with the isolation procedures. I love watching people and the hustle and bustle of life downtown and in the neighborhoods is always interesting to watch. I think people do not like spending time in their homes because they are usually small and so the idea of the “third space” (not work or home) has more people than in Michigan where I grew up.
Our dog Obi is becoming a bigger part of the family. I love taking him out for walks and he follows me around the house faithfully. I really see the appeal of dogs and that point was hit home with the movie Marley and Me, that Ocean, Nadia and I watched Marley and Me Friday night. The girls were crying when Marley dies at the end of the movie (spoiler alert). Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star in the movie and their family mirrors our family with 2 boys and a girls and watching Owen’s career develop over time. If you love dogs, you will love the film.
We installed Sonos speakers last night in our home. Wow! They are almost wireless, portable and sound fantastic. It sounded like a live band was in our living room with the bar speaker under the television and 2 other speakers simultaneously playing music. I had one of those thrilling moments in awe of technology, thinking back to hooking up a speaker system in university and all the hassles to get the wiring right and then worry about blowing them out. We were up and running with Sonos in just a few minutes and they could be controlled by the Sonos App on my phone. 1987 is a long time ago!
Finally, I had a classic Central Asian moment this week. The smoke alarms were triggered at school by contractors cooking plov for their lunch. Construction workers build makeshift fire pits to heat the national dish of Uzbekistan, plov. The smoke from the fire meandered into the technical room of the gymnasium, triggering a full school fire alar.
On Sunday afternoon Nadia and I drove up to the mountains. I showed her the Amirsoy Ski Resort and we had lunch at the Olive Garden restaurant at the resort. It was such a beautiful day with blue skies and a cool breeze. The Tian Shan Mountains were inspiring as always for me. On the way back to Tashkent, we stopped at the Charvak Reservoir and collected some large, smooth stones for our garden. I went for a refreshing swim and the scenery was gorgeous.
On Saturday I did a lot of work on the school reopening plans and drove our teenagers around to friends’ homes. Because of physical distancing, we do not allow them to take taxis so I drive them where they want to go. We also went to the Mirobad Market and I enjoy being able to buy pork in an Islamic country. The Russians and Koreans are big port eaters so you can find it at many of the markets.
I usually wouldn’t do a blog post about a restaurant, but after months of quarantine, the city is opening. We took advantage of it and went to the Italian restaurant, L’Opera. It is adjacent to a large park which the restaurant used to physically distance diners. The area is quite lively with many restaurants, shops. It is close to the Alisher Navoi Opera House and it one of the more pleasant areas in Tashkent, especially on a late summer evening. Nadia, Ocean and her friend Asla dressed formally, I think they enjoyed it so much because during quarantine, we are mostly informally dressed.
Saturday I was the teenagers’ chauffeur, driving my three children to various social engagements. We do not want them using taxis yet. I counted 12 trips. My favorite was taking Oliver to the morning cross-country run with his friends along the canal. There were the usual senior citizens taking their morning swim and it was a bit busier than usual because sections of the canal were closed for university exams. Due to Covid, they are held outside, and this particular one was around the outside of Pakhtakor Stadium.
Owen and I played tennis on Tuesday and Friday this week. We had a doubles match on Uzbek Independence Day and had our usual practice session with Coach Igor on Friday. I’ve been working on my backhand and slice serve, while Owen is working on the mental aspects of the game. He has a fundamentally sound game from years of lessons in Serbia while he was in elementary school.
On Sunday afternoon I escaped city and thinking about school and cycled through the foothills outside of Parkent. The dusty hills reminded me of our hikes in the Los Angeles area. I kept thinking of the impact of livestock grazing on this environment. I wonder what it would look like with cows and sheep eating grasses on the hillsides.
On my way to Parkent, I noticed my first cotton field in Uzbekistan. September is harvest month here in Uzbekistan. The Soviets really built cotton agriculture here through collective farming and at one point, it was 70% of Soviet production. Uzbekistan is the 8th largest producer in the world and it accounts for 17% of its exports. The cotton industry requires a lot of irrigation and this in part has caused the Aral Sea to dry up.
I loved watching my wife Nadia and my son Owen during our Home Partnership Visit with one of Owen’s teachers. We started online this week due to the pandemic and the school arranged Zoom visits with families to make everyone feel part of a community. I was at school in my office and Nadia and Owen were home. Owen is a senior this year and this is sadly, his last year at home with us before he leaves next year for university. Both Nadia and I are savoring every moment with him this year!
My other son Oliver and I drove up to the former Soviet mining town of Yangiobad. The uranium mine is long gone and today it is a run-down, summer vacation town located in a narrow valley in the Chatkal Mountain Reserve. We saw European Bee-eaters which was a highlight for me. There is a youth camp / hostel that is popular with school groups and the area is full of hiking opportunities. It was quite beautiful and worth the 2-hour drive. I want to explore more of it. The old workers’ apartments are quite dilapidated, the asphalt full of potholes and many signs of poverty, but the place has an interesting story. The town used to be off-limits to the general public and reserved only for engineers and employees of the mine. There were several industrial looking buildings that warrant some more exploration. It was nice to spend the afternoon alone with Oliver and we took our dog, Obi. He always enjoys getting out into nature.
As you can see in the photo above, Tchaikovsky’s fingers have fallen off his statue, an apt metaphor of a town that has seen better days. On the drive to the town, we noticed a large coal-burning electrical plant.
To end this post, my daughter Ocean and I went for a longer than expected walk with Obi last night along the Anhor Canal in the city. On the way back, we were redirected by national guardsmen about 300 meters from our car. They shut off the area for some reason and we had to work our way around the Pakhator Stadium and through some parks to get back to the parking lot. It was OK because it meant we spent more time together and Obi got more exercise. It was also a mini-adventure for Ocean as she was a bit apprehensive about walking at night through the dark park.
I have not been able to post much this month because school is starting, so I am catching up. I would like to blog more this year. Time is going by so quickly and I like to pause and reflect on my life and savor the time with my family and friends. I love summer and as I get older I am appreciating the simpler things in life. Tonight it is a swim in my pool, a cold bowl of watermelon and feeling the cool night breeze of Tashkent while working on the table next to my son who is researching the bombing of Nagasaki. Pure heaven!
My friend Abdulahad produces beautiful, hand -weaved, natural-dye carpets in his factory/workshop in Samarkand. We visited the factory last New Years. He lives in Tashkent and we went over to his house to see his latest carpets. They are so beautiful and knowing that a large carpet took 3-6 months to make really makes it special to have in our home. Nadia purchased several the past year and we love having them brighten our home. I hope we have a big enough house when we leave Tashkent to display them. Homes are big here and perfect for carpets.
The longer the pandemic continues, the more this craziness seems normal. Above is a scene from the Tashkent International Airport. Uzbekistan’s borders are still closed and only special charter flights can come in. All arriving passengers from red zones (ex. USA) cannot just enter the city, but need to go to designated quarantine hotels. We had some school personnel arrive and so I went out to the airport to meet them. The police escort the buses to the hotel and they are confined to their rooms. It was 14 days and it has been reduced to 7 days with a negative test result.
We got into the spirit of the pandemic and Nadia, Owen and I were tested at our local clinic. One of the teachers tested positive for Covid-19 and I was with her a significant amount of time, so I was tired of self-isolating from my family. We were all negative and none of us felt symptoms. The index case who I was in contact with tested negative twice after receiving a positive test, so I think it was a false positive. Nadia and Owen describe the experience in the video above.
The savior of my sanity in this pandemic has been my morning bicycle rides about the city. The restrictions on cars has meant blissfully open roads and I have rode thousands of kilometers around Tashkent. I’ve realized I like drier climates! Growing up in Michigan where we get a lot of snow and rain, often it is miserable to go outside. I prefer the desert, sunny climate of places like Tashkent, Perth and Mallorca, Spain where I’ve spent a lot of time in my life. The blue skies and dry conditions allow for more and easier, outdoor time. It is one of the things I love about Tashkent is the weather. I snapped the photo above of a large park in Tashkent while on a morning ride.
We are loving being dog owners! We bought a Shi Tzu puppy a couple of months ago and he has absolutely won over our hearts. The little guy is so quiet but just loves attention and he is getting plenty of it. I think the dog has brought our family closer together and the kids spend more time with us as we care for and play with him.
I end this post with a photo of my first tomatoes! A friend gave me a couple of small plants and this one survived and two tomatoes were produced. I will eat them tomorrow.
This weekend Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice. The holiday commemorates the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to listen to God and sacrifice his son. Abraham is a figure in three of the major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In the Bible (Genesis, chapter 22), Abraham had his son tied to a pile of wood and was about to stab him when God told him to stop because he proved his loyalty and faith in Him. Instead, God provided a ram that was caught in a thicket for Abraham to sacrifice. Today, Muslims sacrifice a lamb, hence the sheep above on my street. There were two lambs on my street and I saw many around the city. The meat is divided into thirds, 1/3 to family, 1/3 to friends and neighbors, and 1/3 to the poor. Because the date of Eid al-Adha is fixed in the Islamic lunar calendar, the date varies in our solar calendar. Next year it will be earlier, estimated to be around July 20, 2021.
July and August is the season for melons! Uzbekistan is famous for its fruits and vegetables and the watermelon (arbuz in Russian) and other melons (dinja) are especially delicious. I am not sure if it is the soil or sunshine, but the produce here is so good. I see hundreds of makeshift melon stands around the city. The stand above is close to our house and we’ve been happy with the quality of the melons. I’ve heard people say not to eat the melons here because they are watered with dirty water. According to my reading, most crops come into contact with manure or fertilizer. Roots take in water, not bacteria and the cell walls give additional protection. If bacteria did get into the melon, it was cause damage to the fruit and it could not be eaten. The stands are run either by a nearby house, or the farm will hire someone. They often sleep right behind the stand. You can see the bed in the back of the photo above. This week, the cost of a large watermelon is around $1. The cost increases at the beginning and ending of the season.
The reduction of cars on the road on weekends has been a boom to cycling. Yesterday I rode over 70 kilometers (42 miles) southwest of the city. I ended up riding through country roads of cornfields and little villages on the outskirts of the city. It was a pleasant ride and one of my favorite activities.
We are getting a bit stir crazy with this recent spike in Covid-19 cases. The city is basically closed off and with all restaurants, parks, bowling alleys, etc. closed, it feels like we are back to where we were when the pandemic first came to Tashkent in March. One bright spot is Nadia is a gourmet cook and we always have delicious meals and lots of laughs when the family comes together. On Friday, there was an accident in the power system and we didn’t have electricity from 1:30 AM to 4:00 PM. I kind of liked being out of touch and with no internet, we got to spend more time with the kids. In the photos above, Nadia made a version of Owen’s favorite, Panda Express Orange Chicken. She also made a vegetarian lasagna.
I end this blog post with a World War II memorial. It is interesting to see memorials from the other side of a conflict. In Russia is is the Great Patriotic War, and I saw this statue commemorating all who died and fought in the war. Uzbekistan at that time was part of the Soviet Union, although being a long way from the fighting, many Tashkenters were drafted and fought in the war. The statue was in a quiet neighborhood in the southern part of the city.
I am finding solace in my morning bike rides. A couple of days ago are rode along the Anhor Canal to the park hosting the Museum of Victims of Repressions. There were a few people swimming in the canal, they would hop in and let the current take them down for a while before they got out. The scene looked cool with the TV tower in the background. I am so tempted to swim in the canal!
People are lining up outside of private clinics around the city to get Covid-19 tests. There is a spike in cases here in Tashkent. This particular clinic, Shox International Clinic, does not do Covid-19 testing, but a friend told me patients are lining up for lung scans. I am not sure if this is true. They did not look sick.
It is so strange to be living in this global pandemic. Above is the scene at the airport. All of the passengers arriving from Germany were shuttled off to hotels to be tested and do their quarantine. No one was allowed to leave the airport on their own to their homes. The tourist police and officials in hazard suits were ushering people onto about 10 large buses. They did allow people waiting in the airport garden talk to passengers before they boarded the bus.
A couple of nights ago we had a strong winds. A tree along the street in front of our school fell and thankfully where were no cars coming by at the time. I reminds me to check all of the trees near the entrance to see if they are safe and not rotting inside and are dangerous.
Although Tashkent is a big city (approximately 3 million people), it is still a country town in many ways. You can easily escape the city into agricultural fields. This road is just a few kilometers outside of the city limits east of the city. This road runs along the backside of the old Taskent-Vostochny airfield, which currently serves military, cargo, and experimental aviation. There are plans to renovate, expand and turn it into a second international airport. I see they are constructing the main terminal and have expanded the highway that runs in front of it. I see this area behind the airport becoming more developed in the future.
There are many mosques scattered throughout the city. I found this one this morning on the ride back from the Chichiq River. It is the Hudaybiyyah mosque, named after a treaty that united the cities of Mecca and Medina during Muhammad’s time. It serves the “Birlashgan” mahalla and is a bit different architectural style than other mosques I see. It kind of looks Turkish.
I stopped at the Istiqlol Palace yesterday on my bike ride. “Istiqlol” means independence in Uzbek and the building was renamed in 2008 through an initiative by the Uzbek government to change Soviet names of buildings, streets and metro stations throughout the country. It is a glorious example of Soviet architecture and is part of a large urban park structure in Tashkent.
Evgeny Rozanov one of the important architects of the Soviet Union, designed the building that was completed in 1981. It was originally called the Palace of Friendship of Peoples and is was a combination theatre and convention center. The massive (130,000 sq.ft -12,000 sq.m) complex has a 4,000-seat theatre which is still used today. It was the main concert and event venue during the Uzbek SSR time. Rozanov was modeled the facade on the desert fortresses of Khorezm. Concerts and events are still held at the palace but I have not been to one yet. I would love to go inside someday. In front is a large plaza with a massive Uzbek flag where many people come for photos. Behind the palace, trails lead to the Navoi National Park, an urban garden/park near the center of Tashkent.
The other form of exercise I’ve been doing is playing tennis at the Olympic Tennis Club. We usually play at the NBU Stadium courts but they are closed during the quarantine. Thankfully Olympic has remained opened. Tennis is a good sport to physically distance because it is outside and non-contact. We have a trainer to refine our games and Igor has helped our backhands tremendously. I’m trying to develop a slice backhand that can actually win points for me. For now, my backhand is a placeholder that just gets the ball over, or if I am lucky and hit is wrong, careens off my racquet at a funny angle, throwing my opponent’s balance off. My oldest son Owen had many lessons as an elementary student growing up in Serbia. I am trying to get my middle son, Oliver, to refine his game so he will be a good partner after Owen leaves for college next year.
The restriction on cars in the city has made my morning bike ride more enjoyable than ever. Before 7:00 AM, I practically have the streets to myself. I usually get out around 6:00 AM after tidying up the kitchen and living room. My routes are usually a loop and are about 40 kilometers (25 miles) and it takes about 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, with stops. The best way to get to know a city is on foot or bicycle and I am certainly doing that this summer, especially with the lockdown preventing us from getting out into the countryside.
I often listen to podcasts while riding. It is only through one earphone so I can still hear traffic and ride safely. Cycling gives me time to think and I usually get some insight into something so I will try to note some of the best podcasts if I have time. Today I listened to Terry Gross interviewing of actor Mathew Rys about his role in HBO’s Perry Mason remake. He is Welsh and said an interesting comment about doing American accents. When he was playing opposite Tom Hanks in the Mr. Rodgers movie, he was less nervous because he was thinking about the American accent he had to do and the sound of it. I also get this, not with doing an American accent, but as someone who grew up with a stutter, I did not have the stutter when I spoke Spanish or sang. It is the same concept of being out of one’s normal self. Today when I have to make big speeches, I take solace in the microphone and the amplification of my voice. It soothes me and puts me out of myself and allows the fluency to come through. Stuttering is a fascinating neurological disorder and sheds some light on how are brain functions. I also got a phrase for British and Aussie speakers to try to say in an American accent, “a world of murderers”. The American “r” is tough enough, but three of them in that short phrase must be difficult to master. It also makes me want to watch the series, The Americans, that Rys starred in. 75 episodes is quite a commitment, however.
I always see interesting sites on my ride. Above is a photo of the Hazrat Ali Mosque, one of many mosques in the city. Ali was the cousin of Muhammed and the fourth caliph (over 1,300 years ago) and is an important figure in both Shia and Sunni Islam.
The neighborhood around the National Stadium is surprisingly nice, with many large trees, good roads and some modern buildings. The 34,000-seat stadium is home to one of the top Uzbek professional teams, Bunyodkor and many of the national team games. The sails surrounding the stadium are an inexpensive manner of giving it a distinctive touch.
The international airport remains eerily quiet, with the manicured park areas growing a bit long in the tooth. It reminded me of those post apocalypse movies and the remains of a once technologically advanced society becoming a distant memory. This is the longest I’ve not traveled internationally in a long time. It is good for the environment, but I miss experiencing new cultures and environments.
Nadia made Santa Cruz-style, Bolivian cheese empanadas yesterday. The deep-fried dough, filled with mostly air and a bit of white cheese and onion, sprinkled with powered sugar are divine! The Crucenos enjoy them as a late afternoon snack with tea.