Tashkent Journal: Mosaics, Lenin and a Japanese Pond

I love this colorful Soviet mosaic on Taras Shevchenko Street in Tashkent. The mosaic is on the wall of School #110, which also bears the name of the Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. The large mosaic panel was made by artist V. Kutkin and was dedicated on June 1, 1970. Many Ukrainians settled this part of the Tashkent and the mosaic and park was part of the rebuild after the 1966 earthquake. A statue of Shevchenko in front of the mosaic was dedicated in 2002 and the then Ukrainian president attended the ceremony.

You can see Shevchenko in the left center of the panel, playing a kobzar, a traditional Ukrainian guitar. I am not sure what is taking place on the left side. I see a muscled worker with a newly forged sword and some fellow workers saluting his work. To the left looks like some people suffering, but I am not sure what is the cause of their suffering. As one moves past Shevchenko, spear-carrying soldiers appear to be marching by a muscled women holding both arms up. On the far right, Uzbekistan is celebrated by its rivers, cotton production and golden sunshine

Who was Taras Shevchenko? He was a artist and author who lived in the 1800s. He is regarded as the “father” of the Ukrainian literature and the modern Ukrainian language and had strong views of Ukrainian independence and often ridiculed the Russian royal house.

The art of the Soviet Union is fascinating and I hope city officials preserve them. In the late Soviet times, all building projects had 5% of the budget dedicated to “artistic elements”. It is part of the history of the city and as we get further away from the Uzbek SSR times, there will be pressure to modernize and demolish Soviet art and architecture. I feel it is one of the charms of the former Soviet sphere for foreigners. I understand not all people would agree, but I also think that all periods of history of a country should be preserved in part. This is a good website that gives a more in depth history of Soviet mosaic panels.

This is another 1970s Soviet building. It was completed in 1970 to celebrated the centennial of Lenin and was a museum dedicated to him. For 20 years, middle and high schools in the city led mandatory field trips to the museum. After independence, it was changed to a museum of Uzbekistan.

In 2001, the Japanese Embassy and the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations built a park near the Tashkent Tower. There were quite a few water fowl in the large pond.

Tashkent Journal: December 29, 2019

Mosaic on the Pravda Vostok Building

I have not been feeling well recently with a strong chest cold and sinus inflammation. I went for a long walk Sunday afternoon to clear my head. On my explorations of Tashkent, I always discover an interesting facet of the city. On this walk, I noticed this Soviet era mosaic (above) of a newspaper delivery person. In going around to the front of the building, I saw that it was the offices of Pravda Vostok (Truth of the East) the official Russian language newspaper of record of the Uzbek S.S.R. I was surprised that it still functioning as a media outlet. I believe it is still owned by the government.

The Pravda Vostok Building is a classic Soviet architecture

Further on I stopped at the Crying Mother Monument and the eternal flame. The site commemorates the 400,000 Uzbeks who died in World War II. The Germans never reached Tashkent, but many Uzbeks were conscripted into the Soviet army. I need to read more about Uzbekistan’s role in World War II.

The eternal flame commemorating WWII victims

Finally, after my walk in the late afternoon, Nadia, Alejandra and I went for a cup of tea. It was another gray, wet day and the hot jasmine tea made me feel a bit better. Breadly is a really nice coffee place with gourmet-level food and sour dough and multi-grain breads. I highly recommend a visit.

Black Star Burger

The boys love to go to Black Star Burger, an American-style hamburger chain owned by Russian Hip-Hop artist, Timati and businessman Yuri Levitas. It has a cool vibe and some distinctive features that make it worth a night out. With every meal comes a pair of disposable black rubber gloves. The burgers are very juicy and it is convenient at the end of the meal to peel off the gloves and leave the table with dry hands.

The decor is similar to Shake Shack, with an attractive font for the signs. Another interesting feature are the tattoo-sleeves servers wear under their black t-shirts. Timati looks like Drake, but he is not African. His parents ar Tartar (Turkish ethnic group) and Jewish and he grew up in Moscow. Politically, he supported Vladimir Putin in two elections and came under some criticism for the pro-Putin music video he starred in. I’ve listened to his music and definitely not my style. The restaurant market in Russia has room for different kinds of food and they seem to be successful. I see they are selling franchises in other parts of Russia besides Moscow.

Fresh Haircuts

It was a quiet day. I dropped the kids off at Ice City. Nadia made carrot-cake cream cookies, pan de jamon and a beef stir fry. She was busy in the kitchen. It is nice to have family here for Christmas! The boys got a haircut from Oleg, who comes to the house. He always does a nice job.

Happy Thanksgiving

(I am catching up on my blogging this week.)

We hosted 22 people for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and it was such a delightful evening. Our school gave scheduled only a half-day of classes so we (I mean, Nadia and Deliya) could start cooking the turkey. We had an extremely large Butterball turkey delivered from Ramstein Air Base in Germany (thanks US Embassy commissary!) Nadia had a masterful performance and after 20 years of cooking turkeys, she has become a top chef and the turkey is always moist and delicious!

Ocean is getting into the Thanksgiving spirit!

Thanksgiving is an uniquely American holiday and we are lucky to be able to share it with friends from all over the world. It was funny that our Israeli friends reflected on their first Thanksgiving that it was the opposite of Yon Kippur, a day of fasting and saying sorry, while Thanksgiving is a day to eat until you are uncomfortably full and be thankful for all the good things in your life.

Deserts!

Latest Reading – "State of the Heart: History, Science and the Future of Cardiac Disease"

Photo courtesy of Aga Khan University

Both my father and grandfather died of heart disease. My grandfather had rheumatic fever as a child which weakened his valves. He died in his 40s, peacefully while taking a nap after lunch. My father told me he had an argument at work, a factory where he was the foreman. He came home for lunch and my father thinks that the stress from work, may have been what pushed his heart over the brink. My father, Charles Kralovec, survived his first heart attack. He had bypass surgery and a surgical stent placed in one of his arteries. He lived for another 10 years and passed away from a heart attack while serving as a lector at a funeral at St. Cecilia’s Church in my hometown of Caspian, Michigan at the age of 78. Even though I am not biologically related to them (I am adopted) I’ve always been aware of heart disease.

I really enjoyed reading Dr. Haider Warraich’s State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science and Future of Cardiac Disease. Dr. Warraich is a Harvard Medical School cardiologist and Pakistani immigrant to the USA. He uses his patients to introduce all aspects of heart disease. It is amazing the medical advances that have prolonged the lives of millions of people. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the USA and worldwide. Heart disease is almost double the rate of cancer as a cause of death worldwide and slightly higher than the rate of cancer in the USA.

Heart disease has been on my mind lately because my doctor and I decided for me to start taking statins after my yearly physical this summer. I always score “borderline” risk when it comes to total cholesterol with a 14-year average score of 225. Warraich made me feel much better about this choice as he is very enthusiastic about the wonders of this class of lipid-lowering medications. It is the most commonly prescribed medication in America with soon, 1/3 of all Americans older than 40 will be taking a statin. Atorvastatin, Lipitor is the bestselling drug of all time. I liked that a Japanese doctor, Akira Endo, was one of the key researchers to discover statins. Warraich ranks Endo’s discovery with Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

“…the most important means to improve and prolong life we have ever developed as a species”

I hope my daily 10mg tablet will lower my LDL cholesterol, which commonly leads to atherosclerotic plaques lining blood vessels. I was glad to see that Warriach’s research showed raising HDL likely doesn’t change risk for heart disease. My average score of 38 for HDL is just below the at-risk range (>40). I will continue to watch my weight, exercise and not smoke to see if my HDL can stay above 40. Some other aspects from the book I would like to remember are as follows:

  • Heart disease is just as common in women as men. Estrogen does offer protection to women, so they experience more heart disease post-menopause.
  • High blood pressure is the real threat for heart attacks, more so than cholesterol as a risk factor.
  • Work stress is linked to higher rates of heart disease.
  • The coronary arteries, the vessels that feed oxygenated blood to the heart are the most common vessels for heart attacks.
  • Cardiology is the most competitive field among internal medicine specialties.
  • Often medical research is just as flawed as educational research. I think it is for the same reason. It is difficult to treat humans like lab rats and conduct unbiased experiments.
  • Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. Doctors also can do an EKG or check for troponin levels in the blood.
  • “Patients older than 65 with heart failure in the USA admitted to the hospital live for only an average of 2 years.”

The book helped me realize the amazing structure and role of the heart. It is amazing that the heart can generate electricity. The pacemaker section in the lining of the heart is controlled by a small electrical charge that is transported cell-to-cell. It is such a small amount that it would take 70 hours of heart operation to collect enough energy to charge an iPhone. The heart is also one of the few organs that you can see working. Most organs do their business on the microscopic level.

The future of treating heart disease will be very interesting. Warraich predicts we will eventually have a 100% artificial heart that distributes blood through the body. Doctors are advancing in this area, with Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) a battery-powered implant that pumps a damaged heart.

I suggest listening to the interview Dr. Warraich did with NPR’s Terry Gross to learn more about the book.

Final Thoughts on Turkmenistan

View to my hotel during my run

Ashgabat was such an interesting and distinct place. The topography and climate reminded me of Nevada and Utah. It felt much drier than Tashkent and the hills and ravines at sunset and sunrise were quite beautiful. It was just so odd to look over at the futuristic buildings on this landscape. The city is close to the Iranian border, which could be seen in the distant mountains

Lobby of the Yyldyz Hotel

The city was built to impress visitors. As you can see from the hotel lobby above, no expense is spared in these huge public monuments and facilities. For example, below the hotel on the road leading down the hill towards the city, was an 18-hole, Jack Nicholson-designed golf course. We never saw anyone play during our three days at the hotel. However, the grounds were immaculately maintained.

The international airport is shaped like a bird. Many of the buildings shape match their function. The national library looks like two books.
A sample of Turkmen TV

One of the negative aspects of Ashgabat that really struck me was the lack of outside influences. Most of the most popular internet sites are blocked. There is absolutely no advertising found in the city. I read where only about 10% of the population accesses the internet. The government actively controls internet access and even my Express VPN did not work there.

Panoramic View from the hotel restaurant balcony

I didn’t spend enough time exploring this fascinating city and country. I’ll never forget country #67 on my life list.

Visit to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

View from our hotel towards the city (wedding hall in background)

Earlier this month, I had a rare opportunity to visit one of the most difficult countries to see, Turkmenistan. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has been ruled by two successive eccentric presidents that limit the outside influences. Approximately 6,000 visitors visit Turkmenistan per year as it is difficult to get a visa and there are limited airlines flying into the capital, Ashgabat. The US Embassy in Ashgabat sponsored an Emergency Preparedness & Communications workshop and invited international school directors from Central Asia to the conference.

Dozens of white marble buildings are lit up on the lightly travelled city streets

Ashgabat is a special city in Turkmenistan. It has been described as Pyongyang (capital of North Korea) meets Las Vegas. The entire city consists of hundreds of huge monuments and buildings made of white marble. The government’s natural gas and oil revenues have been used to build a perfect city that looks like something out of a science fiction novel. There is no advertising, no litter, lots of neon lights and very few people. Every structure, from telephone booths to bus stops, has the white marble and gold-trim futuristic theme.

White marble and gold telephone booths

I stayed at the Yyldyz Hotel, a magnificent natural gas flame/rocket ship-shaped building on a hill overlooking the city. I took several evening walks along lighted sidewalks through the desert hills down to the city. It was so odd to be walking in unique landscape that naturally looks like Utah or Nevada, but a futuristic Utopian architecture. There were some bits of normalcy I encountered, like kids practicing soccer outside the national stadium and a supermarket, which was comparable to supermarkets here in Tashkent.

The city landscape from the 1976 science fiction movie, Logan’s Run – Ashgabat looks like this place (courtesy, Moria, Sci Fi film review website)

The embassy arranged two outings to local restaurants which were quite pleasant. It felt like Central Asia, with good food, plenty of alcohol and loud music. I would have never found the restaurants as there are no signs, but once inside the decor was quite normal, like most restaurants. Due to the currency exchange controls, a big meal, with drinks cost each of at the table $5 USD.

Hundreds of monuments can be found around the city.