Monthly Archives: January 2012

Back in the U-S-S-R

ImageThe photo was taken by David Sears. If you look close, you can see me saluting in the middle.

We won’t be here in the spring, so we tackled Victory Park on Saturday, where the view of Dushanbe is supposed to be terrific from the hill. It’s only a few blocks from our apartment on Bekhzod. When we get there, the funicular was closed for the season, so rather than walking all the way around and take the main road up into the park, we headed straight up the jalan tikus (an Indonesian word  meaning “mouse roads” for neighborhood small streets and alleys), through a poor residential section clinging to the side of the steep hill. I was surprised we ran into so few people. Since the larger streets in Dushanbe are full of potholes and in this weather, snow and mud, I was not at all surprised to see these pathways not paved and covered in slush and mud and gravel.

We made it to the park itself and the top of the funicular, where during another season, one can grab a beer or coffee or soda pop and admire the city and the mountains that surround it. Best photos would be in the morning, but it was afternoon and although sunny and warming, hazy. But David took some photos for us to remember what we saw that day.

Now that we are on the park’s main road, we climbed higher to the Victory Monument itself. It is practically an arena – a space for rallies and May Day celebrations. I climbed the stairs to the red star, and as I was sitting, looking over the monument from above and the city, it dawned on me.

I am in the Soviet Union.

I’ve been referring to Tajikistan as being in Central Asia, one of the former Soviet Union soviets. But on Saturday it struck me hard – I am actually in the Soviet Union. The boogey man of all the propaganda I was fed growing up deep in the Cold War. The country that I learned about in the mid ‘60s and realized in seventh grade that I was being fed propaganda, and my nascent skepticism of official teaching lead me to a life of doubting official stories and histories. (Although I probably didn’t then have in my vocabulary words like “nascent” and “propaganda.”)

So, here I am, in the (former) Soviet Union.

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More photos from Rudaki Ave.

I tried to post three photos on the last blog. Didn’t work, I’m still learning. Will try to add two more here.

A place for the rich to live on Rudaki Avenue

Shops on Rudaki Ave. near our apartment. It snowed on Monday. Difficult sidewalks, but lovely.

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Suspended in Dushanbe

The lovely opera house on Rudaki Avenue is near our apartment. Photo by David Sears

As we await to have our three month visas extended into six month visas so that we can move on to David’s post in Khujand, we explore Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital. It is probably lovely in the spring, summer or autumn when the trees are in bloom. In winter, it still has a certain charm. The main drag, Rudaki Avenue is a boulevard lined by pastel and richly colored buildings and many trees and on Sunday it snowed and was quite pretty. The street is long, extending north and south. It is joined by Ismoili Somoni Street, which is the main road running east and west. Rudaki was a Persian poet from the Samanid dynasty (819-992 AD), which included Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, who also share linguistic roots. During Somoni’s rule (849-907 AD), the dynasty reached its creative peak. Tajik currency is called somonis, and one somoni is worth about 20 cents.

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Numbers and Days

Dushanbe means Monday. The city is “artificial” in that the Soviets decided it would be the capital, and it was just a little crossroads with a Monday market. As a result, many of the roads are in a grid and there is a planned look to the place because of the color scheme of the buildings.

I started to learn the numbers, and as a result, learned the days. Friday is Juma. Saturday is Shanbe (pronounced shan-bay). Sunday is Yukshanbe, yuk means one. Monday is Dushanbe, du means two. Tuesday is Seshanbe, se means three. I bet you have figured out the pattern by now. Wednesday is Chorshanbe and chor means four. Thursday is Penjshanbe, five. Of course, all these names are in Cyrrilic, which I am learning bit by bit to read. I get practice when identifying streets and reading labels in our grocery store.

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Good location

Our temporary apartment is well situated, just about two blocks off Rudaki near the ballet and opera building and also about three blocks from a major open market. The Green Market is not particularly exciting or green. Perhaps it is more colorful when more than root crops and bread are available in the food section. You can also find clothes, household goods, electronics and most anything you can find in a department store. We do most of our grocery shopping, however, at the misnamed supermarket across the street from the apartment, where I can find our staples of fruit, cheese, bread, chocolate, Coke Zero, beer and Magnum ice cream bars. A Snickers bar is about half the price of the one in my US university’s vending machines.

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National Museum of Antiquities

Here are a few other photos from the National Museum of Antiquities, including the scabbard with the lion and “dear” and an example of how some of the items are displayed on styrofoam

National Museum of Antiquities, Dushanbe, Akinak's scabbard with lion & deer, ivory, Takhti Sangin 6-5th c BC

Many of the small items in the National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe are mounted on styrofoam, including these items from ancient Bunjikat.

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Big Buddha in Dushanbe

The largest Buddha in Central Asia is reclining in a museum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He assumed his title when the Taliban dynamited the two standing Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in March 2001.

The National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe has exhibits from the many archeological sites in Tajikistan. Most of the good stuff, however, can be found in museums in other countries. But there are some lovely pieces – like a scabbard with a lion and “dear.” The main draw is a 13 meter long reclining Buddha. It is the largest Buddha in Central Asia, thanks to the Afghanistan Taliban (damn their hides) who blew up the two standing Buddhas in Bamiyan in March 2001. Our Buddha boy in Dushanbe was found in 1966 in Ajina Teppe and dates back about 1500 years. He seems to have been damaged either before or during the move and is missing much of his clothing and outer decorations, as well as a good portion of his face. He may be big for Central Asia, but he has brothers in China and Thailand that are much bigger and in better shape.

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Update from Dushanbe

For those of you who are following this blog — I have not deserted it. I will be posting a substantive post soon. Right now we are in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, arrived Jan. 16. We are having to extend our three-month visa into a six-month visa and that is taking some time, so we are marooned here until the bureaucratic wheels grind. That will take several more weeks, and then we fly to Khujand. I will prepare a post on our laptop, so next time I have access to wifi I can post. Pictures of a big Buddha and lovely, pastel buildings along Rudaki Ave. are coming up.

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Hagia Sofia 3 of 3

ImageHagia Sophia has the strangest angels. Each of the four corners of the dome has a seraphim. Three of them have gold masks, one has a face. I couldn’t verify this information, but piecing together from several guidebooks, I suspect that the face was painted in by the Swiss Frotelli brothers, who renovated the seraphim in the 19th century. Interestingly, it was still being used as a mosque, so I wonder how that got by.

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Hagia Sophia 2 of 3

Designed by geometricians, Hagia Sofia’s dome is particularly spectacular. It is supposed to look as if it is being held aloft by a string from the heavens and just lightly resting on the church itself. One of the primary ways this is achieved is that at base of the dome is a series of windows all the way around. Rick Steeves points out that the dome is so tall and wide that Notre Dame in Paris could fit under it and the Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks there (although not both at the same time).


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