David writes about our stay in Tajikistan for his own email list. Sometimes I crib a thought or two, but this time I wanted to repost in its entirety. We both took the photographs. As to the writing, I put in the paragraphs. Otherwise, the following narrative is David’s. The photos follow.
Navruz really has ushered in the spring. For 35 miles or more along the road south of the Kairakum Reservoir, apricot trees are lavishly blooming in orchards that straddle the road and stretch down to the reservoir in the north and back sometimes almost to the mountains in the south. And they vie with each other like weeds for every patch of spare ground in the villages.
Dependent now on a water table fed by runoff from the mountains, in Soviet times, the trees were irrigated by means of electric pumping stations and miles and miles of concrete aqueducts. Now the aqueducts are broken and tumbled and the pumping stations frozen up with rust because there’s no longer enough electricity.
In every village and town, on both sides of every residential street, natural gas pipes with about a two-inch diameter run along the walls that enclose the houses. You can reach up about a foot or so over your head and touch them. They rest on metal struts secured to the ground. When the pipes reach an intersection, they bend up, cross the street and bend back down in a serious of right angles that provide a passageway for cars, vans, and busses. Smaller pipes diverge from these larger ones and run into each house along the street.
I wouldn’t call this delivery system safe because any vehicle could ram and destroy the supporting struts. And a suicidal vandal with a hammer and a match could unleash the furies. But in Soviet times it got the gas to where it needed to be, and I’ve seen on the Russian documentary channel the same system today in rural Russia. But now since the Uzbeks have closed the gas valves, the pipes scale and buckle and sunder and would need to be replaced from square one if the Tajiks and Uzbeks should ever strike a deal.
Thus as the wave of empire recedes, it leaves a technological jetsam and a cultural vacuum. So Hadrian’s Wall stands abandoned and crumbling at the high water mark of Roman expansion. And when Rome could no longer afford to maintain its legions in Britain, the Britons were abandoned to defend themselves against the pesky Picts as best they could.
And thus as economies wither, cultural beacons retreat from the far-flung corners they once illuminated and settle back toward the centers of contracting wealth and waning power from which they emerged. So the libraries of Khotan and Bukhara and a thousand others, past, present, and future, fall prey to the worms when taxation and ordered authority can no longer nourish them. So the flourishing entrepôts of the Silk Road vanished under the sands, and the empty shopping malls of northwest Ohio wax weedy and crooked as fingers are sacrificed to the cold when blood is needed at the heart.