May 22, 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
Now here's a delightful stroll:
The broad, shady walkways around Independence Park are lined with university halls, government buildings, flower gardens and rose bushes. A statue of Marx has been replaced by a suitably patriotic statue of Amir Timur on horseback. At Independence Square, the new senate building is guarded by a tall gate with good-luck pelicans at the top. Near the gate, Lenin gave way to a large statue of a seated Uzbek woman gazing into the eyes of her infant child.
At the far side of the park is another woman, The Crying Mother Monument. The monument was built in 1999 to honor the four hundred thousand Uzbek soldiers who died fighting for The Soviet Union in World War II. In front of the statue is an eternal flame. *
The names of the fallen soldiers are engraved on brass plaques that swing like pages of a book. Many, many books. These books of the dead are attached to the walls of two parallel arcades. The Crying Mother cannot bear to face these pages.
I searched for my namesakes. I found a Poleshuk and a Livshis. (My mother's father changed his name from Yehoshua Lifschitz to Harry Lifson when he emigrated from Russia in 1903.) Perhaps P.Z. Poleshuk and G.A. Livshis were my relatives or distant cousins or no relative at all -- just a namesake from our distant tribe, but a namesake and a casualty nonetheless.
My favorite sight in Tashkent is the Chorsu Bazaar. As my guidebook says, "If it grows and it's edible, it's here." ** The stalls in this domed market are piled high with miniature domes of fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, and cheese. The unique tones of the herbs and spices outmatch even the largest assortment of pastel pencils.
I bargained hard for a bag of dried apricots and a bag of salted pistachio nuts, but I also was no match for the smiling boy-merchant.
Near the market are the Kulkedash Medrassa (religious school) and the adjacent Juma (Friday) Mosque. Since it was Friday, the mosque was crammed with hundreds of men at prayer. I wandered along the side of the outdoor prayer area towards a side street at the rear and waited until the sermon and prayers were finished.
A young man saw me, smiled and greeted me with "Salam aleicum." I immediately responded with my own smile and "Aleicum salam." Despite my camera in hand and my obvious appearance as a foreigner, I felt welcomed and safe in this ancient city.
I was also thinking that if only more folks greeted each other with "Peace be with you" there would be no further call to glorify our warriors and no need to build monuments of disconsolate women.
PS Regardless of the price, the dried apricots were a good buy. They provided a sweet snack every day for three weeks. I also learned the secret to opening a stubborn pistachio nut.
* The Soviet Union claims to have lost ten percent of its population in World War II. The Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan had a population of six and a half million in 1940. From that perspective, four hundred thousand is a resonable, albeit tragic, number.
** Central Asia. Bradley Mayhew, et al. Lonely Planet. 2007. Page 200.