Samarkand: "Dilnoza, Feruza, Ozoda"

May 27, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

The Antica Bed & Breakfast in Samarkand was an excellent spot to make new friends. I met Alice, traveling alone around the world; Stephen from the mountains of Austria; Nick, a milkman from Liverpool; Sean and Marissa from the Ivy League (both speak fluent Russian); Matt, an American diplomat posted in Latvia; a group of documentary film-makers from Iran; and Peter from Holland.

I met Antoine and Julia with their two very young sons, Athur, 4 and Balthazar, 2 on an adventure through Central Asia.

Everyone is good company over buffet breakfast and multi-course traditional dinner as we exchange our travel stories, suggestions, and political points of view.

(Some of us meet again and again as we travel the same route from city to city.)

And of course, there’s Aziza, our charming and helpful host and her Tajik family and staff.

I also met Tony, a lunatic of a Brit who, in his motor home, drove from London across Europe to Central Asia and points east I know not where. (He keeps a second motor home in Phoenix, Arizona. He has been to all fifty of the United States.)  I met a couple from Berne – she’s Swiss, he’s Turkish.

Another young Swiss couple, Mark and Maria are heading west on their monster BMW motorcycles driving from Beijing to Istanbul. (They call their moms every day.) They told me of another young man who had peddled (yes, peddled as in bicycle) from Barcelona to Tashkent!

All this should be no surprise. It is as it should be. After all, I am in Samarkand.

For centuries, from the Fifth Century BC and onward, Samarkand, has been at the crossroads leading east to China, south to India, west to Persia, and beyond. Conquerors and adventurers, tradesman and craftsmen, monks and merchants have traveled here on foot, horseback and camel caravan to seek power, influence and wealth. Here in Samarkand, art and architecture, music and religion, language and culture are mixed and remixed and disseminated to the South China Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and to the Mediterranean.

My new friends and I have come to Samarkand seeking neither glory nor fortune. (Although it is tempting to open a rug and textile importing business back home.)  As many travelers before us, we have come to see the sights and to learn a little bit of history. And what better way to see and to learn than through the eyes of a local citizen? And what better way for this ancient traveler than to see the sights through a pair of young and pretty eyes?

Dilnoza, Feruza, and Ozoda were an indispensable trio. University language students all, they helped me with merchants, money-changers, menus and taxi drivers. And they were simply delightful as they escorted Papa Jan for meals and dancing.  And, oh yes, I even saw some sights!  And I took pictures from dawn ‘til dusk.

At daybreak, the light is soft and golden. At nightfall, the light is rosy and then mysterious. During the day, the cloudless sky, the hot sun, and the desert air bake the enormous, decorated domes and minarets into a brilliant puzzle of blue and azure

Seeing the sights raises more questions than it answers. Why is the Tomb of Daniel so long? Why are there animals depicted on the front of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medrassa of The Registan? Why are the tops of modern tombstones cut at an angle? Why is there a line of narrow trees in front of a private home? Where do tulips come from? My Dutch friend Roel answered that one.

My American friend Oscar, a scholar of the Ancient Near East asked me an even more profound question: “Why, Jan, are you still single? I always see you with a beautiful shiksa!”  My friend Dodie remarks, “Jan, you always manage to photograph the pretty girls.”

All of this is a mystery. There are many mysteries and many charms in this ancient cradle of civilization.


Jan . . . A mystery sometimes.

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