Uzbekistan: "What's in a name? Everything!"

Bangkok, Thailand

May 15th, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Have you ever wanted to go to a place just because you liked the sound of its name?

Lake Titicaca?  How about The Transvaal? Timbuktu?

Timbuktu. Say it quietly, "Tim....buk....tooo." Doesn't that sound enchanting? Lake Titicaca? The Transvaal? Do we even know where these places are? Do we care? Don't the names themselves make you want to buy a ticket?

What about Sevastopol? Sounds so exotic.

Patagonia? Sounds so spacious.

I do have a long "To See" list.

Many years ago I did indulge my sonant fantasy. For no other reason than its sound, I wanted to see Sicily. I flew to Rome, rented a car, drove down the Amalfi Coast, and took the ferry across the Strait of Messina.

What a surprise! I had no idea that I would find Greek temples in Agrigento, and medieval churches in Cefalù. The homes of Archimedes, Pindar and Aeschylus are in Siracusa. There really is a town called Corleone. On the Aeolian Island of Vulcano, I took a bubbling-hot volcanic mud-bath followed by a boiling-salt-water-rinse in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In Agrigento, the grilled swordfish on my luncheon plate swam that very morning in the Mediterranean Sea. At least that's what the waiter told me as he gazed beyond the window of the hilltop Ristorante Caprice. He nodded to the sea and proclaimed, "Pesce spada, la mattina, la!"

A few years ago, my acoustic-self flew south to "Mah Choo Pee Choo." Now admit it, doesn't that sound positively seductive? My friends in America, especially you Floridians, indulge yourselves and you will be seduced. Machu Picchu is a dream trip and Peru is closer than you think. ***

Tashkent was another place I always wanted to see. Tashkent? Where was it anyway? I didn't know and I didn't care. Tashkent sounds so ancient! So distant! So daring!

Tashkent: 400,000

Tashkent, Uzbekistan
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 A statue of Marx has been replaced by a suitably patriotic statue of Amir Timur on horseback.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...

Samarkand: "Welcome to Central Asia"

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

May 26th, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I got some advice from my friend Elias in Bangkok. He said, "Jan, when you board the Uzbekistan Airways airplane in Bangkok, ask to speak to the Chief of the Cabin Crew. Discreetly finger a fifty dollar bill and inquire, "Perhaps for small "fee" you have an extra Business Class seat?."

It worked, but I was so nervous I was not prepared for her answer. She looked at the 50 and replied, "Oh that is so leeettle."

After a little more encouragement, I took a seat up front for the overnight flight to Tashkent.

Welcome to Central Asia where everything is negotaible: taxi rides, hotel rooms, food at the market, clothing, and airplane seats!

Uzbekistan is a wonderful surprise. The weather is clear, hot and dry in the daytime and cool at night. Everyone is friendly and welcoming. The food is tasty and plentiful and filling. Plov and shashlik top the menus. The bread is unique and delicious. Fresh vegetables and fruit are everywhere. Cherries and apricots and strawberries are piled high in the markets. Until now, I had forgotten what a fresh tomato tastes like.


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.

Samarkand: The Jewish Quarter and The Registan

Ozoda Sayidakhmedova
Samarkand, Uzbekistan
May 29, 2009

Dear Ozoda,
Cc: Family and Friends

Thank you for being my personal guide in Samarkand. Without you, it would have been much more difficult to visit some of the sights. And since you are training to be a guide, I appreciate the information that you provided.

The Jewish Quarter in Samarkand was easy to find. But we did have to search around for the “Synagoga” and the lady with the keys. Tamara explained that the old Jewish public bathhouse and the synagogue are still in use but her children, like most of the young people, have emigrated to Israel. She was a bit sad when she admitted that no bar mitzvahs or weddings had taken place here in a long while.

Shakhrisabz: Graduation Day

May 28, 2009,

Dear Family and Friends,

You never know what you're going to find…..

In Samarkand, Matt, Stephen and I hired a driver for the day to take us to see the sights in Shakhrisabz, the hometown of Timur. (It took me almost a week to learn the pronunciation of this place.) We expected to see the Ak-Saray Palace ruins, the Kok-Gumbaz Mosque & Dorut Tilyomat, and the Khazrati-Imam Complex. I also hoped for some mountain scenery along the way.

We got all of that, and more.