Sunday, May 19, 2013


Today I finally tried the national dish of Uzbekistan--plov. 

But first let me catch you up on my amazing day in Samarkand, an ancient city about 90 minutes from Tashkent by train. This ancient city is best known for its location on the famous Silk Road between China and the West.

There we saw: Sharh-i-Zindar, Gur Emir, Registan, and Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum. Google any of these for pictures of these gorgeous sites, with intricate mosaics and blue domed buildings. 

It was quite hot, but worth every minute in the blazing sun to gaze at the domes sparkling in the sunlight and to learn about the culture here.

I loved the stories of Timur and how he put one pomegranate seed for every soldier in a trough before battle; when they returned, they each took just one from the trough and that is how he calculated how many soldiers were lost. Also: his tomb has an inscription that warns not to touch it. After it was opened in the 1940s, World War ll began; afterStalin moved it, Leningrad fell. I love stories like these that add to the historical facts.

We met with a group of teachers and students at a university (great mural on the walls of the Silk Road) and we got to do a little shopping (scored a beautiful silk scarf for Gogo) before taking the train back. Once at our hotel, we went for some beers and conversation before collapsing (Ah! Jet lag!)

Today was simply great. Not only did we get to sleep in, but our first stop of the day was the Bazaar for shopping. Uzbekistan is famous for embroidered cloth called suzanes, in particular with a motif of pomegranates. I bought ten hand embroidered napkins and a purse for Annabelle as well as a beautiful bedspread. Also bought little fat ceramic men holding out the famous bread they make here, which is round and layered with designs of flowers or fruit stamped into it, or making pots of plov.

From there we took the very beautiful metro with its art deco stations and speedy trains to Independence Square, a gorgeous plaza of fountains and flowers with an arch topped with many silver storks. Through the arch you reach a statue of a woman holding a baby that reminded me of the pieta, except the baby represents Uzbekistan. We walked along shady paths lined with pine trees to the World War ll memorial, a stunning tribute to the two million Uzbeks who died in that war. there was an eternal flame looked upon by a statue of a grieving woman, and two buildings that housed engraved plates of the names of those lost in the war. This place moved me to tears. 

The day was cool and breezy, and it was so pleasant to spend all that time outdoors.

But it was lunch now, and time for plov. We went to a very traditional restaurant, that looks Turkish in some ways, with cushioned seats and baskets and benches. The plov is rice, carrots, peppers, raisins, chickpeas, lamb, and...yes, folks, horse. I admit I did not try the horse meat. But the rest was quite delicious.

From there it was an hour and half ride on bumpy roads to teach writing workshops to high school students who are in a special program via the Embassy. Many cows and goats walked past us on the way, and I saw people working in the fields (I think it was cotton). The students were enthusiastic, and eager to try their new English skills. At the end of our afternoon with them, they performed traditional Uzbek dances and songs. All marvelous and touching.

Dinner back in Tashkent at a Turkish restaurant, sitting outside under colorful blankets they provided. After our chicken kebobs and tea, I was happy to come back to my room and have some local beer, try to Skype with home (mostly unsuccessful) and climb into bed.

I got lots of knitting done on the train yesterday, but left it behind for the long car rides today--drat! I did finish STILL MIDNIGHT on tape, and started THE END OF THE WASP SEASON but then realized that's the third one, so when I start up again I will go to GODS AND BEASTS instead. Now I'm going to turn to Kate Atkinson's LIFE AFTER LIFE, which is amazing! Brilliant!

A full day tomorrow, including events at the gorgeous National Library. Until then...