Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bluzgrass


The days in Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan have passed, the time was frenetic but fun. 

On Saturday, after the masterclass/jam session at the Pop Circus College, we had lunch at the National Plov Centre.  The huge hall served up the national dish of Uz.  We got bowls of pilaf with lamb, chickpeas, slivered yellow carrots and quail eggs.  I got to try a piece of horse sausage— it was not that bad. It tasted a bit like roast beef.  Our embassy hosts had place tone down the grease of the plov (as it is cooked in heaping amounts of rendered lamb fat), but it still proved a lil too greasy for them. 

After lunch, we went to the studio of the Uzbek musician Jassur, who the Dellas would be performing with at their big concert on Monday.  It was fun to watch them jam together over different styles and different instruments as they worked on the Uzbek fav, “The Andijon Polka.”

That evening, we had a lovely diplomatic soiree at the Ambassador’s residence.  The Dellas performed some of their own music and played with local musician Jassur and some of his bandmates.  The ambassador was a gracious host, and pinned Uzbek-American flags on each of the Dellas.  He gave us all small medal-coins.

Sunday was a rest day, and was spent shopping.  This Virgil led the Dellas through the magnificent Tashkent Underground, on to the huge bazaar Chorsu.  We wandered through the Spice Dome, with the Dellas picking up paprika, cumin and saffron.  We tasted tart dried cheese balls and salty pickles as we circled the Spice Dome.  From there, on to silk shopping as the Dellas bought meter after meter of the silken fabric.    

Monday was spent soundchecking at the lovely Turkestan Palace.  The concert hall had crushed velvet seats, and a giant florid eye above.  Outside in the entry hall there were giant pastel paintings above of scenes of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.  The soundcheck took a while to get situated, as things are never quite easy.  After fiddling with the two bands sound checks, we spent the day resting a bit ahead of the concert.  The Dellas had a nice session with Uzbek students studying English, who got to sit in on their warm-up.

A quick soundcheck prior showed some holes in the previous soundcheck, and got everyone a bit skittish, so I sent for a bottle of vodka to steel the nerves.  That did the trick, and the show was a huge hit.  The packed hall loved the fast, rhythmic melodies of the bluegrass tunes, and the Dellas charm won them over quite quickly.  And their jam session of Uzbek music with Jassur & Sultan had the crowd roaring in their seats.  They finished with everyone playing a Della song called “Stay All Night,” which is more about jamming late than amorous encounters, but got a big laugh from the audience in a cute lost-in-translation moment.

Tuesday was busy, with no rest for the weary.  We had to depart to the airport around 6:30am for an 8am flight to Urgench in the very west of Uzbekistan.  In Urgench, we got to tour the fabled Silk Road city of Khiva, with its mud-ochre fortress walls and azure majolica and mosaica.  The freezing winds were whipping through the old city, as we toured about the blue and white beauty.  And there were a ton of people getting married.  We must have seen 5 or so brides and grooms walking through the city for wedding marches.  And it was cold.  Those poor brides in their white gowns with nothing covering their arms from the cold.

After the chilled tour, the Dellas went on to the Khorasm Music College.  They received a local show of traditional Khorasmi music and dance, with all sorts of fun instruments and costumes.  Then they played for the music students, and had them tappin’ to the pickin’.  The musicians came back on stage for the Dellas to collaborate on some Uzbek music, and the crowd went nuts when they all played the “Andijon Polka.” 

Afterwards, they met with and played for a whole group of Uzbek English students at Urgench State University (“The Fightin’ Khoarasmi!”), and the adorable students put on a puppet show to display their English skills, plus some song and dance.  Then they peppered the Dellas with questions to practice their English. 

We ended our time in Urgench with dinner in a colorful yert.  We had local river fish served in two varieties, cooked in peppers and tomatoes and fried.  We then headed back to the tiny Urgench airport and caught the flight back to Tashkent.
The last day in Tashkent was a bit of a down day.  We did some final shopping in the market for instruments, silks and ceramics.  Kimber the fiddler got two traditional instruments (a 2-stringed dutar and a mellon-bowled rubab), and most of the girls picked up doyras, traditional Uzbek drums with rings inside.  I got myself what I think is a Zoroastrian-styled tapestry.  While the girls went to get more silks, Greta the CAO, Celia and I went to a master potter’s studio, and I got some beautiful crafts that the Embassy is shipping home for me.
We headed over to the Embassy to ship stuff and the Dellas did some interviews with the local press, then they raided the commissary for things like peanut butter and other accoutrements of home.  We grabbed some dinner then headed off to the airport for our flight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.  We got there with 2 hours to space, but the gate didn’t open for a while so we hung out in the airport killing time.  Finally, the desk opened with about an hour and change until the flight and our Russian bear of an expediter Andre muscled his way to the front.  We checked our bags, and bid farewell to Greta- the Cultural Affairs Officer who had been working with us from the US Embassy.  It was poignant because this was Greta’s last project before she heads out in a few days back to the US and eventually on to her next assignment in Peru.  She really enjoyed having the Dellas and an all-girl bluegrass band as her final project.
We passed our way through customs and security, and all the forms I had so dutifully kept and warned the girls to hold on to tightly were not checked.  We climbed onto our tiny Uzbek Air puddle jumper, sitting snug as bugs in the tiny plane. 
About 2 hours later, we arrived in Ashgabat.  We were shepherded to the CIP (VIP) lounge to wait while our visa forms were expeditously handled.  By around midnight, we were to the Ak Altayn (White Gold) Hotel in Ashgabat.  Happy Turkey Day from Turkmenistan!!

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