Monday, November 26, 2012

Saving US-Turkmen Relations


After the turkey day feast, Clinton Curtis, his drummer Drew and I picked up the libations, and we went back to the hotel to all hang out.  We drove through the fabulously lit city of Ashgabat, which is something akin to the Dubai of Central Asia.  All lits and glitz bouncing off the white marble.

Upon our return, we realized that Zaid- the sax man of the Ari Roland Quartet was lost.  He had been left at the dinner feast when he left the bus to use the bathroom.  As Tim Wilson always said, if you ain’t on the bus….

Ari Roland took a cab back and found poor Zaid along the way walking home.  It wasn’t close and it was practically freezing out.  Thankfully, Ari found Zaid, who had no dollars, manat (Turkmen money) on him, only Turkish lira and a bank card that wouldn’t possibly work.  Nor could he find a cab that would agree to let him run into the hotel to pay after arrival.  Luckily Ari found he wandering back

All the bands sat around, drinking vodka, amarula and Jameson, and having a fun time swapping stories.  At some point, the idea was thrown out that we would all skip the museum visit program slated for the following morning.

I woke up early Friday morning, and gave a little heads-up to the Embassy contacts that we were going to pass on the museum tours.  A few minutes later, a frantic phone call came back that this was not possible, and that the museum tours had been arranged by the Ministry of Culture, who would take it as a real slight if no one showed up.  Suddenly, the balance of US-Turkmen relations hung in my hands.  I managed to negotiate that we could simply offer a token showing from each group, and this was kosher.  I then went about rounding up band members to take part in the museum tour.

I ran into the Clintonistas in the lobby.  The poor fellows were so jetlagged, they hadn’t slept a wink all night.  I impressed upon them the urgency that a few come to the museum tour, and ultimately three agreed to come along.  Then I went about getting a few Dellas.  Jenni Lyn the mandolinist had expressed the slightest of interest in going, so I knocked on her door.  She wasn’t interested, so I begged and bribed and she agreed.  The Turkmen-US Friendship Society will be buying Jenni Lyn a small carpet.  I bumped into Courtney the guitarista in the lobby, and got her by hook and by crook.  Ari Roland and a few from his crew joined in as well.  In the end, we got enough of a representation to preserve US-Turkmen friendship one day longer. 

We had thought we were going to the Carpet Museum to see the formerly-World’s Largest Carpet, but rather that got scrapped, and we ended up at the Turkmenistan National Museum, where we learned everything we would ever want to know about the history of Turkmenistan and its people.  The museum was beautiful, marble with golden eagles out front and the world’s tallest flagpole at the entry way. 

Inside, we received a very thorough tour about Independent, Neutral Turkmenistan, its five regions and its ancient history.  The archeology section was interesting, even more so if we weren’t all so exhausted.  Then we visited the wing of gifts to the President, and his statements of his programs to better the nation, as well as a bevy of pictures of him with the people and carrying out various tasks like looking at x-rays or standing in fields of cotton. 

We finished in the hall of lavish gifts and presidential slogans, and were collecting our coats and walking out the door, when the director of the museum came running up to exclaim that we had missed the ethnographic wing.  Gleefully, we returned back inside to finish our museum tour. 

We returned back to the concert hall for a real sound check this time.  As the Dellas were soundchecking, the Clintonistas stopped in to listen and were very impressed.  A few broke out their phones to record the Dellas warming up, and sat rapt in attention during their session.

The other two groups warmed up, and returned to the dressing rooms.  I made a few stops to check out the crowd, and take in the Turkmen.  There were elder women in blue or green shawls with brightly colored bonnet-scarves.  The younger college-age girls were in long red dresses with bright square hats and Being the good band-aid that I am, I sent out for a bottle of vodka for each group to help lubricate the evening’s performance.  All the groups joined in the Dellas dressing room, as had drinks and ate fairly-edible Chinese food.  I called out a request for “Friend of the Devil,” and all got to singing and playing guitars.  ‘Twas a lot of fun. 

I missed a bit of the Dellas performance, as I was occupied with a tv interview with a Turkmen station.  Turkmen tv interviews are a bit different.  They don’t so much as ask you questions, but rather you are expected to pontificate for 2 minutes on relevant topics.  Back inside, apparently, no one was translating for them for the first few songs, so a bit got lost on the audience.  But once the translation bit worked out, the audience warmed up quickly to them. 

I popped back in for Ari Roland’s set, and then later for Clinton Curtis’ show.  At the end of Clinton Curtis’ performance, he called the Dellas back out on stage for an encore performance.  I left my bag at my seat as I got closer to take pictures of the encore.  After the show ended, since I had my camera wrapped around me I didn’t immediately go back for my bag.  Then as we were starting to get ready to leave, I realized I needed my bag.  I went back to look in the auditorium, but it was nowhere to be found.  I retraced all my steps, but it was gone.  I was hopping that a security guard or one of the volunteers had perhaps picked it up.  Everyone was leaving, and the Embassy folks offered to call about it the next day so I headed out.  I had my camera, but was missing a new 300mm lens, an old I-pod mini, a rough guide to Central Asia and a swiss-army knife, and most importantly, my journal.  All the other stuff was replaceable, but it pained me the most to have lost my journal.

1 comment:

Abba said...

ouch