Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bishtek

I fell woefully far behind on the blog, and this is my attempt at catching up…

Back in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the Dellas had the big performance at the lavish yellow Opera House.  The performance was the culmination of events celebrating 20 years of US-Kyrgyz friendship. 

I wheeled the large bass over to the hall that was just up the street from our hotel.  Hanging from the front columns in the giant portico was a 20 ft banner of Della Mae for the evening’s concert.  We were supposed to come through the back door, but I didn’t want to wheel the bass through the snow so I stopped at the front, thinking that they could let me in.  I thought wrong, and waited a good 20 minutes out front as the theater staff looked to find a key to open the front door. 

Once inside, the ornate performance hall mesmerized me.  The marble entryway with pastel yellow walls led into a phenomenally ornate hall with a light blue fresco dome featuring paintings of Kyrgyz folk life.  The crushed red velvet seats fit nicely in the bronzed hall, and the stage was covered in beautiful Kyrgyz felt carpets as decorations.

The day was spent with the Dellas practicing with their Kyrgyz folk troupe doppelgangers Ustatshakirt.  Meanwhile, the hallways were filled with the sound of practicing opera singers from another dressing room, something that reminded me of my LA home.  There were some soundcheck issues that was getting parties a little skittish, so I ran back to the hotel for espresso and vodka.  Given that there was no such things as “to go” for the espresso, I had the barista fill up a water bottle with the gummi berry juice, and I filled up another empty water bottle with artisanal water.  Both proved to be remedies for what ailed.

The soundchecks and warm-ups finished, and we hung out in the greenroom, eating dried fruits and nuts.  I went out for an Indian food run for dinner at a place we had frequented a day or two prior and had really liked.  I racked up a big enough bill for malai kofta, palak paneer and gulab jamun that the place offered to deliver. 

We had a green room full of food and drinks (artisanal water, Kyrgyz brandy) but no cups or utensils, so I raided the snack bar in true Pablo fashion.  I walked up to the snack bar and started taking the glasses.  The girl behind the counter protested, saying that I couldn’t do that.  “Yes, I can,” I said as I smiled and started to walk away.  “You can’t, but I will give you plastic cups,” she replied.  Throw in some plastic plates, and you have a deal.  I had to work much harder for metal spoons, promising I would return them- washed- in thirty minutes.  In the end, the dish ran away with the spoon.

The concert was a huge hit.  The US Ambassador spoke briefly to begin, then the Dellas put on an excellent show.  The real highlight from the program was the collaboration with Ustatshakirt.  The audience went absolutely nuts with the joint performances.  They loved the Dellas playing Kyrgyz music, and the Kyrgyz folk troupe playing bluegrass.  I am posting the videos again, because I think they are tremendously fine examples of what cultural diplomacy is all about.  The “Aged Pine” video is especially poignant, as it was written by Celia as her father was battling cancer, a fight he ultimately lost just about 2 years ago prior.  Before the show, Celia had told our Embassy partner Kamila, who had just lost her mother and had just ended the period of mourning the day prior, that she was playing the song in honor of her mother as well.

The next day was a rest day, one that was much needed.  I woke up early, and headed to the department store Tsum for a little shopping.  This proved a bit frustrating.  There was an antique kiosk with a pocket watch that I really liked.  It was a silver watch that said “Kyrgyzstan” in Cyrillic, with a bird on the front.  I started negotiating with the woman who ran the store through another intermediary who spoke English.  The initial price tag said it was $125 or so, but the woman dropped the price to about $100.  I started at $50 and was working my way up.  I spoke to the quality of the watch, which I could see, but also that it was a bit worn.  I was pushing a bit more for a better price, and I thought we were close.  She was down to $90 and I was up to $75, and probably would have agreed to $85.  Then the woman said something that floored me.  She then rudely said, “in my culture, men don’t negotiate with women.”  Right, I should just take the price you ask, when everyone else bargains?  I blithely apologized for culturally offending her, and promptly left.  In Kyrgyz culture, men don’t negotiate with women… they steal them, so spare me the merchant’s false offense.

The day limped on in a similar fashion.  The Dellas went out shopping at a Christmas market, and I worked up in the café, staring out at the Tien Shan mountains that were blocked by fog.  That night, we all got together for dinner at the Indian restaurant again to celebrate Jenni Lyn’s birthday on the following day (which I previously wrote about In the Dush). There was a gift exchange, as this would be the last time we were all together.  The Dellas gave me a lovely handmade scarf that they had bought me as a gift for my hard work on behalf of their tour.  The rest of the night was spent trying to stay awake ahead of the trip to the airport for Jenni Lyn’s flight out.

Sans Jenni Lyn, we made our way the next day out of Bishkek to the last stop Dushanbe.  We ran into a little snag as we were leaving the hotel.  Jenni had left a few things for the rest of the Dellas to pick up from her room, and they had told the front desk not to clean up the room.  But the message was never relayed, and everything left was moved out, including a microphone.  The Dellas explained this to the front desk, and even went looking for the stuff in the cleaning room.  They found everything but the microphone.  Frustrating.

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