Following the hotel fiasco, I got in-touch with my Consulate contact the next day. She was mortified to find out what had transpired. Apparently, the Consulate’s booking agency had made the reservation for October not November. And she had not been allowed to meet us at the airport as she usually would because of issues with overtime. But it was okay. She asked if we could switch hotels that day, but I explained that given the late arrival and the need to really rest, we needed to stay put and could move the next day. That was acceptable and understood.
We finally had a solid rest day of no travel, no touring and no activities. It was needed for all. I didn’t have a complete day of rest, as I needed to do a bit of work but still it was a welcome break. I took a little walk out and about in the city. Along my route, a car had broken down with a flat tire on the tram tracks, and the tram operators were stopped at either end of the intersection, sitting back napping with their feet up on the dash as they waited for the car to be moved. I wandered my way to the grocery store, where I picked up a variety of salads for the girls and I to picnic on back at the hotel. I also picked up a bottle of khymis- fermented mare’s milk. The fermented mare’s milk was bubbly and pungent, and tasted just like what you would expect from something from a horse’s teat.
The girls sent their laundry out, something that proved unexpectedly and unbelievably costly (thanks per diem), and lounged around at the spa and otherwise. The spa had a floridly tiled Turkish bath (hamam), a wonderful marble steam room and an excellent sauna—just the ticket to cook the chest cold out of me. I lounged around the evening, drinking vodka and eating potato and leak soup with quail eggs, while reading Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. The rest day was restful, and everyone regained some vigor and glow.
Back to work on Tuesday. We had a bit of confusion trying to check out, as I had the Dellas put their per diem hotel rate on their cards, and I picked up the difference of charges on the biz card while they separately paid for their own laundry and minibar. Sounds easy in theory but not so in practice. And the laundry bills came back astronomically high. We probably bought the hotel a new washer/dryer.
We headed over to the State Philharmonic to do a sound check and rehearsal with the local Kazakh musicians who the Dellas would be playing with that night. The theater was gorgeous, with Kazakh music legends on giant seals looming high above the theater and white stucco designs swirling about. The sound check was the best of the ‘Stans, with two Russian bears who knew their craft. After the quick sound check, the Dellas got to work learning the local fav “Illigay” with a dumbro player and a woman who played a flute that looked kinda like a potato with a few holes in it. After a few hours, they all felt comfortable with the musical exchange for the evening’s show. We were also supposed to have a collaboration with the Kazakh philharmonic, but that fell apart last minute and they instead would play a song or two of their own that evening.
We checked into the original hotel, a lovely, modern Ikea-esque establishment called the Dostyk Hotel. The girls went on their way, and I wandered around the city to do a lil people watching. Kazakhstan is quite a bit more cosmopolitan and affluent compared to its neighbors. Its GDP is about 3 times as high as the rest of the region, thanks to an abundance of oil and natural gas. It showed in the fashion and favor of the people I saw. And I found the place to be so utterly counter-intuitive. Asian faces meet Russian fashion. It threw me a bit to hear Russian come out of the countenance bearing almond eyes and wide, pronounced Asian cheeks. I enjoyed my wanderings around the snow-covered city, taking in views of the mountain range in the distance, and made my way back to meet up with the girls ahead of the evening’s concert.
The evening’s concert was a lot of fun. Prior to the concert, the Kazakh philharmonic was warming up on traditional Kazakh instruments, and the Dellas fell in love. I lost Kimber the fiddler, who had found her way into their practice session and was playing her fiddle with a troupe of khobuz (beautiful bridgeless violin) players. While the Dellas played, the phil musicians were lined up off stage, listening in. It is always a good sign when musicians drop what they are doing to listen in on other musicians. The collaboration with the traditional musicians went extremely well, and the crowd went nuts when the Dellas played the Kazakh favorite.
For dinner, my friend Adam, who works on ethno-musicology of the region and his Kazakh girlfriend, as well as the pao Tristram, joined the Dellas and me. Over vodka and thinly-sliced horse meat and other Kazakh delicacies, we had a long evening of fun. Thankfully, the flat tire gods kept things from really getting out of hand, but bababalas ensued anyways.