East of Paris Bookstore

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Birthday Burgundy

Yesterday was Mr. Wonderful's birthday.  Which one?  Well, let's agree that after 45 they are all significant and preferable to the alternative.  We merely hope that we are another year wiser, more compassionate, and generally speaking better human beings than the year(s) prior.

Mr. W & I drove to La Jolla for a day of art gallery wandering, window shopping and a nice, long, late lunch at the La Valencia hotel.  We watched the ocean waves and lingered over a goat cheese cheesecake birthday-cake with strawberries "tatar" spiced with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Interesting.  

As for his official birthday present, I gave Mr. Wonderful Clive Coates' book on the wines of his favorite region -- Burgundy.  Louis XIV was said to drink a bottle of Nuits St. George every night.  Given the hygiene standards in the 1600-1700s and the fact that he was the longest living French king ever [Louis XIV lived to age 77] says a lot for the benefits of Burgundian red wine.

To go with the book, we opened a bottle of 1999 Faiveley, Latricières-Chambertin, Grand Cru.  Mr. Wonderful decanted it and tasted.  He pronounced it very fine.  I tasted it and said I thought it had turned.  So, there was more of the '99 Faiveley for him and I switched to Veuve Clicquot.  It was, as they say in nouveau corporate-speak, a "win-win."

For more about Faiveley, go here.  For more about Veuve-Clicquot, go here.  For more about Nuits St. George, go here.  Better yet:  go to your favorite wine store!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Long ago I sat in class next to a boy whose family had emigrated from Tashkent [locally now called "Toshkent"] and it seemed impossibly exotic.  But, fly away and follow some road signs, and there you are.

The old city is twisting narrow streets and charming surprises.

We also visited a ceramic artist's studio, where for six generations the family has been making beautiful pottery.

Sitting in the courtyard, which had a pomegranate and other fruit trees was peaceful and relaxing.

Now, it they would only ship their wares; carrying fragile or large objects is too uncertain.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Madrasa Re-Use

In Samarqand we saw peacocks in a park
and dancing in a Madrasa ...
The Russian influence remains with classical dance ...
The ensemble "Topotuski"  was good, but ballet on carpeting is more than difficult.


Yes, there is a Samarqand  -- the sign says so! --

on the Silk Road
and I will write more about it soon and post photos.  Meanwhile, I have to recover from one of my more serious souvenirs:  a sore throat that turned into pneumonia.  It feels silly to take time off to recouperate from a "vacation" but it would be sillier not too.

Meanwhile, here is a peek  ...

at some of its wonderful architecture

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The traditional fourty days of morning after the April 6/7 deaths is not yet complete, and violence has not entirely been quelled in Kyrgyzstan, see this and this .  Our visit a few weeks ago, came during a lull.  Today's news indicates that Roza Otunbayeva, formerly head of the interim government, has now been appointed by that government as President until the end of December 2011.  See, this and this.  Apparently, the June 2010 referendum on a new constitution and on this appointment will go forward while the previsouly promised October 2010 elections are now on hold.  Apparently, also, Otunabyeva cannot be a member of a political party while in her new position and may not run for election as president in the December 2011 election.

Like a lot of things in this region, we will see what happens when it happens.  Meanwhile, ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are being stirred up and clan distrust is being exploited by the ex-president.

I thought that Roza Otunbayeva was strong, decisive, and capable when our group met her a few weeks ago.  If she meant what she told us, then I wish her and her compatriots well.  The question remains whether she can succeed in the games of brinksmanship currently swirling around her.

A makeshift memorial to those killed in early April in Bishkek.

Mr. Wonderful standing by a bullet
scarred wall-fence at the presidential
palace in Bishkek.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Khiva is a long way from anywhere.  On the way, we enjoyed watching a shepherd lead his flock for water at the Oxus River [now known as the Amu Darya River] .  

Khiva is an oasis in the Kyzyl Kum [red sands] desert:  dusty, less flashy than Bukhara or Samarqand, unique, somewhat depressing.    Parts of it remind me of Taos, New Mexico.

The streets of the old town are hard-packed dirt. 
 Women holding buckets of water, fling handfuls of water on the streets outside their homes and shops to bring down the dust.

The wall (much restored) surrounding the old own is a combination of tan brick and adobe.  Tombs, reminiscent in shape to those is Lycia, dot the ramparts of the outer wall to discourage superstitious enemies from attack.  More tombs rest on the inner side of the wall as well.

This was a center of centuries of multidirectional slave trade.  The faces of the people we see reflect a variety of ethnic ancestors both Asian and Russian.  This oppressive history makes the heat [nearly 100 F in May] harder to bear.  And, the beauty of the architecture and decorative tiles seems out of place. 

The decorative tiling is the only dash of color in this fortress.  

We see more green shades in the tile work than elsewhere in Uzbekistan, perhaps to make up for the lack of green in the landscape. Embedded in the walls are green pre-Islamic Zoroastrian symbols.  

The apple and paisley tile designs  in the Tash Hauli Palace are unique to this area.  

And, a lonely whitewashed walkway in the Harem:

Khiva is also home to the Dzhuma Mosque, whose cool and dark interior [shades of Cordoba] has a seeming forest of 115 carved wood columns:

The narrow bases of the wood columns are wrapped in camel hide as a protection from insects.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fruits and Nuts, Wine and Cheese

After more than three weeks in the "Stans" we are recuperating in Istanbul.  It is so bustling and rich in contrast to where we've been.  The food is sumptuous.  Even simple things like apricots stuffed with pistachios or figs stuffed with walnuts ... not to forget the first decent wine [French or Italian as opposed to local] we've had in weeks ;-)

Mezzas with flavor or

a little fluffy borek with cheese doesn't hurt either...

Ecumenical Patriarch

Yesterday, Mr. Wonderful and I had the distinct honor, pleasure, and blessing to meet His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Before leaving for Central Asia, I happened to mention to our Bishop Maxim that we would be in Istanbul in May and that it would be interesting to visit the Patriarchate.  Bishop Maxim arranged a visit with His All-Holiness as well.  [For those of you who are not Orthodox Christians, let me point out that this is a very big deal ... like a meeting with the Pope].

We took a chauffeured car to the Patriarchate in the Fener district of Istanbul.  There was a do-not-enter sign on the corner and four round yellow barrier posts blocking the street. As we pulled up, the security booth guards lowered the two middle posts and we were allowed to drive to the entrance.  Then, after a brief discussion with a Greek-speaking security man and an English-speaking deacon, we were in.  We waited briefly for 4:00 p.m., the time of our appointment, then we were promptly escorted to the office of His All Holiness.  

The office of the Patriarch is wood paneled and dominated by a desk laden with books and papers and files.  Clearly a place of work.  Our host was most gracious and insisted that we sit close to his desk while he leaned back in his chair and looked into our eyes.  Patriarch Bartholomew speaks excellent English and French, the languages in which we conversed.  Upon entering the office, we greeted him with "Christos Anesti" [Christ is Risen, in Greek], and he responded "Va Istinu Vaskrese" [Indeed He is Risen, in Serbian -- my ancestral language]. 

We spoke about a number of topics, while we were served spoons of sweet nougat in glasses of cold water plus cups of Turkish coffee.  His All-Holiness accepted a few gifts from us and gave us several books in return.  After a half hour, he invited us to stay for the vespers service on the eve of the Ascension [40 days after the Resurrection].

Before entering the church, the Patriarch chanted a number of readings in the entrance/narthex of the Church of St. George, which is within the compound of the Patriarchate.  Then he and the clergy processed into the church for the service.  The chanting in Greek by the tenor and baritone voices of the deacons and monks was beautiful.  An eerie moment happened when the voice of the local muezzin, calling the Muslim faithful to prayer, drifted into the church competing with our service.   Given that the Patriarchate is under various kinds of pressure by the Turkish government and that there are anti-Christian "incidents" here from time to time, we could feel the tension in the atmosphere and experienced the nervous glances of the people in the church.  Fortunately, nothing untoward occurred, and the vespers services ended calmly.  

At the end of the service, as His All-Holiness was leaving the church, he stopped to shake our hands, thanked us for our visit and wished us a safe journey home.  We were moved by his attention and truly joyous at having had such a special visit.

Below is a photo of a mosaic from the corner of the Church of St. George.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Almaty Scenes

Now that I am in a place where I can upload photos, here are some scenes from Almaty.


St. Nicholas Cathedral

Tulip Motif
Tulip motifs are everywhere

War Memorial -- Zenkov Cathedral in background

Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park

A bride playfully separated from her groom calls him on a cell phone

Traditional Kazakh Music

Lunch in a Yurt

Main course:  horse meat on flat noodles

Traditional Music

Mr. Wonderful among white painted trees

Hunting Birds

Hooded Falcon

Feisty  Owl

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