East of Paris Bookstore

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Happy Anniverary

Last week Mr. Wonderful and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.  When deciding where to go for a few days, we used the same criteria as we did in picking a honeymoon destination:  same time zone, not too hot.  And, recently having been far away, we did not want to get on an airplane.  We went to Whistler, Canada for our honeymoon; this time we went to the The Resort at Pelican Hill  in Newport Beach, California.  The resort is only a half hour from our home and June weather is mild here.  As an added benefit, the best-of-mothers-in-law [my mom] took care of young Miss Wonderful and promised not to give her too many Milk Bones.
A brief word about my marriage.  First, getting married at age 40+ to a man who shares many of my interests, views, and foibles is concrete proof that miracles do happen -- then and everyday since.  Second, anniversaries, like marriages, have their pluses, like the spa at Pelican Hill, and their compromises, we played golf ... twice.  We gave each other thoughful gifts:  he was not required to watch the wedding videos [at least for now!] and I did not have to get on the treadmill he gave me for my birthday [at least until July!].  And we generally had fun: he watching the golf chanel, me reading thrillers on my iPad, and other activities that I will leave to the imagination.
Now, about the resort.   It's seemed so strange to go somewhere close to home, but I'm glad we did.  It is one of the nicest places we've stayed. We had a luxurious spacious "bungalow" with an ocean view.  There was wi-fi [which I consider a necessity, like hot water] everywhere and it was included in the price -- all hotels should do this.  The room had a Cuisinart grind and brew coffee maker, a bit tricky to use but worth figuring out since the organic beans provided made a splendid pot of coffee. The shower was separate from the tub and with room for the proverbial two; on the other hand, flow restrictors took the oomph out of the rain shower head.  [Don't the enviro people understand that if there are flow restrictors, you have to spend twice as much time in the shower to rise out  shampoo?]

The enormous circular salt-water pool was fun to swim across.  Then we sat on lounge chairs admiring the view and reading.  The spa facilities were excellent.  Before my massage appointment, I took advantage of the eucalytpus scented steam room and then soaked in the large rectangular hot salt-water whirlpool.  The spa was virtually empty when I was there and it felt utterly luxurous having the facilities to myself.  If anything, I missed not having a wide-toothed comb or brush [as are provided in other spas] to use after washing my hair.  Otherwise, it was as good as it gets.  The resort's website has beautiful photos.

We loved our dinner at Andrea, the Tuscan themed main restaurant at the resort. 
The service was seemless and attentive without being obsequious.  The menu was varied and everything we ordered was delicous.  For example, scallops had just a touch of chopped pancetta adding flavor but not overpowering the main item. The osso bucco was fork tender and the bone yielded lots of juicy marrow.  

The next day we went somewhere else and shared a slice of tiramisou  ... its very name makes it the perfect anniversary dessert.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Samarqand -- Tiles

In Samarqand, the blues and turquoises in the tiles are breath taking and the designs endlessly beautiful.  These artistic and architectural gems, in Samarqand and other cities we visited, seem concentrated in the 3-Ms:  mausoleums, mosques and madrasas.  Here are some samples just of tile work and the ravages of time and weather leading to plants growing on a dome.

Fashion Shows

In Samarqand and Bukhara we attended performances of folk dance interspersed with fashion shows from local designers.  Some of the items were fantastic.

P.S. The red carpets above are in the traditional "Bokhara" pattern.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Penjikent School

While in Penjikent, Tajikistan, we visited a remarkable school.  It is a "college" where students learn English, math, and several other specialities.  The students focusing on English studies and their professor opened the facility for us on a Sunday and proudly showed us their classrooms.

As I mentioned in my prior post about Penjikent,here, the area is very poor and virtually all construction stopped some 20 years ago after the Soviet Union disintegrated.  The school, is no exception; it's physical plant is in bad shape and you can smell crumbling concrete dust in the hallways and on the stairs, but everything else is neat and orderly.  The sign above the hallway arch says in Tajik and in Russian: "Quiet! Classes are in Progress."

The professor of English was a kindly and impressive gentleman, and his students were an enthusiastic group.  One of them took out a boom-box and showed us a sample of ethnic dance.  Others told our group about their lives and their favorite authors -- Mark Twain and Jack London.  Then we got to ask some questions. Naturally, the girls were more outspoken than the young men!
The visit was great fun.  Here are some photos of signs in the classrooms.

More Samarqand Memories

While I took more than 1100 photos on our trip, I simply cannot post them all.  However, here are more memories of Samarqand.  The photos were taken at the Registan, the square framed by three madrasas, the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane, and the gigantic Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane's favorite wife as a surprise for him. [He had to kill the architect though for getting a bit too close to Bibi Khanum,.  Not sure she survived either.  Well, if you're going to be the conqueror of the world and all that, you can't take slights lightly.]

Zoroastrian influences appear in the human/lion figures in the tile work, above.

Tamerlane and some of his relatives; their final resting places seem a bit narrow.

Entrance to the Bibi Khanum mosque complex.

A Koran stand at the Bibi Khanum mosque.  

The Koran, whose pages are made of leather, that purportedly was intended for use on this stand is now in Tashkent [no photos were allowed] after a long detour in St. Petersburg.

Making Felt

The situation in Kyrgyzstan remains unsettled and more people have been killed in the south -- the clan stronghold of the recently ousted president.  The referendum on a new constitution remains months in the future and nature seems to abhor the power vacuum. As factions position for power and the concomitant access to money and resources, ordinary people are put at grave risk.

While hoping for a decent outcome in Kyryzstan, I remembered a little gem of safety and fun that we visited in Bishkek.  It was a children's craft center.  The center consists of a group of brightly colored little buildings, like trailers, surrounded by dull high-rise concrete block apartments.  The center gives orphans and at-risk kids a safe place to play and learn crafts.  Their handiwork is on display and for sale.

One of the teachers gave a demonstration of how to make felt, which is used for clothing as well as to make yurts.  On a tabletop, she began placing hunks of raw wool, about two-inches square, that she pulled from a long snake-like bundle. She overlapped the strands from the end of the first hunk with the thicker top pull of the next hunk.  After she finished one row, she began the next row placing the hunks of wool perpendicular to those in the prior row with a slight overlap between rows.  

She completed a series of rows forming a rectangle, and then added an abstract design by laying colored strands of rolled wool on top.  Then she covered the completed design with a smooth piece of fabric, which she proceeded to throughly wet with water from the green basin on the table next to the felt rectangle. 

The teacher then took a wet hand towel and pressing down with her hand methodically "ironed" the wet cloth from right to left, then up and down.  She explained that the more the felt is watered and "ironed" the denser and finer the finished product will be.  After the felt is dry, it is ready to use.

The finished product.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


On a day trip to Tajikistan, we visited excavations of a 5th - 9th century settlement and a school.  Getting there was arduous and the boarder crossing out of Uzbekistan into Tajikistan and back took several hours in each direction. The experience was worth it.

We drove through grasslands and cotton fields for hours. Here is a photo of Mr. Wonderful and me by an irrigation canal near the endless cotton fields that are draining the Aral sea.

As we neared Penjikent, our destination, we noticed a group of construction cranes. We thought there was a building project in progress, but upon seeing the cranes we realized they were frozen in place with rust and decay. Our guide told us that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cranes and lots of other machinery stopped working and has been standing in the elements unused and unusable.

Another feature of the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfinished apartment buildings. Construction on various pre-fabricated concrete towers simply stopped 20 years ago. People have moved into the lower floors that were finished or "almost " finished. The upper floors are open, beams rusting, walls crumbling.

Once in the city, we visited an excavation site and hiked through poppy fields with the Pamir mountains in the distance.
We also visited two museums ... one with artifacts from the dig area and one with more modern exhibits.

A Tajik beauty at the Rudaki Museaum, named after the leading Tajik poet.

Lunch was in the home of our entrepreneurial local guide, who runs a B&B for intrepid travelers and also caters meals for larger groups like ours.  The food was bland and heavy on starches, but the atmosphere was lively.  Here is a photo of the salad course:  shredded beets, shredded carrots and kidney beans and chopped beets.
The next photos give a new perspective on fresh lunch meat.
But, the butcher and his children look happy.

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