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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Monumental Architecture

If it's old, really old -- the pyramids, Hagia Sofia, the Coliseum -- then huge constructions are fascinating, art, beautiful.  But, when I see giant modern structures, the terms art and beauty do not seem to come to mind.

On our recent Central Asia trip, major cities had giant structures in the city-center; these were often the left overs of Soviet-era building programs.  To the left is the view of a central square from a history museum in Bishkek.  Lots of granite and marble outside, but somewhat decaying infrastructure inside.

A newer example is an area of government buildings in Tashkent.  It gave me the feeling that all that was missing was Captain Kirk of Star Trek beaming down and looking for life forms so he could say, "Take me to your leader."

But, by far the strangest feeling was in Ashgabat.  Firstly, the whole experience of traveling in Turkmenistan was odd.  This is a country with the highest per capita income in Central Asia, though very of few of the capitae get any of that income. Those who venture into the capital city, may see some of the national income being spent on an enormous building project -- a new city all of white Carrera marble-clad buildings.

The late fearless leader -- Turkmenbashi the Great -- decreed it so.  Now there are acres and acres, hectares and hectares of new buildings -- ministries, museums, apartments -- all in white marble with shiny metal and glass doors, and various domes.  And all relatively empty.

We were told that there was a holiday and people were not at work.  But, neither were they in any of the spotless and manicured parks, such as the one below near our hotel.

And, then there is the rotating statue of "Turkemenbashi the Great" [formerly S. Niyazov a Soviet apparatchik who became "president for life" and author of not one but two books on Turkmen culture, as desired by him, called the "Ruhnama," and who renamed one of the months of the year after the book and other months of the year for members of his family]. The statue is golden with arms raised and rotates so that it is always facing the sun.  
Right, you cannot make this stuff up since no one would believe it.  In fact the country seems littered with statues of Niyazov and his mother, who seems to have died in a massive earthquake when Niyazov was a child.

Lucky us, we even had the opportunity to visit the rotating statue and take the elevator up to the viewing platform.  
The whole experience of being in a monied totalitarian country, where we were told our hotel rooms were probably bugged, was odd to say the least.

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