Sunday, April 28, 2013

A town just east of Bishkek

I’ve been poking around and collecting tons of trivia on Russia these days, spinning off from the news about the tragic Tsarnaev family and following all the folks piecing together their family history.  The Washington Post has a fascinating article, complete with timeline on four members of the Tsarnaev family, Anzor, his wife Zubeidat, and their boys, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar.  The sisters didn’t amount to much, but the boys have managed to put places on the map you’d never have heard of in a million years, possibly.  Tokmok, for example.  A town we are told is “just east of Bishkek.”

Way to push my absurdity button.

Sounds like something a bad science fiction writer would come up with.  Let’s go down to the river, Og Og and make pek pek. 

But Tokmok is a real place.  It’s in the province of Chuy, which is a combination of sounds I’ve heard before in connection with Brazil (it’s its southernmost city) and a number of very nice Mexican kids I’ve come across over the years.  Tokmok, Chuy, is in the very northern part of Kyrgyzstan, right on the border with Kazakhstan.  All very mountainous, I understand.  If you go from there to Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan to the East, you have to first drive about seventy miles to the west to cross the border and then it’s another three hours or more.  A total of about 300 kilometers.  But you can walk it, via a more direct route through the mountains, according to Google maps, a distance of only 215 kilometers, which you can do easily in about 44 hours. 

The picture you see at the top is an ad for an air conditioner.  Pretty cool (no pun intended), with the full-sized mirror, don’t you think?  The words продажа, установка mean sale, installation, in case you were wondering.   I don’t know what the going rate for air conditioners is in Tokmok, but I’m sure with a bit of perseverance, you could find out.

That Washington Post article has a wonderful picture of Anzor and Zubeidat, who once lived in Tokmok for a time.  Handsome dude, was Anzor in his time, although one wonders why he and Zubeidat were masquerading at the time as the Munsters.  She clearly swung her pendulum all the way when she went in later years to America and ran a beauty parlor in her kitchen, but in these early days, they were clearly hiding from anybody with a pair of scissors.  And that cute little feller on her lap who will go down through the centuries as a bloody mangler of limbs.

Idle google searching brings so many delightful surprises.  You learn that some of your fellow Americans cannot distinguish between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, for example, and the Czech ambassador feels put upon to speak back to the insult.  Love that Ambrose Bierce line, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” And for those of you prematurely convinced that racism is dead and gone in America, tune it to some of the discussion about how the Caucasians, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, were not really white people, leaving the rest of us to wonder why.  Because they’re Muslims?  I mean there’s dumb as your shoes.  And then there are the folks convinced that Caucasians aren’t really white.  Even the Japan Times picked up the news that “Fox News just said ‘Chechens are not Caucasian’ despite the fact that Chechnya is literally IN THE CAUCUS (sic)”

In fact, since you asked, according to one source, (a Wikipedia site is the best I can do – they refer you to Science “The world's leading scientific journal” of 19 May 2000:Vol. 288 no. 5469 pp. 1158DOI:10.1126/science.288.5469.1158)  "The Nakh–Dagestanian languages are the closest thing we have to a direct continuation of the cultural and linguistic community that gave rise to Western civilization."  Google “Chechen Language” and you find “Chechen (Noxc̈iyn mott) is ... together with Ingush and Bats, a member of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family.   Dagestan is where the Tsernaevs call home today.  Even with blonde roots to the base of your skull, you couldn't get more Caucasian.

OK, enough of that.  All this splashing around in Russian waters has made me yearn for a bit of Dmitri’s voice.  It has been a while.

Some of you may remember that two years ago, I blogged about one of my greatest pleasure-giving obsessions – a Schwarzenegger tank of a guy with a drop-dead handsome face and an elegant white mane of hair to die for (excuse the double death metaphor, but one does get carried away…), the Russian opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Comparisons are cruel, and I’m a cad for putting anybody up against Dmitri, but I was rummaging around Russian music sites and thinking to myself how really bad some singers can get, when I came across some YouTubes of Alexander Gradsky and realized I had yet to plumb the depths.

Gradsky was apparently pretty good in his youth, but there’s this one song that is so bad you wonder how they had the courage to post it.  Gradsky singing one of those big orchestra sentimental nostalgic tunes the Russians love so much.  This one is “Zhil byl ya” (I once was…)  The title says it all.  

Awful awful orchestra, awful awful singing.

I remember Gradsky from the days I learned another one of those sentimental numbers, “Kak molody my byli” (How young we were).  He’s not quite so wretched singing that one:

But why, I ask myself, am I wasting my time on Gradsky when I want to get to Dmitri?   You have to think of that wonderful adventure you get at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, where they take you in through some strange circuitous route through the dull woods before they let you see the splendor of the imperial gardens.  The Japanese of eons past knew a lot about the pleasure of delayed gratification.  That delay imposed by the Japanese Imperial Household Agency came to mind when I forced myself to listen to Gradsky being wretched all the way to the end before leaping ahead to listen to Dmitri do it.  Like watching a musical caterpillar turn into a butterfly before your eyes.

Man, can that guy hit home!   Look at the ladies in the audience wiping their eyes.  The men, too.

What a rich and wonderful place is Russia.   A place on the planet which is a whole lot more than Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The Cossacks, for example, of Southern Russia and Ukraine.  A race of people, sort of like the Hessians, who made a name in history for themselves as policemen.  Or, if you’re up on Jewish history, as terrorists for the tsarist state. 

The word Cossacks sounds linguistically too close to the word for their neighbors, the Kazaks for them not to have a common origin, I thought, so I poked around there for awhile until I got lost in the vast territory of Central Asian history.  The latter is of Turkish origin, the former of Slavic, but somewhere there’s a big daddy that they can both point to.    “Cossack” is a Cuman word.  What we call Central Asia was once called the Cuman-Kipchak Federation.  It means “yellow” because they apparently were all pretty much, kind of, you know, blond people.  Which is weird, because they came originally, in the 11th Century, from China.  And in case you had any doubts as to their ethnic origin, consider this – the Lord’s Prayer in Cuman and in Turkish:

English: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Cuman: Atamız kim köktesiñ. Alğışlı bolsun seniñ atıñ, kelsin seniñ xanlığıñ, bolsun seniñ tilemekiñ – neçikkim kökte, alay [da] yerde.

Modern Turkish: Atamız sen göktesin. Alkışlı olsun senin adın, gelsin senin hanlığın, olsun senin dileğin– nasıl ki gökte, ve yerde.

Or, if you run the Turkish through the Turkish-English translator, you get:

Our ancestors, you're in heaven. Whether alkışlı your name, let him khanate you get, that's your wish-how in heaven, and on earth.

So much for the Cossacks, to be distinguished from the Kazakhs, to be distinguished from the Dagestans and the Chechens.  And, if you’re going to join in with all the folks playing amateur historian and blaming the Muslims for what these Caucasian boys have gone and done, you'll need to get serious about just who the Caucasians are.  You probably ought to familiarize yourself with the Kartvelian peoples, the Georgians, the Adjarians, the Svans, the Mingrelians and the Lazs.  Then there are the Northeast Caucasians, the Avars and the Andic peoples, the Akhvakh, the Karata, the Botlikh, the Gogoberi, the Chamalal, the Bagvalal and the Tindi.  And the Tsez people, the Tsez, the Hinukh, the Bezhta, the Hunzxib and the Khwarshi.  And the Lezgic people, the Agus, the Lezgins, the Rutuls, the Tabasarans, the Tsakhurs, the Udins the Archins, the Dargins, and the Khinalugs.

Then there are the Laks, which include, besides the Chechens, the Bats, the Kists and the Ingush.  And the Northwest Caucasian people include the  Abkhazians and the Abazins, the Adyghe, the Kabardins, the Circassians and the Ubykh.
How about another Dmitri song.

How about this one, another favorite of mine.  It’s a song about the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which the Russians lost.  The Japanese won and went on to become major militarists because of it.  You know the results.  The song, “Na sopkakh Manchzhurii” (In the hills of Manchuria).  A lovely, very sad, waltz.   It goes like this:

Around us, it is calm; Hills are covered by mist,
Suddenly, the moon shines through the clouds,
Graves hold their calm.
The white glow of the crosses — heroes are asleep.
The shadows of the past circle around,
Recalling the victims of battles.

Dear mother is shedding tears,
The young wife is weeping,
All like one are crying,
Cursing fate, cursing destiny!

Around us, it’s calm; The wind blew the fog away,
Warriors are asleep on the hills of Manchuria
And they cannot hear the Russian tears.
Let sorghum’s rustling lull you to sleep,
Sleep in peace, heroes of the Russian land,
Dear sons of the Fatherland.

Dear mother is shedding tears,
The young wife is weeping,
All like one are crying,
Cursing fate, cursing destiny!

You fell for Russia, perished for Fatherland,
Believe us, we shall avenge you
And celebrate a bloody wake!

Remember, American amateur historians, there was a time just over a hundred years ago when Russians were fighting a bunch of East Asians Manchuria, the part of the world where the Turkic hoards came from who became, among other things, the “blond” Caucasians, who became the Europeans, which is much of us, and Chechens who ended up fighting the Russians, and some of them came to America and got homesick for their Muslim homeland and went off the deep end and became vicious killers who made their shoplifter mother shout out, “America, what did you do to my children!”

Go ahead.  Wade in to all this and sort it out.

I'll join you in this quest for a historical perspective.

Maybe tomorrow.

Right now, I'm shutting down to spend the rest of the day with Dmitri's gorgeous voice.

source: Tsarnaevs with Uncle photo

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