Trip Start May 30, 2008
16Trip End Jun 22, 2008
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For starters, here's a nerdy editorial note for context: we in the States typically view history behind a glass case of some sort. Seeing anything of significance often requires multiple security checks and usually takes place from a distance, and resulting in an immediate hushed voice and need for whispering. Not so here. As we drove through Samarkand past the airport, we passed a 400-year old statue, a 600-year-old mausoleum, and two 500-year-old medrassas -- all simply strewn about town. After we arrived at our B&B, we bought a couple of beers and waters to share and strolled under the bright starry sky (oh how so romantic...) around the grounds of the Guri Amir Mausoleum, where Timur (Tamerlane), and his two sons and grandsons (including the famous Ugulbek) were buried. At first, we were hesitant to proceed, but we were quickly reassured when we noticed a car pull up with two young Russians blaring music, appearing to have just left prom. Zoe strolled around to find the best light for photographs as bats occasionally swooped down from the arches above her head and we took turns sitting in the gardens and examining the building from all possible angles. We were amazed that we could simply walk up to the building with no hassle and honestly each step felt like it might lead to an Indian Jones type misstep and then adventure. Our bible of the trip, (the Lonely Planet) informed us that Timur's tomb held an inscription upon with the sentiment of "whoever opens this will be defeated by an enemy more fearsome than I." Well, the fist and last to open the tomb was Soviet anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov in 1941.... The next day Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. A little Raiders of the Lost Arkish...
On Wednesday, the four of us visited the Registan, a square featuring a trio of madrassas, the newest of which is over five centuries old. Here's the kicker: consumer goods were being sold in nearly every room in every madrassa. At first, this didn't sit well with me; it even seemed a bit sacreligious. Then, as I walked further, I started to understand. Pictures of the Registan from the 16th through the early 20th century showed that the entire square was teeming with vendors and traders. Simply, the Uzbeks have never viewed this place as a dead, static relic of the past.
Even the Afrosiab museum, which we visited later that day, was not fully a museum in the way that I conceive of museums. Of course, there was an admission fee and a set of exhibits depicting civilization in Samarkand since the 12th Century B.C.E Our awestruck sense of the intricacies of the 5th Century B.C.E coins inspired a walk behind back in the semi-excavated ruins. As we pondered whether the hills and valleys were man made, erosion-caused, or old stream beds, a man in his 20s approached us, showed us some coins over 1500 years old, and then handed us a "worthless" five-hundred-year-old pottery shard as a "gift." Through a series of hand motions and broken Russian, it became apparent that he was a "black market archeologist" pulling out pottery shards and old coins to sell who knows where. The museum obviously did not have enough funding to continue with excavation and preservation. He wouldn't take back the gift of the pottery shard; thus we returned it to the ground and kept exploring.
This juxtaposition of feelings between desires for preservation versus living interaction continued into our time in Bukhara. Was paying $2 to put on "traditional" Uzbek dress while at the Ark's Cornoation Room and taking funny pictures disrespectful of this royal structure occupied from the 5th century to 1920? Was walking around the still to be excavated layers of city in the back of the Ark breaking the rules of archeology and historical preservation, or was it following upon the tradition of 1000s of years of travelers in this area who have both interacted with the past and built for the future? Our amazing evening at the 15th century Bukhara Baths, the predecessor to the Turkish Bath model, was that much more incredible in light of the fact that we've now been bathed (umm, I mean pulverized) in the same steam room as nomadic traders were over 400 years ago. That is when the history and the interconnectedness really hits us. And so, the question that we continue to wrestle with is what is truly "authentic" experience? Does preservation of the past actually remove us from a connection to the present?
It looks as though we are being ushered out of the internet café. So no time to edit and be as pithy and funny as I want... This post is a mix of Kate and Scott...