Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
Abu Dhabi- To get from Tajikistan to Abu Dhabi was a bit of an arduous trip via Kabul and Dubai and no sleep. Here are a few random shots from the Blackberry from 24 hours in my often bizarre life.
Samira, the sassiest beer wench in Dushanbe. Bar Karaoke, Hotel Dushanbe. Sim Sim (Tajikistan's national beer) pivo in the foreground, just 2 somoni (less than 50 US cents).
The man, the legend. Rudaki and arch. Rudaki was a lauded Persian poet for whom Dushanbe's main thoroughfare was renamed (from Lenin) after Tajik independence.
Nothing to see here, move along. The Dushanbe airport, where the metal detectors are not on and no one is looking at the x-rayed baggage. And that's after the French taxpayers put money in to refurbish the place... (so the French airforce can use the tarmac en route to Afghanistan).
The Kabul airport, where every kind of sketchy aircraft comes and goes all day long. Probably the most interesting airport in the world for a layover. Here I get stirred by a buzzing Mi-8. Six American soldiers died this day.
De rigueur decor, Kabul airport. Those are big binoculars!
View of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (for now) from the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Emirates bus. It’s getting hot in here.
The comfort of Abu Dhabi. Good times at the Meena villa, if only I could figure out how to work the entertainment system.
Dushanbe- I took a quiet stroll through Tajikistan’s Museum of National Antiquities this morning after a friend here told me about a giant sleeping Buddha there in what I guessed would be the incredible Hellenic-Buddhist fusion of the now long gone Bamiyan Buddhas that once stood in the wind swept Hazarajat. So for 15 Somoni (just above $3) and covering my filthy New Balance’s with those surgical cover things, I toured the museum which had everything on display from neolithic adze’s to Tajikistan’s Persian-Islamic period. But it was all about the giant Buddha. What we mostly know about Tajikistan is some of its Soviet-period history and maybe a little about its five-year long devastating civil war (1992-1997). I want to get a little more insight into the country’s pre-Islamic history to get a better picture of where it fits into regional history and present day geopolitics. Ancient trade and cultural links have tendency to mirror post-Soviet revived present day ones and for this reasoning, a quick study of the museum’s pieces was in order. On the second floor, the Buddha lay in nirvana in his “sleeping lion” position in all of his reconstructed glory. This hulking 13 metre-long sculpture was discovered near Qurgonteppa in the country’s south, wedged in between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (see map).
Seeing this made me think of the legend of the mega sleeping Buddha believed to be hidden somewhere in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan described by Xuanzang, the first Chinese backpacker, in 630 AD. In September, 2008 a 19 metre Buddha was discovered near where the two standing ones were demo’ed in March 2001. Not quite 300 metres, but still, not too shabby. Large parts of the Tajik Buddha did not survive the centuries but were artfully reconstructed to give one a good idea of the ancient sculptor’s original vision. The museum had a lot of interesting pieces to say the least. Here’s another one, a scabbard of a griffin that looks to be of ivory.
The labels in the museum were mostly in Russian and Tajik and not extensive to say the least. But I had much better luck than Asia Times columnist Pepe Escobar in 2001 who was in Dushanbe just before the museum opened and was unable to see this piece of nirvana.
On a totally unrelated note, I have a new piece in today’s Asia Times:
Dushanbe- I got the boot from the local police in Osh for taking an undesirable photo of ethnic cleansing graffiti being whitewashed over in time for UNHCR head Antonio Guterres’visit to the wrecked city. The official reasoning was that I did not have a Kyrgyz press accreditation. While the Osh police did their best to give me the bum’s rush out of town, there was no indication upon my departure at Manas airport en route to Dushanbe that I was no longer welcome in the Kyrgyz Republic. I heard from a World Food Programme official on the flight back to Bishkek that the one and only Frederick Rousseau, the French Khan of ACTED in Central Asia with a Napoleon complex on steroids, made a scene when Guterres held a press conference at the Osh airport.
I’ve returned to Dushanbe for the first time since my whirlwind visit in October of 2001 after the United States air force began launching air strikes across northern Afghanistan and this town was, for a very brief period, the place to be in the international scene. I’m sitting typing this post in the once dilapidated Soviet hulk known as the Hotel Tajikistan. In the fall of 2001, it was the center of the action, really buzzing with journos and NGOs trying to figure out how to get in Afghanistan on clap trap Mi-8s who’s price for a seat was going up by the day. A few things have changed since then. This hotel was renovated a few years ago with a serious facelift, the room price more than tripled, and it’s eerily quiet. Tajikistan now mans its own southern border and the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is long gone from the Afghan border, and French forces who arrived in December 2001-January 2002 at that critical juncture are now entrenched at the airport here with their Transall C-160’s parked comfortably there from where they supply their contingents in Kabul and Kapisa Province.