Thursday, February 22, 2007

Russian breakfast

From my hotel balcony...

I’m sitting here with my glass of cherryade, my rye bread and cheese, and the lights have just dimmed by two stops. Ah, this place is great! Sometimes I wish I was old enough to have spent time in the USSR before everything changed. Although also, emphatically, not.

This place is a fine old Soviet hotel. It looks like, as M said, a wafer that someone has bent in half ready to snap and eat. To be honest, you couldn’t think of a structure more likely to put you in mind of earthquakes. Which is probably the point. Tashkent was almost entirely destroyed by a huge quake in 1966. It was rebuilt as a modern Soviet city, with an earthquake-proof metro, and bulky, pale concrete blocks of flats and offices along streets lined with plane trees and elms. The plane trees here keep their dead leaves all winter, peculiarly — I must ask about that — and in concert with masses of elm-keys, hanging down like pale brown dried fish on racks, and the ghostly grey and black hooded crows, the white concrete and the glaucous, breathy sky, it seems the strangest, most wintery place imaginable. Even the air is white, as if it held, suspended, fine woodash, salt, or powdered snow.

Very strange, because apart from the traffic rumble, the only other sound I can hear from the balcony is the tropic carrolling of mynah birds — recent immigrants; god, they must be hardy to live in this blanched winter world. I am very impressed. There are bounties for mynahs; you get free cartridges if you shoot them. I can’t see that making a whit of difference to their populations, but I guess it’s a good way to get ammunition if you’re a local farmer — cartridges are very expensive here.

And yes, fretmarketeers, as you can probably tell from my wandering attention, I’m jetlagged to the point of dissolution. It was a horrendous flight, six hours overnight in an ancient 757 with broken air-conditioning, so we sweltered in our close-packed seats and I couldn’t sleep at all; got to that peculiar point of exhaustion where you fall prey to insitent, weird, synaesthetic intutions. I remember sitting, totally wiped out, in the baggage hall at the airport yesterday morning feeling that my emotional state exactly resembled a page of gothic type printed in white, rubbery, raised ink onto thick tracing paper. See? Bonkers.

Better this morning — ah, the delights of pro-plus caffeine tablets, plus two big, strong cups of nescafé. So, this hotel has seventeen floors, and an apparently infinite number of rooms, most of which are uninhabitable. They’re renovating it room by room. It has expanses of shining parquet floor, gleaming wooden corridors, and bits of newly renovated marble and glass which sit inside this extraordinary, crazy shell. The front of the hotel is knotted in rather beautiful concrete filligree that almost, but not entirely hides the sight of crumbling concrete and rotting steel. Mmmm.

And the lobby seems, Soviet-hotel-style, full of assignations in the evening; I’ve not had any phonecalls or midnight raps at the door but then I’m not the target audience, as it were. E has been offered massages and women by helpful attendants twice already, and M misheard one such message rather creatively; he spent ages wondering why someone wanted to give him a late night message.

Today I’m off to Khiva, huzzah, which rather ruins my conference preparation plans, but how can I resist?

4 comments:

Old Scrote said...

As a regular visitor to, and connoisseur of, many satellites of the former Soviet Empire, I am heartened to read that the things that matter haven't changed much..
Enjoy your stay.
PS I advise you in your next life to come back not quite so tall - airlines do not cater for people like us with proper-sixed legs.

Heidi the Hick said...

Pictures? Please? to go with your hypnotizing words?

(My emotional state today resembles a very thin leaf. Transparent. Brittle. I'm booking what should be a 3 or 4 hr flight which will take a full day because of connections. Unhappy!)

pluvialis said...

Meep. Heidi, I hope your flight booking went well. We can swap stories. I must tell you all about Uzbekistan Air....aargh! Hope you're feeling less thin leafy... x

Oldscrote..yep, some things never change...

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