October 25, 2009

Lisbon, Portugal

The wind that was directing my wanderlust sails appropriately delivered me to the seafaring shores of Portugal. I had put Portugal on a short list, along with Dahab, Egypt and Kythira, Greece, of places that I would want to work from if I ever decided to try my hand at writing. And toward the end of my last round of travels, I had decided that I did want to write. A book. A book about surviving from some of the deepest pain I have ever known. 

Dahab was on the list because when I landed there over a year ago, it was one of the most calm places I had ever visited. I remember remarking that if you weren’t a writer yet, then this was the place to become one. Kythira was always tempting because it is the supremely beautiful island where my family reigns from and I thought it would be a good place to receive divine intervention from the ancestors. Heck, they could even write the book for me and I could just kick back with some Ouzo and a cigar. But Portugal was special. And Portugal was calling to me. 

Back in 1967, shortly after my mother started work as my father’s secretary, in which time my father had declared her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, he took a trip to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. I know this because I found the three love letters he had written to her, one from each destination. They spelled out the artistic ambitions of a man, a dreamer, who wanted to earn a living from writing poetry and painting pictures; to live indulgent with wine and cigarettes; to wake each day with passion and my lovely mother by his side. And with each letter he promised them, sentence by sentence, that it was all possible. 

The weathered paper detailed the streets my father walked down, the food he ate, the drinks he drank, the music he heard and, at the end of each, how much he missed her. When I found these letters over thirty years after they were written and ten years after his death, I lamented that the author was a man I never knew. 

During my years growing up, my father had already chosen to let his creativity suffocate under the stresses of his reality; having a wife, two children, elderly parents to care for, mortgage payments and pending college tuitions. All which was supported by a job he hated waking up for everyday. By the time I was five, the poetry had turned into number crunching behind a desk, sweet wine turned into hard scotch and his passion was left to linger as forgotten words on faded bar napkins and letters sealed in time, stamped with postage from Portugal. 

I decided that instead of seeking out calm or ancestral soil, I would instead come to a place where my father felt some of his greatest freedom. I would use the path of his life as an example, if not a warning, to keep my dreams and artistic pursuits front and center. And in doing so, I would kick off the festivities in Lisbon, a city my father loved, retracing some of his steps by drinking port and listening to Fado music in small bars into the wee hours of the night. And then, just as in his letters, I would weave home by the dim light of the streets.

June 25, 2009

The Comedy of International Branding

I was going to try to fit these amazing snipnets of international packaging into the sidebars, but because of their exceptional fabulousness, they really deserve their own post.
For Instance:

Kyrgyzstan competes with China in crimes of copyright infringement, but on a much, much smaller scale. Where China will blatantly rip off and produce millions of an existing product, Kyrgyzstan will take popular brands, advertisements, logos or celebrity faces photocopied from magazines and paste them onto singular, local shop signs or onto items sold in small quantities in the markets. Here in Osh, they took the iconic Mr. Clean and creatively turned him into... Mr. Proper!

But I think it might be wise to forgo the lawsuits against the copying Kyrgyz because when left to their own advertising imagination they come up with things like this: a laundry detergent called, well....Barf.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Imms

This is what a typical grocery shop looks like in Central Asia, whereby the Vodka section takes up more than half the store. Here, the bargain basement Vodka bin is selling bottles for 35 som, approximately $1.25.
The brands of vodka can get pretty interesting as well. It took us a minute to figure out if this was a drunk and possessed looking Barbie want-to-be on the top of this bottle, but soon we realized it was none other than Miss Yulia Tymoshenko, the un-mistakenly braided, orange party revolutionary and prime minister-ess of Ukraine.
Photos courtesy of the lovely Rachel Imms.

In the same shop, we found Liv Tyler endorsing a local Kyrgyz, cardboard boxed wine, making me realize just how much money celebrities can pull in from international advertising. While next to her, appealing to all those closet Muslim drinkers, we have a women in Hijab trying to sell this fine merlot.

Why only have Red Bull when you can also have Red Camel?
The intrepid Mr. Justin Chelvam took this photo and I am not sure where since I ripped it off his Facebook page for all to see.

The Uyghur's of Northwestern China couldn't afford any celebrity endorsements and ddin't want the trouble of potential copyright infringement lawsuits, so they created a cola that appealed directly to their customer base....Cola Uyghur. I think you are allowed to drink it even if you are not Uyghur...I think.

A market in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan has successfully moved through the mercury and dolphin issues of tuna by offering it's customers cow and horse meat in a can....Mr. Ed never tasted so goooood!

June 24, 2009

Khiva, Uzbekistan

By the time I had reached Khiva, after a seven hour drive through the Kyzyl Kum desert of Uzbekistan, two months of travel through Central Asia and fourteen months of wandering the globe, I was officially tired. Taking a photograph seemed as big an effort as running a marathon and exploring an ancient town loaded with great architecture and history felt like having to sit still in eighth grade math class five minutes before the summer holiday bell rang. But meeting new people never lost its luster.
I had arrived into both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in a blaze of Vodka fueled testosterone and had become accustomed to high levels of corruption. I was dragging my feet wearily in the heat through the streets of the old city of Khiva when I stopped for water and met Yerqinay, a sweet twenty year old Uzbek girl working at her family’s shop. Her spirit was so pure and positive that it seemed to erase all the thuggery I had encountered over the past months.
Sitting in the waning light of the sun amongst buildings that had seen centuries of progress along with brutal war, chatting with Yerqinay and her friend, my faith in the simple, honest beauty of life had been restored.

June 11, 2009

What if Porcelain became the New Gold?

With all the shiny, yellow smiles flashing around Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan I started to wonder if it was actually possible to affect the global price of gold if the populations of Central Asia suddenly jumped on the porcelain party train and launched a mining expedition in their mouths.
I posed this question to my superstar gold and silver analyst brother, but he has been so busy writing eloquent essay's on more intellectual speculations of the commodity for a blogging contest, that I am still waiting for the answer to this one. When he formulates his hypothesis I will be sure to post it here.
Until then, get answers to more relevant questions about gold on the website soyouthinkyoucanrant.com. And don't forget, it's a contest, so if you like and agree with John's spot on predictions then place your vote for him!

June 10, 2009

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Arriving in Samarkand, a once bustling trading post on the ancient Silk Road, I was hoping to find the romance of a dusty and chaotic buy, sell and barter atmosphere that would make me feel like I had shaved a few thousand years off 2009, but, unfortunately for me, the city has since developed beyond the parameters of my fantasy.
The Registan, which is Samarkand’s main draw and an impressive architectural contender for the entire Central Asian region, is a dizzying display of tiles, tiles and more tiles. There are tiles on just about every surface, in a myriad of colors and patterns, and if you stare at them collectively, it’s possible to actually experience a kind of tile vertigo, leading me to think that this was perhaps the reason that the regions Sufi whirling dervishes (a kind of rotating Islamic monk) starting spinning in circles…so they could actually see things straight. The three massive structures used to be education institutions and housing for the cities Muslims, but today they function as one of the country’s most notable and heavily restored attractions.
With all of the sites having undergone full renovations by the Russians, almost to the point of an antiseptic precision, the only way I was able to invoke a historical feeling was by squinting my eyes in front of the many incredible photographs in the museum that were taken during the start of the 20th century and depict the trading markets of old, prayer time inside the mosques and what the structures looked like before they were rebuilt and scrubbed clean.
After two days, with all the squinting, tile vertigo and having to stand in a long line for a shwarma sandwich in the rain it was time to pack up my camel (backpack) and start the trek (by train) to the next destination on ye’ old Silk Road.

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