Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mosaiqa Records Is Up and Running

Admittedly, it's a bit lame to have two posts in a row on the same topic, especially months apart. Alas, that's how it is. But the good news is . . .

The Mosaiqa.com shop is fully up and running -- you can buy either (or both) of two Roksonaki CDs (approx. $20 each including shipping), or if you prefer bits and pieces, individual tracks are available to download at $1.00 each. If you've listened to the various podcasts from Roksonaki's spring tour, you may already have your own favorites in mind; buy one, or buy the disc it's on. I've ordered the Nauryz CD, because it contains my favorite piece Akbayan (Lake Akbayan, or Lake White-something). I don't sing for an audience, but this is fantastically, hauntingly hummable. The Mosaiqa.com site is also a nice resource for info about traditional Kazakh culture (folktales and other info).

And here's my challenge -- listen to Akbayan, and then listen to Musicola's Ai-Bupyem (Lullaby) and see what you think. And then, rush to Mosaiqa.com and get some Roksonaki for yourself.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Roksonaki CD Update

The latest word from Roksonaki producer Helen Faller is that all the legalities should be sorted out, and Roksonaki CDs will be available to buy online by August 1, 2008. Check the Mosaiqa Records site, or right here at Silk Road Caravan for more updates.

A full description of all the activities and events of the 2008 Nauryz with Roksonaki tour can be found in this report (PDF download).

Word is that the group has been invited back for another U. S. tour in spring 2009 -- stay tuned!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Genghis: Birth of an Empire: Book Review

Genghis Khan seems to be the rehabilitated man of the new century. In the past few years, a series of historians (Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World), cinematists (Sergei Bodrov's Russian-Kazakh-Mongolian film Mongol), and novelists have re-written (or re-ridden) the story of Temujin, the steppe prince-done-wrong who grew to become an adept political warrior and the creator of a multi-continental empire. Wasn't it not too long ago that we were supposed to fear and revile the bloodthirsty Mongol hordes?

Sergei Bodrov's Oscar-nominated Mongol, released last week in New York and Los Angeles and nationwide on June 20, has gotten positive reviews for its epic storytelling and gorgeous vistas. As far as I can tell (not yet having seen it), Mongol follows the same basic storyline as Conn Iggulden's excellent historical novel Genghis: Birth of an Empire, which in turn is heavily based on Genghis Khan's own Secret History of the Mongols. Temujin is the second son of Yesugei, khan of the Wolves, a powerful nomadic tribe. After Yesugei is murdered by Tatars, his bondsman seizes power and turns 12-year-old Temujin, his mother, brothers and infant sister out of the tribe to die in the brutal steppe winter. Denied his birthright of influence and comfort, Temujin's experiences in sheer survival harden him into a man of unflinching practicality and unwavering purpose. Criticism of both film and novel lie in the ways each artist has shaped and turned the facts to suit his storytelling purposes, abandoning strict history whenever necessary. And that is why this medium is called "historical fiction."

The reality is that historical fiction (whether visual or written) is as much a reflection of the society in which and for which it was created, as much as it tells the historical truth of its subject. The contemporary reality going here is nation-building, the Central Asian re-creation of self. As in last year's Kazakh cinema epic Nomad, which pushes the idea of a single Kazakh identity forged by a visionary leader, Iggulden's Temujin has a vision of uniting the multitude of steppe tribes and solitary outsiders into a single people. After his escape from captivity and certain death by the treacherous leader of his former clan, Temujin has a recurring dream:
"There was only one tribe on the plains. Whether they called themselves Wolves or Olkhun'ut or even tribeless wanderers, they spoke the same language and they were bound in blood. Still, he knew it would be easier to sling a rope around a winter mist than to bring the tribes together after a thousand years of warfare."
Later he proclaims, "I tell you we are one people. We are Mongols . . . We are the silver people, and one khan can lead us all."

This Temujin kills and conquers, yet every act has a practical motive. As a child, he murders his own brother, who isn't very admirable anyway, because Bekter's greed threatens the survival of the entire family. He slaughters and eats the flesh of Tatars who had violated his wife, because he had vowed such vengeance to his mother. He is an original thinker, open to new and better ideas, not bound by the way things have always been done. He sees a new kind of body armor, copies it and creates an army of invincible mounted warriors. He is quick to recognize, respect and learn from superior skill. He absorbs former enemies into his Mongol nation, prizing new loyalty and talent over former allegiances. He creates a united Central Asian empire, including all of current Kazakhstan, whose enemies are the Tatars to the north (Russia) and the Chin to the east (China). And if recent DNA studies are accurate, he is the progenitor of 1/12 of the all the men in Asia. After 2 centuries of Russian domination, what's not to like about a genuine homegrown, fabulously successful Central Asian steppe warrior?

The beauty of an historical novel is the author's Afterword, where he can explain his sources and tell where strict historical accuracy got sacrificed for the sake of a good story. Iggulden based his novel on the Waley translation of The Secret History of the Mongols. The original Mongolian version has been lost, but a Chinese transcription has survived, and translations of this work provide the earliest written record of Genghis Khan and his exploits. Supposedly commissioned by by Genghis himself, the Secret History is history in the way that the Iliad is a history of the Trojan War -- a mythic epic of larger-than-life heroes, grounded in real people and events.

Coincidentally (or not?), Sergei Bodrov plans a film trilogy, and Genghis: Birth of an Empire is Conn Iggulden's first in a trilogy on the life and empire of the "king of the sea of grass." Genghis: Lords of the Bow was published this spring to starred reviews, continuing the saga as Temujin turns his attention to the empire of the Chin. Bones of the Hills, the final entry in the Conqueror series, is scheduled for U.K. release in the fall (no word on the American publication date). Birth of an Empire was published in the U.K. as Wolf of the Plains. Quite a different image, isn't it?

Some folks fuss that historical fiction, with all its inaccuracies, shouldn't be a first experience with important events and lives. I say that, in the hands of a good writer, historical fiction will intrigue and motivate readers to learn beyond the confines of the novel in a way that straight history can't often do. Birth of an Empire is a captivating, thrilling page-turner for teens and adults alike (and a best-seller to boot). How many other books related to Central Asia can claim that??

Genghis Khan . . . good guy or bad guy? It's all up to the the writer, and to you, the reader.

Recent reviews of
New York Times
Christian Science Monitor
Los Angeles Times

Review of Genghis: Birth of an Empire
Christian Science Monitor

Excerpt from Chapter One

Author Interview (video)
Author Interview (mp3 audio)

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Little Jockey by Dukenbai Doszhanov

A couple of years ago a neighbor gave me this book/pamphlet containing two clearly Central Asian short stories. My neighbor is a traveller and a thinker, definitely an internationalist, but I have no idea how she came by it. I wasn't even sure it was Kazakh except for the author's name, which has that certain Kazakh-something about it.

Since then I have found out that Dukenbai Doszhanov is indeed a Kazakhstani author, and he's been writing for a while. I guess he was Party connected -- these stories were published during the Soviet era and translated into English by a Moscow press (the date on the cover is 1979). Doszhanov (or Doszhan, the Kazakh version now used) is still a high-profile writer. He is editor of the museum journal of the Presidential Center of Culture of Kazakhstan, laureate of the State Prize of RK, a fan and resident of Astana. In 2005 he published a novel, Ak Orda, relating events in the history of Kazakhstan with the main character being President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He has written numerous novels, though I can't find reference to any in English.

The Little Jockey contains two stories, "Good Old Granddad Beknur," and the title story. In the first, a young man riding home across the steppe stops at a lonely yurta, and finds an old shepherd he had known as a child. The story ends with "There's nothing dearer to man than than his homeland and countryside."

"The Little Jockey" moves back to the childhood of that same young man.

Dalabai has been racing horses since he was six. Now he was ten and had got the hang of it. . . he had been entrusted to ride Kerkiik and defend the honor of the whole district of Karatau.
Starting with "Go!" and ending at the finish line, Dalabai rides the race of his life to hear his father say," You're a worthy son of your great forefathers!"

Intrigued? You can download a PDF file (11.5 mb, with colour illustrations) of the title story here.

Duszhenov, D. The Little Jockey (Мальчик-жокей).
Translated by Janette C. Butler; ilustrated by V. Shulzhenko.
Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1979.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Kazakh Cooking Experiment #3: Plov

I can't really claim plov as an experiment, since I've been working on getting it right for almost a year. Plov/pilaf/pilau is a rice-and-stuff dish with variations from Asia to South America. I have seen several Central Asian recipes -- fancy dishes with cumin (Uzbek) or apples or dried fruit (wedding plov?) -- but nothing that approximates the plov greatly anticipated and often served at local Kazakhstani expat gatherings. We have 'everyday plov,' a basic dish even my meat-and-potatoes father likes, of carrots, onions, rice & meat, with garlic flavoring. The original one-pot meal.

KZ folk are die-hard 'know it when you see it' cooks -- a handful of this, some of that, add until you have enough. If you don't have a KZ mom to guide you, it can be hard to get it right. Last summer, Kazakh cooks extraordinaire Yuriy and Tatiana (of Russian extraction) kindly wrote down for me a plov recipe with more-or-less proportions of ingredients. I've made, watched and adjusted it enough times to finally satisfy myself and the family, and now to share it with the world.

For me, the two main tricks are getting the meat tender and the carrots sweet (instead of tasting like boiled carrots). Don't skimp on the times. Plov takes a while, but needs relatively little tending. Though traditional KZ plov is made with mutton or lamb, I use beef-- if you've read my recipes before you know that neither Gulnara nor I like lamb (for the record, I think it tastes like dirt) -- but you are welcome to substitute lamb or mutton if you prefer.

A note about the oil -- I've seen heated discussions about what's appropriate to use. Corn oil is a definite no-no. Cottonseed and sunflower are preferred vegetable oils, though we use canola without the world ending. Traditionally, the fat used to brown the meat would be a lump of fat from a sheep's tail, melted. Just so you know.

If you have a Kazakh (or Kazakhstani) parent, disregard all this and make it the way you learned. If you don't, give this a try.

Kazakh Plov
(these are party sized-proportions -- be hungry, have folks over or halve everything but the garlic!)

1 cup (or more) vegetable oil
2 big (fist sized) onions, chopped
2-3 lbs. beef (chuck, or stew meat), cut into 1/2" - 1” pieces
2 lb. carrots, quartered and chopped into 1” pieces
(quick American trick: get "baby carrots" in a bag and slice each one in half)
2 lb long grain rice ( approx. 4 cups; basmati or “Uncle Ben’s" -- heresy, but it works)
1 large head garlic

A pot with thick walls and a lid (kazan, dutch oven or heavy 8 qt. soup pot; 4 qt. to halve recipe)


Heat oil in kazan over medium-high heat. Fry several pieces of the onion until burned at edges; discard onion (this releases onion flavour into the oil).

Add the meat. Cook until well browned on all sides. Add 1/2 to 1 cup water (enough to completely cover the meat by at least 1/2"), cover, and cook for 30 mins. (This step allows the meat to cook in the lower layer of boiling water, while keeping the oil in the pot for sauteeing the onions and carrots later. Don't skimp on the time, or the meat won't be tender.)

Uncover the kazan, and increase heat. Cook until water evaporates.

Add carrots. Lower heat to medium. Cook 5 min.

Add onion. Stir, and cook until carrots begin to caramelize (maybe slightly burned at edges, definitely turning sweet), maybe 5 - 10 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste (you can always add more later). Cook 5-7 min.

When the carrots taste right, add the rice and water.
(For 1 part of rice add 2 parts of water)

So for 2 lbs of rice (around 4 cups), you'll need 8 cups of water. Enough to cover everything in the kazan plus an inch or so.

Cover, turn heat to high. When water boils, stir once, reduce heat to low, place whole head of garlic on top of everything, and cook until water is absorbed and rice is plump and tender throughout (around 20 minutes, as usual for rice).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Urker Releases New CD

This past Saturday (May 17), KZ "ethno-pop" trio Urker released Tolgau, their first album since 2004's Best of Urker. According to the press release on the group's website, the 11 new songs on the album, including the wholly instrumental title track, are the result of two years of work for songwriting duo Aidos Sagat (music) and Nurlan Alban (lyrics). In the meantime, Aidos has been busy with charitable work, teaching show business management at KIMEP and is also a member of the national Author's Copyright Council.

The band has been leading up to the album release with a series of live performances -- Urker's Nauryz concert was their first live outing in five years, and on May 8 they played at London's Ministry of Sound music club, their first time to play Britain (Tolgau was recorded & mixed in Almaty, but mastered in a London studio) and their only European date for all of 2008.

"Mature" is a word that the press release uses to describe this album, rightly so. The first 'single' from the CD is Asel, and it's pretty darn good. Oh, it definitely sounds like Urker, but the video and a something about the way it sounds make me think of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music -- or maybe it's just the skinny 1980s ties.

Urker played a hour-long CD release concert on Saturday at Almaty's new mega-mall (aptly named MEGA), outside the Meloman music shop. Mashenka of Getting Kazakhified was there, and says that performing live, the band rocked!, a lot harder than they do on CD. (Read about her interview with Roksonaki, too, while you're over at her site). According to the Urker website, the band is off to Shymkent (May 24) and Karaganda (June 18) for personal appearances, probably at Meloman stores in those cities.

The one thing I don't have is a source for getting the CD unless you're within driving/horseback/walking distance of a MEGA mall. When I find out how to get a copy, I'll let you know too.

Urker live at the 2008 Nauryz party in Almaty

Monday, April 14, 2008

Koryo Saram Update:
10 Minute Trailer Available

The recent news of a South Korean astronaut/cosmonaut blasting off from Baikonur to the international space station had at least a couple of news outlets proclaiming a surge of national pride among Kazakhstan's ethnic Korean population.

And I've been waiting a long time for the public release of Koryo Saram, a documentary that "tells the harrowing saga of survival in the open steppe country and the sweep of Soviet history through the eyes of these deported Koreans [sent into exile to Kazakhstan], who were designated by Stalin as an "unreliable people" and enemies of the state."

It's just shown at Harvard, it won a "Best Documentary" award in Canada, and has been screened in several international cities and academic communities, but I've gotten no reply to two requests to be added to the mailing list for more information. Perhaps the "work in progress" is progressing slowly?

There's now a 10-minute trailer available on the film's website, and it's really worth a look. Negative, hopeful, nostalgic, clear-eyed; the film promises to be an important addition to an understanding of the multi-ethnic, multicultural, mixed-identity nation that is the reality of contemporary Kazakhstan.


Koryo Saram: The Unreliable People
Directed by Y. David Chung & Matt Dibble

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Roksonaki on the Air

Spring has sprung, Nauryz is over, and Kazakhstan's first "experimental neo-traditional ethno-rock" band, Roksonaki, is finishing up their Nauryz 2008 tour in the Washington D. C. area. It's been an interesting tour, very academically oriented. The band has done 3-4 day residencies at several different universities, visited schools, and most of the concerts have been free.

Another feature of the tour has been radio interviews, mostly with Dr. Helen Faller, the group's American coordinator and also the producer of Mosaiqa Records, founded last year to promote Central Asian music.
Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders live every weekday at 3 pm CST. Last Wednesday the hour-long program featured Roksonaki, in residence at U. Wisconsin - Madison. You can stream the audio by clicking the Listen button on the Here on Earth Roksonaki program page, or download the mp3 podcast on the March 2008 archives page. The audio stream is available indefinitely; the podcast is available for download until late May. Check out all the other programs in the archives while you're there -- it's a dizzying array of topics and interviews from around the world, well worth exploring.

Highlights of the Here on Earth show are Helen Faller's discussion of instruments and the shamanic tradition, the folk legend of the creation of the zhetigen (a 7-stringed harp/zither), and the hauntingly beautiful "Ak Bayan" (about 36 minutes into the show). This show focuses on acoustic pieces, which is the core of the 2008 tour.

Also last week, Roksonaki recorded a show with WFMU, in New York's Hudson Valley. It was broadcast on Saturday, March 29, as part of a weekly show called
Transpacific Sound Paradise: Popular and Unpopular Music from Around the World (great subtitle). The middle hour of the 3-hour program is all Roksonaki, with 6 pieces recorded live in the studio and another 4 from CDs. Helen Faller speaks and translates, but if the chuckles and instant Russian replies are any indication, it seems that Ruslan Kara and other band members understand much more English than they are willing to speak on radio.

The TSP show highlights include "The Hunter's Lament" on zhetigen, a jammin' acoustic satire about bad stuff that can happen ("Ne Jaman"), a contemporary kyl-kobyz piece, and some insight into the personalities of the band members. The CD tracks illustrate the broader range of Roksonaki that qualifies them as "avant garde," leaning toward what were they thinking? Not everything can hit the Top 40.

Listen to Roksonaki's TSP interview (via streaming audio) on the program playlist page. If you're short on time, listen to opening track, then skip to 1:02:00 for the Roksonaki segment.

And because it's what I do, here's an older, even more traditional version of "Ak Bayan" on zhetigen and kyl-kobyz, from Asyl Mura.

Images from a National Bank of Kazakhstan commemorative series of 500 tenge coins

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nauryz 2008!

After 70+ years of Russian/Soviet holidays, Nauryz has taken hold as a big event in Kazakhstan, and in the international Kazakh/Kazakhstani communities. This poster, for the Embassy of Kazakhstan's Nauryz 2008 celebration in Washington, D.C., certainly is gorgeous. Nauryz, a spring festival with pre-Islamic roots, is also celebrated under varying names across Islamic Asia from Turkey to Kyrgystan.

Tonight in Moscow (it's probably over now, in fact), a beauty pageant/Nauryz celebration was held to select the most beautiful of all Kazakhstani students in Russia. The winner of "Moscow Spring - 2008" will be a contestant in the national "Miss Kazakhstan" pageant later on. Between competition rounds, the audience was treated to performances by no less than A-Studio, Musicola, Asylbek Ensepov and the legendary Dos Mukasan, and other stars of the KZ music scene. arba.ru

Also from arba.ru, folk-pop band Urker will give their first full-length concert in 5 years for the Nauryz 2008 celebration on Saturday night (7 pm) in Old Almaty Square. Fittingly, they'll rock the crowd with their holiday anthem Nauryz, under a massive fireworks display.

I think the Nauryz party in London has already happened, but the big event in the US is a multi-city tour by "the unique neo-traditional avant-garde band from Kazakhstan," Roksonaki, culminating in the Washington, D.C. gala on April 5. Roksonaki made a big splash at the Smithsonian Institution's 2002 "Silk Road" Folklife Festival, with Yo-Yo Ma. Though the group was formed in 1990, there's next to no additional information about them until now, aided by a group member and Central Asian scholar, Dr. Helen Faller, who coordinated the tour. Roksonaki's music is fascinating and exactly as billed -- experimental, scholarly, with contemporary influences, traditional instruments and more. Is there such a thing as Central Asian space music? Check out the Roksonaki blogs (mosaiqa.com, and Nauryz with Roksonaki), and even a MySpace page, which has several music samples. And if you're anywhere near Washington, D.C. in a couple of weekends, there's a party going on that you really shouldn't miss.

A sample Roksonaki track, from the mosaiqa.com site:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When Words Matter

(EDITED - I found the post I was looking for - thanks to Technorati - and have edited to reflect and include links)

I don't usually stray into political matters -- there are far better informed sites for that (and I'm going to add a list of those sites soon). But yesterday I read this post at Window On Eurasia on remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin about his chosen, I mean elected, successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and it makes me wonder . . .

I'm kicking myself for not bookmarking this page (FOUND IT!), but the gist was that In this speech, Putin described Medvedev's "Russian nationalism" with the word that means "ethnically Russian" -- russkiy -- instead of rossiikiy, which means "citizen of Russia." It makes no difference in English, and perhaps in many European languages -- Russian and Russian are the same. But the post points out that there's a big difference in Russian, especially given the fractured ethnic politics of the country. Saying "Russia for the ethnic Russian," instead of "Russia for the citizens of Russia" signifies a HUGE difference in political ideology.

So how does this relate? I see a correlation in language between Kazakh (as an ethnicity/nationality), and Kazakhstani (as an identity-card-carrying citizenship), but no similar examination in Central Asian coverage on language use. Americans (with whose language I am most familar), blithely use Kazakh to mean "citizen of Kazakhstan," but none of the non-ethnically-Kazakh citizen of Kazakhstan I know would accept that term to describe themselves. Few have commented on the government's recent move to use Kazakh as a term for all "citizens of Kazakhstan," even though the pictures show Asian, Eurasian, Turkic, Slavic and European faces. Ignorance, complacency, or an identity shift I have yet to accept?

It seems to me that until all the native-born citizens of the country speak the same language as they settle into nationhood, words matter a lot. Until employment and educational opportunities are equalized for all citizens, regardless of "nationality" (because everyone speaks the same language), a pan-nationality term -- Kazakhstani in English -- is politically inclusive, as the politicians claim to be. One generation more, and maybe they're there. Is that really so long to wait to make all citizens feel like they belong?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Another Musical Pairing:

Kurmangazy's Sary-Arka (Golden Steppe), on solo dombra,
by Abdulhamit Rayimbergenov **

(from The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia

Ulytau's folk-metal version of

** Abdulhamit Rayimbergenov is a featured music educator & dombrist in Theodore Levin's
Where Rivers And Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, And Nomadism in Tuva And Beyond

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Adai, 3 Ways

Kurmangazy Sagyrbaev (Russian)
Курмангазы Сагырбаев

Kurmangazy Sagirbaiuly (Kazakh)
Құрманғазы Сағырбайұлы

Kurmangazy was a brilliant 19th century Kazakh composer and musician. Various reputable sources give 1806-1879, 1823-1896, 1818-1889, among others, as his birth and death dates. He lived in the western area of what is now Kazakhstan, and is buried just over the border in Astrakhan, Russia.

Renowned for his courage, cunning and skill on the dombra, Kurmangazy wrote numerous kui, brilliant 'mood' solo instrument pieces, of which some 60 are known and played today.
Kui or kyui are musical narratives -- traditionally the musician introduces a piece with a summary of the story illustrated by the music, and some information about its history.

Kurmangazy's music is woven into the fabric of Kazakh/Kazakhstani culture. His kuis tell stories of Kazakh warriors (Adai), of the land (Sary Arka, 'Golden Steppe'), and of courage and resistance (Kishkentay is about an 1836 folk uprising). His music is played not only in its original instrumental forms, but is also adapted into popular music. Just today I stumbled across Getting Kazakhified,
the blog of a ethnomusicology doctoral student living in Almaty -- her dissertation is on "how the struggle over ethnic/national identities is literally playing itself out through music." This is fascinating stuff, and I'm looking forward to following her ideas and research.

But for now, listen to three different versions of Adai. Whatever the embellishments, pounding hoofbeats across the steppe come through loud and clear.

Kali Zhantleuov on solo dombra. His dombra teacher had been a student of Kurmangazy.

Asylbek Ensepov on dombra & synthesizer.
According to Werner Linden, the German "mad musicologist," Ensepov describes his music as "dance music, made from
kuis, played on the dombra, with computerized accompaniment." Syntho-classical? Does anyone remember Classical Gas? It's next to impossible to find anything about Ensepov, and his 2003 debut disc is out of print (each of the 5,000 copies was numbered and packaged in a tooled leather case), but there are several videos on YouTube: check out Adai & Sultan (where the musician gets the girl!). The kid rocks, and he's not bad to look at either.

Kazakhstan Ethno-Rock Project Ulytau.
Ulytau is a young, all-instrumental folk-metal (yes, folk-metal) band. The trio consists of a classically-trained violinist, a dombrist, and a wailing lead-guitar player.
Their first album, Jumyr-Kylysh, consists of traditional Kazakh & classical European pieces (Vivaldi & Bach), all given the Ulytau folk-metal treatment. I saw somewhere that they'd signed with a German label - could they be the first KZ band to make it big in the west? You can find three mp3s on the .ru site (there's also a .kz website). Jumyr-Kylysh is another a traditional Kazakh tune. Asylbek Ensepov has a version of it as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Steppe Rider

Kazakhstan Steppe RiderThe image above is the wallpaper/desktop on my computer. It's from the VladStudio collection of wallpapers offered by young Russian digital artist Vlad Geramisov. The title of this one is Le Cheval. I like it because it reminds me of Wind Rider -- a novel for young adults that imagines the story of an ancient nomadic people from the Northern Kazakhstan steppe, who first tamed and rode wild horses. The artist lives in the southern Siberian town of Irkutsk, so maybe it's not too far fetched a connection at all.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's a grand ol' place that can celebrate New Year's Day not once, not twice, but four times a year. We usually have our New Year's party on "Old New Year" (celebrated in Kazakhstan on January 14, on the Russian Orthodox calendar), and yesterday marked the beginning of year 4706 in Chinese astrological reckoning (though the symbols are a bigger deal in KZ than the date). You may know 2008 to be the "Year of the Rat," but thanks to a link this time last year from Sean Roberts, I am happy to say that from February 7 through January 25, 2009, we're in the "Year of the Earth Rat!" Each of the twelve animals of the zodiac is associated with 5 different elements, so a complete Chinese astrological cycle comes 'round every 60 years.

In our house, we have a Fire Rat, a Water Tiger and a Fire Ox. Based on birth year, we used to think that a friend was also a Tiger, but his early February birthday made him a Chinese Ox instead.

So far in 2008, we've missed 3 opportunities to throw the annual New Year's party. Luckily, there's one more New Year's to go -- this time, we're aiming for
Nauryz (Persian-Zoroastrian? New Year/Spring Equinox) in March.