Musings - Day 9
Day 9 – 4th January 2020
Tashkent – day off to get my laundry done.
Firstly:- let me thank everyone who is donating to the site while I am away. It means so much, hopefully one day we can sort this.
Ninthly:- Thank you to everyone for your messages of support via the website. They are so encouraging to know that you are all behind the journey – Big thank you. XXX
Now for those of you with a nervous disposition, sit down, pour yourself a glass of something and read on only if you’re up for it!
Let me say from the off that this day has probably been my personal favourite so far, but it could’ve gone wrong on so many levels. It didn’t, and it all worked out fine, but there have been times today when I almost changed into my alter ego – Elastoman – Urban defender. (Reference points to observe: Pants outside my jeans, blue cape and a mystic vortex not dissimilar to an Alker Seltzer.)
So here we go – I will do my level best to observe the chronology of the day.
So I start the day with a jolt. Having just five hours sleep I awoke not knowing where I was. It was the strangest feeling… it was like being good looking but fat. It was an odd mixture but I knew that I had a time limit for breakfast as well as a time limit for laundry. Both had to achieved before the 10 O’clock deadline or kaputnik. This is where I met the lovely Uratnima and her intended Mick. (This wasn’t his real name but I am never going to be able to spell it correctly.) After being served breakfast by Uratnima, she asked me in such a cute way what I intended to do for dinner this evening. I explained that I had a burning desire to try Plov. Now before anyone gets excited it isn’t an adult game based on Twister, but an Asian dish, not dissimilar to Paella only using Mutton and Camel to replace the seafood. She asked if I would like her mother to cook it and bring it to the hotel to eat. Well I couldn’t possibly put anyone to that much trouble, so with the assistance of Mick (Her intended and better English speaker) we all three arranged to meet at seven this evening, for them to take me to an authentic Uzbek restaurant to order aforementioned Plov.
I parted the hotel after giving her a bag of washing, making my own way to the Grand Bazaar. Now some of you will like your churches, art gallery’s and museums. For me local markets win every time. This one was famous, dating back to the Persian silk routes where silks were exchanged for spices, and horses were traded for books. It was magnificent. From the get go I was like a pig in Shutterbock.
As soon as I walked into the main Bazaar I was greeted with the most magnificent smell of spices. There were huge domes of turmeric, paprika, coriander, garam masala, and a multitude of others. Cinnamon sticks bundled together like firewood, blocks of rock salt that needed a chisel to break down. All spice, five spice, netlada, star anise, cumin, and saffron by the bucketful. Five different display arrangements for the mixtures of pepper, in muslin sacks placed next to dried fruits aplenty. The aroma was intoxicating.
I watched a lady who was a tomato stacker by trade, and had made the most beautiful display of oranges with a pointed end, similar in shape to lemons. I felt compelled to delve deeper into the origin of the oranges, so I spoke to the tomato stacker about the beautiful fruit. They were a magnificent scorched sunset colour with deep green leaves. I asked her what are the names of these strange fruits, oh lady of great stacking ability? She told me that she hadn’t given them names, they weren’t relatives, they were just fruit. Okay I retorted somewhat surprised at her casual off the cuff facetiousness, “What do you refer to them as?” I asked with an educated Aire. Bearing in mind here that we are doing Bobby talk, with major gestures. She said “Pointy Oranges.” I had had enough of her by then.
I moved on from her stall and was quickly made aware of a man holding aloft a bamboo cracking machete, striding purposefully towards me. He was now within a yard. I was a hairs breath away from doing an Alker Seltzer spin and putting the cape on. I was about to say “Let me warn you dude I am Elastoman the Urban defender, when he lowered his weapon with a dash. He sliced a nectarine in two, in front of my very eyes. Actually there was a squirt of juice, directly from his slicing activity, that smarted my eye but there was no way that I would let him know that. “You try my fruit?” I was waiting for him to call me Elastoman, but he didn’t. The nectarine was delicious. All I can say at this stage is that it was lucky for him that I didn’t have my pants on outside my jeans.
There was so much in this Bazaar, that I wanted to sample everything. There were so many different types of tea for sale. All stacked in large Muslin sacks awaiting dispensary by the trowel. I perchance casually into a bakery dome, that just sent my smellgorhythms into overload. There were Flat breads, round breads, big breads, small breads, leaven, unleavened, buns, scones, shaped artisan breads all for sale, with an abundant smell of new bakes, thigh slappingly ostensible to anyone passing through. At the exit to the bakery was a woman claiming that there was forty seven ways to present an aubergine. Next, came the meat section where as a total carnivore, I had found Nirvana. Amazingly the Uzbeks buy blocks of fat. From any animal. They use it to improve stocks, which to me makes the most sense, but it just looks so revolting to buy in naturally formed chunks. There was evidence of every animal here. Lamb, Mutton, Beef, Chickens and surprisingly Camel. You could buy Camel tongues, toes and todgers, (good for barbecues apparently,) seemingly nothing wasted on the beast. I mused: - Fatima calling her husband from the garden, “I need more todger dear.”
I wandered into the clothing section directly adjacent to the meat market. Here I had a man try to sell me a belt that wasn’t big enough for a stick. Then there was Mandrid my new shoe friend. We’d crossed paths when I showed a particular interest in a patent leather trainer. A cross between Strictly Come Dancing and a Question of Sport type shoe. I had detected that it was genuinely authentic by the huge tick with the word “Nuke” next to it. So here I am with a size 10 left shoe fitting reasonably comfortably, when he declared that to try to get a match we need to go to his brothers stall, three down from his. His brother apparently for security reasons, only sold the right shoes. What? Now to progress, I had hopped to the stall three down to find that he only had a size 13 in the same shoe. His brother then tried to tell me that everyone has one foot bigger than the other. I remonstrated “ Not to the point where I can turn corners quicker than anyone else!” I think that he was quite angry that I didn’t accept his point.
It was in this same section that I fully realised how much significance the Uzbeks put upon the chastity of their women. I passed a knicker stall, I can assure you, dear reader, that it was quite by accident. But, and it is a big but, I could not believe firstly, the size of the pants,(some would quite comfortably grace a seated rhino,) but secondly a lot of them had bracers attached! Pants with bracers? I think that I need to say that phrase again – Pants with bracers! Just like all of you out there, my imagination got the better of me so it is probably best left alone.
Before I had a break, which must have been about two hours by now, I found my way into the hardware section. I needed a needle because the hem of one of my shirts had come undone. Using Bobby talk, I manage to purchase for less than half a dollar the item required. The guy that I had negotiated with went into the back on the pretence of wrapping it. I’d already said to him not to go to any trouble, when he comes back into the main shop with a wrapped five foot package. Somehow I had negotiated a garden hoe. My gestures during the Bobby talk sequence may have been slightly over egged. Moving on, in the same section I saw the most elaborate mouse trap in existence. Please allow me to describe rather than illustrate its prowess. Just imagine a bog standard mouse trap. Billy the mouse comes tippy tapping along, smells the cheese, investigates and gets decapitated in the process. Okay are you with me so far? This one was the Premium luxury version where at the end of the trap not only is there a block of cheese, but in addition there is a ninety degree picture of a female mouse in a bikini with red pouting lips. He is going to be seduced no matter wherever his preferences lie. What possible chance does the poor mouse have?
I was just walking away from the hardware part of the bazaar heading towards the pastries section when I guy tried to pick my pocket. Luckily I was quick enough to get a grip of his wrist before he had taken anything. For a second or possibly two we were both locked into a stare. He knew and I knew that he knew, that he was moments away from Elastoman the Urban defender. In seriousness, I think that we were both deeply shocked by the reaction, and I believe that it was my moustache, covering a quivering lip that quite possibly saved the day. His face was like a frightened child, which on reflection, he probably was. I will be honest with you all, that I had a desire to hit him. That alone was what shocked me. It worried me that sometimes without consideration all of us may at some point resort to a violent act. On reflection, however, after I had released the teenager from my grip, and watched him merge into the crowds, would I have felt better? I don’t think so. He was probably just trying to get by, just as we all do. I would really like to think that whatever the proceeds from his ill-gotten gains of the day, would go towards feeding his little sister, rather than sticking it up his nose.
That is past. Let me get onto the pastries. I had what I thought was going to be a sausage roll. It was bagged, waiting for me to find a café, to partake in a strong black coffee and my pastry. The waitress brought the steaming brew over and I opened the bag which held to roll. Opening the bag to allow any warmth in the pastry to cool slowly, I basked, yes basked in the seven degrees temperature outside. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw my sausage roll move ever so slightly to the left. Nah! It must be the adrenalin kicking in from the last half an hour. I had a decent slug of local coffee. (Which incidentally tasted like the picker had left his underwear in the bean sack.) The roll moved again. This time I was sure, so I watched it intensely, just to be positive. It did! This time though, the sausage roll gained some momentum, moving firstly to the left and then sharp right! I held both sides of the offending pastry and prized it apart. Ladies and gentlemen, and members of the jury, I had unveiled an eel. Probably an elver, but never the less a member of the family Anguilla. Was this day going to get better?
The simple answer is no. From the Bazaar I negotiated a deal with a local taxi guy. Two hours sight seeing with photo opportunities at the price of 40’000 Uzbek Soms. (around $5) Everything went well. We got on fine with Bobby talk coming to the fore. He showed me football stadia, concert halls, the National Library, Mosques, monuments and the famous hotel Uzbekistan. The first International Hotel built after the devastating earthquake of 1966. The whole of Tashkent was levelled, that is why there is no old town per se, or buildings more than fifty years of age here. We went to Amir Temur Square which is dedicated to the best war tactician Asia has ever known. He drove me past the Presidents Palace but told me that I was not allowed to take photographs. Everything went swimmingly until getting on towards the end of the tour I became tired. With fifteen minutes left in the two hour slot, I showed him my hotel details to take me back. He had no idea where it was! It panned out, in case you’re not there before me, that he was a charlatan and not a taxi driver at all. Can you believe it! I am in this city the size of Madrid, for around twelve hours and I have to find the way back to the hotel. I got us there by virtue of acknowledging yesterday that the hotel was directly opposite the state circus. He drove, I cussed, he shrank, I paid less than agreed. There that’s the bones of it!
I haven’t finished yet. So I had arranged to meet Uratnima and Mick at seven. They sent a message of apology that they couldn’t make it because her sisters son was sick. They offered instead Marat. He spoke some English very well, but not the words or sentences I knew. So I arrive in reception early with the intention of waiting for Uratnima and Mick. (This is pre message and the introduction of Marat, the English for beginners guy.) He tells me that Uratnima had told him that I was after Plov. I confirmed to the affirmative, and proffered that I would like a beer first, by way of an aperitif. This all seemed fine until I was informed that there was no alcohol for sale in the hotel. (Major review downgrade coming up on TripAdvisor.) So reviewing the situation Marat offered to take me to get a beer. Okay then let’s go. One mile walk later we get to an “Offie,” buys a single can of beer, puts it furtively in a black bag, and we walk the mile back to the hotel. There in the lounge he fetches a glass to pour the beer into. It fizzes like an Alker Seltzer, shooting all over his red reception suit jacket lapel, leaving me with a frothy mass in a small stemmed wine glass. The manager got involved at this juncture offering, “It didn’t travel well did it.”
I reflected: I had walked a mile in the drizzle to buy a can, that Marat had then carried discreetly back a second mile to the hotel to pour some froth into a wine glass. The manager asked me where I wanted to dine. Having walked two mile for a small froth I said somewhere local, I would like to try a Plov.
“Would you like wine with your Plov sir?”
“Then I am afraid it will not be local.”
“Am I crossing a border?” I asked with little expectation.
“No sir that would be foolish.”
“Sir it will be slightly out of town, but Marat will of course arrange the transport at no cost to yourself.”
“Well that sounds reasonable enough. – Let’s do it.”
Stupid – Stupid – Stupid! The journey was half an hour into the backwoods of Uzbekistan. Marat had apologised because he had lost the internet giving him directions to a restaurant that he had never been to before. We found it after forty minutes, Lord knows how. The manager comes out to greet us, only to inform the congregation of me, Marat and a lingering hotel driver called Mohammed, that the chef is on an extended Christmas break. Incidentally at this point, even if the chef had been working did Marat and Mohammed intend to sit there and watch me eat? There is no sugar coating it, at this point patience was a card game and not a condition. As a non-sated consumer, I expressed my dissatisfaction to the point where the interior roof lining of the car peeled off.
So now some one hour later we arrive back at the same off licence for me to purchase a much need bottle of red wine to go with the Plov. I have got out of the car and told Marat and his non internet side kick Mohammed to Plov off! I buy the red wine a bargain at £1.90p. (It was described as an Uzbek Merlot – The difference being that there was a typo on the label and it read ‘Merlog.’) So I takes my bottle of Merlog and heads for the best local restaurant in town as recommended by Marat when we first walked for the beer almost a decade ago. Sat down – “Plov is finished,” said the sweet talking waitress with the tattoos on all exposed limbs. “Meat and Vegetables only.”
“So we’ll give the fine dining a miss then.”
“Oh yes please, would it be okay if you brought it before I die?”
“Is joke - yes?”
“It will be fine, thank you. Oh do you have a cork screw please?”
“Yes.” She waited for around a minute, presumably to let the latest tattoo dry out, then walked off.
Around fifteen minutes or so later a different waitress brought a huge plate of meat hiding under a blanket of dill. Then came a salad (fundamental error here – it was a cucumber.) Ten minutes after that she returned with a bottle opener and a basket containing a discus of bread. The Merlog opened she presented me with a yoghurt bowl.
I was on my on my own in a large emptying canteen, but credit where its due, sometimes basic is just what you need. Dish of the day was around £6 give or take and the walk home was through drizzle, but I simply didn’t care.
Position: 41°19'27” N 69°14'30”E – Miles completed: 04519
Location: Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 02:05 - 5th January 2020 - Journey 9 days 18 hours