Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nomads Exist!

This morning I decided to undertake a long-overdue task that I'd been avoiding all winter, namely because it was cold outside.  No, cold is an understatement.  It was hellishly cold.  That task was walking across one of the many bridges that criss-cross Astana.  Any tourist worth her salt knows that one's travels are not complete if no bridges have been traversed.  This brings me to the second condition that prevented me from bridge-walking for so long—finding the river.  Really, it's a bit of a charity to call the sluggish ditch meandering through the city a river (I think the reason this city even has a river is so that we can refer to it's two halves by the prosaic "right bank" and "left bank").  As in, "Oh, you live on the right bank?  That's so hipster.  I bet you were living there before the Soviets built Tselinograd, weren't you?"

I'm not ever sure the river is actually visible from the top of Bayterek, which, by the by, is by far not the highest point in the city, but if anything is to be espied from a high place, then it seems only fitting that all height-induced discoveries in this city should be made from the giant symbolic bird's nest.  Nevertheless, we did eventually find the river, and I would say that, while not the most spectacular bridge in the city, this one did have some interesting features.  It was near to the president's palace—ahem, residence— also had a lovely view of the giant glass pyramid that, as far as I can gather, was placed by aliens that the president summoned with his psychic powers.  Oh,  you haven't heard of the president's psychic powers?  I think it's a level-up you earn when you reach 15 years of being in power without any significant uprisings.

I now have reason to be happy that I waited so long to check this box on my Kazakhstan Tourist Travel Card (one more box and I get a free bottle of Kumis!), though, after what we saw on our walk.  I now have irrefutable proof that nomads exist.  Once thought only the stuff of legend, they yet walk (or rather, ride) among us.

At least he was riding against traffic.

It's difficult to say what, exactly, brought him out of the steppe and into the vast metropolis, but he obviously had something important to get to.  I, for one, wouldn't leave the pedestrian area and get anywhere near the driving lanes for any amount of kumis, shashlik, or manti.  But I suppose I take an outsider's view of things.

This brings me to an interesting point of Kazakh culture, though.  At one point while crossing the bridge, we encountered some military personnel, and I thought that perhaps they would stop this solitary nomad, tell him that horses didn't belong out on suspension bridges, especially anywhere near automobiles—how drivers in this city avoid fiery deaths everyday still eludes me—but they simply watched him pass.  Then I remembered that a horse can go nearly anywhere in Kazakhstan.  Why, once I even heard of a man on a horse walking right up to the presidential pal.. , erm, residence, and setting up camp in the presidential dining room.  I think the horse actually slept on the table.

In another account, a Kazakh man decided he wanted to go to the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, and didn't want to leave his horse out in the parking lot (I think it was asthmatic, and at that time of night the idling taxis raise quite a cloud of exhaust), so he took his horse into the theater with him.  There was a bit of a debacle when the horse's tail got caught in the escalator (they're still working out the lawsuit on that one), but no one seemed to mind when the horse—almost systematically—went around and sneezed into everyone's popcorn.  I suppose, given the choice, it's still better than having the teenager working behind the counter sneeze into it.

Yes, nomads exist, and they walk among us.

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