Traveling Companions in Uzbekistan

Samarkand, June 2022

On the question of loneliness: “Isn’t that lonely, what you’re doing?”

(I have just returned from a solo trip to Uzbekistan.)

Well, these friends came along for the ride: The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk, for the long Istanbul flight; The Captain’s Daughter by Alexander Pushkin that was fortunate enough to have a photo at the Pushkin Metro Station in Tashkent and was enjoyed under the shade of the trees of Amir Timur Square; Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, read during those days at the Halva Book Cafe whilst waiting for the Bukharan sun to soften; and A Carpet Ride to Khiva by Turkish-British Christopher Aslan Alexander, which accompanied me through Khiva’s storied alleys.

As there is currently so much more outside book covers to commit to paper, I release myself from the discipline of writing book reviews this month. “Regular programming” will resume in this blog in July. Haha 

But I have to mention that Pamuk, who sacrificed painting and architecture school so he could paint with words, taught me a Greek word through this book — “Ekphrasis”. Simply put, ekphrasis is, “To describe something, via words, for the benefit of those who have not seen it.” This inspired me to somehow practice ekphrasis in my little way as I traveled through Uzbekistan, and doing so has allowed me to savor experiences twice.

Pushkin, although political, was not as existentially heavy as Dostoevsky and not as heavy literally as Tolstoy — a purely delightful travel companion!

A Carpet Ride to Khiva seems to have left no stone unturned about Khivan society. It is written in simple prose, bursting at the seams with honest observations, this book is an entertaining overview of the country’s history and politics — which is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the author is banned in Uzbekistan, and why I only brought the e-book with me. I, too, have my own observations, but will keep them to myself for the time being. But it has to be noted that along with reading, traveling is a most comprehensive education on geopolitics, among other things, if one cares to engage and observe.

Solnit, with a title perfect for a trip, shared this Eskimo custom of offering an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system by going in a line across the landscape; “The point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.”

I, who had no anger to release, did mark the places that bore witness to the strength and length of… something else. I enjoy traveling solo. I would not keep doing it if I didn’t. It is almost like a sort of essential meditation for me and I always go home a better person. I do not feel sad with my own company. But I did mark those places, those experiences so ineffable I could think of only one person to share them with. I would prefer to call it love than loneliness. (But why is conquering anger about letting go and conquering something else the opposite? But I digress.)

As I reluctantly tuck in this unforgettable trip lovingly and a little bit pensively in the folds of memory, I am reminded that the Old Uzbek language had a hundred words for different kinds of crying. And I wonder, what about laughter? What about happiness? 

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