Sunday, 24 October 2010


I left Kazakhstan in 27 degrees of heat.
A day or so later and snow is forecast.

There will be frantic activity up on the ski slopes above the town. Almaty is hosting the Asian Winter Games in a few weeks time, and there is still much building of wooden hotels and chalets to be done up there, ready for the influx.

Near to my son's glass tower of an office block a terrifyingly perilous ski-jump rears into the sky. He hopes to be able to watch people hurling themselves down it from somewhere near his desk.
His own skis are ready, near the door of his apartment.
I try not to think too much about the slopes he will be attacking.
I'm not sure that it was such a good thing to have seen them; the rocks, the tree-stumps, the brand-new, untested chair-lift network.

It is only days since we sat in warm sunshine on the terrace of this Georgian restaurant. Fragrant woodsmoke drifted across the steep valley.
Two caged wolves paced nearby, their yellow eyes fixed on us.
All too close to them was a sort of pets' corner of rabbits and chickens. My son fought hard against the urge to pass the wolves a couple of chunky little rabbits.
Kazakhstan is said to have more wolves than Canada, although I'm not sure how anyone can prove that. I just hope those particular wolves will either be released or fed as the snow falls on the mountains.

Snow will be falling on the spacious avenues of Panfilov Park, just one of so many beautful tree-filled spaces in Almaty.

The leaves will have gone.
But life will continue in the little wooden houses in every side street and back lane, where they sit comfortably among the new glass and chrome and the old Soviet blocks.
Every ex-Soviet block has its own courtyards, with play equipment for children, drying racks for the washing and benches in the sun where you can sit and chat with your neighbours.
Every wooden house has its orchard, its vegetable patch, and many near the city centre have a cow or a couple of goats.
We have so much to learn about life-style.


Molly said...

It all sounds so reminiscent of the Ukraine where my mother-in-law grew up, and was forced to flee from by the war and Stalin's excesses.... Such lovely pictures of a lovely place. Yes, I think they are way ahead of us in the lifestyle department, with so many communal places and encouragement to mingle.....Thank you for letting us experience Kazakhstan through your eyes!

marigold jam said...

Welcome home! What a cultre shcok you must be feeling just now? I have loved hearing about places I never even knew about before and the different lifestyles there. Thank you for sharing it all with us. I know what you mean about not wanting to think about where your son will be skiing - a mother is always concerned for her children even when they are fully grown adults and sometimes it is better not to know what they are doing. I usually console myself with the thought that mine is at least not a war correspondent nor imprisoned I know not where and for that I must be grateful!!


Zhoen said...

I can understand the urge to let the predator meet the prey, not out of cruelty, but because it seems natural.

Ski jumping is completely unnatural.

Could do with an orchard and a clothes drying rack.

Relatively Retiring said...

Molly: so many of the people Stalin forced out settled peacefully in Kazakhstan, making it the most wonderfully multi-ethnic and tolerant country.

Jane; yes, it's good to be able to visualise where my son is - except for the ski slopes! The real cost of parenting is setting them free.

Zhoen: the rabbits and wolves are within smelling distance of each other and must be playing havoc with each others' instincts.
The communal spaces in the much maligned old Soviet blocks seem extremely civilised to me.

Isabelle said...

Why is your son in Kazakhstan? (No need to say if you don't want to.)That's setting free with a vengeance. Our son is in Perth (Scotland) which is painful enough.

Frances said...

I have enjoyed these posts so much, Relatively interesting, so beautiful.
I confess I had to look up Kazakhstan in my favorite atlas - an Oxford one from circa 1950s, (which has satisfying countries like Tanganyika and Bechuanaland), and see that they called the capital Alma-Ata back then.

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: my son is working there. The main purpose of the visit was to spend time with him, so it was a great bonus that he's in such a lovely place. Before that it was Moscow!

Frances: thank you. I also had to use the atlas. Both my sons are good for my geography, as the younger one also gets around in the course of his work.
I know what you mean about the old atlas. Alma-Ata was the old Soviet name for Almaty - which means 'grandfather apple'. It's thought that apples originated from there.

Isabelle said...

What does one do in Kazakhstan, I wonder? He's a diplomat?

My children have been told from youth that they're not allowed to live overseas. Yes, I know. I'm a bad, bad mother.

Actually, my daughter who's getting married and moving to London points out that if one's children are away, they may not come for tea every Sunday but one sees them at greater length when one does see them. Hmm.

pohanginapete said...

That weather sounds like ours at the moment — shorts, jandals and T-shirt one day; down jacket, woollen socks and fleece trousers the next.

I remember the way a Tibetan wolf in an Indian zoo looked at me through the steel mesh of its cage. To cage a wolf seems fundamentally wrong.

That style of life you describe so beautifully reminds me of New Zealand as much of it was; as most of it is no longer. Even the gardens now seem too often to resemble creative expressions intended at least in part to impress, rather than natural, unremarkable elements of a way of life.

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: I believe in parenting you do your best - no good or bad rules apply (apart from the obvious 'elf'n'safety' stuff!). Some people have implied that my sons have 'needed' to get as far away as be it. There is much truth in what your daughter says. I love to visit my sons in their own places - think what a great time you can have in London.

P.Pete: I am haunted by those yellow eyes. I won't say what also happens to a few Golden Eagles
because I'm sure you know.

That's a very interesting thought about the gardens. Thank you.
H and I were working out how I could live in a wooden house just off the main thoroughfare, with orchard, a few chickens and a (Dexter) cow, yet within easy reach of Tiffany's. Would I still hanker after impressive hardy perennials?

I hope it's more T-shirt than down jacket for you very soon.

herhimnbryn said...

Thankyou for the postcards RR. I felt as though I was at your shoulder.

Like PP, I feel caging wolves is wrong. Like you I would be haunted by those yellow eyes.

Relatively Retiring said...

HHnB: thank you. It's sometimes difficult to accept the cultural differences towards animals. As far as the owners of the 'mini-zoo' were concerned the wolves were probably well cared for, with shelter and food. But it's impossible to forget the look in the eyes.

herhimnbryn said...

Have left you a flower suggestion over at my place.