Last night David left for home. Emil came to pick him up at 1:20 a.m. <blech> I had gone to sleep earlier, and David woke me up to say goodbye. With the central heat on, it is very warm in the apartment, and we have been sleeping with the windows open. (That's how you run the thermostat). Anyway, there are a lot of stray dogs around the apartment, and for some reason, they bark all night long. Yap yap yap, without stopping. I haven't wanted to use earplugs, in case I got an emergency call from Melanie in the night. So I told Emil, if you see those dogs out there, please tell them to SHUT UP! (Actually I made the international sign for a gun and said, "pow pow" but I don't want to get in trouble with the animal rights folks. I do have a dog whom I love dearly). Emil said, "You know, I live over a cafe that is open 24 hours a day, and there are many drunk people there shouting all night long. I think it's better that you have the dogs!" I had an email from David that he made it to Frankfurt. He should be home at 2:30 p.m. EST on Monday.
Today is "Republic Day" in Kazakhstan. Perhaps similar to our July 4? No school today, and no shops are open. All except the Ramstore (Kazakh Wal-Mart) which I believe is open 24 hours 7 days a week. (Heh heh, so why is there a lock on the door, as the old joke goes!) Today we called Vitallik (whom we keep mistakenly calling Vassily ... so we've just started calling him Vassily, much to his amusement!) to take us to the main square, where the festivities were being held. There were vendors selling food, drinks, balloons, you name it. And there were pony and horse rides, and boys playing ping-pong. On each end of the square was a huge hot-air balloon, offering rides up, not very far, and tethered to the ground, for 500 tenge. Mom insisted that I pass, thinking about nightmare scenarios where I'm in a Kazakh hospital with both my arms and legs broken, and she taking care of Melanie, by herself! Instead, I got a wild hair and decided to pay 200 tenge to ride a horse! Had to ride a horse while I was in Kazakhstan! The horse is very much part of the Kazakh culture. Covered in a zillion miles of flatlands, Kazakhstan is home to a version of our cowboy, the nomad. They would move on horseback across the steppe with their herds of sheep or cows, searching for good grazing areas. The horse was transportation and food source (remember I ate "bishparmak" in Taldy?) and fermented mare's milk (koumiss)is known for its curative properties, especially for tuberculosis.
So there I was, riding across the square on my trusty silver steed, named "Sobyet" (a communist horse?) and as we approached a carriage being pulled by another horse, I had a vision of him bolting and running away, depositing me ceremoniously on the concrete ground. I thought, "Maybe I should have ridden in the balloon! It might have been safer!" However, I don't think Sobyet would have broken into a slow trot if his tail had been on fire. He pretty much just loped around the square, and came back to the same spot that we left. His handler, a boy of about 14, never left his side, so I'm sure it was all safe and risk-free. I didn't let on that just the other day I had feasted on his cousin in TaldyKorgan. We got the requisite photo op taken care of, then wandered back to the main staging area, where several hundred school children were assembled, dressed in every type of national costume imaginable. Some were in the Kazakh dress, some in Ukranian, Korean, Russian, Polish, you name it. Probably representative of all the ethnic groups that live in Kazakhstan. It was quite beautiful, and they all had a small bouqet of flowers that they would wave over their heads in time to the music. A man on the stage (think of a big outdoor concert with mega wattage of speakers stacked on top of each other) would read poems and shout instructions to the kids as they danced. Color and motion captured the eye. We decided we had seen enough, so we repaired to the Dublin Pub, which we had seen on the way to the square. We had a nice lunch of smoked salmon, goat cheese, and Shepherd's Pie (which Melanie and I shared), and listened to "City of New Orleans" in Russian. (Hint .. places that cater to foreigners tend to be a little pricey). We stopped at the Ramstore for water and eggs, and of course left with 45 other things too. We all crashed pretty hard for two hours, and feel better for it after yesterday's marathon.
Tonight we went to eat Indian food at Govinda's. Both David and my dad despise Indian food, so when mom and I are together, we always take advantage and gorge ourselves on Tandoori chicken and naan and whatever else we can get our hands on. Govinda's is a vegetarian restaurant, (no chicken tonight) and the "Complex Lunch" gives you a sample of all types of different dishes. One with cheese, one with "aubergine" (much nice to say than eggplant), a soup with green beans,some kind of dough with a cucumber-yogurt sauce, chutney, and these light puffs of pastry. Plus dessert .. .which was sort of like rice pudding, only with cream of wheat. It tasted very nutty. Aida joined us, as did Vittalik, but they didn't eat .. they just had tea & dessert.
All in all a very nice day; tomorrow we're going to TSUM to get some souvenirs.