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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com (their cheesy phraseology, not mine – ed.) mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,400 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 36 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 115 posts. There were 69 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was July 20th with 117 views. The most popular post that day was A first growth Bordeaux hiding in Dushanbe.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, tojikvso.blogspot.com, carpetblog.typepad.com, syukyuman.blog95.fc2.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for dushanbe, devushka, nurek dam, roghun, and roghun dam.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

A first growth Bordeaux hiding in Dushanbe July 2010

2

Dushanbe’s Haji Yakub Mosque April 2009

3

Roghun Dam: A story of water, cotton, corruption, and coercion January 2010
4 comments

4

Good-night, sweet Carpetblog January 2010
2 comments

5

About April 2009
3 comments

 

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So that’s the end of WordPress’s summary of my blog, and I wanted to take a brief moment out of digging through several hundred unresponded-to e-mails that I ignored over the holidays to wish everybody a Happy New Year, and also to apologize for the dearth of posts since about June.  That’s when I moved to Zimbabwe and it has been an amazing six months, filled with romance, stone sculptures, furniture commissioning, job hunting, and English solicitor qualification exams.  All is well though, better than great in most ways, and my New Year’s resolution is to keep in better touch with this blog and my other, wine auctions one too.

So, best to everyone and expect more soon.

How to write about Africa

Under an African sky at Great Zimbabwe... oh shit, cliched again!

As many of you know, I recently moved to Zimbabwe.  It’s quite a departure from Tajikistan, and there’s lots and lots to write about here.  But being new to the country and the continent, and knowing a bit of the difficult history of both the country and the continent, I’ve been hesitant to blog about Africa.  Luckily, I ran across some advice for people like me.

The title of this post is from an article that appeared in Granta magazine in 2005 by Binyavanga Wainaina and was relatively recently referenced by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite bloggers at The Atlantic magazine’s website.

It turns out that I’m not the only one finding that it is tough to write about Africa, and Africans, without sounding like a ignorant racist asswipe.  Wainaina gives some tongue-in-cheek advice for the would-be Africa writer, and since I’d rather avoid giving people that impression about me, I will do my best not to fall prey to the many, many tired cliches that he mentions and which writers lapse into when discussing Africa.* If I fail, call me out on it.

* I know, “tired cliche” is itself a tired cliche, but that’s par for the course for me in blog posts and doesn’t unmask me as a racialist dick, just as a sometimes lazy writer.

In the meantime, here’s the sort of stuff I’m trying to avoid:

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermetic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Any of you see my falling into stereotypes or florid prose, as I said, call me out.  Please.

And with that disclaimer and plea for help, expect posts on Zim and Africa soon.

Found!

Chateau Haut-Brion is one of the most-storied and beloved chateaux in Bordeaux.  It was classified by the French government as a “first growth” chateau in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines.  That means that it was considered at the time, and is still considered by many people, to be one of the top five wines produced in Bordeaux, one of the top wine regions in the world.

Fine Bordeaux red wine has never been cheap — in fact, the first growths were initially chosen by determining the five most expensive Bordeaux red wines — but the modern price leaps of Bordeaux have been exponential, rendering most of these great wines undrinkable as they’re just too valuable to pour down your throat.  Of course, this is an incredible shame as wines from these five chateaux are typically some of the most highly rated wines to drink in the world according to experts.  It also means that I have only had a few opportunities to try these wines, mostly when I was I teaching assistant for the Introduction to Wines course at Cornell in the mid-90s.

Needless to say, I didn’t think my next chance to have one of these stellar, pricey vins would be in Dushanbe.  I was wrong.

Expat oenophile and friend Oleg found a bottle of 1993 Ch. Haut-Brion tucked away on the shelves of a Dushanbe grocery store near the train station.  Now, the stores located on this strip of Rudaki Avenue are where we usually go to stock up on imported Russian beer, but finding a fine Bordeaux there?  I mean, no way.  Except this time, there it was, an almost 20 year old bottle of the good stuff.

How good?  Let’s look for empirical evidence at two of my favorite online wine resources:

  1. Price average $281 per bottle from http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/haut-brion/1993; and
  2. Rating average 93 points from http://www.grapestories.com/wine.asp?iWine=7064.

That’s pretty good.

To his everlasting credit, Oleg bought the bottle to my final dinner in Dushanbe.  As we sat on the tapchan, surrounded by non bread and Tajik vodka, we had the chance to sip one of the finest wines known on Earth.  I didn’t write any tasting notes, but I remember the intricate flavors, the smoky fruit, and the surprising strength of a wine that old.  Taking off my wine snob hat, let me just say that it was a damn fine wine.

An unanswered question is: how the hell did a ’93 Haut-Brion find its way to Tajikistan?  There were no tax stamps and no back label, which suggest that the bottle came from someone important’s private cellar.  The skittishness of the seller, as reported by Oleg, and his vagueness about the bottle’s provenance support that guess as well.  Could we have enjoyed some of President Rahmon’s private stash?  Who knows, but I like to think that we did.

Patience dear reader

Just passed the one week point of my stay in Zimbabwe and everything is spectacular in my new locale and with my lady.  We’ve been super-busy exploring Harare and environs together (stunning), drinking South African wine (a mixed bag, but great to have lots to choose from), watching the World Cup (congrats to Ghana, they deserved it), and buying home furnishings (shoe rack!).

What I haven’t done is gone through all my photos from the Pamirs yet, or at least, I haven’t picked and resized the ones for the blog yet.  Bad me.

Above the town of Roshtkala in the Pamirs

But I do have lots to share of the Pamirs, photos and anecdotes especially, so it will come soon.  Fingers crossed.

And thanks to U.’s photographic prowess (and awesome camera), lots too to share of Africa.  Finger crossed for that too.

At Domboshawa National Park, just outside of Harare

  • Шашлык [shashlik] n. grilled meat, typically served on sticks or skewers and prepared over hot coals; commonly found in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia.

Delicious!

To echo something I said in the last installment of Tajik Word of the Day, no trip to Tajikistan would be, could be, complete without eating шашлык.  Ground lamb шашлык, known as farsh, is being prepared in a riverside park in Khujand in the photo above.

There’s a wide variety of types of шашлык, ranging from simple chunks of meats on a skewer to more elaborate, and typically fatty, concoctions.  For example, roulet is a type of шашлык in which strips of lamb meat are rolled together with strips of lamb fat to form little swirls, which are then skewered and grilled.  Yum, lipids.  Шашлык also comes in a wide variety of different meats.  Lamb and beef are the most common here in Dushanbe, but I absolutely loved the yak шашлык I had in a re-purposed storage container in the Murghab bazaar.

I need to start figuring out how to get yak meat in Harare.

Extreme zoom!

As you can see, no stick of шашлык is complete without a pile of raw onions on top.  A liberal dousing with vinegar is also a must, at least for me.

Is it wrong that one of the things I’ll miss about Tajikistan is the шашлык?

And soon, the Pamirs

Seen at the shrine in Langar

Ended up being 980 or so photos that I took during the Pamirs trip last week, and don’t you worry your pretty little selves, they will be shared on here.  Well, not all of them, but you’ll get the idea.  To get us in the mood, take a look at the photo to the left.  This was an inscription painted outside an Ismaili shrine outside of the village of Langar, which the last settlement on the eastern side of the Wakhan Valley in the Tajik Pamirs.  If you can’t read Farsi, here’s the English translation:

The greatest sin is fear.

I thought that was good, and it was something I kept in mind when I was hiking on inclines at altitude.

And I’ll share one other photo.  I had Asal, my traveling companion for the Pamirs trip, take lots of pictures of me in what I imagined were dashing poses.  Many weren’t.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t show one such photo here.

Notice the hipster Afghan scarf and my "tan"

Cool petroglyphs, huh?  They range in age from the Bronze Age to about last year.  More soon of the ‘glyphs and the Pamirs.

A fun, whirlwind week of touring the Pamirs with our own driver(s) finished up today with a 6 hour drive back from Murghab in the eastern Pamirs, and I’m back in Khorog. Tomorrow the plan is to take a day trip up one of the valleys and see some more petroglyphs and Ismaili shrines.

It was an extensively documented trip thanks to an 8 GB memory card.  No pictures to be posted yet, however, as I can’t seem to find a way to upload them from the internet cafe (and the tots playing GTA next to me are too engrossed to help), but lots and lots to share when the time comes.  I’m sure some of them will even be cool-looking.  In the meantime, some more of my trip, by the numbers:

  • Three sticks of yak shashlik consumed (and a yak samosa for good measure);
  • Three Pamiri children who acted as impromptu guides for us (they bound from stone to stone like mountain goats);
  • Three pairs of Pamiri socks purchased;
  • Two different 4×4 vehicles used;
  • One homestay we stayed at that was without a bathroom or an outhouse (when we asked where the toilet was, our host swept his arm across the horizon);
  • One snow/hail storm we got caught in outside of Murghab on the Chinese border;
  • One book I finished reading (Animal Farm, can’t believe I had never read it before); and
  • Zero places to check internet.