By Susan Griffith-Jones, Exclusive
Continued from previous issue…
The lady at the reception desk of the National Academic Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan already knows why I’m here, as the person in charge at the hostel had called ahead to ask if they accept book donations. I scrawl a few words on the inside cover and hand over the books. She looks at my Nikon camera that I have casually hung around my neck after coming in from the street outside and asks me something in Russian, which I don’t catch. A girl standing nearby translates, “Would I like to see around the library?” I am whisked along a side corridor, at the end of which is a room. Knock, enter, sit down. I am now facing a senior member of the establishment.
Before I can thank the receptionist, she’s gone and I find myself in a pigeon language situation between Russian and English. Neither of us can really get our point across, resorting to an effortful filling of gaps with gestures and logic. I am about to open a channel previously unexplored, a somewhat turning point in my life that I am aware is occurring right now. This is a ‘bardo’ moment, a hanging between opening and closing a doorway to unexplored potential. I am aware that the next few minutes could result in me being escorted to the steps of the library with a polite, “Thank you for your donation of books and goodbye!”, story closed or passing on to a deeper recess of my experience. I choose the latter. Something is happening here and I am curious. I want to know more, dive in.
I am free to get my point across when an English speaking lady appears. On learning that I have been touring Russia and making presentations of my work there, the lady in charge issues an opening, a connecting point, asking if I would do a presentation of my work at their library sometime in the future.
While touring the library’s wealth of information, a fresh new perspectives on my world vision impacts an already established one; the indigenous Kazakhstani people are a largely nomadic ‘Turkic’ people, a race once covering a huge area of central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet, as far south as the fringes of Northern Iran, right across to Turkey and the Volga regions of Southern Russia. Their ancient script is a runic style of twigs and crow’s feet lookalike symbols, talk of historical battles etched into megalithic stones, markers on the steppes of this part of the world, pillars to remind the future of the consequences of the past. In the library’s ‘Museum of the History of Kazakh Literature’, a beautiful first edition calligraphic Quran sits in a glass box.
Bekzat, whose job is to coordinate international programmes and cultural services at the library, takes over the tour. He shows me and the English speaking librarian, an edition of Confucius’s texts written on bamboo in their Rare Book Collection Department and in a board room sporting shelves of antiques and hard leather bound books, picks off a banjo/lute style instrument – the Dombra, from the wall and plays us an enigmatic Kazakh folk tune.
Later on, released from this bubble and thoroughly whacked from a huge one shot download of Kazakh history and information, I pass the rest of the afternoon weaving along the spine of Nurzhol Boulevard’s pedestrian road at a cool pace, getting orientated, sometimes to the left, right and middle, clicking photos at different installation art and impressive shapes of buildings and objects along the way.
My research prior to coming here, experience so far and what I‘ve just learned in the library leads me into the questioning stage. I’ve also found that what comes up very quickly after arriving at a place is often truer than later impressions. Right now I don’t get it. I am confused by something. All this here seems vastly out of place. It is unexpected. It doesn’t fit. I cannot grasp it.
To absolve my unsettled feelings, I take photos; it’s my way of seeing through the surface of what’s appearing in front of me, like peering through a filter that frames different portions of the scene, giving each a ticket that can be confronted with an ordinary reality. Statue of person, Click. Installation art that children can play on, click. Park bench and ice cream cart, click. Skyscraper with apartments or offices in them, click. Fountain with backdrop of new buildings, click.
Step by step of the way produces different delights of artistic expression. I quell the sensitivity and accordingly the scene around me adjusts. I click and click all the way to one end of the line where there’s a shopping and entertainment complex hidden within the bowels of a sweeping tent like roof. Its name, ‘Khan Shatyr’, means ‘the Tent of the Khan’.
The best vision of the line of axis is from the top of the Bayterek tower that stands in the centre of all this. It’s huge, like a tall thin bodied vase holding a golden ball in its clutches at the top. You can ascend to this golden orb in an elevator and then climb a spiral staircase at the top to place your hand in the gilded mold of the hand print of the President of Kazakhstan etched into a triangular shape upon a podium in the centre of this space. I am coming to learn that nothing here in this city is without a symbolic reason.
I’m now getting mildly obsessed with the boulevard’s line of axis and wander through a pair of huge golden pillars towards the other end. I am a little annoyed when I have to veer off track for a while, as over lording one significant point on the line is the huge palace of the President of Kazakhstan, demarcated by a big fence and the river behind. I have to pass over one of the new bridges to get beyond and back to the axis again, the angle lending new perspective to the whole place.
When out of the blue I just happen to wander under a canopy of umbrellas dangling from metal wires fixed overhead, I think to myself that this city, a wonderment of artistic delight, never ceases to surprise! Yet the large pyramid structure lying beyond the umbrellas, the Palace of Peace and Accord’ somehow seems destitute here, sort of lost in the middle of the space of an empty park, like a forgotten temple in the bowels of a jungle. From the outside, it is not that big, I mean in comparison with the pyramids I have seen in Egypt or some of the Mayan temples of Central America. But one is hit with a ‘Tardis’ effect in its interior and then strongly feels its grandeur of vastness and meaning.
Here I learn that these three dominating structures (Khan Shatyr, Bayterek Tower and the Palace of Peace and Accord) making up both ends and the central piece of the axis of New Astana have been designed by the famous British architect, Lord Norman Foster. This is getting uncanny. They say that when you come across someone three times within a short amount of time and without prior meeting arrangements, on the third, one should approach the person for he or she surely has a message to give you.
The first time I ever heard of Lord Norman Foster was only a bit over one month ago, in Berlin, Germany. This here and now, is the third.
To be continued…
Susan’s website may be found at www.pyramidkey.com