Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not a typical summer hat

I purchased the hat at a chinese bazaar in a village 2 hours outside of Almaty two weeks before I left for Azerbaijan. The sun had been strong that day and the hat as sylish as it was well priced. For three hundred Tenge, or a little over 2 and a half dollars I was now rocking the classic Kazakhstan 2007 summer old man hat. The hat was being spotted on the heads of pensioners all over the country in such old man hangouts as backgammon tables and marshrootka or mini bus ticket counters. Needless to say this hat was special and was already making waves in a country devoid of an ocean.

I wore the hat through customs, on the plane and even in the taxi cab tearing through the streets of Baku at 7:07 pm on 7/7/07. I wore it as I walked away from the hostel that had denied me entry even after I made a reservation three weeks before. And I was wearing the hat as I approached a Scottish fellow looking for directions to a hotel. The hat was cream coloured with a yellow and black striped band around its base. Crafted by a hat machine somewhere in Xinjiang province, it had most likely made an equally long trip to the bazaar as I had made with it from the bazaar to Baku, Azerbaijan. The Scottish fellow heard my situation and offered my to crash in is apartment within the walls of the old city. A few hours later I removed the hat, placed it on the floor next to the army cot I was sleeping on and fell asleep.

I was wearing the hat the next day when I met an Uzbek man about my age. We began talking and the subject quickly changed from the safe multi-dimensional topic of Central Asian plov to the dangerous one-dimensional topic of Uzbek-American politics. It seemed that the hat had given me all it was worth and it was beginning to put quite a strain on my head. Our conversation ended on a lighter note as the young man complimented the beauty of the fine machine woven stitching that made up the hat. I once read somewhere that in many muslim cultures if someone compliments you on a possession you are required to give it to them. I'm not muslim but my Uzbek friend was and I realized were in a muslim country. I interpreted these coincidences as signs, just as strong the sun that shone on my neck and encouraged me to buy the hat it the first place. I knew it was time to pass all the style and good fortune the hat had given me onto someone else.

"The hat is yours" I said and removed it from my head, brushed off the sweat with the back of my forearm as I presented it to him. "You are the most generous American I have ever met" he responded. I now was convinced, the hat had served its purpose.

On the flight home from Baku a few weeks later, I noticed that the flight attendants were the same. An hour before landing, one of them a Russian woman in her mid thirties approached me and asked in Russian where my hat had gone. Slightly startled and confused, I told her I had given it to a friend who deserved it more than I did. She seemed a bit upset but continued the conversation. She had spent six months in Brooklyn last year, living in her friends apartment on Ocean Parkway she said.

We landed back in Kazakhstan, with the hat still continuing its journey. The Uzbek lived in India and would most likely bring it with him there, unless he felt the need to pass it on to another. How many more the hat would bring style and fortune to I may never know, but I had a feeling its journey would be long and arduous. It was after all, a one size fits all.

The transfer is agreed upon.

A Summer Stroll

I can't remember there being many flowers breaking through the sidewalks of Brooklyn. It's hard concrete that we chase up and down city streets, strong enough to support our quickening paces. In Vinnoye its a natural soil that covers the village floor. In late spring, into early and mid summer flowers of all types stretch their necks through this soil and are greeted by the snouts of all different kinds of wild and domestic animals. All intertwined together, they create a slow moving repetitive story of which each chapter lasts three months. With four chapters to every book and every book so similar to the next, the village notices when something changes. A six foot tall figure jutting through these dirt roads seemingly on a very important mission changes the plot completely.
The first question is obvous. Where is this newcomer going at such a pace? There are only a few places someone could be headed on foot in the village of Vinnoye. The skola, the hospital, horsefarm, the local shop or maybe somewhere over kruglia hill, to uncharted lands. It's a Sunday the one day where people put down their hoes and lay their frames to rest, so that cancels out the skola and horsefarm. He could be headed to the hospital, but there's a small remont there, an installation of new chinese made windows: a step down in quality from the old soviet one's which we stolen sometime between '92 and '94, but what can be done as the good ol' days are long past by now. He could be headed to Ivan Vsilovich's shop, but everyone knows that pensions are already two weeks late and that means Ivan Vsilovich shelves will be more bare than the old men who every June plant potatoes in nothing but black speedos.
One would be lucky to find a bottle of Slavyanka during a dry spell like that. Kruglia hill it must be, but who walks towards Kruglia hill on a Vaskresenya afternoon with such determination in his glazis? There is no rifle on his arm so he can't be going there to hunt rabbit or ptitisis. He goes alone and carries no blue tarp or large rice bag neccesary for an afternoon picnic. There is really only one possibility left, that his brats already headed out for a picnic and he is meeting them, extremelt late and in a great hurry. Yes, this could make sense, but why is he not carrying any podarkis with him? At the very least some smoked fish and piva are neccesary if a friend is meeting his tovarish fo a nice Sunday afternoon picnic. This poses a serious problem and is cause for real concern. After all, if chapter two of this year's book is different from chapter two of last year's book one could make the argument that the third chapter would be different as well, making the whole year's book different and eventually completely changing the story dramatically. In the entire history of the village there has been very little real change, of course there was that one time when the Ivanovich couple took15 potatoes from a neighbours yard without asking but that situation was resolved with the potatoes being paid for.
The concern now can be seen on the faces of two babooshkas sitting on a nearby bench, the constant pace of their croquet needles slowed to a halt. The light sound of their gossiping is all that is heard as a young fourth form girl suddently sprints in the middle of the path, picks a fresh sunflower from the earth and intercepting the fast paced figure, presents it to him. The six foot figure accepts the svetok and with a smile brewing on his face, peers deeply into the midday sky and continues down the road at a much more respectable pace. The babooshkas breathe a sigh of relief and the rotation of their needles starts up again. The chapter, the book, the story, the history will be preserved. Where he was going, nobody ever knew.