Thursday, June 03, 2004

Welcome to HELL

Fresh back from the therapeutic waters of the Outer Banks, where the easy livin' took the wind out of my typing fingers, and gallons of tequila took the wit out of my brain. But I'm back in shape now, no worse for wear, give or take a couple million brain cells which litter the road from here to North Carolina.

Back on topic.

Ever since Kriston heard about the Savitsky Musuem, he's wanted to trek it to Uzbekistan. The short story, as I understand it, is this Soviet artist, Savitsky, started amassing huge collections of contraband Soviet art, especially around the time of Stalin's purges. Artists were sent to the Gulag, and their non-socialist-realist verboten artworks went to Savitsky. The Soviet government actually supported Savitsky's collection of illegal art, as they figured they could gather all the works made by Enemies of the People into one convenient location far, far, far away from, well, habitable earth.

And that brings us to Nukus.

This little nothing town in the middle of nowhere, Uzbekistan, houses an unparalleled collection of over 30,000 pieces of Soviet art. Kriston, who gets all hot and bothered over Soviet art, is dying to find a way to get out there.

Foreseeing an impending "vacation," I decided to check out this Nukus in Lonely Planet's Central Asia guide. And guess what, ladies and gentleman? My main squeeze? He's trying to take me TO MORDOR.
If desolation attracts you, welcome to the capital of Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan Republic, Nukus. Developed from a small settlement since 1932, Nukus might have been a bright and hopeful place two or three decades ago. Today it tries to present itself as the proud capital of newly ‘sovereign’ Karakalpakstan, but it’s actually drab, impoverished, unhealthy and forlorn, its broad avenues and big public buildings now looking like jokes in poor taste. The economy of the town, a long way from anywhere at the back end of Uzbekistan, has suffered badly since the collapse of the USSR.

But worse [!!], Nukus has felt—like the rest of poor Karakalpakstan—the full force of the health and environmental disaster from irrigated agriculture in the Amu-Darya basin, in particular the depletion of the Aral Sea. In this dust-storm-prone wasteland of chemical-doused food and water, virtually all pregnant women are anaemic, leading to many premature births. There are high rates of birth deformities, infant mortality, and diseases like cancer, typhoid, hepatitis and immune depression, along with woefully inadequate medical provision. Furtive drinking seems to be one of the few solaces people have.

And to think. Some girls get trips to Tuscany.


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