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Back when I worked in the Soviet Union for a US travel agency, a visit to the grounds of the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements - typically referred to as VDNKh (pronounced veh-deh-en-hah) - was on the itinerary of all "my" groups. It was a pleasant enough place, even if the point of the whole affair was to propagandize the achievements of the USSR. Today, there are a number of small shops and restaurants in the park, and a ferris wheel, and probably tons of other things I'm not aware of.

At the south end of the exhibition grounds, at the end of a street named after Sergei Korolev (and in fact, right next to the south end of the Metro station named after the exhibition), there is a small park featuring a monument dedicated to the conquerors of space. Here's a shot taken of me visiting the site last Friday:

AlexPGP standing in front of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space

The monument is in the shape of a relatively small rocket atop a sweeping plume. The structure is constructed to titanium, which was a pretty exotic metal to use for such a purpose back when this monument was built.

The lower left-hand corner of the photo shows a row of smaller stones with plaques on them, in the shape of five-pointed stars. These list, chronologically, specific Soviet achievements in space (for example, the first on-orbit docking, involving Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5, in January 1969, as well as the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission). Plaques closer to the monument carry the names of cosmonauts, in chronological order.

On the base of the monument are lines from a poem written by Nikolay Gribachev (though his authorship is not attributed). They read (in Russian, followed by my translation):
...и наши тем награждены усилья,
что, поборов бесправие и тьму,
мы отковали пламенные крылья
         и веку своему!

...and our efforts have been rewarded
in that, no longer powerless and having overcome the darkness,
we have forged wings of fire
   for our
         and our time!
Off to the side of the main "axis" of the park is a statue of the man who masterminded the Soviet space program.

Statue of Korolev

The odd looking item in the background, which seems to disappear into the sky, is another Moscow landmark, the nearly 1800-foot tall Ostankino television tower, which - last Friday - did extend up through the solid cloud layer that blanketed the cover.

My colleague Ben and I didn't stay too long, as it was cold outside and the museum that's situated in the base of the monument was closed. I hope to return again when the weather gets warmer.

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Yesterday's trip got off to a slow-ish start as the head count of people on the bus didn't jive with the count of circled names on the list of campaign participants. Finally, I grabbed the list and we did things the old-fashioned way: I called out people's names (stumbling over one or two) and eventually, the one person whose name was not circled was revealed. The delay itself was no big deal, but the air conditioner on the bus doesn't work unless the vehicle is moving, which is a big deal, because the bus wasn't going to move until the paperwork was right.

About the only living thing seemingly not affected by the heat is the ubiquitous dragonfly. Go outside at any time during this part of the year and they seem to be swarming. They appear unaffected by the heat, but then again, maybe I'd not pay much attention to the heat if I found myself in a 24-hour smörgåsbord featuring mosquitoes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks. They're also not much intimidated by humans, as witness this specimen, who stayed put for nearly 10 minutes, and left only because the wearer of the hat got inside the bus:

This is MY hat!

As we came to the main city checkpoint (Baikonur is, basically, surrounded by a high wall interrupted by two or three police checkpoints) I could see some changes had occurred in the vicinity of the town: the commuter rail station at Toretam, just ouside of town, had been renovated, and the commuter line checkpoint that sits on stilts next to the track at the city boundary had been repainted in navy blue.

As usual, the bus's first stop was across from the town market and we all agreed to meet back at the bus after about an hour, at 12:45 pm. I made my usual pilgrimage to the back of the market to seek salted mushrooms and chechel, a string cheese that looks somewhat like a pigtail of hair, which gives this cheese its second name, kosichka.

With those purchases in my rucksack, I asked about kombucha (чайный гриб). People knew what I was talking about, but couldn't direct me to anyone who sold it. Apparently, kombucha is something you'll find only among the wares of individuals who show up on a casual basis to sell a few things off the top of a cardboard box or a sheet of outstretched plastic.

On the way back to the bus, I and one of my fellow interpreters - also named Alex - had just enough time to duck into the Vostok cafe for an ice cold Shymkentskoye draft beer, which was pretty much the first beer I've had since starting the campaign. It was refreshing interlude, because it was well and truly hot out, although in counting one's blessings, the humidity was negligible.

On the short walk back to the bus, we spied a procession of campaigners trailing a cart that had emerged from the courtyard of the local bottled goods warehouse. I quickly unlimbered my camera and took a few shots "blind," without stopping to line up the frame or anything, as I was crossing a busy street and had one eye on approaching traffic. Here's the best image:

Beer Run

The beer was quickly stowed in the belly of the bus, we all boarded, and the vehicle drove off to a restaurant that had only been described to me as "The Yurta" (the name of the traditional "portable" residence of nomadic Kazakhs) for a specially ordered meal.

Although neither of us interpreters or our Khrunichev security escort (whose name, as it happens, was also Alex) had been part of the group that had reserved lunch at The Yurta, we were invited to participate in a meal of бешбармак (pronounced "besh bar MOCK"), a traditional Kazakh and Kyrgyz dish that translates as "five fingers" and consists of meat - whatever is available (beef, lamb, horse, and in the west of Kazakhstan, near the Aral Sea, fish from the sturgeon family) - on a bed of what amounts to homemade pasta squares. I found it tasty.

The meal also included an assortment of appetizers, a dish that reminded me a lot of pork fried rice, and a curious dish that - as I found out later - consisted of an assortment of organ meats (e.g., heart, liver, kidney, and lung) cooked with potatoes and onions. I found it particularly tasty, though I don't think I've ever eaten lung before.

Did I mention that I fell off the wagon yesterday, diet-wise?

After lunch, we wandered over toward the town's square, where a statue of Lenin still stands, hogging dominating the southern end. As we walked, I spied three Kazakh boys hauling a cart loaded with watermelon. They - or at least one of them - were pulling their wares through the neighborhood, making their presence known the traditional way, with cries roughly equivalent to "Watermelon! We've got your watermelon here!"

Watermelon Capitalism

Our group finally ended up at a place called Ахтамар ("akh ta MAR," where the "kh" is an aspirated "h" sound), which, if memory serves, is a reference to an Armenian tale of star-crossed lovers (as well as the name of an island once the home of Armenian royalty).

The owner of the place is, not surprisingly, an Armenian. In addition, it so happened that both of the other Alexes knew him. After exchanging pleasantries, we three Alexes sat in the shade of some well-placed trees and drank some of the proprietor's hot green tea, and it turns out that this practice, which appears so counterintuitive to your typical Westerner (and particularly to your ice-cube gobbling American), does make the heat more bearable after a little while.

In the end, however, on the way to the bus, during a stop at a small grocery, I did revert to type and buy a (relatively) cold bottled rooibos tea before settling in for the drive home, during which I slept, mostly.

I retired early after our return, after a very light dinner, and slept right through until just before 7 am this morning. My assigned work doesn't start today until after lunch, and although there will doubtless be a Bastille Day celebration this evening, it will likely involve work for the interpretation staff. Speaking of July 14, it also occurs to me that this is the third Bastille Day in four years that I've spent in Baikonur. Go me.

On that note, it's time to go down and walk the treadmill, then come back, shower, police the area, and get ready for the rest of the day.

alexpgp: (Default)
That "everything has gone pretty smoothly" crack from yesterday evening's post did not go unnoticed by The Powers That Be™.

Soon after shutting down the VAIO, I went for a jaunt around the terminal, which is actually pretty well laid out - which is to say: I feel comfortable walking around in it. While doing so, I glanced at the departure displays and was not happy to find out that the flight to Houston had been delayed by an hour, along with (it seemed) about 80% of flights. I assume weather was the culprit.

In any event, our flight didn't land until about the estimated new departure time, but we did board the plane and get pushed back from the terminal.

Only to get in line behind about 20 other pieces of "heavy iron" (wanting to depart for locations overseas) all waiting to use one runway, at intervals of about 2 minutes.

The flight went well, up until we got close to Houston, at which point the pilot announced that some ground fog had moved into the Hobby area, and that the ILS system for the one runway that we needed to use was off. He added that Hobby had dispatched, and I pretty much quote, "some guy in a pickup truck to see if they could get the system back up." The expected delay was about 30 minutes.

At the end of that time, the pilot informed us that the ILS was not back up, and that we were diverting to Austin.

Silently, despite the fact that neither weather nor Hobby's ILS system is under the direct control of JetBlue, I swore silently under my breath that it would be a long time, if ever, that I would ever darken the entrance hatch of a JetBlue flight if we landed in Austin, because doing so would mean I'd have to pull an all-nighter to deliver on the stuff due this morning, and I was in a petty, vindictive mood.

Fortunately, while still within range of Hobby, the guy in the pickup got his act together, the ILS came alive, and the brand new E190 (said to be mere weeks old) banked left toward Houston. We landed at around 1:10 am local time, nearly 2 hours after our originally scheduled wheels-down time. (I'm still a little steamed about JetBlue, though not as much as when we were Austin-bound!)

Galina - bless her - had been waiting for me at Hobby, so there was no delay from that quarter, and I managed to crawl between the sheets at 2:30 am, with the alarm set for 5 in the morning.

To cut to the present, I managed to get everything off to everyone who was expecting anything this morning. After completing this post, I'll go back and check to make sure I've done all the paperwork, too.

Then I can resume my "normal" life, maybe.

After a nap.

alexpgp: (Default)
Everything has gone pretty smoothly, except that I got to the airport early enough to have to wait to check my bag (check-in for bags starts no earlier than 4 hours to flight time).

I managed to do a large part of the edit (and some of the translated bits) over the past hour and a half, which means I can spend about another 30 minutes on the job and still be within budget, not counting the translations.

My battery is down to 30% with the display dimmed as far as it will go. I better post and shut down soon.



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