Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chapter 8. I learn his name

Gradually I drew back from visions of Himalayan mountains and 'spire' scales that measured the sheer -- well, actually the sheer in the literal sense -- 'impressiveness' of mountains. I didn't understand it too well, but I did understand that it was the main thing I'd be interested in if I were ever in the Himalayas - What's it like to stand on a mountain in a huge range like that and look down? How steep and high would the wall be.

Not being a mountaineer (or understanding them even slightly) I would have been more interested in looking up at the mountains. I had once read that there was a place in the Himalayas where, from that one spot you could see two huge mountains from two different continents, two distinct colliding tectonic plates, at the same time. You'd look over your left shoulder up up up into the sky to see the sheer wall of one of them a few miles distant, and then look over your right shoulder and have to raise your eyes up up up into the sky to see the top of the other one!

II began to hear the flight attendants, still asking endless tiresome questions about coffee or tea, irritating me and was pulled away from my fantasies of standing in the Himalayas. Were the still picking up food? Were they living in slow motion? I felt cranky as they chatted interminably with someone in a row in front of me about some sports event and then a TV show of impressive shallowness, everyone shared that, everyone watched that show, and they went on about how they couldn't wait to get to a beach and go surfing. I listened with distaste as their conversation dragged emptily along in contrast to the delicious thinkiness in my mind that the Kalmuk passenger had activated.

It was much too familiar, from some time years in the past when I was still reading, so famliar to be dragged from bright, open places in my books back to drabness. A little lightbulb went on. Maybe that explained a lot about the last years. It had been so long since anything had fascinated me because I had stopped exerting myself to any kind of discovery, and the people around me had never intruded with anything remotely interesting. Maybe my terrible feelings for all those years wasn't depression. Maybe it had been nothing more depressing than being hit over and over again by unending waves of tedious and empty conversations at work and on television and on the phone, always feeling half disconnected as if the voices were coming from far away and everything but sleep was dull and unpleasant, thin and stingy. Maybe I had simply been bored and then the bell jar froze me there. Maybe the whole thing was about being surrounded by crashing banality and stupid people. Well, it looked good on paper, but I had a feeling my analysis wouldn't stand up to scrutiny.

And then from nowhere I remembered a quote from a pro bicycler, about looking at pedestrians as he biked along and saying to a companion, something like "The emptiness of those lives horrifies me." I almost laughed. What, tell me, what could be more boring than being a competitive bicycler? But I guess we all find our own interests -- are they needs? -- to be interesting, and everyone else's to be uninteresting. Talk about being the center of the universe.

My self-criticism wasn't unusual, but my reaction to it was. I felt caught, with a little pleasure at being silly; caught like a beloved child who had stolen a cookie and knew the only response from the grownups would be warm laughter, and I noted that it had been a very long time since I had enjoyed finding myself being stupid.

Finally the stewardesses moved on and my new friend looked at me and smiled quizzically. "What happy thing were you doing back there?" he asked.

"Nothing much," I said, amiably. "Looking at photos of the mountains." Then I leaned across the aisle and thrust out my hand toward his.

"My name is Ginger. You're interesting. I'm very happy to meet you."

"Ivan," he smiled broadly, taking my hand in his huge one. He pronounced his name ee-von,emphasizing the last syllable.
"Yvonne?" I asked, and he laughed out loud.

"Eye-vinn to you."

"How do you do, Eye-vinn," I grinned." So let me see if I've got this right: you make heroic travel documentaries to bring tourists to the 'stans but not Afghanistan. Am I getting it?"

"Not exactly documentaries, they are true feature films. Travel documentaries are -- disturbing. Silly people bouncing about like fox terriers, diminishing everything they see, this disgusts me. Do you think they bring tourism?"

"Not mine" I said.

"Good. No, I must make passionate features filled with love and adventure. You have seen perhaps a fine film from Russia called "Prisoner of the Mountains." I do not hope to make such a fine film as that one. But perhaps you have seen "Ryan's Daughter", this movie with Robert Mitchum, or "Lawrence of Arabia", this movie with Peter O'Toole."

"Yes, of course. All of them."

"Such movies bring tourists."

"Yes, yes, you're quite right. I want to go to Mongolia now because of a lovely movie I just saw, "A Mongolian Tale."

He smiled, and looked at me. "This could be arranged possibly."

Before I could ask what he meant by that strange statement, the loudspeaker called out our descent into Istanbul and the stewards rushed by grabbing out food as if they'd been surprised. My Russian neighbor gazed at his disappearing dinner stoically just reaching to snatch his napkin from the flying tray and pat his lips with it.

"Yes, so it is too bad you're not a writer. I could use a writer."

"Sorry. Not my thing. But you should give me your card. Maybe I can carry your cameras or something."

"Too heavy," he said, fishing in his jacket for a card. "You are staying in Istanbul?"

"Cappadocia. Wherever that is."

"Oh? It is quite beautiful there. I will be meeting with someone who wishes to do a film with the Cappadocian background. It won't be a good film. The background is too unusual, like the moon, too beautiful. He will have Ataturk in a Persian Lamb hat on a horse, shot from below with his head against the clouds." He shook his head. "But I will meet with him. He is a good friend. However that may be some time in the future. Perhaps you won't be there anymore."

"I'm not sure where else to go," I said, sorry at once that I sounded so wistful. "I'll think of something," I said brightly. "I plan to travel a lot." We sat in silence as everyone began to stand and move into the aisle, reaching up to open the overhead bins for their luggage.

"I will find you," he said, looking at me calmly.

We were pushed off the plane in a crush of suitcases and coats and only waved at each other as I ran for a plane to Keyseri and he disappeared down the path of another terminal.

I wondered if we'd ever meet again. He said we would. But that only happens in novels.

Chapter 7. Rakaposhi. Nanga Parbat.

I opened my new in-flight computer and raced to google those names and came up with a bouguet of gorgeous options, but never anything that talked about how they faced each other. But I saw some breathtaking photos all the same.

Photos of Nanga Parbat:

And then I came on something very odd and interesting, as so many things are interesting when you wander into an unknown area of expertise and don't really understand what they're saying. However, this fellow, like so many with an intense love of something arcane, did a champion job of writing for the outsiders:
An explanation of Spire Measure

Brief explanation (Back to the main spire measure page)

The idea of spire measure (SM) is to compare the summit of a peak (or perhaps a better reference point than the summit) to all surrounding points.

Here's a quick description of the SM calculation. It's really a measure of how impressive it is to stand at the top of the peak and look down. In fact, you can take any point on the Earth's surface and calculate an SM for it, which measures how impressive the view is from that point.

So, imagine that you are standing at some fixed reference point (say the top of Mt. Shuksan, which stands very high above nearby terrain and has a very impressive North Face). Look at all the points you can see, in all directions, at all distances. For each such point you will be looking down (or occasionally up) at some angle (or slope, easier to calculate). If there is a lot of area where that downward slope is large, you are at an impressive point on the Earth's surface. That's really the idea.

For example, standing on top of Shuksan, looking down the North face, you have to look very steeply down to see the bottom of the face and the valley below. That gives a good contribution to SM. Also, since it is high above the terrain in the range 5-15km away, when you look down at those points, you are looking down at a pretty fair angle--a steeper angle, anyway, than if you were standing on top of Elbert looking down at the valleys near it. So again Shuksan gets a good contribution from that terrain.

You have to admit, that's lovely, the way he talks to us. I think I even get it.

[bookmarked a bunch more, which I'll bring in soon, and some excerpts in email, which will also come in soon.]


Chapter 6. Our conversation continues

I looked through the slim library-bound book he had pulled out of his briefcase and handed me, which was full of all this new but somewhat dry information about Kalmuks. I'm pretty sure it had been printed out from the Internet.

"Well, that's probably more than I needed to know, and I still know nothing."

He smiled. "I'm filming the great Silk Road of the traders and also the road of the horse bowmen of the steppes as they moved westward and conquered most of the known world. It's a familiar road for my ancestors. They traveled it over 1500 years before the christian era."

In my imagination I could see people in heavy-laden ox-drawn carts moving, with herds of sheep, across the grassy miles of Mongolia. I had seen photos and heard someone speak of those green meadows, seen from a train on the trans-Siberian railway in the '80's.

"Mmm. That’s more interesting," I said.

He smiled again. "Would you like to see such places? Like Mongolia?"

"Someday, perhaps," I said, oddly sad. I shook my head slightly, to clear my mind. "You're planning to make feature films?"

"Yes, they shall be historically based but shall have romantic and heroic plots, and the most remarkable of settings. All of this is story telling will be to show the remarkable settings so as to invite tourism. They are made to be shown in movie houses all over Central Asia, and who knows, maybe even in the west."

"It should work. I went to see 'Ryan's Daughter,' you know, that movie shot in Ireland...?"

He nodded.
"and at the end of the movie the whole audience left and ran to the Irish travel Bureau."

"The people who pay me will be very pleased if this happens with my films,” he said.

"So,” I said, unwilling to end the conversation, “Will you do Marco Polo? Alexander the Great?"

"Maybe not, except as minor characters. They are not our heroes. I know they are most important to the Europeans." He smiled faintly. "But we have already established that I am not a European. More significantly, I am not being paid by Europeans to make these films."

"Who, then?" Obviously he had been hired by some government agency, the way they do it in Russia. Or did. Or whatever. But he didn’t answer that question. He talked about the heroes, which was, of course, much more interesting.

"I am searching for plots and locations for Genghis Khan and Tamurlaine, also Attila long before, also many others who have gone on the road from China to Europe, real stories, forgotten enough so that we can make up adventures and romances that didn't happen."

"Sounds like fun" I said.

“Yes. It is unfortunate that you’re not a writer.”

“I disagree,” I smiled. "It is fortunate."

"I have much territory to cover to find backgrounds for my films. The Mongols conquered almost the entire world in the 13th century."

"The entire world?" I smiled skeptically.

"The known world. Almost all of it. Oh yes. The empire of Genghis Khan was bigger than any empire the world has ever known, even until today. The Soviet Union tried hard to match it, but didn't quite succeed. Genqhis and his generals conquered practically every medieval army in Europe. All but two of them. The only armies that remained standing were the ones that woke up one morning expecting to be destroyed, marched out to fight and found the Mongols had gone."

"All the Mongols? Why did they do that?"

"They had an odd tendency to go home every time a ruler died, to be part of the re-election."

"Go home!? A thousand mile trek home? Just like that?"

"Much more than than a thousand miles, I think. This spared Europe more than once because of that peculiar behavior. All the same, they held on to a huge empire, including all of China. They pulled Russia out of the renascence, which explains why we still have such primitive temperaments.” He looked at me for a moment and I just barely held down an outrageous blush. “They even ruled India," he continued with a faint smile, " the Moguls are really the Mongols -- and they effectively owned most of the land mass of what is now Europe until very recently. Most Central Asians are very proud of the empire of Genghis Khan. There is much to recommend unity. It is said that there was a time when a young girl could have walked alone with a pot of gold on her head from China to the far borders of Poland and Hungary, and no one would have bothered her."

"Such is the power of a strong empire?" I asked. “They destroy the world so they can protect the vulnerable?”
"I suppose you could say that," he nodded.

I stared at him. “They certainly conquered the lands of my ancestors. They’re from Russia. Why don’t I look more oriental?”

He smiled like a boy, aware that I was flirting. "It is most interesting. Now, archaeologists are finding people with your blue eyes and light hair -- even red hair -- in the deserts of Sinkiang where the Chinese definitely do not want them."

Fascinated, I forgot the game and leaned over the aisle, only backing up for passing food carts. "What do you mean? Why not?"

"It's a new discovery, it means perhaps that Europeans went east, perhaps thousands of years before anyone imagined. Perhaps they will have a claim to land the Chinese very much wish to establish rights to."

"You mean the Chinese really worry about people that long ago?"

"The Chinese simply worry. Now they are pushing the native Uyghurs out of Sinkiang and replacing them with Han Chinese. Very bad for film-makers. Uighurs dress with many beautiful colors and have fine, how do you say happy-go-lucky personalities. Han Chinese have no colors and try to have very grim personalities."

I paused again, my head full of fascinating mysteries. I'd have to look this all up on the computer. I got nosy. "Who is paying you? If you don't mind me asking, that is," I probed.

"I am paid by CIS tourism departments. Tourism will save the world, you know. All the world prays for the continued financial success of all capitalist countries."

I rewarded his wit with a grin. "But, CIS? Am I supposed to know what that is?"

"If you deal with oil or emerging markets, perhaps. But you don't, of course. We have established that you do nothing, which, of course, is a fine state, full of potential."

"Don't get me started on potential," I mumbled.
"You are American?"


"You don't like human potential? I am surprised."

"Well, I don't," I answered.

"May we discuss?"

"Some other day," I said, astonished at my own rudeness.

Still, I was like a bloodhound now, on a scent of something lovely that had caught me by surprise -- maybe it was surprise itself, of things I didn't know already, new worlds, fresh views and ideas and histories, anything not stale, not connected with the life I had left behind me. I got a flash of myself at 17 at the downtown Los Angeles train station, leaving home on the night train for the unknown world of a distant university I'd somehow managed to get myself into.

My goal had just been to get away from a family who thought I should stay home until I was married, and then should stay in that home. That was not for me. So I left to explore, but had no idea what I was about to find. I had climbed into the thin, intoxicating air and unknown peaks of college. I sat in classes and peered into books that were actually about something, and for the first time actually experienced the amazement of learning, the pull and peculiarity of new ways of thinking, new languages, like songs from distant countries. The mountain tops from which I could see everywhere. A completely new kind of happiness.

And, ultimately, the fall, because there’s more to surviving in paradise than just loving it, as I learned the hard way. It was a tumble from a very lofty place, so high that it took decades to reach the bottom. And there I had stayed, in the shadow that fell over my soul, where I could see almost nothing. I couldn’t even read, not a really challenging book, without getting up every few minutes to do some kind of task. I had once forced myself to read something that really told me something, I think it was a book of literary criticism, very difficult, very wonderful, and every time I pulled my eyes away from the book, I had noted the time and wrote a few words about what I was feeling.

The odd thing this exercise revealed was that this kind of happiness was forbidden. And I had no idea why. I continued on my own, carried books with me everywhere, wonderful books but tough reading, challenging, as though I were a talented but unformed tennis player allowed to play with a top professional. And I wrote in journals unendingly. But I never could stay with anything, and I put the projects down for so long, I hardly remember that I had done them. There were children, difficult husbands, lots of work and balancing, a kind of hunger for affection that I couldn’t seem to fill, or maybe didn’t really want. I don’t know anymore.

"Come back," he said kindly, but almost firmly, startling me with a tone much too intimate for a stranger. I stared at him. Immediately he started talking.

"Let me tell you about the CIS," he smiled, making me uncertain about what he had just done. "Very few westerners know about it. The Soviet Union hid CIS behind the Iron Curtain and only now do they emerge once again on the world scene. CIS means Central Asian states, once were in the Soviet Union, now newly independent. The 'Stans' Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkemenistan..." he took a bite of food and nodded to me to do the same."

"Yes," I said, glancing at my tray and then back at him, without picking up any food. "I'm remembering an article I'd read in a news magazine, "Pakistan? Wasn't there a Baltistan somewhere? Will you go to Afghanistan?"

He choked and coughed at the same time, put up his hand as if to stop me while he picked up his bottle of water and drank until it was almost empty, and then, after a moment, said quietly, "Perhaps you shall wait for further descriptions before saying such things out loud in a plane heading for the Near East. No, I don't mean Afghanistan for certain, which is a country no one has ever conquered, most recently driving Russia out quite beaten. No, most recently harboring terrorists who attack America with some success.

“I will not be making movies of Afghanistan, as I have a Russian passport and am not beloved there. And I cannot begin to understand how Afghanistan feels about tourism right now. Or movie stars. After having been freed once again, the professional women have been returned to deep Purdah, buried in the Islamic religion and sent backwards to the middle ages. Many of them now starve on the streets."

"I know," I said, and the same familiar sadness came over me again.

"Are you a religious person?" he interrupted.

It worked. "God, no," I said and we both laughed at my choice of words. "You?"

"I am raised in Russia. I am atheist, of course."

"Nothing supernatural for me," I murmered. "Reality is weird enough."

"And knowledge is deep enough. I think for many, the supernatural gives them a dimension past the surface and the obvious. Something deeper. They too are bored. Too bad they can not cultivate an interest in history or geology or science, don't you agree?"

But I hadn't said anything to him about being bored. I looked at him more carefully.

Again he interrupted. "I choked before because you surprised me when you mentioned Baltistan. That's in the northwest territories of Pakistan, which also has never been conquered. In its northern parts, Pakistan is as wild and ferocious as Afghanistan, with the very same proud people in its mountains. They, too, have never really allowed any foreign country to really conquer. The British enjoyed pretending they had done so, but they knew the truth. You can’t conquer people in their own mountains.”

"The British? Oh, when they had India?"

"The Great Game. Oh the British are -- well, were -- very brave and very foolish. Brittle people with very little sense, the ones who fought the Great Game. I will send you a book if you like. Very good. I am sure you would like it. The writer's name is Keay. If you read his pages, you see a great drama, even a film. Huge forces crashing into each other, like continents."

I wrote down the author's name and the titles of two of his books, Where Men and Mountains Meet and The Gilgit Game. I liked the titles. But something made me think I was dreaming or that I had created the entire conversation in my mind. I wasn't sure why I felt that way but this man was talking as if he had notes about what had mattered to me many years ago. I felt a little off balance. He didn't seem to notice, and continued.

“And Baltistan, well, that is a very special place in a country of very special places. You suprised me to mention it. It is a country where I am determined to make the first film. And Dardistan. And Hunza, which sits in the arms of an ancient mountain of enormous height, and gazes directly to the south, at the slowly advancing sheer wall, almost 4 miles high which has traveled inexorably on a floating continent from south of the equator and pushes back into Asia and up into the sky an ancient volcano, one of a now-gone range of guardian volcanoes that once protected the beaches that no longer exist -- or rather, that were pushed up and up until at the top of the highest mountains you find fossils of marine animals and seashells. And at the head of that battering wall is one of the newest, hardest and highest mountains of them all."

The stewardess rolled the sheer wall of her food cart directly between us.

"Were you ever a teacher? I called over the aluminum wall that blocked my view.
"A geologist."
"What's the name of those mountains?" I called, pulling out my computer.
"Rakaposhi," he said. "Nanga Parbat."

Chapter 5. Kalmyk

Kal·myk 1 (klmk, kl-mk) also Kal·muck or Kal·muk (klmk, kl-mk)
n. pl. Kalmyk or Kal·myks also Kalmuck or Kal·mucks or Kalmuk or Kal·muks
1. A member of a Buddhist Mongol people now located primarily in Kalmyk.
2. The Mongolian language of this people.

Kalmyk people
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Kalmyks)

Total population
c. 174,000 [4]

Regions with significant populations
Kalmyks in Russia
Oirats in Mongolia:
Oirats in China:

Kalmyk, Russian
Tibetan Buddhism, Atheism
Related ethnic groups
Khalkha-Mongolian, Buryat
Kalmyk (alternatively "Kalmuck," "Kalmuk," or "Kalmyki") is the name given to and later adopted by those Oirats who migrated en masse from Central Asia in the seventeenth century to settle in European Russia [8]. Alone among the peoples of Europe, the Kalmyks' national religion is Buddhism. Today they form a majority in the autonomous Republic of Kalmykia on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Through emigration, Kalmyk communities have been established in the United States, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.


Imperial Prince Cebdenjab (1705-1782). The son a Khalkha Mongol Prince Tseren, Cebdenjab was a Manchu general noted for his military campaigns against the Dzungar Khanate, which resulted in the slaughter of nearly 1 million Oirats.
The Kalmyks are the European branch of the Oirats whose ancient grazing lands are now located in Kazakhstan, Russia (southern Siberia), Mongolia and the People's Republic of China. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the Oirats emerged as a formidable foe against the Eastern Mongols,[9] the Ming Chinese and their successor, the Manchu, in a nearly 400 year military struggle for domination and control over both Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. The struggle ended in 1757 with the extermination of the Oirats in Dzungaria, the last of the Mongolian groups to resist vassalage to China (Grousset, 1970: 502-541).

The massacre was ordered by the Qianlong Emperor who felt betrayed by Prince Amursana, a Khoit-Oirat nobleman who submitted to Manchu authority on the condition that he be named Khan. [10] Only after the death of Dawa Achi in 1759, the last Dzungar ruler, did the Qianlong Emperor declare an end to the Dzungar campaigns.
At the start of this 400-year era, the West Mongolian people designated themselves as Dörben Oirat ("Alliance of Four"). The alliance was comprised primarily of four major Western Mongolian tribes: Khoshut, Choros, Torghut and Dörbet. Collectively, the Dörben Oirat sought to position themselves as an alternative to the Mongols who were the patrilineal heirs to the legacy of Genghis Khan.

In furtherance of its military objectives, the Dörben Oirat frequently incorporated neighboring tribes or splinter groups of them so that there was a great deal of fluctuation in the composition of the alliance with larger tribes dominating or absorbing the smaller ones. Smaller tribes belonging to the confederation include the Khoits, Zachachin, Bayids and Mangits. Turkic tribes in the region, such as the Urianhai, Telenguet and the Shors, also frequently allied themselves with the Dörben Oirat.

A traditional Kalmyk encampment. The Kalmyk tent (called gher) is a round, portable, self-supporting structure comprised of lattice walls, rafters, roof ring, felt covering and tension bands.[1]

Together, these tribes roamed the grassy plains of western Inner Asia, between Lake Balkhash in present-day eastern Kazakhstan and Lake Baikal in present-day Russia, north of central Mongolia, where they freely pitched their yurt (gher) and kept their herds of cattle, flock of sheep, horses, donkeys and camels.

The ancient forebearers of the Oirats include the Keraits, Naimans, Merkits and the original Oirats, all Turko-Mongol tribes that roamed western Inner Asia prior to their conquest by Genghis Khan. Paul Pelliot translated the name "Torghut" as garde de jour. He wrote that the Torghuts owed their name either to the memory of the guard of Genghis Khan or, as descendants of the Keraits, to the old garde de jour which existed among the Keraits, as we know from the Secret History of the Mongols, before it was taken over by Genghis Khan (Pelliot, 1930:30).
[edit]Treatment as Non-Mongols

Historically, the Eastern Mongols regarded the Oirats as non-Mongols. The name "Mongols," the title "Khan," and the historic legacy attached to that name and title were claimed exclusively by the Eastern Mongols, viz., the Khalkha, Chahar and Tümed tribes. They considered this claim as their birthright, since their lineage was traced back directly to the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and its progenitor, Genghis Khan.

Until the mid-17th century, when bestowance of the title of Khan was transferred to the Dalai Lama, all Mongol tribes recognized this claim and the political prestige attached to it. Although the Oirats could not assert this claim prior to the mid-17th century, they did in fact have a close connection to Genghis Khan by virtue of the fact that Genghis Khan's brother, Khasar, was in command of the Khoshut tribe.

This is a handscroll that was commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor for his personal use from the court painter Jin Tingbiao in the 25th year of his reign (AD 1760). This is an image of Khalkha Mongol Prince Cebdenjab, the son of the illustrious Prince

Oirat ("Oirads" or "Oyirads") is the common name of several pastoral nomadic tribes of Mongolian origin whose ancestral home is in the Dzungaria and Amdo regions of western China and also western Mongolia. Although the Oirats originated in the eastern parts of Central Asia, the most prominent group today is located in the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of the Russian Federation, where they are called Kalmyks. The Kalmyks migrated from Dzungaria to the southeastern European part of the Russian Federation nearly 400 years ago.

Historically, the Oirats were composed of four major tribes: Choros or Ölöt, Torghut, Dörbet, and Khoshut. The minor tribes include: Khoit, Bayid, Mangit, Zakhachin, and Darkhat.

Well, you have to hand it to wikipedia. They give you the answers fast. I am grateful.