November 15.21: Travellers

This morning, we wake up to the sad news that Muhammad–elder, neighbor, friend, formidable chess player, and beloved member of The Photo Gallery community–passed away in the night. Was it just a couple of weeks ago we were filming a scene in the caravanserai courtyard for The Sound We See? Was it just a few days ago we were celebrating the film’s premiere together? Was it just Saturday afternoon he was telling tales about the flea market, his blue eyes sparkling as he talked? We honor a life lived in all its complexity and find gratitude in walking side by side for a moment along the infinite road of existence.

This is a trip that almost didn’t happen. A global pandemic whirling. Emotions swirling. Health afflictions. Shifting restrictions. Heart and mind in a tug of war…eyes glued to statistics on the internet, searching for assurance where no assurance existed.

Shavkat Boltaev, the great artist and great friend to artists, said simply “Come. We are waiting for you.” And the heart won.

Thank you to Susan Katz and everyone CEC Artslink for providing the opportunity, the funding, and the encouragement that set the stage for this journey. Your generous work makes amazing art possible and builds friendships that last forever.

Thank you to the people of Bukhara who welcomed us as soon as we set foot in this holy city…the crossroads of the world!

Thank you to Nuriddin and Zilola, the wonder twins of compassionate creativity. Thank you to our new cinematic family, anchored in the pure soul of The Photo Gallery, whose eyes are always on uplifting and celebrating community.

Thank you Shavkat, Umida, Hofiz, Behzod, Ruhksora, Baby Behtarin and The Cat With No Name for opening up your beautiful home to us and embracing us as one of your own.

We love you all so much!

Sacred sites and shared stories… the magic of the everyday is everywhere.

Tonight we’re climbing aboard the night train for Tashkent, our cinematic compass set for Istanbul.

But that, dear ones, is another story…

November 14.21: Be Flea

Bukhara’s Sunday flea market is what you might call an immersive experience… it’s not so much the overwhelming amount of stuff but more that the vendors themselves somehow become one with the stuff. Layering on some gorgeous gifts from Shavkat, I feel the appeal!

November 13.21: Hooray For Saturday

A day in which we attend a tree planting, tour a school, explore the Muslim cemetery, meet some city goats, ride the world’s slowest ferris wheel, pick up some fresh pomegranate juice at the bazaar, are spontaneously invited into a “home museum” in the Iranian section of town dedicated to a family of accomplished Jewish musicians, enjoy an amazing hotdog (grated carrots and beets + mayonaise!), get mobbed by elementary school kids, encounter a toddler with an AK-47, and find our pals hanging out at The Photo Gallery.

November 12.21: Okay Guys, Be Alive!

It’s one of those brisk sunny late autumn days perfect for walking… We head over to the French Cultural Center Isteza, located in a tiny madrasah with a fascinating history, to meet with our new friend Irina and learn (en français!) about the Center’s diverse resources and programming including an exhibition by another Irina, this one a painter, whose 2016 project 60 Faces of Bukhara includes a beautiful portrait of our own dear Umida, matriarch of Art Guest House USTO! Then it’s on to see how Bukhara youth are organizing to raise environmental awareness and save the world at the EcoChange conference organized by SWS participant Shakhzoda and friends. After an intense Ninja-themed ice-breaker, topics covered included Walking More, Eating Less, and How To Dissuade Your Parents From Throwing Garbage Out The Window During Road Trips. Our short presentation on eco-friendly filmmaking was enthusiastically received and then we ate cake, took a bunch of selfies, and enjoyed a long walk home through mysterious neighbourhoods with beautiful trees, Soviet-style buildings and terrific signage.

November 11.21: A Day To Remember

The t-shirts are assembled and the certificates are made, the musicians have rehearsed and the plov is cooked, the caravanserai is swept, the tv crew has interviewed everybody and the crowd–filmmakers, music makers, cooks, chess players, journalists, artists, artisans, architects, curators, parents, a baby and Bars the Cat–has gathered in The Photo Gallery… the time has come for the big premiere of The Sound We See: A Bukhara City Symphony! Together we embark on a magical cinematic journey of beautiful images mixed with exquisite traditional music performed by Komil Avezov – Doira (drum), Nodir Jumaev – Nay (flute), Sunnatillo Yahyoev – Ghijjak (fiddle) and Ubaydullo Hakimov – Qashqar rubab (string instrument), augmented by excited whispers and camera flashes. The film is a celebration of a city but, even more so, the people who make this place so incredibly special. Thank you to filmmakers Behzod Boltaev, Hofiz Boltaev, Ilya Viktorov, Irina Berlizeva, Jamshed Kenjayev, Margarita Kolobova, Muhammad Hasanov, Nikita Bobrov, Nuriddin Djuraev, Ravshan Yahyayev, Rukhsora Umarova, Rushana Jabrailova, Shakhzoda Mirakova, Shavkat Boltaev, Umida Xikmatova, Zilola Saidova and the many, many individuals who appeared in the film for sharing the love!!!! After a rousing round of applause and a lively Q&A, there’s much merriment in the form of feasting, drinking, dancing and toasting to a wonderful project and an unforgettable day. And if all this is not enough, back at the Guest House, the evening ends with a concert of Shashmaqam… a centuries-old musical genre of holy songs based on Sufi poetry with its origin in Bukhara. So many gifts, so many blessings…

November 9.21: Trailblazer

Happy Birthday, Baba! You met your soulmate later in life, traveled the world with him well into your ’90s, aged into beauty and strength doing just what you wanted to do after taking care of everybody else, and never gave a damn what other people thought. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the big map of the world tacked up over the little couch on your back porch, with all those pushpins marking the faraway places you and Jimmy had been. You always encouraged me to fly high and far. Every journey I make is inspired by you, your ring on my finger, my sweet soulmate by my side.

November 8.21: Tiles For Miles

If you love tile, if you love blue, Samarkand is the place for you! There’s the Registan of course, but the greatest hits also includes Gur E Amir (Timur’s Mausoleum), Bibi Khanym Mosque (biggest in Central Asia!) and Shahi Zinda (my personal favorite and apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way…). Even on a drizzly day, it’s a dazzling display of color, pattern and texture unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Not to be outdone, the train station lights up the night sky in a blaze of purple neon. Grab a loaf of the famous local bread that can easily double as a doorstop (“Real Samarkand bread should be eatable within three years.” People are crazy for this stuff! Yikes!) and you can head back to Bukhara knowing you made the most of the past 48 hours.

November 7.21: Go For The Textiles, Stay For The Faces

It’s the day of the Samarkand Half Marathon, the streets are closed to traffic, and runners of all shapes and ages from all over the place have converged on the city to give it their best shot. As former marathoners ourselves (one and done for me on that!), we love to watch bodies in motion but today we’re running for the mashrutka to Urgut…a nearby town known for its 1000-year-old plane trees and vibrant textile market. I’ve got my sights set on vintage handmade robes and camel-hair shawls but it’s the people that catch my eye, just as they do everywhere we go in Uzbekistan, the place with the endlessly fascinating faces. Back in big city, the marathon is just wrapping up, the runners are eating pizza and posing for pictures in the park around the giant statue of Samarkand son and Uzbekistan’s first president Islam Karimov (whose authoritarian regime ran from 1991 until he died of a stroke in 2016), Shout out to the lady selling smokes and Saran-wrapped hamburgers at the finish line!

November 6.21: Fast Train To Samarkand

The SWS: Bukhara is completed and passed along to the musicians so it’s a good time to do a little exploring! Samarkand is the obvious choice… jewel of the Silk Road, “garden of the soul.” one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia (founded 7th century BC), historic center of the Tajik people, and only an hour and a half away by high speed train… We throw a stack of cash and a change of clothes in our backpacks and All Aboard! Upon arrival, we stroll over to the legendary Registan, Samarkand’s huge public square framed by three magnificent madrasahs, considered a “must see” at night (and indeed there’s a glitzy garish light show and a dj spinning groovy tunes) but the most stunning sight is three tiny children heaving a huge cart of bottles and cans up a city street in zany Saturday night traffic without batting an eye.