2. The Journey - Moscow and the Siberian Express
Here, on a fresh August morning, my journey to Tuva, to the remote autonomous Turkic republic in Russia, was about to begin. After putting a few packs of Turkish delight, Turkish coffee and traditional blue-eye beads in my suitcase, and placing the violin and the rebab cases on my back, I was ready to take my three-hour flight from Istanbul to Moscow. When I arrived, it took me another three hours to get to the hotel from the airport. If it wasn't for the American gentleman's help who I encountered at the enormous and complex Moscow subway, while staring blankly at the signs which were written in Cyrillic alphabet, it would have taken me much longer to find my way around. Not many people speak English in Russia, therefore it was not easy for me to find someone to ask directions, as I speak no Russian at all!
After finally finding the hotel and leaving my bags, I went out to explore the city and walked down to the Red Square from a street decorated with beautiful lights. The night view of the square and the famous St. Basil's Cathedral looked enchanting. I sat on a corner in the Red Square and took my rebab out of its case to play a little. Soon someone approached me, curiously eyeing the instrument. As we talked, I found out that he was a musician too, which explained his curiosity over the rebab. He was a violinist in a symphony orchestra in Moskow.
Before continuing with my journey towards Siberia to Tuva Republic, I had decided to spend couple of days in Moskow to explore the city. Moscow is quite beautiful, I have to say. The architectural landmarks, the vast squares and the elegant sculptures scattered around the city reveal the understanding of art and aesthetics in Russia. If you ask for my advice, one of the best ways to see the city is by bicycle. There is a bike sharing system in the city that you can easily sign up, and start using right away.
Moskow, undoubtedly, is rich of exquisite museums. One of the museums on my must-see list was the Glinka Museum of Musical Instruments. Glinka Museum has a large collection of 1000-odd pieces, including not only common western instruments but also rare ethnic instruments from different corners of the world, especially Russia. All of the instruments are audio&video recorded, to let the visitor see and hear how the instruments are performed and what they sound like. I was happy to see a section on Tuvan instruments, as well as Turkish instruments in the collection. Here are some rare instruments from the museum:
Nazim Hikmet, the Turkish Poet
Next place on my must-see list was, though somewhat unusual, a cemetery. The Novodevichy Cemetery in Moskow is the eternal resting place of many notable authors, musicians, playwrights and poets, as well as famous actors, political leaders, and scientists. My particular wish to visit this cemetery was to see the grave of Nazım Hikmet, a beloved, acclaimed Turkish poet, whose poetry was translated into more than fifty languages. He was frequently arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life in prison or in exile. He died in Moskow in 1963, away from his beloved homeland, and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, which became a place of pilgrimage for Turks and also many people from around the world.
His monument at the Novodevichy Cemetery was decorated with flowers. I thought of his poem 'My Hometown', and how painful it must have been for him, not being able to return to his hometown, which he longed for. One of the last concerts I performed in Istanbul before moving to the U,S. was the Nazım Oratorio of acclaimed Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say. Composed to the poetry of Nazim Hikmet, the magnificent oratorio was quite emotional for all of us in the orchestra. I remembered the moment when the entire orchestra broke into tears during the song "My Homeland', composed to the poetry of Nazim. I sat down by the flowers and thought of him. His poems were in everyone's hearts now, he was no longer that far from his homeland.
Below is the Memleketim - My Homeland poem of Nazim Hikmet. I was not able to find an English translation of it, therefore gave it a shot myself. Hopefully the translation won't take away from its feeling.
Memleketim, memleketim, memleketim, Ne kasketim kaldı senin ora işi Ne yollarını taşımış ayakkabım, Son mintanım da sırtımda paralandı çoktan, Şile bezindendi.
Sen şimdi yalnız saçımın akında, İnfarktında yüreğimin, Alnımın çizgilerindesin memleketim, Memleketim, Memleketim…
My homeland, my homeland, my homeland...
Neither do I have a cap that was made over there,
Nor a shoe that walked on your paths.
The last shirt from you already tore into pieces on my back.
Made of Şile fabric...
Now you're only on the white of my hair
In the infarct of my heart,
On the lines on my face my homeland,
My homeland, my homeland.
Before I left the cemetery, I also visited the graves of great composers Prokofiev, Shostakovich and legendary cellist Rostropovic, offering them my gratitude for the music they left behind. I must have spent countless hours listening to their music and studying their works, like almost every classical musician. Especially Prokofiev holds a different place for me. Whenever I go on a train trip I think of him; because of his peculiar interest in trains and clocks and how he engages this in his music. He is known to have worked on many of his compositions on frequent train trips, including his 4th Symphony and the libretto of his opera 'Love for Three Oranges'. I cannot resist sharing one of my favorite works of Prokofiev here, the last movement of his 1st Symphony.
The Siberian Express
Speaking of trains, my next stop after the two-day Moscow tour was finally the train station - the point where the real journey was about to begin. There was a three-day long journey ahead of me with the Siberian Express. It was going to take exactly 60 hours from Moscow to the city of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. During this time we were going to pass by many cities and change several time zones. It was quite crowded on the station, with many passengers off to different corners and different stories. I finally settled in my compartment and the train left the station at 4:20 pm promptly.
The weather was quite hot and the train was fairly old. There was not much air to breathe in the compartment with the windows restricted to open just couple inches wide. Finally, as we moved and accelerated, the wind started to fill in through the windows, thus bringing us some fresh air. My first companions in the compartment was a Russian couple, who were also musicians. Soon we were having a pleasant conversation. I told them about my trip to Tuva, however they had not heard of Tuva before. "Even some Russians in Russia don't know about it", I thought to myself, "where I'm going must be really remot. I showed the couple the rebab and we sang a few songs while the train was moving across the vast land.
As time went on, the landscape outside the window altered. The colors got warmer, and then faded into darkness. Then I woke up to a new day and the colors got brighter, warmer and darker once again. Mountains, forests, rivers, and small villages far away were constantly flowing outside the window. Sometimes there were two or three houses in the middle of the vastness, which was making me wonder about the lives of their residents. As we approached Siberia, the weather got remarkably cooler. Passing through several towns and cities, each time the train was leaving some passengers behind and taking new ones on board . In big cities such as Omsk and Novosibirsk we were having about half an hour of break, while at other smaller stations we were pausing for just a few minutes. During long breaks, I was quickly getting off the train to buy Russian pastry “piroshki” from the food courts at the station.
If you ask me what one eats on the train for three days, I can give you some advice. First, you stock up some food from the markets that surround the main station before you get on the train, where ts possible to find things particularly for train trips. It is a good idea to get things that can be made with hot water such as instant noodles, instant soups and tea, because every wagon has a hot water dispenser. There is also a small restaurant on the train, however there isn't much variety of foods and the prices are slightly expensive.
Road-trip to Tuva
When we finally arrived in the city of Krasnoyarsk at 9 am after the three-day long train trip, I had thoroughly learned the book "Where the Mountains and Rivers Sing" by ethno-musicologist Theodor Levin, and had listened to a lot of Tuvan music. I don't know if you'd believe me if I say that I did not get bored even for a minute during the ride, and that it was particularly enjoyable to sleep on a train that gently swings. Leaving the train behind, the rest of my journey was going to continue on the highway. The M53 highway that goes through the Krasnoyarsk region connects Khakassia, Tuva and Mongolia. There are shuttle buses departing from the parking lot of a shopping mall in Krasnoyarsk that go to Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, as was described to me by a Tuvan friend. Leaving the train station behind I walked for a while, and arrived at the shopping mall.
I approached a small shuttle bus at the far corner of the parking lot, and a petite guy got of the vehicle. I tried to communicate with him using gestures and my very limited Tuvan abilities. Finally being convinced that he is the man my Tuvan friend told me about, I gave him my luggage. Apparently some more passengers were to arrive soon. He told me to hang around and that we're going to leave in one hour. I am pretty sure he said one, because `one` in both Turkish and Tuvan is the same word. In the end it took us three hours to leave. People were going to tell me about the extra flexible "Tuvan time" phenomenon after arriving Kyzyl, and that there, one should add two to three hours to the scheduled time.
After everyone's belongings were mounted in the trunk and on top of the minivan, we finally hit the road towards the evening. There were two drivers, five passengers and a tiny kitten on board. The trip took exactly 14 hours. As we were driving through one end of Siberia to the other in the cold night, there was the same Tuvan pop song playing on the music player for the seventeenth time on a loop, with the volume up. The little kitten was waking up and meowing with fear as we slowed down and approached a fuel tank in the pitch black of the night. The owner of the fuel tank took the hose and began to fill up our tank, when our driver lit up a cigarette right next to him. Luckily nothing blew up. We drove for another while and soon we stopped at restaurant to have some soup few hours past midnight.
Hours later, exhausted from the jerky road, the cold, and the Tuva pop song that was still on the track, I fell asleep and soon was awakened with the sunlight getting in my eyes.s Outside my window, there was a dreamy sight, the vast steppes and misty mountains in the distance. The rising sun was peaking through the mountains as we were moving. The rays were reflecting on the haze accumulated above the golden steppes, spreading a golden glow around. We were making such an entrance to Tuva .
With attention, I watched the change of scenery outside and the steppes leaving the scenery to the trees, houses and then the little streets. We had finally arrived in Kyzyl. I handed the driver a paper with the address I was going to, and the phone number of who was waiting for me. When we arrived at the building, the driver called the number. Soon, an old women came out and walked towards us. This was the mother of Tayana, who my friend put me in contact with, I was going to stay in their spare apartment. Thanking the drivers in Tuvan I went upstairs with the old women and she showed me the place. We tried to talk a little with gestures, but we could not understand each other much. Soon the old women went home, leaving me to rest.
Finally getting comfortable after this long and demanding trip, I took out the map and traced the ground that I covered, Considering that my initial trip actually started in Boston, I had traveled to the other side of the world. I think it was the first time that I was somewhere that felt so foreign to me. I still didn't have a clear plan on what to do the following days and what adventures were waiting for me, however here I was. I had made it, I was finally in Tuva.
Journey to Tuva - 1. Before the Trip