Letters From Uzbekistan


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I suppose it’s not unusual for people to be trapped in a context that keeps them in perpetual proximity to the realization of their fears, so let us not ‘grieve’ prematurely over the continuing (after all) life of, yes, here I can name him, Arslan Levantinov, who as a young child burned his hand on a stove in a fit of arch curiosity–it was the arching belly of the black coal burning stove that invited him to curl his hand in the most natural way and press the source of the intoxicating heat. This in itself is nothing until I add that this happened in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, his home country, where he works for a government tourist agency, a minor functionary–in Uzbekistan, beloved of successive US governments for its peace and geologic fortunes, perhaps most of all for its endorheics (never mind that for now, as there is much to say about it and I will get to it later, as will Mr. Levantinov in one of his letters, which include a joke of the type I really like, in which the reader is invited to contemplate rather be snared by a punch-line [“What is endorhea?” he asks. “The combination of violent diarrhea with implacable constipation” {for now, my phrasing}])…In Uzbekistan; and no country, of course, is without its struggles, just as no country is without the native soups of their cuisines–here is the ugly payoff: in Uzbekistan, people are taken from the streets and put into large pots and boiled alive.

Our Arslan Levantinov, encavmaphobic (there should really be no name for a universal fear, but for Arslan the fear is apparently more agitating than for most), lives in fear of making some kind of error on his own part, or of some kind of mistake being made by the authorities, or fear of the authorities–here I think we nail the entire phenomenon well down–for no traceable reason putting a hood over his head (there are many names for this phobia; I think fear of fog, though, is most poetic and most accurate–homichlophobia [one hears a by now ancient German cry of terror: “Nein! Nein! Nicht der Nebel!” for what is need of night in such a fog?])–and, well, in need here of some quaint, using him as the first ingredient in a pot of the national soup.

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