Тыва (Part Two)

On our third to last day in Tuva, we drove up to the town of Arzhan with Yuri (after passing by the ancient Scythian burial mounds on the way. No pictures of this detour from me, however,because I was really invested in capturing birdsong at that site instead) to participate in the second English speaking engagement we had agreed to participate in. Prior to this trip, as we thought about what an "English conference" held at a local university would look like, and as we planned out the talks we would give at that conference, we thought that we would be presenting those chosen topics (which I will get to shortly) at the main university in Kyzyl. Instead, we were driven out to the remote schoolhouse pictured below in the town of Arzhan.
There were some opening ceremonies to this conference, including what went on in the picture below, which transpired shortly after we stood for both the Russian and Tuvan national anthem
Outside of the school, we had to check out the WC situation. Dire, as always, but we were fairly used to it by that point in the trip.
We got to spend some quality time with the Kim Jong looking fellow mentioned in the previous post at this English conference. Incredibly odd, hilarious and well travelled fellow, sporting silver fronts (I think all of them were silver. I waited and waited for him to crack an open mouthed smile while taking this picture, but he would never give me the satisfaction). He ditched out on most of the English conference because he was "tiiiiired of speeeeaking Eeeeenglish."
We broke off into groups wherein we gave our various talks on our chosen topics. Melissa was seperated from Jan, Steve and I to give her talk on teaching English as a second language in a foreign country to aspiring teachers in a different classroom. I began things in our classroom by talking about self publishing and my history with zine making and culture. I had printed/bound up copies of "Twenty Dudes" to distribute among the Tuvans as examples of what I was talking about. Below you will find our driver Yuri flipping through the fourth volume of that series, taking a look at Nek Chand and Daniel Higgs in dudes form.
Here I am, in full arm flapping teacher mode. When I was done with my talk, everybody in the classroom began collecting the dudes zines to give back to me and were quite shocked/stoked when I told them that they could have the zine stacks I handed to them at the beginning of my talk.
Jan gave a great talk about his photography process that really shed some light on his transformation from a Wall Street type to Artist (with a capital "A") and made us love his work even more than we already did. 
Steve gave some insight into his filmmaking process and influences, showing various still photos from the process of making of his previous movie. I feel like Steve could totally make another movie based on the footage and interviews that did not make it into the final cut of Reach of Resonance.
After the talks, I came upon this scene
and this list
and these littles (!)
In true Tuvan form, we were then treated to an incredible/meaty feast before we were sent on our way back to Kyzyl (yes, Melissa and I had to do some clandestine food switcheroos here too).
Many parts of animals to consume. Steve with a bone pile on his plate already and Joey at the end of the table trying out some of the Tuvan he was learning, most likely.
Scenes from the outside of our mess hall, making our way back to the car, blue skies and bellies/hearts full
Driving around in the countryside, old/falling apart Soviet cement relics like the one below would come into view and make me consider that past that is still very present in physical and psychic form in that massive country.
We returned to Kyzyl in time to catch a performance by the incredible all-women throat singing troupe Tyva Kyzy. They were truly mind blowing, masters at their respective instruments and brought new tones/sounds into the ever expanding (for us, at least) world of throat singing. Below you will find us with them, quite starstruck.
After the Tyva Kyzy show, we were invited to the office of  one Aldar Tamdyn, who took over as director of the cultural center when Kongar-ol died. Aldar put out a massive feast for us all (including Vodka distilled from milk. Yes, it tastes exactly how you think it would), mere hours after our Arzhan feast. Thus is the giving heart of Tuvans

We talked late into the night with Aldar and Valentina and the ladies from Tyva Kyzy...
...and this dood (Enrique Ugalde), who we had met randomly on the street a few days previously. He taught himself how to throat sing in his native Portland and moved to Kyzyl to perfect this craft, studying under various masters, including Aldar himself. Along the way, he married a Tuvan woman (sitting next to him in the photo below) and they now have (I assume they do by now) a Tuvan American baby. He sang Khoomei for us after our meal and it was quite impressive/beautiful, He played with low tones in a way that I had never heard before.
The elderly gentleman in the photo below was my, Jan and Steve's roomie for the entirety of our stay in Kyzyl. Our accomodation was linked to the local university and therefore having a professor from the university staying with us made sense (Melissa stayed with a girl from Western China who was studyin at the university). This gentleman worked constantly at his computer, when he wasn't teaching at the local university. We were able to figure out, eventually, that he was writing about the environment in Kyzyl and (probably) how dire the future of air quality will be there.

The next morning, in our Hausu...
...breakfasting in preparation for our day with Ms. Suzukei
Our cord maven at work in Aldar's office, where the interview with Valentina took place.

Valentina reading over her notes in preparation for her interview with Steve. This interview, regarding the depths of Valentina's inquiry into her native culture's systems of music and sound making and her theories into that sound making multiverse and how it connects Tuvans spiritually with the flora and fauna of Tuva, was conducted on our second to last day in Tuva. Steve had sent Valentina a list of questions regarding these theories and inquiries inadvance, which allowed Valentina the time to translate it into Tuvan/Russian.
Steve made final preparations, Valentina checked her flip phone
At some point, the local Tuvan news station came out and set up their equipment for filming us filming Valentina.
And then we sat back and let Valentina pontificate profusely (in Tuvan/Russian so to be at ease when discussing these esoteric ideas). We couldnt understand a thing, but listened to the sounds and music of those languages we havent the slightest clue of how to decipher for around four hours. Valentina would get more and more excited as she spoke, gesturing wildly. She would need to take breaks every once and a while, however...
...and during one of those breaks we took during the Valentina music theory matathon, our local Kyzyl TV station friends interviewed Steve and Jan about the film

That evening back at our student housing, Steve reviewed some of the footage of Valentina (below foto). Since that interview, Sean Quirk has set about translating it and is about halfway through. Steve has sent us part of that translation and what little we have received so far of that absolute deluge of information from Valentina is mind expanding/blowing. Sean even translated when Valentina was talking about how she loves it when she is speaking in Russian/Tuvan and Melissa nods along like she understands.

At the supermarket that evening, checking out the incredible array of Ketchup on display there. We got duped into buying some when we were in the market for pasta sauce. Gross realization, way too late

After six, the alcohol aisle is closed off. Alcoholism is a big problem in Tuva, from what I understand in talking with our Tuvan friends/Joey and from what we witnessed while we were there.
Later that evening, I got into a postcard writing frenzy. Below is the result of this obsession with outdated modes of communication and foreign stamps.

Oh, roofdog. I miss your daily frantic greetings as soon as we would set foot outside of our door.

Melissa and I set out for a mini Kyzyl romp on our last full day there. Found the hippo hiding spot (can you?)


Snoop makes his way east!

Before we left Aldar's office a few nights previously, he invited us to come and check out his workshop/studio. We did so on our last full day in Tuva, and the fox pelt below was one of the first things I noticed upon entering one of a few different workshop spaces he had spread around Kyzyl.

In the first workshop space, quite close to our student housing lodging, a still life

Bones yet to be aligned

Aldar air guitar/igil

Those? Those are balls

Corner Skull

Steve and Aldar checkin the infant igils, all lined up, unstringed but quite horse headed

Close up on the detail of these horse heads/instruments not fully finished

Aldar then drove us out to a bigger work space he had taken ownership of recently in the nearby Gorky park (I think it was Gorky park. As I mentioned in the Moscow post, there seems to be a Gorky park in every major city in Russia, so I'm probably safe calling it that). The building that Aldar has taken over inside of that park was vacant for quite some time until he showed interest in it and is working on fixing it up, inside and out, to help him and other local craftsmen expand their reach in the availability of locally crafted indigenous instruments. Anyhow, the pelt pictured below came from a bear that Aldar's brother had recently killed and it was one of the first things that came into view as we entered this space.

Sticks, skulls, possibilities

Felted piles, circular frames, possibilities

The spacious woodshop to realize those latent possibilities

After Aldar finished the tour of the Gorky park space and being fully regaled with his stories of traveling the world with Kongor-ol, we returned to our accomodations briefly before taking off for Aldyn-Bulak. Below is a more inclusive shot of our housing block.

Dust drawing on Aldar's truck as I waited for everyone to return to it (more on this later)

Upon our return to Aldyn-Bulak (which we learned was partially built by Aldar himself. The more time we spent with the man, the more his absolute devotion to his native land and culture became clear), we indulged in the fancy yurt restaurant there, ordering all manner of animal parts and bloods.

Such a gorgeous space, I'm thankful that we were able to return to the yurt village during their open hours.

Here's a portrait that Steve took of Aldar in that space, with his film camera (notice the difference?)

and if it wasn't obvious, here's another Elkins filmic snapshot close up of some yurt door detail

Aldar and Jan Aldyn with lunch

Back to the slowly melting Yenesei river

Another filmy Elkins shot

Yurt camp all nestled into that valley

Aldar wanted to perform for us after our meal, and roped his son into the deal. Below you will find his son practicing his licks for the big performance.

Two thirds of Aldar's clan, Valentina and Melissa's back, post yurt feast

We drove up to a promontory above Aldyn-Bulak, to another space heavily formed by Aldar. Below you will find him explaining the significance of the ovaa/place to me.

The posts in the background all represent a different type of throat singing (Which Aldar listed off in order, quite easily from memory. I, unfortunately can't remember them all in detail). Aldar got pumped on my initial dust drawing (which I had added to after the last back window shot in this post. I added Valentina's idea of "sonic holography" to it, because it felt appropriate). Because the beard and hair additions on the original dust drawing reminded him of himself, Aldar set about adding a portrait of me to the overall back window canvas.

Here we are with our dust doubles

Throat singing totems up close



Setting up near the Ovaa

Aldar went back to the car for a costume change

As did his son

Valentina was very worried over Aldar's son not having a head covering for his newly shaved dome, so she made him hood it until his performance

What a hunk

He walked away from us

To practice in relative solitude

Aldar and Steve talk angles

and then...

The best experience of this trip (maybe. This was definitely up there, though). He played and sang for us for the better part of an hour, with absolute mastery over both his voice and the igil that he had designed and created himself. Unbelievable beauty, connecting/fitting with the natural world around us in ways that made it all make sense in that moment. True church servicing of our souls above the Yenesei and one of many moments in my life I wish I could have extended the boundaries of to exist in for longer than our usual allotted time, head first into that eternal now. or something.

Post performance smoke break

Dust drawing frenzy jumped from Aldar's car to his wifey's, with his son throwing down

We got skully this round

He made the shirt below, via iron on transfer of a portrait of his grandfather playing the trumpet. Rad

Steve's smile indicating a job well done

After our long day...

...Steve was quite out of it and got out of the car with the pink fluffer 'round his neck, forgetting it was there entirely. We called him on it

We stopped by a throat singing school to watch the lils below perform

Valentina giving them a pep talk

Post performance sesh. The one in the middle had an unbelievably deep voice

We all...

...mugged with the lils before returning to our student housing accommodation for our last nite there

Nighttime Kyzyl

Pretty sure it says "Tuva Rules" in the tag below and yes it did. We felt then as I feel now overwhelmingly thankful that we got to go to that remote corner of Siberia and that everyone was incredibly warm, generous and welcoming towards us.

Yuri cramming the van for the return trip, back over the Syan mountains to Abakan, where we would spend the night and then fly out of the next morning, back to Moscow.

Across the street from the diner we stopped at on the way to Kyzyl, which we patronized on the return trip. Ruff spot that truck driver was in

The next morning, in the Abakan airport...

...this man had free range over the waiting area of the airport. By far the laxest security I have ever been through.

I really wanted an egg and was having trouble communicating this to Yuri. I resorted to drawing one on my hand, to which Yuri resolutely said "they do not have those."

On the five or so hour ride back to Moscow, reading about the 'Stans (and daydreaming future trips).

Panda man of Sheremetyevo

Train ride back into the city

We were taken in for the night by friends of Alisa's and their cat that was trying to kill itself (the kerchief 'round its neck was to prevent it from clawing at a spot weakened by some previous neck brutalization from its insistent claws).

Just look at those eyes. Do they belong to someone that wants to live anymore?

Yes, twas very cut though

Explaining our Baikal/Siberia adventures to our new Muscovite friend circle

Loft, smokey loft

Savier himself

Apparently, the gentleman below grew up in the circus.

Modern art, suicidal cat onna box and Steve's legs (I think).

We escaped the flat for a bit and wandered the 'hood with Savier and his gf, at long last

Got all lost inna supermarket (but found the gentleman prune below)

Went to a loft above Savier's to take in this view of one of the Seven Sisters

Then we returned for cat time. The neck reinforcements were getting heavier duty

Steve could stay awake no longer

Met this marbled man in morning light

and this impressively bearded wooden gent on our way back to the airport for our blast out of mother Russia

We were held captive for the next twelve or so hours, time warping back to California with nothing but thankfulness for our time well spent in Russia.

Upon the final descent, seeing familiar place names, it sunk in that this trip was indeed drawing to a close. From this year and a half remove, sorting and uploading and writing about the images above (and in the previous Rooskie posts), it still feels unbelievable that it all happened and that it all happened in the ways that it did. We have reached the conclusion of the Russia trip, and soon enough more facets of our lives that has passed between then and now will make its way to this blog. Until then, I bid you До свидания

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