Friday was going to be a surprise – an early breakfast to catch the best light in the mountains! We congregated at 8am but didn’t leave until sometime later, as some of us had work to catch up on. We were taken to the highest peak easily accessible from Almaty, Shimbulak, located at 3200 m above sea level. It’s the largest ski resort in Central Asia and well worth a visit.
To get there, we had to board three different cable cars, which stopped at stations equipped with cafés, hotels and shops, until finally we reached our final stop. The views were incredible – pristine snow, mountain peaks at a stretch of a hand, a café in a yurt, complete with heating and a sound system – a mix of old and new. Guarding the yurt café were two dogs, Alaskan malamute breed, both wonderfully friendly and playful. We spent some time rubbing their bellies and trying to get them to give paw.
For lunch, we visited Uzbechka restaurant, serving some dishes that by now felt familiar to us, and some fantastically tender shashliks (grilled meat). Fortified, we left to meet the two authors who were available for interviews that day.
We first spoke with Mr Nurgali Oraz, whose tender portrayal of children suffering at their father’s alcohol addiction tugged at our heartstrings. The story was written in the 1990s, shortly after Kazakhstan regained independence from the USSR, and recalls the harsh reality of a people trying to create their lives anew in a strange, unfamiliar reality. Mr Oraz concedes that not everyone found the transition easy or successful. Our second and final interview was with Mr Zhusibpek Korgasbek, author of ‘Art’.
We talked at length about the role of the artist and their duty to art, and how, often, art becomes a tool in an artist’s search for fame and self-indulgence. Mr Korgasbek recalled the trials the story had been put through in Kazakh literary circles, as some feared it was too personal and took a stab at particular, identifiable individuals. Its history is perhaps testament to the author’s thesis that pure art is sometimes being violated by the very ones who profess themselves her servants.