Arrival: Astana, Kazakhstan

Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – all admittedly have their peculiar charms, but for me of all the countries in the world with names ending in ‘stan’ none compare to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan! A vast and rugged country (1,049,150 sq miles) populated by descendents of Mongol and Turkic tribesman, it can be found on your map in the unfortunate position between Russia and China.

In Kazakhstan one can watch some of the most exciting and unusual spectator sports in the world. Kyz Kuu, where a girl on horseback is chased by a young man on horseback, and when he gets close she whips him (which is sort of like my current relationship, except for the horses). Audaryspak, in which two men wrestle on horseback. Kumis Alu, a game where a silver ingot must be snatched from the ground by a man on horseback. Kazakhstanian’s claim that when Alexander the Great visited the region he watched an exhibition of Kumis Alu (most scholars think games like Kumis Alu date to the Mongols in the 13th century). The most esteemed Kazakh sport of all is probably Kokpar, where two large groups of men fight over a stinky goat carcass - while on horseback. A few years ago the Kazakhstanian’s tried to take up Ice Hockey, but were unable to teach the horses to skate.

But I am not in Kazakhstan for tourism or spectator sports. I am here to stop a disastrous project being embarked on by the Kazakhstan government, The Pyramid of Astana:
It aspires to be one of the modern wonders of the world: a great pyramid, set in a new capital city on the Central Asian steppe. It is intended to be a global centre for religious understanding, a symbol of world peace. Nelson’s Column could fit inside it...The pyramid, made of a diamond-pattern lattice of steel clad in pale silver-grey stone, will be topped by a coloured apex of abstract modern stained glass to be designed by the British artist Brian Clarke – a long-time friend and collaborator with Foster. Bathed in the golden and pale blue glow of the glass (colours taken from the Kazakhstan’s flag), 200 delegates from the world’s main religions will meet every three years in a circular chamber – based on the UN security council meeting room in New York.
The chamber is perched high beneath the point of the pyramid on four huge props intended, said Foster, to “symbolize the hands of peace”.
This expensive (“The building’s cost is a state secret, but if it were built in Britain it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds” (note: GDP per capita is about 4,000 pounds) and enormous (“203ft high and a square base 203ft wide, sitting on a 59ft high artificial mound”) glass monstrosity is being built, I regret to say, in part because of me. As mentioned, the pyramid is intended to be a symbol of peace. What does a giant glass pyramid have to do with peace? Some time in the early 1990's at a cocktail party hosted by one of New York's leading pseudo-intellectuals (she is recently deceased) I was heard to say "No two countries that both had giant glass pyramids had fought a war against each other since each got its giant glass pyramid." My offhand remark was apparently taken to heart by the President of Kazakhstan N. Nazarbayev as well as by New York Times mustachioed pundit Thomas Friedman, both of whom were in attendance. I am therefore the unacknowledged inspiration for the Great Pyramid of Kazakhstan as well as Friedman’s idiotic and derivative observation that "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's." While I can do nothing to prevent Friedman from inflicting his nonsense on the world, perhaps I can convince the Kazakhstanians to stop this project now, before they inflict this aesthetic and financial nightmare upon themselves.


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