This is our last day of programming. We hope for no more snafus today. Leaving the hotel around 9:30am, we arrive at the newly built Institute of Culture and are greeted by the Director and a line of lovely young women holding trays of bread, little triangles of unsweetened fried bread, fruit and candy. We then walk past an ensemble of traditional musicians seated on a stage in the lobby playing a lovely little song. We stay till the song ends then go up the elevator to the Directors office where more treats are set out. The Director welcoms us and apologizes that he needs to leave for a meeting but that his assistant director will host our visit. The office is quite fancy with a row of TV monitors along one wall, all tuned to different programs, all state run TV feeds. The Director explains the Institute has only been open one year. 700 students attend and study everything from dance to TV production to circus performance. A compact and handsome man, the director is a former actor and producer. Upon his taking leave his assistant takes over. Our new host has a nice playfulness about him. He also has been an actor and producer. And, when his mobile rings I hear some lovely accordion music. I ask about it and it turns out he is the player. I asks if he has a CD of his music and he says no. He hands me his phone to listen. Wow, an incredible player and the Turkmen music sounds fabulous on the instrument. I’m getting to like this traditional music.
We then adjourn to a nice small auditorium full of waiting students. The program begins with prepared Q&A. It’s obvious the questions posed by the students have been prepared. They are good questions starting by asking our impressions of their country. Being it is our last day, each of our group have lovely and thoughtful answers. I told them how much I appreciate that everywhere we have gone we were greeted with art, the lovely ritual of offering food, music and that these greetings were most appreciated. I also gave them advice that they have the opportunity as future performers to bring people together, to go beyond language and cultural backgrounds, to make the point through art that we are all brothers and sisters. After our Q&A we put on our little concert of music and a poem. The students are entranced. We are really sounding good after a week of performing. Each time Andy sings “Diamond Joe” we join in with gusto. I’m so proud to be part of this group, a fantastic little ensemble of individuals.
After lunch at the Russian market near our hotel we travel to the old Hippodrome where we are to have a horse demonstration. Every venue is a surprise and this was no exception. We go to a race horse stable and basically get a basic tour, no waiting girls with trays of fruit. The chief trainer shows us the stable as these aspiring race horses, 2-4 years of age old are lead out of their stalls for exercise. The trainer goes into great detail about their care, feeding and training. Gail, in particular asks many specific questions about the horses. Our host is engaged and told us he could talk about his world all day. The session is quite informal with no pomp to our visit. At the end both Gail and Linda get to climb aboard Akhal-Teke horses and get lead around the yard.
Our final engagement is a simple couple of songs at an auditorium full of young kids waiting to see an animated Disney feature, “Spirit.” Translated to Russian. We do a couple songs then head back to the hotel to buy our final carpets, then dinner and pack for our 2am departure for the airport. Wow, what an adventure. I have many things to sort out about this complex society we have been given the opportunity to visit. I will try to write a postscript once I’m back safe on U.S. terra firma.