The Jewish Cemetery

Before I write about the concert — let’s break away to the present
moment where I’ve left Samarkand and arrived in Bukhara.

I’ve arrived amidst a frenzy of restoration. So, imagine an ancient,
magical, fairy-tale city – with a lot of bricklayers, scaffolding and
backhoes. Everything is supposed to be done in two weeks for a big
festival, so if you’re thinking about traveling here, hold off until
May.

For the first time on my trip, I now have ample time to engage in one
of my favorite pastimes: getting completely lost. Woe to those
burdened heavily with functional senses of directions. Only a few
minutes in a place like this and I have no idea where I am or even
what direction I came from. It’s a lovely feeling. Best of all, I
never get very far because I have a tendency to turn myself around –
and I get to have an amusing surprise every time I find myself back in
the same place! Usually it’s some old person sitting out side, who
waves at me each time I pass, wondering, I’m sure, what the heck I’m
doing wandering around in their neighborhood.

No traveling companion will ever stand for this sort of behavior, so
it only works when I’m by my lonesome  – so I best take advantage of
the situation.

In this manner, I walk, whistling, through brick arches and past
mosques and markets. Sandstone brick and mud, curvy narrow streets,
eventually out of the old city area and then keeping on for a while
until I decide its time to eat. Turn around
and head back. But with these narrow streets curving everywhere and
high walls – you can’t see anything in the distance as a reference
point – three times I’m back at the same dead end – facing a decrepit
gate with some Hebrew written next to it.
The first time, I stop and peer in and I see a bunch of
garbage and puddles inside. The third time around, I decide what the
heck and walk in, find a path past the garbage and the puddles, and
I’m in the jewish cemetery.

The cemetery covers several acres and is surrounded by a wall. At the
periphery there are some newer graves from the 1980s-1990s featuring
the popular of marble headstone engraved with creepy portrait of the
deceased. This they
borrowed from the Russians I think. Most of the area is strewn with
old markers from which the names have eroded right off the stone.
The ground is loamy (is that right the word?) – so that each step the
earth sinks an inch with a crunch, like
maybe my leg might crash down through a rotting coffin.

Bones are strewn everywhere – animal bones, presumably. A patina of
white salt covers everything. I leave footprints as if walking in
fresh snow. There are no other footprints. The cemetery surrounds me
as far as the eye can see. I’m all alone here – just me and the bones.

Eventually I arrive at a dome. A dome so much like our Charming
Hostess Bowls Project dome. Same manner of unreinforced tile vaulting.
I totally know how to build one of these! There are some stairs
leading to a mysterious opening. It is too dark to see inside.

I descend down the steps, peering in. My eyes adjust to the faint
light from the oculus. There’s a pool of fetid water in the
middle. Inside the dome, I’m standing at the edge trying to see into
the water. I stare and squint for a long time but I can only make
faint outlines of…? I walk slowly, circling the pool. I think maybe
this is the ritual bath where they wash dead people before burial…

Look closely at the picture here — in front of the door, those are
the steps down to the pool.

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