I am in heaven, I can’t deny it. As I gaze out the living room window of my apartment in Dushanbe, day or night, I am struck by the beauty that stretches out as far as the eye can see before me. My new home is right across the park from one side of the huge gardens that have been put in around the Opera Ballet House in Dushanbe like a large horse shoe with its entrance in the open space between the two sides of the shoe. And not only are the gardens great, but so is the apartment, especially for $350, less than half what I had to pay in Kathmandu.
The Opera Ballet House gardens are a miracle of walkways winding between manicured lawns, carpets of flowers, fountains of all shapes and sizes, and huge structures that appear reminiscent of the Parthenon. Some are formed with round bands supported by tall pillars, others are only half circles, as if someone came along and cut one of the round ones in two. It is an interesting design. The round ones always have a fountain the middle with some statue of some sort. The one nearest my apartment, whose sssshhhhh I can hear from my living room (yay), depicts a woman dancing with wild abandon. They are huge, and give the park a feeling of being in a natural cathedral, which may have been the intention. Whoever designed it is definitely someone whom I would like to know. I would never have imagined that such a collection of contrasts could be so harmonious.
There are big trees and little trees of all different shapes and sizes, all of which, for the most part, are growing in neat little rows along each of the pathways. I assume that the giants must have been there before the park was put in as, apparently, it was only finished about three months ago.
For me, soothed when things are neat and well-organized, it is a haven unlike any other.
The paths themselves are made of decorative stone (I think) bricks of various shapes and designs. Different paths are made of different styles of interlocking patterns.
Each time I go there, I see something new. For example, yesterday I realized that a colorful wooden bird was peer at me from the middle of one of the bright red carpets of flowers. But it is not the only animal in the park. Just across from my house is a huge buck, more than life size, I think, but I haven’t been around any of the deer in this country. Next to him is a life size (I think) mountain lion crouching low as it traverses down a craggy rock. I am not sure what they are made of, but they are painted to represent the real thing and that they do. I have since found two bucks, two lions, two rams, and two leopards scattered about. Yes, always symmetricality within what one might at first glance take to be a random arrangement.
Nothing in this park is random. And nothing has been left to chance. There are several children’s areas scattered about, midst the flowers and fauna. Each have safe, brightly painted wooden structures upon which the children can climb and slide. These spaces are not all exactly alike, some have different structures, but all have been made by the same craftsmen and so form a patchwork of childhood delight throughout the park.
But is it when the lights go out that the true magic really begins. Yes, everything is lit and with so many different kinds of lighting that it makes my head spin. There is order to the mad joy of the lighting: the same kinds of lights line each walkway and, wonder upon wonders, there is one wide walkway encircled from top to bottom with a metal frame to form on long continuous arch which is literally covered in colored lights… red, blue, green, yellow, white. They have used the same chains of lights the Nepali put on buildings from top to bottom in Nepal for Tihar but, here, it is not just at one time of the year, I can go bathe in color every night!
Another style of light that I have never seen before, and just saw this evening in another park nearby (yes, everywhere I go, there are parks here in this, the heart of the city), is a tall black square black metal frame, perhaps 10 feet high that are lined up over a space upright like dominos in a row. I can imagine pushing one and seeing them all collapse one after another.
In my park, these frames each have a square bush sitting between its two legs, and one large glass ball, filled with a flutter of tiny white lights. But what makes them fantastical, is that, at night, the entire structure lights up to form a tall square arch that is fully lit. In my park, they light is white. But in the other park they are blue. Those took my breath away, just as mine did the first time I saw them. From a distance all of these look like lines of light piercing the night air in a very pristine way due to their careful placement.
Not to be left out of the night action, many of the different fountains, again, big and small, short and tall, spray columns or streams of colored light as the water moves. Some alternate colors, red, blue, pink, yellow, others are satisfied just to stay and elegant white. My favorite looks like a giant dandelion, after the flower has gone, leaving only its feathery white seeds forming a perfect ball until the wind wisks them away to be reborne. This fountain mimics this exactly; I don’t know if it was designed to do that, I don’t even know if they have dandelions here, although I would assume that they do, given their penchant for sending their seeds far and wide with the wind. In this case, water is coming out from around the entire globe light, close my eyes and I can see it taking off into the wind instead of falling back onto the pool of water below.
Some the trees get to play with lights as well. There is one row of trees which do not have any leaves at the moment, maybe they never will as all their branches point upwards to form a cone and each branch is strung with while lights so it looks like a cup of light reaching towards the sky. I haven’t examined them in the daylight yet, maybe they aren’t real trees, which would make sense since any leaves would definitely block the fingers of light reaching into the heavens above.
There is a large space surrounded by big trees where they have small concerts. I followed the music on Friday night and found not only a live band but also a row of vendors selling handmade crafts. I purchased a whimsical little bag, lined with leather, but covered with colorful traditional fabric with three tiny bags, tied closed with strings, attached to its face. I can’t imagine what it is used for, but it is a perfect decoration for my living room. It cost $4. At night, it is covered by a canopy of colored bell-shaped lights. I can almost hear them ringing …
The garden is at the same time elegant and playful, ordered and varied, and extremely functional. There are also a couple of white buildings with high windows that appear to still be unfinished on their interiors. I can’t wait to see what will be inside, assuming they will be open to the public for some purpose. There is a soccer field and a volleyball court. Luckily, they behind the Opera House, so I can’t see them from my window. And of course, scattered throughout are various benches upon which people sit while they chat.
Families, couples, people of all shapes and sizes come to the park and stroll along its maze of pathways. I have noticed: People in Dushanbe do not walk, they stroll. Everywhere I go, at any time of day, people are strolling along, as if they had all the time in the world to get wherever they are going.
I go for a walk in the park every evening, being such the sucker for colored lights. I can’t imagine what it will be like to have to leave this place in ten months. Pictures will never do the space justice. So, like my blue horizon over the Strait of Bosphorus, I will just try to soak up an image of every light, every tree, every flower, every fountain to carry home with me in my imagination.
The thing that comes to mind whenever I gaze out my window is how artfully they have managed to combine regularity with variety to create a space that is both soothing to the soul and enchanting for the spirit. I would not at all be surprised to see the White Witch from the wizard of Oz drop down from the sky into the waiting arms of the park. It is just her style.
For those of you reading this post, you might want to come back to it from time to time because I will add more details as I discover more magic in the heart of Dushanbe’s Opera Ballet House gardens.