Washington Babylon — September 19, 2008, 11:11 am

Self-Shill: Ashgabat Calling

From my new piece in the October issue of Wallpaper*, on a recent trip to Ashgabat, the political and cultural hub (as it were) of Turkmenistan. The article is not yet available online but Wallpaper* is on sale at fine newsstands everywhere:

Like most places, Ashgabat has its pluses and minuses. On the upside, expenses are minimal. Even the top-end, five-star President Hotel, located near the cigarette lighter-shaped Ministry of Oil and Gas, will set you back only about $100 per night (or $150 for a suite). On the downside, most everyone staying with you at the President will be a dreary foreign businessman or member of one of the many low-level foreign delegations passing though town, possibly a group from Outer Mongolia’s Ministry of Agriculture, sub-department of water…

One of the city’s most impressive attractions is the Walk of Health, a 37km concrete path cut atop the slopes of the Kopet Dag mountain. At the base is the Garden of the Great Turkmenbashi, a park
and playground featuring a fountain with a huge, perpetually spinning marble ball. Across the road is another monument to the Turkmenbashi in which he is chiseled in marble wearing a jogging suit and running shoes while holding a cup of tea. Curiously, the Turkmenbashi himself was not much of a health nut. He urged all citizens to make the walk at least once a year and ordered his ministers to do so. He o?ered encouraging words to his minions as they embarked on their ceremonial annual hike, before he himself was whisked away by helicopter to the presidential palace. Then he would reappear at the end of the Walk of Health to greet those crossing the ?nish line and to berate laggards.

Also, published next week: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship (a “marvelous, rollicking exposé of K Street culture” – Booklist).

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