I wake up in the morning a little late. I am checking the news again to follow what’s going on with the economy in the U.S.
Today is the day of the art festival. I have breakfast. I’m late so I eat fast. I let the woman in the Hotel Berkhana cafe that I will not be eating eggs today but I have an extra helping of all of the other foods. Again the homemade bread is awesome. I drink some instant coffee and start on my way to the Tengri Umai gallery. I always pass this Uzbek food stand on the way to the Arbat where the Tengri Umai is located. I walk past him everyday. sometimes he’s with other people but usually he’s there by himself. You can see watermelon and local Central Asian melons called Denya. They’re very sweet and when I see them they remind me of Zhanara. I am at this point missing Zhanara very much. The avenues of Almaty are lined with trees. The hotel Berkhana is only a couple of blocks away from the Arbat. I walk past a few government buildings and one of the old government buildings. To cross the street I have to go underground. Underground there are passageways that contain stores. The two passages I have to pass under are filled with stores and there is a security guard at the ends of the passages at night. So you never really feel like you’re in danger. Most of these are well lit. The types of stores you see are office supply stores, computer services, Xerox, book shops, second hand shops. I’ve seen a shooting gallery/western bar in one of these passageways. You sometimes can buy beer and they sort of resemble subways in New York but without the train. They’re quite lively with people brushing up against one another and the echoing voices of people create quite a racket. I think they sort of resemble bazaars. I have to pass between two of these passageways. the one closest to the Arbat is really fancy. It has a giant toy store with a bunch of grumpy store people. Davon got in trouble already with them for using his camera here. People still aren’t so comfortable with you taking photos of them. I usually pop out in the right side of the tunnel.
I walk to the gallery and I notice more graffiti on the street from a lot of the writers we’ve been working with. When I get to the Tengri Umai most of the graffiti writers are already working away. There has been a lot of progress made with these guys. Most are close to being finished and they’re getting their work ready for the Arbat. Vladimir has arranged with Slava to bolt feet onto the panels we’ve been painting so they can stand up on their own. James and I first walk to 4A coffee but it’s closed!! Sunday’s they’re closed how American is that???!! We find another coffee shop and we sit down and chat a little more about what we’ll do after we’re finished with our work in Almaty. We talk a little more about the past ten years. We talk more about our friends and a bit about our significant others. I tell James about how I met Zhanara and how it’s all culminated into this moment that we’re doing graffiti in Kazakhstan. We finish our coffee and take one to go for Anna. Davon goes to the Zylony bazaar this morning with the translators to check it out. I feel sorry that I can’t go. I really want to go to the little Dungan noodle shops there. They have the best noodles in town!! We move our paintings out onto the Arbat and there are already people there. There is a young woman with a look of recognition on her face. I can’t figure out who she is. I say hello and she’s like you don’t remember do you? I say well I’ve seen a lot of faces in the last few days so forgive me. Plus I say, I’ve been breathing a lot of spray paint these last few days. She says she’s the representative for the sponsor of the beer company. She’s made a request for me to wear some overalls with their brand of beer on it. I accept. It’s a good thing for me so I don’t get spray paint all over my clothes. I put them on and she’s happy to see that I’m wearing them. She offers me a beer and I say it’s much too early for a beer. Maybe later will be better. We help Slava as he puts the legs on the panels. this takes around 10 minutes. People are setting up the music and some of Davon’s music that he brought from LA are playing. It’s kind of surreal to hear American hip hop loud and on a PA system in the middle of Almaty! People are gathering and the music is getting louder. It’s kind of cool to see the other artists painting their works. At this point in time we’re all friends sharing paint and caps and all just hanging out. I keep following James’ lead but now it’s time for me to start focusing on finishing my work. James is focused and he’s working hard to finish. The problem is everyone keeps saying hello and there are many friends that I haven’t seen in over a year all stopping by to say hello. At some point a spray can spits paint out all over my face. I put the wrong cap on it. Leyla and Gabrielle from the embassy has stopped by to say hello. They look like they’re having a great time watching everything happen. We’re almost finished with our work and then suddenly we start to realize we’re running out of paint. We stop to pose with some of the locals as we’re finishing up. James is shocked we’re running out of paint. We go back to the gallery to find more and there isn’t much left. So we finish the work up and pose with some soldiers and friends. We have a moment to stand in front of the stage. Through the day there is music by local rap groups. There are some break dancers and hip hop dancers on the steps that have been made into a makeshift stage. We’re having an awesome time! James’ work is always better than mine!
Afterwards we put away our work. We’ve finished and the day is getting darker. We all head back to the gallery and we all hang out with the local graffiti writers. This time we’re all excited about the days. We’re all posing in front of cameras and just trying to communicate as best as we can. Rita the other owner of the Tengri Umai has just returned form an art festival in Bishkek. She’s anxious to interview us. We wait our turn to get interviewed with Saule as the interpreter and we talk about our context with graffiti. Most of this interview is online on their website.