Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #8  (original pub. date, Lion Magaine, February 1992)


The dissolution of the Soviet Union now means that Kazahkstan is the fourth largest nuclear power in the world, with some 1,690 atomic weapons on its soil, more than France, Britain and China combined. Although the Kazakhs claim they have no intention of getting uppity, atomic-wise, how much do we really know about them? Just what is Kazahkstan? Where is it? And if it is near us, is it getting any closer? And most importantly, if they got into the Nuclear Club, does that mean that a coat and tie are no longer required? A brief history of Kazakhstan is in order.

Kazahkstan is one of the historic "-stans", the others being Kurdistan, Tadzikistan, Turkestan, Uzbehkistan, Stan Laurel and Standard Oil. Etymologically, the name is related to the kazatski, the vigorous folk dance in which the dancer, from a squatting position, throws out each leg alternately, then throws out his lower back. The root "Kaz-" has also given us the "kazoo", the toy musical instrument consisting of a small open tube with a top hole covered by a membrane, as of paper, that vibrates to produce a buzzing quality similar to tones hummed through toilet paper stretched over a comb, neither of which are in particular abundance in Kazakhstan.

"Kazakhstan," as a separate historical entity, was first mentioned in the annals of Marco Polo's younger brother, Marco Croquet, who referred to the land as "one of the four basic food groups". This reference went unnoticed for centuries, apparently because no one really seemed to know what "annals" were. Croquet and his older brothers, Field Hockey and Bocce, skirted the famous Silk Road pioneered by Polo and went on to blaze the lesser known Dirt Trail, the only road they were allowed onto, dressed, as they were, in blazing skirts. In any event, the United Nations has recently recognized Kazakhstan as "very empty".

The land is bounded on the north by Russia and bounded on the west by the Caspian Sea; it is bounded on the east by China and on the south by Boundless Enthusiasm, the Bounding Main, Leaps and Bounds, Bound and Gagged, and a motley assortment of other bounders and rascals. There are three time zones: Kazakh Standard, Kazakh Summer and Happy Hour. Lowlands, table lands, table legs, mountains and plateaus account for most of the total area. The rest is still unaccounted for, except for the Giant Steppe, which earlier explorers had to turn back from because they had forgotten to say, “Mother, may I?” Vegetation is mostly fescue and wormwood, which is  quite a coincidence since Fescue & Wormwood is also the name of the only law firm in the nation.

The rest of Kazakh topography is of little interest since the inhabitants pretty much quit playing with tops when they started with this atomic bomb business. Nevertheless, the northern plains produce all the wheat grown in that area, and their famous “amber waves of grain” are the source of all those little yellow-brownish bits of translucent grit so often found in Kazakh bread, at least according to the Kazakh Ministry for Fossil Resin and Roughage. Since the beginning of the Mesozoic Era, about 225,000,000 years ago the low hills have been characterized by extensive depressions and are just recently starting to feel better. As a matter of fact, the hills are now said to be alive with the sound of music or at least comatose from the tintinnabulation of cowbells. The cows, themselves, form an integral part of the great folk festival put on each year by traditional Kazakh-Jewish vintners called Trampling Out the Vintage Where the Grapes of Roth are Stored.

The nation's highest legislative body is 2,284 metres above sea-level and is elected by universal suffrage. Everybody suffers. The capital of Kazakhstan is Alma Ata, which name is recalled in the ancient hymn, Hail to Thee our Alma Ata. Historic Kazakh literary figures include Abu Nasr as-Farabi, author of numerous treatises on philosophy, science and sun-dial repair. Most modern poetic energy, however, has been directed at trying find a good rhyme for "Kazakhstan". In terms of religion, Jehovah's Witnesses have been increasing, apparently due to fact that slamming a tent flap on someone's foot doesn't really hurt that much. The largest religion, however, is still the Kazakh Orthodontic Church, whose motto is: Brace Yourselves!

That's good advice for all of us.

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