Thursday, September 28, 2006

Zhigansk, Arctic Circle

Here are some of the highlights of Turkmenistani TV, which is all they get by satellite in Zhigansk, the Arctic moppets, along with the usual Russian channels (The Nanny: remade, Who's the Boss: remade, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, What Not to Wear, Dancing with the Stars, Dancing with the Stars on Ice, remade) and the news from Krasnodar.

All the latest happenings on the Turkmen State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange. Did you know you can order knitwork from Turkmenistan according to specification, unit, quantity and price? Me neither! There's cotton overalls, women's capri pants, men's high boots (how high, is my question). You can get hold of yarn waste, if it floats your boat, so long as you're willing to pay in advance and in Turkmeni lira. I knew nothing of this and now suspect I have been paying over the odds for my yarn waste from Tajikistan. But in the Arctic Circle they've been onto it for ages.

News 1 & 2
Two apparently indistingushable channels. English words roll across the screen on the half hour, pretty words like 'independent' and 'news'. It's all a bit Powerpoint presentation in the titles stage but they get points from me for background, which is a fetching royal blue. There is no anchor so we are straight into the news stories. Here is Turkmenbashi speaking. Here is Turkmenbashi reading. Here is Turkmenbashi enjoying a concert on a stage hung with a giant portrait of Turkmenbashi. The 'other footage' part is when things get a little experimental. Instead of talking heads or, shall we say, footage, there are cuts of shiny buildings, empty city streets, resplendent Ashgabat flower beds, and well-kept Ashgabat highways, artfully filmed from behind resplendent Ashgabat flower beds. To judge from this footage there are no people and hundreds of fountains in Ashgabat. I would be surprised if you could move in Ashgabat for fountains. The only piece in the half hour not centering on Turkmenbashi is about an oil company holding its board meeting in an Ashgabat hotel. This is supplemented with commentary by Turkmenbashi. We close with Turkmenbashi finishing a speech and receiving applause.

Culture channel
I am lucky enough to catch a short silent film. It is no The Wedding Planner in terms of its simple message of humanity, but I think if you stay with me you will get the gist. A small girl dreams of performing in a Turkmen concert. Many other girls perform in these concerts, which are all crowds, balloons, national costumes and, you'll never guess, Turkmenbashi. But she is not among them. This makes her sad. She sits, sad, on an Ashgabat kerb. Suddenly she notices mounted on the wall above her an enormous portrait of Turkmenbashi, holding a pen and smiling. This makes her happy. At home she practices dancing in front of the mirror. She is determined. She drags her mother to a flashy department store and begs for something in puffy tulle. She skips in her tulle through various flashy sections of the flashy department store. Evidently you can pick up dustbusters for a song in Turkmenistan. Soon there is a concert. Girls are performing. There is puff and - yes - tulle. Wait, there is a close up. It is the girl! She is performing in a Turkmen concert. She is very happy. The sky behind her is blue. In the closing wide concert shots featuring Turkmenbashi the sky is grey, but then even in Matthew McConaughey's films I hear there are flaws.


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