As I have mentioned before, Kazakhstan and England have in common a love for conversations about the weather. It is a constant and reliable source of either misery or joy, wearisomeness or surprise. “The weather” in Almaty is at once and always both predictable and unpredictable, depending on whatever it is doing that day.
But whatever it has been in the past, and whatever frigid temperatures I’ve reported to you, spring has finally come to Almaty, and it is astonishing how quickly it washes away the winter and all memories of the cold. And not only is it warmer, but for whatever reason, the dense smog that sat on the city has lifted, revealing the mountains just out our backdoor. The city is absolutely stunning right now, as my photographs attest.
The arrival of spring has predictably lifted everyone’s moods. A sense of cheer an bonhomie is palpable throughout the city – that, or I am projecting as much onto everyone I see.
Another effect has been to give me a keener awareness of the city’s geography. The city (obviously) sits in a piedmont and, as you may remember, is constructed on a steep but steady northward-oriented decline. In this fine weather, if you put your back to the mountains you can look out across the city and see… nothing, which is in fact the wide expanse of steppe that spreads out to the north almost all the way to Russia.
With the craggy, practically impenetrable mountains to the south and the steppe to the north, it is as if the city has its back against the wall and is watching for invaders. This makes perfect sense, of course, when I remember that Almaty was originally a military outpost for a southward-expanding Russian Empire. Not that I’ve any knowledge of military tactics, but this place would probably be relatively easy to defend, and it backs onto natural fortress into which the Russian soldiers could retreat if need be.
The long and short of this post is that you need not pity me any longer for suffering Kazakhstan’s unforgiving winter.