“Almost There” oil on canvasboard 12×18″ (price on request)
For the first three weeks of November I was at the easel every weekday painting the pieces that I showed the color comps of on Sept. 22 here. I finally decided not to use them for the original purpose and will be entering them in some upcoming juried exhibitions. I’m pleased and proud of them so I want to debut them here on my blog. The one above is from reference I shot at a naadam in Erdenet Soum in 2015. I got to ride in the chase car for two of the races so I got fantastic reference as we drove alongside the horses and riders.
In Mongolia the sweat of a winning horse is thought to be auspicious, so the trainer scrapes it off. The traditional tool for this was the bill of a Dalmation pelican, an endangered species, so now the scrapers are made of wood, often with nice carving on them. One always knows the trainers by the scraper in their belt or sash. I was really struck by the colors of this two-year old, who had already raced. Very pretty.
And here you can see one of the trainers at the same event with his scraper tucked into his sash. This would be his personal riding horse. He (they are almost always stallions or geldings) has a traditional saddle that is well-worn and a common type of bridle knotted from hand-braided rope.
I’ve also kept up with Inktober52, not missing a week so far. Four drawings to go. You can see all of them on my Instagram feed here.
I loved our hidden campsite in the birch grove. I did as many sketches and watercolors as I could since I have no idea if I’ll ever be at that place again. Here’s a two-page set of drawings from my journal.
And here’s one of the watercolors I did.
We weren’t, however, alone. The grove seems to be headquarters for a large number of black-eared kites, a very common bird that one doesn’t pay much attention to after awhile while traveling around. Well, you sure couldn’t ignore this crowd, which carried on enthusiastic “conversations” until nightfall.
They also nest here.
It was such a lovely spot.
And it wasn’t easy to leave.
But we needed to get food and supplies for the last leg of the Expedition, so we packed up by late morning and drove the short distance into Chandmani, the soum center. There is also a Chandmani in Gobi Altai Aimag, which we drove through on the first Expedition in 2013, so now I’ve been to both of them. The guide had to get some money, which gave me a little time to wander around and find quite a few things of interest.
Heroes from socialist times, along with WWII, are honored with statues in various towns. This one says “Khodolmoriin Baatar R. Chadrabal”.
I thought this next one was awesome. So perfectly an expression of its time and a good work of art. The plaque says, I think, “Bimaulsin Baatar/Bayaibalin Tegshee”.
And, providing a contrast nearby, was this very cute playground.
On the ground near the red hero statue was a wonderful sculpture of oversized anklebones (shagai). The real ones are used for an apparently endless number of games, many of them involving alcohol consumption. Each of the four sides represents a specific domestic animal: horse, sheep, goat or camel.
I was not surprised, this being Mongolia, that there would be a statue of a horse.
I was, however, quite surprised to see a statue of an argali.
It seemed a sleepy town, like most soum centers I’ve been to, not many people out and about.
The town’s setting, with the northeast side of Jargalant Hairkhan Uul as a backdrop, was very nice. We went into the town center and, wow, it was hopping! The local naadam festival had just ended and people had come into town to do their shopping.
This was one of the few soum centers I’ve been in (not a huge number) that really had a main shopping street. Our first stop was this shop. I was dazzled by the riot of color and the variety of goods. I’m posting a lot of photos of it for two reasons. One is that I just want to share the experience, which is not one that visitors often get. I had the best time poking around and taking photos with my phone camera. The second is that I am so tired of uninformed, to put it diplomatically, Americans seeing the herder’s gers and how country people live, and going on and on about “those poor people” living in poverty as if it was some kind of degraded life that they need to be rescued from by the noble westerners. It’s true that most herders don’t have a lot of cash money. They also don’t accumulate a lot of stuff because everything they have is going to have to be packed up and moved at least a couple of times a year. But they have what they need and if they want something they have access to shops like these.
As you have probably guessed by now, the Mongols are not a people who are afraid of color. Westerners have commented on that for as long as any have made the journey to the Land of Blue Skies.
We were almost ready to leave when a woman came in wearing a del the same color as one I have. Our eyes met and I got up the courage to have my guide ask if she’d have her picture taken with me. I got a smile and a nod. Mongols almost never smile for photos, having been taught to keep a serious face since childhood. I’ve learned to keep a neutral friendly expression for these photo opps.
We left the first shop and went to have lunch, which turned out two of my favorites! Buuz and khuushuur. I have yet to get tired of either.
We needed to go to one more shop to get meat.
There was a huge poster attached to the wall. It was information about snow leopards. It says that there are 37 living on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul. The photo shows camera trap images of two leopards who have lost a paw in a trap, so other information on the poster is about not setting traps.
But we go into the shop and I see this. I was not able to find out the whole story behind either the poster or the traps. When I do I’ll be writing a post about it.
It turned out that there was no meat on site. The proprietor made a phone call and about 20 minutes later a local herder came in with a small bag of fresh mutton. In the meantime I took some more photos, including this stack of ger felts.
We went back to the car and got in. In the meantime, some of the local goats started to put on a show.
As we were leaving I spotted this horse tied to a fence and had to get some photos.
Now we really did need to get going. Our destination? Back east to Dorgon Nuur to camp in a different location than before. Will there be mosquitos? Find out next week.
Particularly since Mongolia made one of its rare appearances in international news last week, I thought I would start to post a photo or two of my travels there on Monday mornings, along with new paintings and drawings with Mongolian subjects. My husband and I and another artist are currently set to go back ( my third trip, his first) on August 24. My hope is to blog while on the trip when I can.
In the meantime, I know that Mongolia is still a mysterious, exotic place to most Americans who only know the country from stories about Chinggis Khan (the more correct spelling of Genghis Khan). I think the riot caught everyone off-guard and, I would venture to guess, that most Mongolians did not approve of, and are quite possibly embarrassed by, what happened.
Alcohol abuse (coupled with poverty and hardship) has been a problem in the country for a long time, partly due to the introduction of vodka by the Russians many years ago when Mongolia was tied very closely to the Soviet Union. I have read that the younger generation is moving away from hard liquor and choosing beer instead, but, in any case, booze appears to be a factor in what happened, as at least one news report I read stated that 600 mostly young men had been taken away to the Mongolian equivalent of a “drunk tank”.
Mongolia is sitting on huge deposits of valuable mineral resources like copper and uranium. How the income is handled from the mining, which involves foreign companies, appears to be a point of serious internal political disagreement. This is a young democracy, less than twenty years old, but the citizens have expressed their views forcefully and in public many times before now. This time, for whatever reason, it got completely out of hand.
So, here are some photos of Ulaanbaatar that are typical of the city and the people, who go about their business day to day just like the rest of us. They catch the bus, talk on cell phones, go grocery shopping and vacation in the countryside. They can eat out in restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, including American, Korean, German, Japanese, Italian, Chinese and, of course, Mongolian (I adore buuz, the steamed meat turnovers), although many can’t afford that yet. And an increasing number speak at least a little English. I did love the fact that one often sees people dressed in “del”, the national garment.
(There are lots more photos from both my trips on my website)
Street Scene on Peace Avenue
The famous State Department Store, which has an entire floor dedicated to Mongolian crafts, music, art, books, etc. A must-go if you’re in Ulaanbaatar for the first time
Sukhbaatar Square, with the Palace of Culture on the left, one of my all-time favorite buildings
Gandan Monastery in the background with the Shaman Center and a small ger “district” in the foreground