“First time I saw this extraordinary city, so unlike any city of the world, in 1933, and I remember how much it surprised me”. This is the first line of the most Alma-Atinian novel of all novels in the literature of the world, titled ‘The Keeper of Antiquities’ and written by Yuri Dombrovsky. The novel where Alma-Ata became one of the central characters.
Now, there is almost nothing left of the city of 1930s that was described by the well-known author. Apart from that still strikingly beautiful orthodox cathedral in the heart of the city, and a few pre-revolutionary buildings, changed beyond recognition by modern renovators. But it is just outwardly. The essence of the city and its wonderful atmosphere remained unchanged. And even became more refined. Just this phenomenon: the spirited look of the streets, humane rhythm of life, extraordinarily outgoing personalities of its residents, all in all creates this at once recognizable aura, which makes our city outstanding among hundreds of others with millions of people populations.
Long ago I paid attention to the fact how tangible this aura is at various art exhibitions. You are roaming around these cold and balanced canvases and suddenly, the wave of some life-giving warmth is incoming from somewhere, and warms up your soul and set your brain, distorted with different -isms, right. Look, but this is my Alma-Ata here, in frame! Like a kind-hearted and caring woman selling her pies just next to impersonal sushi-bars and McDonalds.
They say that the spot where our city stands has some abnormal properties. Not without reason it is loved so much by various mentalists, magicians, transcendent experimenters, and alternative medicine adepts. For the example they take the Oporto apple story: in its homeland it was an ordinary sour stuff, and once it got here, it turned into a king-apple, the city symbol, and the participant of international trade shows. (What a shame that after apple orchards had been cut in recent decades for the sake of house construction, the famous Oporto remained rather in memories than de facto…)
As another example, I would draw your attention to our women’s beauty phenomenon: just within one generation they have managed to gain the lead among the acknowledged beauties of the world. Isn’t it a miracle?
And they also assert that the city is built according to all the feng shui canons. But it is doubtable, because Major Peremyshlskiy who laid the foundation of the fortress Vernyi in 1854 had hardly heard about these feng shuis: despite his literacy, he was quite a reasonable person. Not devoid of some insight, though.
Initially, the construction of the city-fortress in the land of Zailiskiy Alatau, the outpost of the Russian empire on new boundaries, had been planned further east, at the place of today’s Issyk. But after the hard over-wintering this variant was discarded and it was decided to make further searches. And they did find the right place. With feng shui, or without feng shui – anyway, the city, even a great deal expanded, is located in the exquisitely cozy place. It is like a silk carpet: it slowly flows down the highest ice-covered peak onto the hot steppe, extending into vastness.
Maybe just in its position, on such an evident border of powers: the greatest mountains (up to the very Indian ocean) and the greatest plains (up to the Arctic ocean), should we seek for the deep secret of Alma-Ata’s charm? Because, if we try to understand, all the most interesting and intensive processes on Earth happen just on such borders. When something (or somebody), deriving strength from these opposite powers, moves along the thin line of the Median way. Especially that the geographic factor overlapped with the ethnic factor: the population of the city is half Asian, half European.
…I saw this unusual city for the first time in 1958. It was my birthday. And I realized that it is really different from any other city of the world later, after I visited and roamed many cities of this another world. Among them there is a dozen of such cities that I love very much. But nowhere else I feel so peaceful and happy like I do at home. In my sweet Alma-Ata.