Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0125, May 21, 2017


Expo 2017

Copyright 2017 by Expo 2017 Astana

     Don't tell me you haven't heard of Expo 2017? OK, so tell me. Neither did I. Did you, Prickles? "Nope," says Prickles, our resident hedgehog and expologist. And yet, there it is, as you can see above. To give you a sense of the scale, the sphere in the background is 80 meters (about 250 feet) in diameter, allegedly the largest spherical building in the world. It contains eight levels of exhibits. The first level is the pavilion of Kazakhstan, the host nation. The other buildings in this view contain thematic and international pavilions. The Expo is situated near downtown Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. It is the first international Expo in central Asia and it opens June 20. Over 100 nations are participating, and about four million visitors are expected over the Expo's duration (it closes September 20). The theme is the Future of Energy.

     "So we're going?" asks Prickles. (She and I collect Expos as a hobby.) You know, I think we'll give this one a pass. "Oh?" she inquires, "how come?". It's complicated. The Expo itself looks actually more interesting, at least architecturally, than Expo 2015 in Milan (which we missed due to circumstances beyond our control). Also, the city of Astana is a curiosity in itself, an ambitious monument to the power, wealth, and peculiar interests of the autocratic ruler of Kazakhstan (more about this later). An interesting factoid: my mother (who was a singer) performed near here during WWII - but that's another story. Be all that as it may, there are certain other factors to consider.

     For one, it's a relatively small bore Expo, one of those stuck in between the big quinquennial Expos like the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai or the last Expo we attended in 2010 in Shanghai. Even so, Expo 2017 would no doubt be fun and interesting, even impressive. But would it justify the cost and trouble of traveling there? Maybe, maybe not. More problematic: no freedom of press or speech so need to watch at all times what you say or do and not believe anything you hear or read (apart from technical stuff). Also: high petty crime rate and potential for terrorist attacks, especially in areas where tourists and foreigners gather. I think the time has come to acknowledge that as a seriously senior citizen I probably should restrict my travels to relatively civilized and peaceful regions. ("You know of any?" asks Prickles.)

     I see that some visitors to Astana thought it was a "weird" place. There is some eye-catching super-modern architecture here (the rest of the country is mostly wild or rural) but what's weird is the lay out and the monuments. It has been alleged the city is designed with Masonic symbology in mind, which seems odd in a predominantly Muslim country. In any case, symbology and monumentality evidently take precedence here over more mundane considerations. "Sounds like architectural propaganda," says Prickles. Yes, but Masonic?? "Maybe it's to give it a European cachet?" Prickles suggests. "Everybody in this region wants to be European - they even call it 'Eurasia'." Hmm... Maybe you got something there.

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