Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Samarkand. Making Paper at Meros.

Dolls made from handmade paper.

Today, we left Samarkand for Bukhara. Our day started with the usual *breakfast-in-the-hotel-restaurant* routine. Yesterday, we were the only two people in the place. Last night, a European tour group arrived so the place was crowded. Pat and I managed to find a table to sit at and we took our food from the spread on the buffet table.


A daily morning ritual - Pat checking her email.  Yes, she's using an iPad with a Logitech keyboard.

After breakfast, we packed and checked out a few minutes before Valentina and Shavkat arrived. Before we leave Samarkand, Valentina had a few more places to take us to see.

We started with the place located just outside of town - the small village of Koni Ghil where we visited the Meros paper making workshop.  I had previously written about the workshop and I was really excited that we were actually going to be visiting this place that was founded by a revered artist.

Koni Ghil is only located about 5 kilometers outside of Samarkand.  As we left the city limits, Valentina greeted us to the countryside.  To me, it looked more like a suburb but the unpaved road made it feel like we were somewhere in the remote countryside.



We passed by a small babbling brook.  From my pre-trip reading, I knew the workshop was located alongside a stream.  Hearing the water, I figured we were nearby.

Shavkat stopped the car next to a cluster of small buildings, nestled among trees.  I got out of the car to the sound of running water.  The sign confirmed what I had suspected - we were at Meros!


It was a lovely and very tranquil setting for a workshop.


We approached one of the buildings.  Sitting under the covered porch were two young girls who were stripping the bark off of twigs that had been soaked in water.  The twigs are from mulberry trees.



Holding on to one end of the twig, the girl would deftly move the blade of the knife down the length of the twig, removing the bark in one straight move.  It was obvious that both girls had done this countless times before.  According to Valentina, they are working as apprentices here.  It's such labor intensive work and if it were me, I wouldn't last very long at doing this task - boredom would set in very quickly.


Once the outer bark is removed, the inner fiber is stripped into thing strips.


As we were observing the girls at work, any older gentleman was standing nearby, stirring the strips of mulberry fibers in a large metal, wok shaped cauldron sitting atop a wood fire.  Valentina introduced him as the *master* - Zarif Mukhtarov, the founder of the workshop and more importantly, the man who has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to reviving the lost tradition of paper making in Samarkand. 


Valentina spoke briefly with the man and I suppose both Pat and I could have asked to take a photo but neither one of us did.  You would think that by now, I would no longer be shy about asking people to take their photos but I still am. Ergo, my million shots of buildings, landscapes and animals and couple dozen shots of people!


Mulberry twigs waiting to be processed.

Next, we headed inside the main building to have a closer look at the paper making process itself. On our way in, Valentina showed us some samples of the paper made here.  It's beautiful work! 


Seated at a nearby table was a woman making masks using the paper made in the workshop.


The paper making process begins by pounding the boiled fibers into pulp.  Large wooden timbers are used as the *pestles* which are powered by simple water wheel that is in turn powered by fast flowing water from the small stream.




Inside, there was a young man working at pounding the fibers.  The large wooden pestle does the heavy work while he uses the wooden pole to move the fibers about - similar to me scraping down the bowl when I'm mixing up cake batter.



After the fibers are mashed up to the appropriated degree of *pulpiness*, it's passed on to the next station.  In front of the man was a large metal container of the pulp, mixed with a lot of water.


Wooden frames, lined with a very fine sieve, are drawn through the water to pick up the pulp.  This is a sheet of paper.  Knowing exactly what is the right amount of pulp, to be picked up, is clearly something the man knows from years of experience.



Next, several of the trays are stacked together and weighted down with two large rocks to remove the water.  There is definitely nothing fancy to this operation!


After a period of time, the partially dried sheets of paper are removed and pinned up to fully dry.


Valentina holding up a sheet of paper, against the light, to show us how thin it is.

The final step in the process is to polish the paper.  This is what gives it its unique sheen.  The paper is placed on a slab of marble.


The tools are simple as can be - a piece of conch shell, a piece of onyx (?) and a horn.  It takes skill to apply just the right amount of pressure, using the right tool, to produce the right amount of shine.  They do this for EVERY sheet of paper!

You can see where they cut away a section of the shell to create a smooth surface for rubbing against the paper.

Pat, trying her hand at polishing a piece of paper.  He made it look easier than it turned out to be for her!

Next, it was on to the workshops small gift shop where they had some nice, albeit a bit on the pricey side, items for sale.  Of course, everything was made from the paper produced in the workshop.



A wall hanging.

I particularly liked the dolls. 



They even had clothing made from paper.  The shirts and tunics were all traditional Uzbek style and design.  The embroidery was done with real thread.  I don't know how practical or durable this stuff is but it did look nice!


Back outside, we took a short walk around the premises before leaving.

The workshop's backyard. Imagine how lovely this setting will be when the trees leaf out!

A tandir oven, used mainly for making bread.

A very friendly goat....

.....who wanted nothing more than for me to scratch the top of his head.....repeatedly. :-)

A tunic hanging up to dry....

Valentina was more than happy to *model* it for me.

One of the two streams on the workshop's grounds.

The front yard of the workshop.  The narrow, slit like windows on the right are the paper makers work.

From Meros and Koni Ghil, we headed back to Samarkand to our next destination - The Ulugbek Observatory.