Statue of Turkmenbashi in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (2004)
When I visited Turkmenistan in 2004, I struggled to put into words my emotional reaction to how its leader, Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov (aka Turkmenbashi), demonstrated his sense of grandiosity. There was the golden statue of himself that revolved during the day so that it always faced the sun. There was a city named after him, a month named after him, a mountain named after him. He really liked his name on things.
But what got me most was how, at least on one main street, the building facades facing the street looked very nice, but if you walked up to a building and looked around the corner, you saw that the facade was just that — a false veneer designed for presentation, hiding the neglected structure behind it.
Looking at the facade, you were reminded of a TV or movie set. Looking at that damned statue, you were reminded of Las Vegas, or perhaps the Golden Calf.
That leader, and his nurturing of a personality cult, died a couple years after my visit, and his statue was taken down some time after that. But on some days, even now, even in the United States, I remember him.