Turkmenistan has a long border on the Caspian Sea which is also the site of many of its oil wells. Because of the immense wealth that flows in, and because of the plan of the current regime, rents are absurdly low, as are food and gas. Cars, especially the big reputation German ones, can be bought and imported without duty taxes. The best meal I had in my travels was in the best restaurant in Ashgabat, in a private yurt, with a view of the city. I had an Armenian beef dish, half a liter of beer, and dessert -- for about $4.50 (including tax and tip, of course).

The negative side of this is that no ordinary citizen has the means to leave! The population density is very low, the temperature is very high, there are about 300 days of sunlight a year, and most of the land is semi-desert. A perfect place, I kept on thinking, to farm solar energy and ship it to China.

Most of what was built after Genghis was destroyed by Timur. Merv, one of the great ancient cities, was wiped out in the 13th century, leaving evocative remains of palaces and a garden of pottery sherds. Urgench, another of the great cities, was attacked 5 times by Timur and finally reduced to rubble -- leaving a few tombs and a cemetery.

Astoundingly, a taste is enough. Being there you feel how proper is the rapid acceleration of the cycle of creation and destruction that is the result of all out war.

So, all things fall and are built again. The present ruler has developed a whole new city in Ashgabat. I heard about the enormous new mosque and I visited it with trepidation, anticipating a monstrosity. It was grand and gorgeous and I was endlessly impressed. But I kept on thinking that Turkmenbashi must be wondering if somewhere in Asia a new Genghis is being born.