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Cast-iron Fences

I'm not sure I would've ever paid much attention to these knee-high fences if I hadn't learned that they have a name all their own in Russian - ograzhdeniye [ограждение]. The word an English-speaker will most likely offer is "fence", but how semantically imprecise! Our fences can be white picket or chain link or barbed wire or cement. The ograzhdeniye, meanwhile, is something specific: a low barrier, more decorative then functional, and nearly always iron. Let me pose an absurd chicken-or-the-egg. Does the ograzhdeniye get its own name because it was used more often in Russian/Soviet landscaping, or was it used more because it had its own name? An American designer would have to call for "that short metal fence the Russian like!" His lackey would stumble and consult his catalog before hesitating: "This one, or this one?" Over here, meanwhile, landscape architects have ordered the things by the thousands: "Just get me an ograzhdeniye, dammit!"

Besides the useful name, I also got on the ograzhdeniye trail because the center of Almaty is dominated by the same cast-iron fence, running along sidewalks, circling parks, popping up anywhere a short little barrier might be needed. I've named it after the little ornamental tchotchkes that top every post: The Ambiguous Flowerbud. These baby flowers are so ubiquitous that they even pop up on people's private gates, as if they were sold in some ograzhdeniye fire sale. But what are they? When saddled with embarassing questions about things most people don't care about, I usually turn to Reddit, but the flower identification forum couldn't identify it. To me, it looks like a piranha plant from Super Mario; to others, it looks more Freudian. Faced with such confusion, we can at least take comfort in learning the name for such a column-topping decoration. Also found on bedposts and curtain rods, it's called a finial. 

The Ambiguous Flowerbud must be Almaty's most famous fencelet, but there are plenty of other cast iron dividers to be found. They come in various patterns, some vaguely modeled off of Kazakh symbols, others seemingly used in other Soviet cities too. Then some of them look quite new, suggesting the thickset ograzhdaniye is a living radition. To the Soviet fence's credit, it's often hard to tell the age of these things, as the cast iron is so sturdy (and easily repaintable) that structures a half-century old look super fresh and stylish. These short little fences, it seems, might survive forever, protecting Kazakh lawns far into the future.  

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