Thursday, February 28, 2008

Best Thing to Come out of Cairo Since the Amr Diab

"Every day for 5 months I will write less than 500 words. Each entry will be a story. They, probably, will not be very interesting; it's likely they will expose all my hopes, worries and self-doubts. You will probably judge me as a miserable human being. This is not therapy. Most won't have titles; I always struggle with the titles."

 

This is Megan D's new, hopefully oft-updated blog. It's called 500 and Counting.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Swear I Just Saw Soldiers Marching Down the Street

What are you supposed to do when you're hanging out on your balcony and all of a sudden twenty-five soldiers in camouflage come around the corner in marching formation?

Strangely, this is something I've always wanted to see now that I am situated at a perfect height above the street. Maybe next time they could drive a tank through as well. You know, just to make it authentic.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Decisive Action

A locked trapdoor to my building's roof has kept me from getting cable installed this past week. I called my landlady about it today and she said that after calling everyone in the building nobody knew where the key was. So we agreed to go to the cable TV office and discuss our options.

Ten minutes later, my landlady calls and says, "A man will come and snip the lock tomorrow morning. It's time we got a new lock. How do you like this?"

My landlady rocks. It's not her lock, not her building, but that didn't stop her from bringing in the lock-breaking people to get the job done.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Humble Abode

The Living Room (note my Polish Drinking Gnome in the Cabinet)

Another Angle (note my giant monitor for watching movies)

My Bed

Another Angle of my Room

Entryway (my room is to the left, living room behind me, kitchen ahead and to the left)

Entry to the kitchen

My Kitchen (the stove is a bit dirty at the moment)

View from my Balcony

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mardakan






Some pics from a recent trip to Mardakan...about an hour outside Baku.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday Hamam

This week we once again ventured into the old city for our traditional Sunday hamam. We seem to be decreasing our standards each time, as this one had an entry fee of 2 manats and was inhabited by even more partially-naked, sweaty men. No problem, though. This is where the genuine hamam experiences take place.

As it turned out, this hamam first opened its doors in the 18th century. Visions of Ottoman, Russian, and Persian kings cleaning themselves up after a hard day in court made the experience that much more memorable.

We went about our usual business. Sauna, cold pool, shower, tea, sauna, etc. One man in particular was getting the fiercest massage of his life. We watched has he writhed in pain and flipped around like a fish out of water. I think I'm going to pay the 4 manat fee for that next time.

I'm already looking forward to next week.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

BBQ Sighting

I have laid my eyes on a BBQ in this country. No, it's not in some alleyway. It's in a fancy supermarket.

 

Let the glorious meat poetry begin!

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Can't Remember the Names of any of the Clubs that We Went to

We came to a depressing realization last night: there are no good clubs in Baku. Especially on Friday night. This became painfully clear as we walked along the the clinically dead bulvar by the freakishly-calm sea last night. It would appear that that the local population is content sitting at home watching Turkish serials.

You see, Julian and I have done our research over the last two nights. We've probably covered 80% of the clubs in the city and realized that they're all the same.

Each has been the same as the last one. You descend some stairs, pass a prostitute, push your way through a sketchy door, and find yourself in a dank, musty pit of despair. A mix of smoke and damp air fills the room. The music is horrendous and the DJ/owner doesn't seem to care that there is NOBODY in the club, let alone people dancing. We'd spend about one minute looking around, then look at each other and give the "let's get the $#%& out of here" look.

Some of the places were artistic marvels. Tin foil covering the walls, Arabian-style tents, cement carvings, pictures of naked women. Most places had a burly woman as the sole proprietor. The dance floors of three of the places provided revelers with the opportunity to dance, in a line, in front of the mirror. Who needs to dance with each other when you could watch your bad reflected self get down?

And then it got weird...

We ran into three guys that spoke no English. Through a strange mix of Russian and Azeri, we ended up getting in a taxi and going to some random club with them. Right before making the inevitable descent into smoke-filled hell, one of the guys brought my ear close and gave me the "there are prostitutes in this place, they will invite you to dance, but just say no" speech. Yes, sir.

The place was the same as the rest, with the exception of a veritable brothel in the back room. Women wearing skirts so short it should be considered illegal kept emerging from the darkness and then heading back in. I imagine someone with a large bankroll was cooped up inside.

Julian and I sat drinking beer, while our three acquaintances shot vodka shot after vodka shot. Sufficiently soused on alcohol, the three guys got up and migrated to the dance floor. We sat there in amazement watching each of them stare intently into the mirror like they were trying to seduce their own reflection. That was our queue to extricate ourselves from this circus. As a parting word, one of the guys whispered "Please be careful on your walk home."

New Passport

It's so shiny and thick. And this time it doesn't look like my face is completely red.

There are 42 visa/stamp-eligible pages to fill up in the next five years. That sounds like a challenge.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pizza Holiday

Julian and I came up with an interesting idea last night while drowning out our Valentines Day sorrows with spicy bacon pizza (they put on some insanely hot pepper that turned the entire area around my mouth numb for five minutes). Why not try to work in various establishments in Baku for a few hours?

So we asked the good people at Pizza Holiday if it would be possible for us to work there. They seemed incredulous, but took my name and number nonetheless. You could be looking at one of the newest pizza chefs in town. It'll be interesting to see if they ever call.

One other idea we have is to take over one of the many, many empty clubs in town. We would play real music and do our best to attract people who are not prostitutes. Stay tuned on this one. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Passport is on the Way

Ankara -> Istanbul -> Brussels -> East Midlands -> London -> ?

 

I must say that I'm impressed with the Canadian government's response time. I sent my application to Turkey two weeks ago and should have the passport tomorrow. You can't get a new passport that fast even if you live in Canada and go to a passport office. I guess the good people at Passport Canada understand how much of a bad idea it is to walk around in a foreign country without any proof of citizenship. 

Monday, February 11, 2008

You vant masaj?

We were on a mission of sorts. Earlier in the day, Julian and I had this grand idea of spending the evening in one of Baku's best kept secrets: the hamam (Turkish Bath). I had been in one before, but Julian had yet to be seduced by the powerful relaxant that is eighty-degree humidity.

Baku has about as many hamams as Vancouver has sushi restaurants or Cairo has ahwas (cafes). Such supply often means a inconsistent demand. Ask my brother about the quality of certain sushi restaurants in Vancouver and I'm pretty sure he can prove that theory correct. As far as hamams are concerned here, you never really know which will be full of prostitutes and which are actually reputable establishments.

So Julian and I set out. We had an idea of a couple of places that may just work for us. One was aptly named "Gentlemen's Hamam." We descended the stairs, opened the door, pushed aside the plastic flap that acted as a cold shield, and were immediately greeted by a musty smell...and four older woman. It was all very awkward, but I managed to ask how much the hamam cost. She replied in her best Russian/Azeri accent, "You vant masaj? Tventy manats for masaj." Eww...shivers still run down my spine when I think of those seven words. I do now want to know what was happening on the other side of the door. Needless to say, Julian and I turned around and ran.

We checked the sign on the place across the street, but figured it was probably exactly the same. I think we both agreed that we didn't want to hear the word "masaj" said in such an accent again. So off we went to the old city where we heard there was some cool hamams.

We found one after a while and it turned out to be just the place we needed. It was Julian and I plus about twenty middle-aged Azeri men. Some were getting powerful massages, others were jumping in the cold pool, and even more were just chillin' in the saunas. If there's one thing about being the only two white people in a hamam, it's that you stick out like a sore thumb. But that means everyone talks to you and makes sure your stay is pleasant.

I find the hamam culture fascinating. Men are basically forced to check their egos at the door (their physiques are almost always less-than-stellar). What you get is genuine conversation with genuine dudes. Now if only we could converse fluently...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Taxi Cab Confessions

Taxi drivers have turned out to be the easiest people to converse with in this country. I remember this a bit in Egypt...you'd get in the car, utter three words in Arabic, have the dude remark about how well you speak the language, and then listen to him ramble on in machine gun-Arabic thinking you understand everything because you said the streets were crowded.

That said, I encountered a few situations where a broken conversation about the possibility of marrying Egyptian women was had. Not sure why, but taxi drivers love to hear about the exploits of foreign men. There tends to be a good laugh at the end and a generous tip. The way I see it, anyone that I could hold an Arabic conversation with for more than 10 minutes deserved to be paid handsomely.

In Baku, the taxi is not the ubiquitous vehicle roaming the streets. The city is small enough that you can walk everywhere, or you can just jump on a microbus-equivalent. I think I can count the number of times I've been in a taxi on one hand.

Yesterday was a lucky day, I suppose. I got to ride in a taxi twice. The second time, the driver had the classiest hat on (he and my dad should hang out). It was a black, short-rimmed train conductor's hat. It was the first thing I told the guy after where I wanted to go. Made me wish that more drivers exhibited such a proud sense of hat fashion.

We then proceeded to have a wonderful conversation in Russian. One thing I've noticed is that taxi drivers are the only people that speak slowly. They actually take the time to make sure you understand. It's much appreciated and it means you can talk about things like how beautiful Azeri women are, but how they only want to marry you because of your passport and money.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Eurovision

"Eurovision is like American Idol on steroids." 

-Myself

 

I had the honour of going to the Eurovision Azerbaijan final last night. Three Azeri music groups were vying for the final spot in Eurovision's version of the Super Bowl in Belgrade, Serbia. Three past winners also performed.

The first former winner was a Turkish woman who was up on stage all by herself singing everything from vocal trance to hip hop to soul. Then Ruslana from the Ukraine came on with her exorbitantly-priced dance team and her "wild energy." It was crazy. Her costumes included the ice queen, some gold type get up, and red leather. She's a fan favourite and I can see why.

In the end, a couple of angel dudes one. They had voices like opera singers. Far be it from me to perpetuate a rumour, but there was talk of the whole outcome being staged.

What was perhaps more fascinating was the sheer fervour surrounding the event. The concert arena was packed with people of all ages. People were chanting, screaming, holding up signs of their favourite singers. They are so happy that Azerbaijan is now part of the "Eurovision family" that if an Azeri group was ever to win the main event (and thus forcing the following year's final to be held in Baku), the whole country would go absolutely crazy.

Who knew Eurovision was such a big deal? I guess that's what you get for living outside the Eurovision-zone for most of your life.