Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Lada Legend - On the Road to Dashkesan: Dashkesan

I knew next to nothing about Dashkesan except for the fact that there was a giant miner statue there. This made the drive from Ganja that much more interesting. And what a drive it was. Maybe the most interesting in all of Azerbaijan.

It all started innocently enough. We meandered our away alongside a small river deeper and deeper into mining country. The landscape was that of narrow valleys with rocky, treeless hills. The corners were remarkably sharp and frighteningly blind. White 2101-07 Ladas whipped around them like they knew there would be nobody coming from the other direction. 

Eventually we found ourselves at quite the sight. Way above our heads was a gondola system used to transport rock from above to the smelters below. What a feat of engineering that must've been back in the Soviet era. Fortunately, they constructed protection tunnels at each point where the gondola line crosses the road. None of the cars were moving at the time.

All of a sudden the road took a turn up. We knew that Dashkesan wasn't too far away in terms of distance, but the new 7-8% grade made the going slow. And the fog was thickening by the second. We climbed and climbed and climbed, until it became virtually impossible to see more than twenty metres ahead. This didn't help at all when a white Lada would fly by us downhill with no lights.

On what we thought was the last corner, we had managed to make it to one of the gondola "stations". It was hard to believe we had ascended so high so quickly. No wonder the fog was so thick. You couldn't see over the edge of the road, which in hindsight was probably a good thing. To his credit, the Colonel performed admirably. Five people, a loaded trunk, and a lot of second gear.

At last we came to the statue we had come so far to find. There it was in all its resplendent glory, towering to heights I had not even imagined. It's one of those statues that makes you think, "Whose idea was it to create a giant miner?" We decided to first check out the city (the statue was a kilometre outside of town), but we only made it about five-hundred metres past the statue before turning back on account of the fog. What was the point in going to a city where you couldn't see anything?

On our way back by the statue, we stopped to take the requisite pictures. A traffic cop, who we had seen carrying a live rabbit from one car to another a few minutes previous, was hanging out near the statue. I asked what you could normally see on a sunny day. "You can almost see to Ganja." On this day, a gray blanket covered the valleys. It would be great to go back to Dashkesan in the summer, just to see what it actually looks like without the fog.

Having achieved our goal, we decided it was best to head back down the mountain towards the city of Xanlar. What awaited us there was a story for the ages.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Razor Ramblings: Cutting it Close in Rabat

The elusive Razor Ramblings 5/5 rating. It has never once been achieved in the long and storied history of the blogment.

One might ask, "What does it take to get a 5/5 rating?"

Good question. Three things must be done extremely well:
  1. Pre-shave (lather, brush technique, use of hot water on cold days)
  2. Shave (blade technique, understanding of skin, no missed spots, number of repititions)
  3. Post-shave (choice of aftershave cream and other products, overall closeness)
Most blade wielders slip up at some point. For example, they might use a long, rough strokes (thinking your skin is that of a 82 yr old Egyptian man) or they might go with short, soft strokes. The former results in more nicks than you can count, while the latter might not get you the closeness you desire.

I recently spent three-and-a-half weeks in the Rabat medina. What you cannot help but notice is how vibrant the shaving culture is--the are barber shops all over the place. Fortunately, in some ways, I was staying in a small cement box without a shower or hot water. This made shaving rather difficult. Anyone that has ever tried doing so with ice cold water can probably relate. This is where the bladesmen come in really handy. Without further ado....

Location: Rabat Medina
# of Nicks: None
Rating: 4.8/5

I will start by saying that the shave was deceptively amazing. It left me thinking, "Is that it? Could it really be that simple?" Only after I had settled back in my cement box had I realized just how amazing it was.

It all started rather normally. Hot water was not used, but the friction caused by the brush soon had my face warm enough and the pores opening up. In fact, he spent a lot of time making sure the lather was as thick as it could possibly get.

Moving to the next stage, he prepared the blade and went to work. I can honestly say this guy had the best blade technique of anyone that has ever shaved me with a straight edge. He understood the stroke style that worked best and decreased the friction almost entirely. Maybe it was the diploma from the Institute of Barbers or, probably more likely, he took an immeasurable amount of pride in his work.

The only repetition (I am not sure my skin can handle two) went without incident. He worked with deft skill in all the tough places. I could tell that his attention to detail would be good when I say him cutting the hair of a guy when I walked in the door.

But then it was over. No aftershave, no strange rock that stops the bleeding, no searing spray. When I looked in the mirror, I realized "Wait, there are no nicks. None of that stuff is necessary." This was certainly a first.

As much as I would love to give this guy a 5/5, the post-shave stage just did not meet the minimum requirements. An aftershave gel or cream would have been nice to finish everything off.