Baku, Sunday 30th July 2006
It has been a rather hectic, windswept week this week and what follows is likely to be a fairly random clutch of (or at) recollections…
Starting at the beginning, I had not one but two of the Bentley boys come to town on Monday. As I may have mentioned previously, Bentley supply BP with the database I am filling and their man Dave has come across from Aberdeen to visit me a couple of times. He’s a good chap and we get on well both in the office and at the bar. On this occasion he brought his colleague Colin with him and the three of us have been working hard while playing not so hard these last few days. While Colin is staying a further week Dave has now flown home but not before we had a bit of a night out on Friday.
There is a new bar in town called Qbar. It’s an open terrace bar (a surprisingly rare thing in Baku) on the second floor of a building in the Old City. Three sides of the square have open views across the top of the Old City and towards the sea as you sit bathed in the orange/red light of what look like glowing three-foot tall jelly mould effigies of bedside lamps – imagine the sort of lamps you might see in someone’s apartment in Buck Rogers or Battlestar Galactica and you get the idea. It’s a very pleasant space with simply frightful service (I had already been there twice and walked out both times having got bored waiting for the drink to arrive) and it was here that Dave, Colin and I met a larger group of BP folk for drinks after dinner.
Having had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner I decided to stay with the grape and drink Port as mixing one’s drinks can prove particularly foolhardy with size of the measures served in Baku. Two glasses later things were going swimmingly; then one of our party decided it was cocktails all round and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was going to have a double Alaskan Ice Tea. It is a concoction that I had never heard of but a quick look at the small print soon made clear what was to come.
My love of Long Island Iced Tea has been well documented in all details but the recipe and for the record it is a single shot each of white rum, tequila, vodka, gin and Cointreau topped off with a little lemon juice and some cola. It sounds lethal and it is but mixed correctly it tastes very similar to an actual iced tea and goes down just as well. Heading north across the state border strips away the niceties and leaves you with a drink that is far less artful in its intentions. Start with the same five shots, forget about the lemon and the cola and throw in a shot of Blue Curacao instead: voila one Alaskan Ice Tea. The sweetness of the Curacao goes part way to fulfilling the cola’s role and taking some fire out of the alcohols’ flavour but you are still left with an uncompromisingly robust combination; and it’s blue. I only had the one as I was called away by a ‘phone call but it was enough to put a spring in my step. The next morning I discovered that the party had continued for a further couple of hours after I left – probably just as well I didn’t stay!
A different set of Bentley boys turned up on Tuesday night as the Amsterdam to Beijing Rally swept through town. If you have car registered before 1974, thirty thousand Euros for the entry fee and the desire to drive that car ten thousand miles in a month across all manner of terrain then you too could have joined the hundred and twenty-strong cavalcade that is currently heading east at a rate of five hundred kilometres per day. They all stayed the night at the Park Hyatt before catching the ferry to Turkmenistan on Wednesday so I got a good look at all the cars, some good photos and a great view from the office balcony as the police stopped the traffic for them all to file out in procession when they left. It was a bizarre mixture of vehicles ranging from a couple of VW Beetles and DAF coupes (I didn’t know DAF even made a coupe!) through to a rare Mercedes gull-wing and at least half a dozen Bentleys. They in turn featured two distinctly different rarities: a 1920’s beast in British Racing Green of type much loved for winning Le Mans and a huge limousine on Monaco plates that I was told had bespoke aluminium coachwork by Mulliner. Throw in a generous assortment of mostly fifties-era Jaguars, a couple of excellent old Porsches and even a fifties Cadillac Eldorado and there was something for just about everyone in the car park. Coming from a nation where most ‘old car’ aficionados keep their pride and joy locked in a climate-controlled garage for ninety percent of the year I found it very refreshing to see a group of equally devoted owners who were prepared to use their automobiles the way the maker intended and drive them for enjoyment. If I ever have the time the money and the vehicle you can count on me to join in at the earliest opportunity. Bonne route to them all.
I joined a couple of friends from work this afternoon and we had our own little rally. Both men have four-by-fours and they fancied trying out a couple of tracks outside the city. In places the tracks developed a habit of disappearing and we found ourselves bouncing around like tennis balls in the scrub. It is also quite disconcerting to be heading across a seemingly open, level plain and then discover a huge crack in the ground left across your path by an earthquake that occurred way back whenever. We had a very good time though. The challenge of the driving (for me the navigating) kept us all on our toes and the scenery while being desolate was often very handsome with colourful sedimentary formations in cliffs and on hillsides, occasional dramatic rock outcrops and some meandering old riverbeds. We covered a lot of miles and if you will pardon the unintentional pun it was indeed good to get off the beaten track for a bit. Perhaps more of the same soon.