The brief stroll from the bus drop-off point to my apartment has just been punctuated by an encounter with an old acquaintance. Regular readers with particularly sharp memories may recall my writing last September about Rob: an expat beggar who accosted me near the Hyatt buildings and lightened me by a couple of Manats with his sob-story about an unfortunate night in a sauna with a couple of women who robbed him. It seems that Rob has moved down to the Maiden’s Tower end of town and changed his story a little.
Our second meeting was actually early in the morning several weeks ago. I was in a hurry to get to work, he was using a tired variation of the same hook line and I managed to make a polite but firm getaway, pockets untouched. This time around I was moving slower in the other direction and Rob must have felt he had the measure of his quarry. We stood there talking for quite some time; I parted with some more money; I allegedly will never be asked to do so again. Am I a good person or just a dumb fool? The latter and his money are soon parted.
It would appear that the street life of Baku is evolving just as fast as the streets themselves. Last Saturday night I had the occasion to step out by myself for the first time in many moons. After dinner I had stopped at the Shark Bar (named after an energy drink, not the slang English verb) to enjoy a leisurely pint while their band played rather well and I was about to leave when two old colleagues from the offshore project walked in. We became a triumvirate and left after an other drink.
Stepping out onto the street a few paces behind the other two I was surprised to see a young woman had joined them, seemingly from out of nowhere. As I caught up and came within earshot of the conversation it became clear that the she was a professional woman tendering business: not something that I had ever seen done on the city’s streets before and certainly not while walking alongside a fast-moving ‘client’. After a couple of hundred yards she accepted the repeated refusals and dissolved into the shadows as immediately as she had appeared.
Our next stop was the Corner Bar – a bustling place with a lively atmosphere but a far less accomplished band – and before I knew it I had been accosted by a woman with a very intent look in her eyes. Politely neutral small talk seemed to keep her at bay while we three chaps supped up and chipped off but again to my surprise, she chose to follow us out.
The destination was Finnegan’s – a bar I have written about on more than one occasion – and I was further surprised when she walked right in there with us. According to the old rules she was walking into other women’s controlled territory and was inviting a serious rebuke; apparently no longer.
My companions had spent much of the inter-bar walk trying to persuade her that I was homosexual but she appeared to be having none of it. As we walked into the bar I noticed that the band’s bass player was not present for some reason so I walked up, grabbed his instrument and played two numbers. She sat very close and stared in a mildly disconcerting manner for the first song but had disappeared into thin air by the end of the second. Peace reigned and our night continued and concluded without further drama.
Prior to that little evening of education I made an altogether different and more pleasant discovery. Friday night saw me DJ-ing at a colleague’s house party celebrating her birthday. My aural performance was far from scintillating as I have left my pop-party selection in London but visually I certainly entertained as Sister Bliss (no offence intended to the proper DJ of the same name) once the birthday girl’s cousins had squeezed me into a pukka sister’s tunic and trimmings to fit the fancy dress theme.
Two of the guests that evening were a new colleague, Rachel and her husband, Andrew who arrived in Baku a few days ago. Rachel and I met through sharing a car to and from the Terminal for a couple of weeks and we had soon got chatting about various aspects of city life. She mentioned during one conversation that Andrew was planning to buy a car once he had arrived in Baku and while researching the subject in England he had read a story on some website about the experience. Strangely enough, it soon transpired that the website was www.englishmanabroad.com – who would have thought? Andrew is such a fine fellow too. According to the statistics tool, the site has an understandably small number of hits per week but to actually meet one of those few readers who are outside my circle of family and friends: what an unexpected pleasure – and to find that my scribblings have been of some use too… Hats off once more to my man in Chicago for making me go online in the first place.