Holidays on the Highways

First things first, a belated but very Happy Bank Holiday to all readers in England.  I believe that in London if nowhere else the Isles’ unremitting grey and damp weather of the last goodness-knows-how-long has given way to three glorious days of sunshine in a most un-bank holiday-like manner – hurrah.

While bank holiday Mondays do not exist here I have ‘celebrated’ nonetheless with a much needed haircut.  No more stories to relate involving sadistic chairs and surgeons’ masks; this is the second time I have visited this particular chap since he was recommended to me and he is superb.  True, he is the first barber to attack me with a nose-hair trimmer (perfectionism on his part rather than excessive hirsuteness on mine, I like to think) and his liking for straight-razoring every last millimetre round the back can bring on Reservoir Dogs visions as he nears the ears but the results after half an hour’s cut and wash are most satisfying.  He is also the first hair professional I have met who can use a hairdryer on me without the results looking like the product of an illicit union between a Hardwick sheep and a hedgehog.

One thing I have had the opportunity to share with Bank Holiday England is ridiculous traffic.  The main road between Baku and the north coast of the peninsula is a popular one and during my navigations of it at various hours during this weekend I have seen an impressive range of vehicular displays.

Sunday night on the final straight approaching city limits was a fine example of how you don’t even need the traditional holiday road-works to create mayhem, just a little impatience.  That particular stretch of the road is three lanes in both directions divided by nothing more than a line of white paint.  The roundabout with traffic lights at the edge of town was causing a city-bound tailback in the Sunday night rush hour so numerous impatient drivers decided to execute one of their favourite manoeuvres: cross to the opposite carriageway and try to pass the queues.

This sort of driving does not elicit the sort of outraged hooting and flashing response from other drivers that one might expect; indeed it seems accepted as normal.  For the first time I can recall I was happy to see the presence of the DYP (State Traffic Police) as they soon put a stop to the game by parking several units in the middle of the road with blue lights flashing and shouting at miscreants through their loudly amplified microphones.  Had they not matters might easily have escalated to the level I witnessed on the way home from work a few days previously.

Approaching city limits from the south we hit solid traffic a few hundred yards short of a roundabout and simply stopped moving.  My colleagues and I eventually got out of the car and walked.  On our side of the roundabout was a mass of vehicles across the full width of the tarmac heading into town.  Once we crossed the roundabout we saw a mass of vehicles across the full width of the tarmac heading out of town.  The third road joining the roundabout was invisible through the mass of static metal but probably looked little better.  No police roadblock was visible (indeed police cars sitting in the jam were decidedly not getting involved in the situation) and neither road-works nor accident could be seen as a possible cause.  It looked like the mess had been precipitated simply by a case of mass impatience.  The poor driver we had left with the car was stuck there for a further two hours.

At the time that particular incident was blamed on the presence of a certain Mr. Mahmoud Akhmadinejad.  Earlier that afternoon it had been announced that the following day would see many of the city’s major roads “restricted” (for which read: closed) from 8am until 12pm while the Iranian president paid a visit, that southern trunk road being one of them.  As stated above, the mayhem at the roundabout appeared to bear no relation to any formal intervention but to many people the excuse seemed a good one at the time.

Readers with an interest in international politics might be interested to know why Mr. Akhmadinejad was visiting his northerly neighbours.  Something I have read in the Baku Post (a slim English language weekly paper) but have not seen or heard elsewhere is that Iran’s nuclear program is due to be discussed at a forthcoming UN General Assembly and that Mr. Akhmadinejad is touring nearby countries to drum up support.

The Baku Post quotes an “Azerbaijani independent politician” (name supplied) as saying that “Azerbaijan will back Iran”.  My limited knowledge of the local political arena raises some queries in reaction to this report.  Firstly, I remember reading reports during Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections of 2005 stating that both George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin had written letters to Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, showing their support at the time (a seemingly contrary moment of agreement between old enemies in itself).  Bearing in mind the American premier’s current relationship with his Iranian counterpart (at least the version reported by most ‘western’ news outlets), is this not a slight conflict of interests?

Secondly, the reaction to that traffic jam – insignificant as it may appear on the global political map – exemplifies what I have seen to be a degree of friction between Azerbaijan and the neighbours down south (to no small extent due in part, I would imagine, to the drastic re-drawing of national borders that saw Azerbaijan’s land mass shrink to Iran’s gain not so long ago).  How readily would these two states genuinely see eye to eye?

There is of course much to read between the lines of a news report.  This is neither the time nor the place for me to be doing so at any length but your comments are most welcome as always.

3 Replies to “Holidays on the Highways”

  1. Big Al, loved your comments about drivers creating a 4th lane on the other side of the road before they were shutdown by the local coppas. My Indian colleage had something to add that might be of interest to the bikers out there (including you Big Al) – Exhibiting a particular type of psychotic impatience, motorcyclists in India will make another lane out of the pavement alongside the road after the traffic reaches a certain level…

  2. I guess when your neighbour is bragging about its nuclear weapons you will do anything to keep them happy?!!

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