Good little car

Many people (and I can be counted as one of them) often poke fun at Russian cars and criticise weaknesses in their looks, build quality and similar.  Imagine my surprise and joy when I came back to my Niva having not driven it for three weeks, scraped the snow off and started it on the first turn of the engine; in near-zero temperatures.  My friend who had been looking after the car for me (and whose Nissan needed three attempts to start) has just sent this photo as a souvenir:

The icing on the cake? (photograph courtesy of Stephen Heath)

Apartment, 2 bed, 2 bath, gsoh required

There’s nowt queer as folk, as the old saying goes and my landlord offers intriguing reminders of this on occasion.  I would guess he is an Azerbaijani of Turkish extraction judging by his accent and the amount of Turkish-made hardware he has bought for the apartment.  Our conversations are invariably a linguistic steeplechase but we seem to understand each other and we get on well.  Sometimes he does make me wonder though…

For the week and a half I have been back in the city I have had two days where the water has been running and no days where the apartment has been feeling anything other than cold.  The ice started to thaw over the weekend which helped isolate the water problem (it started gushing out of a burst pipe) and hats off to him, my landlord has worked every day since to repair it, finally succeeding last night.

In the process of it all I have asked for better heaters to be brought.  No sign of them yet but when I arrived home last night to discover the water had been repaired I also found a large valve-state radio had appeared.  I believe old wireless sets ran pretty hot; was there a small joke in play here (albeit a practical one)?

This evening I got home to find that the water was dead again.  A swift text message to the landlord brought him briskly to the doorstep and he fixed the problem sharpish; after which we turned to the radio.

Objets d’art have been arriving unannounced sporadically all year, seemingly in the interests of decoration.  Paintings (by the landlord’s son), crockery, old weighing scales; are they offered purely for my benefit or am I serving as a warehouse for my landlord’s collecting habit?

This radio was evidently a great find.  I was proudly shown the 1942 stamp on the back that demonstrated how it had been made prior to the foundation of Stalingrad in 1943 (erm…?) as well as the rather dusty components within it (they will be cleaned) and the record-player turntable concealed on top of it (perhaps the ‘practical’ joke is tilting towards my DJ equipment set up on the side table?).

The tour of the wireless genuinely interested me and I could tell that my guide was very enthusiastic about it but to what ends I know not.  Alas, our moment of shared joy was somewhat dampened when we moved to the subject of the heaters.  His initial response was that he would buy some once money (my rent) had been received on thirtieth January.  I pointed out politely that it was rather cold now and something within the week would be more suitable and I think we managed to agree.

Quite why my landlord should be so hesitant to spend a relatively small amount of money I do not know.  The figure written into my contract as the monthly rent allowance for accommodation is astronomical even in the face of current inflation concerns.  Either the skimming no doubt taking place between that piece of paper and his pocket is truly obscene or there are other, un-divulged reasons to consider.  Could my landlord really be a front-runner in the nuclear arms race for example?  It is time I had a look in the garden shed.

On a more home-like note; have you heard the one where an Englishman, and Azeri and two Aberdonians walk into a Baku bar?  Once introductions have been made, the two Aberdonians soon work out not only that they live very close to each other but that one man has spent years admiring a house that the other man’s uncle and aunt have been living in for years.  Attach punch-line here.

Small world innit?

The Abominable Snow

Yeni iliniz mübarek, с Новым годом and Happy New Year.  After a quick dash westwards to share a family Christmas and DJ at a New Year’s Eve event in London, I have returned to a Baku firmly in the embrace of our aforementioned ‘Grandfather Frost’.  Long-johns on folks as we enjoy our annual dose of snow, ice, negative integer temperatures and severe wind chill.

No doubt this weather phenomenon has been taking place every year since time immemorial but Baku still manages to appear totally caught by surprise each time it happens.  Leaving aside the woeful lack of insulation applied to buildings and plumbing (at time of writing I am sitting here with an open gas fire, two tepid air-con units and two fan heaters struggling to make much impression upon the room temperature and the water supply has frozen for the second time) it is the state of the city’s roads that bemuses and horrifies me the most.

First snow fell over the weekend.  Five days later the majority of the roads and pavements in town have built up a layer of frozen compacted snow up to eight inches thick and navigating them has become a daunting challenge in places.  Some of the main driving roads have been sprinkled with sand or top soil which has gradually ground down to asphalt level under the pressure of brave drivers’ vehicles.  That is the greatest extent of the official reaction to the weather that I have seen.

There are huge salt pans on the outskirts of Baku that could easily be used to provide a stock for these conditions but not a grain of it has touched the streets.  Should the use of salt be considered inappropriately efficient (the apparently single gritting truck of the city is viewed by cynics as being rather a mascot than a tool), why not have an army of young men from the national service ranks come out with snow shovels; or perhaps teaspoons?  The latter would fit hand in hand with the ideology that has multitudes of hunched elderly women sweeping the streets with twigs every day when it is not snowing.

The traditional argument probably runs along the lines of: ‘snow comes but one week out of fifty-two so why waste the resources’ but nowadays there is no way the city’s administrators can pretend to be strapped for cash.  Perhaps they have used it to jet off to the Caribbean during the cold snap.  Either the mayor or one of his recent predecessors is famed for loving palm trees so much he filled the city centre with them…

Snowy skyline of Baku (picture courtesy of Leyla Alakbarova)

P.S.  Apologies for the mis-spelling of “mübarek” but the penultimate letter refuses to print correctly using this software