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