…or some other circumstance

Barely a week married and my wife and I are separated.  This is not due to any disaster that has befallen us as a couple; we are still very much in love and planning a long and enjoyable life together.  We knew a long time ago though that we were unlikely to spend all of that life in Azerbaijan and the time to move is upon us.

At time of writing I am in London for thirty-six hours having moved lock, stock and barrel out of Baku.  A flight in the morning takes me to a new job in a new country with new challenges.  Leyla and I are both looking forward to what lies ahead.  The temporary disadvantage is that we are unable to travel simultaneously and Leyla will have to ‘catch up’ with me later.

Having spent over two years living and working in Baku, it is not without a backward glance or two that I depart.  My time there has involved significant learning, the making of friends and the gaining of family.  I will most certainly be back.  In the meantime, the Englishman in Baku is about to become the Englishman elsewhere.

’til death do us part…

Last Saturday, 22nd March 2008, Leyla and I signed the register and officially became husband and wife.

We chose to celebrate with a small group of family and friends at the Japanese restaurant, Mado.  My new suit was ready for its first outing but TPD is waiting until June so Leyla wore a lovely dress in red silk, made from material bought during our trip to Nepal last year.

The official who came to conduct the ceremony was very brisk.  In the course of the few minutes she spoke, she asked me one simple question – had I really thought about marriage – which was easily and honestly answered in the affirmative.  We and our witnesses then signed in the appropriate places, the formalities were complete and it was time to party.

Dinner was a marvellous melange of sushi and other Japanese specialities.  After the meal, those of us who wished to carry on adjourned to the Jazz Center (sic) for further fun and live music.  The evening seemed to pass far too quickly; probably due to a heady combination of adrenaline (slight pre-event nerves perhaps) and joy.  Not even sleep could take the smile off my face that night.

The Happy Couple (picture courtesy of David Duguid)

If every day was a holiday…?

Time has been flying Exocet-syle.  Brief highlights of the last three weeks:

Two weekends ago was International Women’s Day.  As far as I am aware it still passes relatively unmarked in England but the commercial response here is large and growing ever greater.

The actual day – the eighth of March – fell on a Saturday and the government decided to announce the following Monday as a public holiday to make up for it. Leyla and I used the resultant long weekend to escape the madness that was gripping the city and visit the southern regions.

As with our trips north and west, we drove through a couple of hours of rugged, dry country then reached greenery and in this particular direction the foothills of the Talysch mountain range.  Our accommodation was a wood cabin in the hills just off the road between Masalli and Yardimli; very pretty, very peaceful.

The people running the place were charming and looked after us well.  Amongst the wholesome, fresh-made foodstuffs they provided were rich butter, creamy white cheese and honey served in its comb; gorgeous.

Five minutes’ walk up the road was Isti Su (Hot Water) – so called because of the hot spring that issues from the hillside there.  It is productive enough to supply ample water to a dozen or so bathing cubicles, the use of which is currently quite reasonably priced in these nascent days of Azerbaijan’s tourist industry.  We both took a hot, sulphur-smelling dip and felt suitably healthy while doing so.

All too soon it was back to the city, back to work and back to the seemingly growing list of tasks to complete in preparation for the wedding.  We achieved a definite step forward in that respect when I obtained my Certificate of No Impediment from the British Embassy.  I had to swear an oath before they would give it to me (a detail omitted from the guidance notes supplied) but give it they did, after which I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (twice) to have it approved and thence to the Palace of Happiness (seriously: the name of the wedding registry office) to start the process of setting the marriage date.

This brings us to last weekend, the Saturday night of which saw me perform my first non-DJ gig for many years.  My friend, David, sings and plays guitar; I pretend to sing and can just about remember how to play bass.  We had been sticking a collection of popular cover versions together for a while and decided it was time to offer them to an adoring public.

Several times past I have written about the band that plays at Finnegan’s on a Saturday night.  We get on well and it was not difficult to arrange an hour’s warm-up slot prior to their performance.  Our set was literally put together on a shoestring (one of my laces sorted out a cabling problem for David’s guitar) and we were as rough as one might expect of a nerve-filled first-time gig but the songs were recognisable, we had a good time and it sounded like the audience did too.

Here and now we are in the midst of Novruz Bayram: an annual celebration of the start of spring dating back to pagan times.  In its conception and its traditions it is comparable to May Day in England but if the same amount of public holiday time was devoted there as it is here, it would have to be called May Ten Days this year: the nation officially went on holiday on the twentieth and is expected to stay that way until the twenty-ninth.

The unprecedented length of the holiday this year is matched by the amount of effort made to prepare for its public celebrations in Baku.  The Old City seems to have been very much a focus for the activity.  Two major public gardens just outside the wall were rapidly overhauled in the nick of time; at least four large stages were set up in the area for performances of traditional song and dance; the national television station sent in a huge OB crew and the army provided ample armed men to surround the lot.

Road closures on the nineteenth and twentieth as part of these preparations brought parts of the city to a total standstill for hours.  Strangely this seemed to be totally accepted.  While your average Baku motorist drives like every split second counts and will hoot the horn at the slightest perceived obstruction, on these two days almost every driver would not only sit quietly, they would switch off their engines and even their stereos if waiting for anything longer than a few minutes.  Walking around parts of town that are habitually loud and frantic and finding them instead to be eerily quiet felt most strange.

This evening I have just returned home from a lively party where young folk met to wear traditional national dress and perform traditional dances to traditional music.  Younger people of Azerbaijan are feared to be turning their backs on national traditions as much as those in other countries have (imagine a crowd of London twenty-somethings holding a Morris party this May Day…) so there were several good reasons to go and join in with this crowd.

The national costumes on display were most elegant with bright hues and flowing fabrics to be seen in all directions.  While the dance moves look very restrained and simple, in practice they involve careful nuance and require some serious effort to coordinate.  My skills were found lacking so I was happy to stand back and watch for most of the time.

Once closing time had arrived, the music stopped and the party organiser made a brief speech to everybody.  The DJ then dropped “Rolling” by Limp Bizkit.  If he was trying to clear the place, he failed as the majority of the young men and women present promptly started head-banging vigorously in their wool hats, head-scarves and sequins.  He switched back to an up-tempo traditional number after that and the crowd switched just as fast back to the appropriate dance.  The message seemed clear: play what you want and let’s party.  I like it.

His and Hers Not-So-Dark Materials

The weather round these parts seems to be betting weirder with each successive season.  In the last two months, Baku has seen more snow and ice than it has for many years.  It appears that winter is pretty much over as today has been one of several recent warm, sunny days.  Those last few occasions did not end with a shroud of mist descending upon the city at the end of the afternoon though – one that a stiff wind is failing to shift.  The sun now set, it looks like Hound of the Baskervilles weather out there just now.

Wedding plans are moving forward smartly.  TPD still eludes us but the perfect dressmaker should soon be enlisted and all will be well.  Materials and measurements for my suit are already in hand.  A friend of the family is a tailor and he is not only doing a fine bit of work but he is doing it for a good bit less than I paid for an off-the-peg, made-in-Azerbaijan dinner jacket a year or so ago; result.

The amount of paperwork we are expected to produce, have translated and get stamped at various notaries’ offices and ministries (all for a fee of course) is impressive.  Time was I would have been moderately horrified by the excessive bureaucracy of it all but I appear to have become accustomed to Baku officialdom.  The idea of our paying a notary to annotate and stamp photocopies of our government-issued papers so that the government can accept them as part of our government-registered marriage does not seem like a time-wasting and money-making exercise at all.

While the dress might be proving to be a challenge, the rings are sorted.  I had a plan to get Leyla’s ring made via a friend but time shortage combined with the travel requirements put an end to that idea.  We went for an extensive search of Baku’s many jewellery shops and had almost drawn an other blank until we stopped by the local branch of a well known European boutique.

After half an hour or so in the shop we found a marvellous ring in just the right size.  Not only that, there was a complementary, larger design available that suited me (useful seeing as the one other good ring I had seen and liked could not be obtained in my size).  One small problem: the shop did not accept credit cards and I am not in a position to produce a substantial amount of cash from my hip pocket.

A quick look at the company’s website proved their Baku branch to be genuine (always worth checking as there are several companies ‘represented’ here that are probably unaware of the fact) and provided contact details of their stores in London.  After a few ‘phone conversations with a very pleasant man called Jean-Francois and with my credit card people, I had two rings ready and waiting and the means with which to pay for them.

Dad to the rescue: my father volunteered to go and collect the rings from the store for me.  We timed everything carefully so that I could call once he had arrived, the transaction could be concluded between the three of us and everyone would be happy.  I am pleased to say it worked.

Next step is reception venues.  We have a place confirmed here and a place on hold in England.  Details will follow.