Friday, 29 May 2009
Tonight, husband is away. In-laws are visiting for the week, helping me to look after the toddler, so I could blog and occasionally go to work. They are watching Britain’s Got Talent. Really sad I know, but arguably, better than the Eurovision. And the sax guy is pretty cool.
So I organized to take some Russian girlfriends to the Azeri restaurant on Edgware road. This is what I like about London: You step into Southall and think you might be somewhere in India. Ealing is becoming more and more Polish. And once you are on Edgware road, you suddenly feel like you are somewhere in the Middle East. In fact, I felt peculiar walking there without at least a head scarf on. Even the beauty salons have Middle-Eastern-looking ladies smiling at you bashfully yet invitingly from every poster, their eyes covered in heavy black make-up.
The Azeri restaurant is modestly tucked on to the very end of the road. (Not the posh Marble Arch end, of course.) It has a very realistic statue of a fat and smiley Azeri chef at the front, and it looks like a dodgy café.
Making my way down the carpeted steps into the tiny basement, I suddenly thought that I had not warned my unaccustomed ex-Moscovite friends about the character of this place. About the fact that the ground floor is always dark and empty and everything is going on downstairs, in the basement. Or, that the toilet is just like you would find it in Baku, so please do not expect it to be spotless, with flowers and hand cream on the sink. Or, that the owner might be sporting tracksuit bottoms.
As I walked into the little basement, I took everything in at once: a scene straight from a Baku chaihana (tea house). A small group of very Azeri-looking guys stared at me blankly, Barcelona vs. Manchester United playing loudly on the TV screen. A very large and imposing man sat in the middle of the room shouting in Azeri on his mobile phone.
I panicked. It felt like I accidentally walked into this man’s living room, and would any second be told women were not allowed. My Russian friends will freak out, I thought. They will glance at this place from the outside and pretend they just happened to be walking past. My only comfort was the fact that the owner vaguely recognized me. At least, we will be safe, I thought, sitting down.
One by one though, the girls appeared. As the last one walked in (a pretty one, with hair down to her waist and a cool biker jacket on) the atmosphere changed. The Russian girls did not seem to have noticed, or cared about the Azeri male dominated atmosphere. Their uninhibited laughter filled the air.
The imposing man with the phone disappeared, and the group of young lads in the background sat quietly, watching the football. The food was delicious and the owner had proper trousers on, which pleased me immensely, and filled my heart with national pride. And the whole living room feel was actually quite cosy and homey in the end. Not your usual European style venue, but isn’t that the whole point?