Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New year! S Novim Godom!

Well, well my friends...Can you believe a whole year has passed and it is the New Year’s eve again?

This time last year I was complaining about New Year always making me feel like a bit of a CHMO with no friends, as we never go anywhere and always stay at home. 

I am happy to announce that, this year, for some unknown reason, we have been elevated from the CHMO status! We have been invited to celebrate the New Year at our local friends’ houses. Yes, two different houses, two invitations, can you believe this? Had to say no to one friend, only because we had already said yes to another! Oh, what a tough life! 

But I have to tell you a secret. I always complain about having nothing to do for New year, and now, I kind of wish I was staying at home. With my favourite duck and the Russian salad. I even feel a bit sad, to be honest. Perhaps, it has something to do with me being pregnant, and therefore not in my best party mood ever...Or maybe I just feel strange going for a non-Soviet style new year dinner. I was told we were having a lamb tagine for the main course. I mean, I  don’t mind a lamb tagine at all! But what about my duck? 

So, to cheer myself up and feel like I am still going to have my Russian/Azeri/Soviet whatever it is, New Year celebration, I have prepared the Russian Stolichniy salad anyway.

Husband laughed. He was asking if I intended to take it along tonight to go with the lamb. Maybe not? I replied as I stood there chopping vegetables in a frenzy. I might not have it tonight. But tomorrow, on the 1st of January, just like  every year of my life, I will have some Stolichniy salad.  

One of the best New Year celebrations  I ever had was back in Baku, when 4 of my girlfriends and I sneaked a bottle of champagne and a large jar of black caviar in the Hyatt Regency Jacuzzi where we sat for an hour, laughing and drinking. Not only we had champagne but my friend produced crystal glasses out of her sports bag, which was just wonderfully crazy in a very Russian way.  The American girlfriend of ours tried to protest due to H&S issues of the crystal glasses and Jacuzzi, but was told to stop being so American, which she promptly did after the first glass and a large spoon full of caviar. Oh, the good old crazy days in Baku! 

Anyway, I have to go do my nails now, as you do.  I just wanted to wish you all a fantastic night, whatever you are doing, whether you are at home enjoying a Russian salad or a lamb tagine, or sipping champagne in a Jacuzzi.  And a very happy 2011! Hope your dreams come true and thank you for visiting this blog!
Back in 2011!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why not accessorize this winter?

Just had to share this with you.

A very nice colleague brought them into work today and proudly placed them on her desk. Shocking behaviour, if you ask me. I told her things like that should be kept in one’s secret drawer, not displayed on one’s desk at work!

The question is…what do you think these hmm things are?

I had so many jokes about this, that I did not even know where to start.

But… she demonstrated to me that, really, they are just a clever device to stop you slipping on icy pavements. How about that, eh? I would have never thought that that was what they were for. Might get myself a pair.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Girl’s best friend.

We are snowed in. Nowhere to go, nothing to do...but cook. I have spent the whole day today making some Georgian? (Or is it Azeri? Might be Russian) salads, and marinated a humongous chicken for my mother’s signature plov.

In theory, two couples are coming for lunch with their kids tomorrow. But, looking outside, I have some serious doubts. 

You see, as soon as we see any snow in the UK, we freak out, forget how to drive and hide indoors.  Trains get very scared, too and hide in depots. Shops run out of milk and bread and basically, nothing functions. Not such a bad thing, to be honest, if it happens on the days when I am supposed to be driving into work. I would not mind that at all. But, of course, such is my luck that it had to happen on a weekend, getting in the way of my social arrangements. Oh, well. I might just have to eat it all by myself.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about today. 

I wanted to talk about diamonds.  Not a very sensitive topic for those of us who cannot expect any this Christmas. Or for those of us who have never been given any at all. 

Because, on a mummies night out earlier this week, I have realized that, however hard we might pretend that they don’t do anything for us, we all secretly love diamonds. 

In my Baku days, when I was young and single and actually did not care about diamonds,  I had a very pretty and very openly materialistic friend. She was so brutally honest about her love for expensive jewellery that some of her admirers thought she was just kidding. But of course, those admirers never became her boyfriends. And the ones who made it to the boyfriend stage, had to deal with some very unusual behaviour. 

Once, possibly on the night of her birthday, I witnessed my friend run to her bedroom to retrieve a magnifying glass to analyze the quality of the diamond ring her then boyfriend presented her with. 

Can you believe she is scrutinizing it like that in front of me?’ He exclaimed.

And she was laughing and kissing him’ But of course! I need to know just how much you really love me!

Of course, such passion for diamonds is unusually extravagant. But what about some other types of us, girls? The types who you would never imagine even thinking about anything that sparkles?

That night, on a mummies’ night out, I ended up talking to a mother whom I barely knew, but already formed an opinion about.  Always dressed very modestly, without any make up or high heels, she suited my Environmentalist category beautifully. Someone who is a bit of a hippy; perhaps spiritual, does not eat meat, and whose interests would never- ever! -involve any expensive jewellery.   

As we sat there, discussing some aspects of Christmas, she suddenly reached out to touch my hand. She wanted to have a closer look at my eternity ring. She said it was catching the light beautifully. ‘We live in a place where you can really do some serious diamond spotting, don’t we?’she added thoughtfully. I explained that the ring was a baby/Christmas present years ago and she laughed, showing me her hands.  She said that she had no idea what it would take for her husband to get her a diamond ring.   

And I was shocked. 

If you asked me to point out one woman in our entire village who would not care about material things, I would choose her. And yet, there was so much disappointment in her voice! 

I told her a story about this Azeri girl I knew, who had got engaged in Scotland, and came back to Baku sporting the smallest diamond I had ever seen in my live.

‘I chose it myself.’ she told us proudly. ‘He took me to a shop and I insisted I wanted this one’.

'It is not about how big this stone is', she added. 'To me, it represents a piece of my fiancé’s heart!'

'Hmm...' whispered my materialistic friend. 'That is quite a teeny piece of his heart he gave her!'

The hippy mummy laughed. 'Why did she choose such a small ring then?'  She asked.

Well, I told her.. Isn’t it obvious? We all want to show just how little these things matter to us. Just how non-materialistic and noble we are. So imagine the poor man's shock when, some years after, his wife expects and wants him to buy her some expensive gifts. Maybe she does not even act or look like someone who would want a diamond ring. Maybe, she looks like a vegetarian environmentalist type. And yet, deep inside, she would love to be given something  special. Because, trust me. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Silly doodles in work notebooks

I thought I was entering the infamous glowing stage of pregnancy this morning as I applied make-up and got dressed for the office Christmas lunch later today. But that only lasted until I had to brush my teeth, which caused me to gag and throw up a little.

I wanted to show you these unexplainable sketches of mine to see if any of you have any idea why I would draw endless legs, shoes and pretty (if somewhat cloned) faces on any piece of paper I have at hand. Especially while talking on the phone.

Once, a very long time ago, I read a fascinating article about doodles and what they actually mean about your personality and your deepest thoughts. No idea if any of it had any significant psychiatric reason behind, or it was just a silly story; but they used some doodles of the famous people in history; such as Hitler and Stalin, as well as some sketches done by serial killers. And the article claimed that a specialist, looking at those doodles, could see certain disturbing patterns and determine what problems one might have, so to speak. Lying deep inside.

Unfortunately, I did not save the article, neither do I remember them mentioning any parts of human bodies, such as women’s legs in shoes. So I have no idea. I know I am not a serial killer or a dictator as my doodles are not anything similar to the ones I saw in that article. So, at least, that is a good news.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Is it cheaper to be a Jew?

As an atheist from a Muslim country, I  love celebrating Christmas in the UK. I love the athmosphere and the lights, the presents and the smelly candles in our homes. Everything looks and feels pretty and cozy.  To me, it is a cultural, family holiday. But also, a very expensive one.

I have been thinking, looking at my bank balance online this morning, just how costly Christmas is. I am not even talking about presents. I am talking about all those little things that add up. Starting early in December, things spin out of control. I am amazed at how demanding my child’s school is, to start with.

 No uniform day this Friday! Send a bottle of wine! one week, and then a box of chocolates the week after. Give us some money towards a school trip to such and such place, and some Christmas presents for the teachers, too. Oh, and bring some food for the party. Donate this and donate that. Don’t forget the poor, the blind, the disabled and the homeless. Come and buy lots of useless second hand stuff at the Christmas Fair.

Outside the school, there are endless parties with secret Santa presents for kids, millions of cards to exchange with friends and family, the tree, of course (and I must have a real one! Approximately £50) and the decorations: inside and outside the house. It simply does not end.

My child, just like any of her friends, does not just get one present. She gets a few. So does everybody else in the family. I have never even questioned just how expensive our holidays were until I spoke to my Jewish friend in the States.

I knew she become more Jewish since she emigrated from Baku, so I wanted to know what they did during the winter holidays these days. As a Soviet child, I cannot imagine not celebrating the New Year. I wanted to know if their family, with both her and her husband coming from the same soviet childhood as me, still had some sort of a celebration for such a lovely event. The answer was short. No, she said.

Really? I wanted to know. Not even a yolka? No yolka would just break my heart.
No, she said. No Christmas tree. No decorations. No presents. No New Year and, of course, no Christmas either.

Wow, I thought. How much cheaper is it to be a Jew?!

My friend got competitive. ‘Well, not really,’ she told me. ‘We buy presents for Hanukkah and Passover!’

‘In fact’, she said, ‘Our friends recently reminded my husband that he should, traditionally, be buying his wife new jewellery and dresses for Passover!’

Nevertheless, by my primitive calculations, being a Jew is cheaper, whatever she says. Not only they don’t have to participate in the whole Christmas charade, they also don’t acknowledge Halloween. And Halloween has been annoying me for an awfully long time. Why can’t the Brits borrow something useful from the Yanks? Like a baby shower? I would love a baby shower. But no. They go for Halloween, with all the silly costumes, pumpkins and more decorations.

Thinking about this made me wonder what would, should we carry out a survey, be the cheapest religion to belong to, from the holiday expenses point of view? Is being a Muslim cheaper? I know Azeris are not the best representatives of the Islamic world (so I hope) but I don’t remember people going as crazy over Muslim holidays as the Brits do at Christmas. There was a lot of food, but hey, that is a normal day for Azeris, anyway. But there were never any presents, or parties, or decorations. My knowledge of religious holidays is, as you might have realized, quite limited. But I reckon, as I struggle to make my money last till the next pay day, that living in a Christian country is definitely pretty costly. In my next life, I want to be a Jew. Or an atheist... Hold on, aren't I one already? Hmm...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Scary the matchmaker

It has been too long, I know. But I have been ridiculously busy. You understand. The pre-Christmas chaos has swallowed me whole. I have been running around trying to buy presents, attend parties and various Christmas bazaars and fairs; and do some work in between. 

I also tried to set up some friends. Clearly, I am not good at this. I am beginning to grow respect for matchmakers. It is a hard, ungrateful and frustrating job, let me tell you.

At first, I tried to set this bloke up with an Azeri girl. He said he wanted to go out with someone non-British for a change. I should have known, of course, that she would not like him. Back home, people often refer to someone they respect as highly educated.  The whole highly educated notion creates arrogance and snobbism that divides people in its own, post-Soviet way. Of course, we did not have upper or middle class as such, so we found our way to create classes and social levels. Highly-educated people were too proud to hang out with anyone who, in their eyes, was not educated enough. So it did not matter to this Azeri girl that the guy I introduced her to had a successful business of his own, and was working hard to make a pretty decent living for himself. He was not educated enough for her. To be honest, it did not surprise me and I thought to myself that I was being silly trying to set up people from such different backgrounds and with such different expectations. Never mind, I thought. This is a cultural thing.

So, not allowing the bad luck in matchmaking my single middle-aged friends defeat me so easily, I tried again.
This time, I thought I would do better. The girl who expressed interest in meeting Husband’s friend was not Azeri . I explained to her in advance that the guy in question was a pretty blokey bloke. I told her he was very normal. She did not seem fazed by that.

I thought I prepared them both for the evening. I have never been on a blind date and was intrigued by the things both parties wanted to know in advance.

‘How thin are his thighs?’ She asked. ‘How wide is her waist?’ he wanted to know. 

‘But forget all that,’ my friend said. ‘I should have asked you a better question. Would you do him?’
Come on! I said. What sort of question is that? I could not really answer in any way that would sound right, could I. If I said I would not do him, she would question why I thought he was good enough for her, if I did not find him attractive. If I said I certainly would, what sort of a married slut would that make me in her eyes?

But, in the end, I felt bad because it did not work out. Again. My friend decided, after having met the guy, that she actually always preferred men in suits. Of course, I wished she had told me that openly before. Never mind how skinny his thighs were, as long as he wrapped them up in some grey office trousers, she should have said. But you see, people don’t like admitting that they might be a bit snobbish, after all. Personally, I don’t know why, because I have no problem with that. For example, I don’t like chushkas. Husband hates it when I say that. You see, Husband, despite being a highly educated middle class white boy, has this bizarre fascination with common people. He loves listening to their life stories-the rougher the better. He enjoys their company and finds them genuine and fun. If I were a shrink, I could have analyzed this strange tendency of his, but as it is, I am just grateful that he does not aspire to live in a trailer.

But back to my matchmaking story. My girlfriend realized that, after all, she preferred office guys in ties and suits.  She wanted more sophistication, more class so to speak. Wow, I thought to myself. So we are back to the highly educated issue, even though I was not dealing with an Azeri this time. 

And now, I had to tell the guy. And I felt terrible about it. Now, having been told twice he was not their type, the poor guy was going to think something must be wrong with him. Whereas it really was just all my fault.  ‘I must be pretty bad at this...’ he texted me and I thought Oh, crap. Not really. There really is nothing wrong with the guy. He is not common, he is not stupid, and he is not unattractive.  He is successful in what he does, whether he is wearing jeans or office trousers. And I am sure that he will, sooner or later, find a woman who would appreciate him the way he is. I just hope he gets someone else to set him up next time.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Some grown-up time.

I have decided I need more Americans in my life. I miss my American friends I had in Baku so badly. Nowadays, I only keep in touch with them via Facebook. I love their accents, their non-English ways, their expressions and mannerisms. But most importantly, I need some more Americans in the UK who would invite me for a Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, first time in my British life, we got invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving, and it was just perfect. Well, almost perfect. 

When we got told it was a dinner party, I got excited. I don’t get to go to many dinner parties these days.

I knew that the friends who invited us had a little girl who would probably stay up; however she has an amazing ability to happily entertain herself so that did not bother me. I also knew it was OK to bring my child, should I decide to do so. But why would I? It was an evening event, and too late for her anyway. But, most importantly, I needed my break, too. So I was looking forward to a nice dinner party in an adult company. We booked a babysitter and set off into London.

However, when we arrived, I noticed that another family brought their two little children. 

Hmm, I thought. 

You see, just because I have a child does not mean I love hanging out with other people’s kids. Especially in the evenings. Especially when I counted on a proper adult company. 

Of course, it is not a big deal when it is not your kid. But when you are a parent yourself, you can’t help but automatically keep an eye on what the little troublemakers are up to. So, as I stood there with a glass of champagne involved in a very grown-up conversation, I still flinched when a 2-year old boy tried to grab an expensive looking glass with water from the breakfast bar. I told myself not to worry as it was not my responsibility. However, I just could not help it. 

All in all, the kids were behaving pretty well, to be honest. They were also incredibly cute. And yet, I was not pleased when due to some shuffling and moving around, I was the one who ended up right next to them at the dinner table. Great, I thought to myself. Came out for a peaceful grown-up time, and ended up sitting with kids. Again. As if I am not surrounded by children during the day.

However, the turkey smelled and looked good, and the potato mash was calling my name in a steamy voice. That is fine, I told myself. Just ignore them and enjoy yourself.

The food just got served when the 2-year old boy suddenly made a loud noise and puked his butternut squash mash right out. All over  the table in front of me and on what looked like an expensive suede chair. 

The mother screamed in shock and everyone turned to stare. I had my fork up in the air about to take the first bite. Of course, you must remember that I am in a certain condition, which makes me overly sensitive to disgusting smells.  I simply froze. All I could do was turn my face away and hold my breath so I did not suddenly throw up myself. The parents, of course, were terribly embarrassed. And I did feel sorry for them. But I was so distracted trying to not be sick that I was not controlling the words that came out of my mouth. So, when the father asked me to look after his daughter while he took the stinky chair out in the garden, I might have said ‘I paid 30 quid for a babysitter so that I did not have to look after any children tonight.

I hope he did not take it badly. They did leave pretty soon after the incident. Not only the little boy puked all over the place, but the older girl was looking tired and unwell. ‘She is coming down with something’ the mother explained to me. ‘She is quite hot’

Great, I thought grumpily. You did not just bring two little kids to an evening dinner party, you brought two sick kids. 

Now, can anyone remind me how on earth someone like me could be having another baby? I should not have ever been allowed to breed.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

"Impossible" on Rammenas

A new flash fiction story is now up on Rammenas. A short luuuuv story. With a twist. Check it out.

Monday, 22 November 2010

A "Borderline Atheist" Muslim.

I wanted to share an interesting comment from a discussion I got into on Facebook recently.

It all started with someone adding the link about the Pope deciding condoms had some use, after all. One thing led to another, some people defending the Catholic Church; me, as usual, making a silly joke....

But, however tempting it might be, I don’t want to get into the Pope and condoms subject tonight. I just wanted to share this comment from a young Azeri male that I found amusing and depressing at the same time. He pointed out how intolerant atheists were; to which I said ‘Of course, religious people are famously tolerant’. 

And to that, he replied:

" Majority of religious people are very tolerant in my experience. A lot more tolerant and loving than the secular fundamentalists - Johan Hari and Dawkins & co, who hide their real hatred of Islam and Muslims, behind their general attack on ...religions. Today they are banning face-veils and attacking halal food; tomorow they'll ban headscarfs, day after that they'll be burning mosques. You know how these things develop in Europe...

Furthermore, even though I'm borderline atheist myself, I cannot ignore or reject the positive, social unifying, disciplining and mobilising qualities of religious belief. Armenians are a good example. Now, take a look at the video of our hero, Mubariz Ibragimoglu's funeral few weeks ago - see what happens towards the end; listen to what the crowd chants and you'll understand why our victory in Karabakh is inevitable and the role Islam will play in mobilising the nation.

Also I think we have a real battle on our hands against real enemies of Azerbaijan - Alievs and Armenians. Lets concentrate on that instead of picking fights against our own culture and identity. Im Muslim not because I believe in supernatural but because Im Azeri and my culture is inconceivable without Islam and traditional values associated with it, and of which Im extremely proud. The only thing I regret is not always staying true to these values and sometimes buying into the free-for-all, liberal bullshit. Thankfully Ive grown up now and see things more clearly and objectively."
I thought of replying... But then, I realized that I, actually, for once, had absolutely nothing to say. I mean, where would I even start? All I could say was  WOW’.  That was it. That one word summarized all my emotions and ended the pointless debate. 

But yet, I have so much I could ask this young man. If only I thought there was any point to it.