Monday, 26 December 2011

M is the best.

I have just discovered how sensitive men are.  Of course, I should have known better. There simply are some things that should never be said, some aspects of a man’s performance that should never be questioned or compared. 

We went to see our good friends recently, just before Christmas, and I, trying to be nice to husband, (something I am not terribly experienced in) decided to give him some credit in front of our friends. I thought that he needs more encouragement from me, especially since he had always been very sensitive about this particular friend of ours. Because, whenever we had been to his house, he always cooked something amazing.  (Between you and me, I have to say, he is THE best. Ever.)

I never realised that Husband was that sensitive when it came to me complimenting other men. I mean, it is not like I was talking about you know, that kind of stuff. I was only saying that M is an amazing cook.  Surely, my husband is not that insecure to feel threatened by this?!

So, as we sat around our friends’ kitchen, watching M prepare our lunch, I said, very casually: 

‘You used to be the best I had ever known. But, I have to say, that Husband is now coming dangerously close...I would even say he is probably the best now.’

‘What are you doing?!!! ‘The friend’s wife exclaimed in horror. ‘You can’t tell M that?! It is his title. He is the best! Ever! He is incredibly sensitive about this!’

‘Ha-ha-ha’  I said, thinking it was a joke, but M looked dangerously sulky, and a large cloud started forming over his grey head.  I came over closer, as he started butchering the slow-cooked duck. 

‘Look,’ I said. ‘You must understand. He is my husband. I have to tell him these things. But, really...- I winked at him- You are the best, we both know you are’.

Husband was outraged. ‘I knew it!’ he said.  ‘You always thought he was the best. You just love him soooo much!  You were only saying I was the best but you did not mean it!’ 

The next morning, Husband was complaining to his mummy over the phone.‘Wifey is so unfaithful’,  I heard him say. ‘She is very naughty. She just keeps going on and on about M’s cooking. He is the best, he is the best....Nobody can ever be as good as M! I will just never cook for her again!’

Honestly. Men are such babies.

And what can I say? M is the best. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A racist asshole!

Guys, something embarrassing happened to me yesterday.

I blame lack of sleeping and maternal instinct. 

I was on my way from a coffee morning at my friend’s place and not far from her house was a Laura Ashley Home store. Having just received some gorgeous photos of my girls from the photo studio, I was obviously desperate to find decent frames to put them in.  ‘Maybe’, I thought, ‘I will just swing by the Laura Ashley shop, since it is right there’. Have a quick glance if I like any of their picture frames, you know. 

Of course, there were no parking spaces in the shop’s designated parking area. However, there were other shops right next door, with their parking bays. Knowing I would only be a few minutes, and not wanting to drag all 8 kilos of my baby girl in the car seat too far, I cheekily parked in the neighbouring bay.  I was in the shop for a few minutes and returned to the car almost straight away. 

As I placed the car seat near the driver’s door, getting the keys out of my coat pocket, a car pulled up from the road right next to me. It did occur to me, of course, that I was slightly in its way, but I assumed, naively perhaps, that it was obvious to the driver that I was only unlocking my door, and would be out of his way in a second. 
I assumed, you see, that the driver was a decent gentleman who would wait  A SECOND! before getting into his space. But oh, no. I was mistaken. He looked at me and kept driving-dangerously close to me and, most importantly, to my baby in her car seat. 

I calmly placed the car seat in the car and strapped it in, while watching the man emerge from his vehicle. 

Excuse me! I called out very politely, and he glanced in disbelief. He did not expect a foreign-looking woman with a baby to confront him. Little did he know. 

'Was it really that difficult to wait an extra second while I unlocked my car?' I continued and he walked up to me, still refusing to believe what he was hearing.

'Excuse me?' He shouted back in his very proper English. Only Brits can make 'excuse me' sound like a perfect insult.

Ah, you asshole, I thought to myself. Did you not hear me properly?  It is okay. I will repeat it, slightly louder.

'What would happen if you just waited a second instead of driving so close to my baby?' I asked again and the man started shaking inside. 

'Did you go into that shop?' He pointed to the PC repairs business in front of us.

 'Can you read what it says on the wall?' He continued in a bitchy voice.  Meaning, I was parked in the wrong bay. Whoopie Doo! What a terrible crime. Like that justifies driving over my baby?

And then something snapped inside me, and my favourite word just escaped my mouth without any warning.

You know, I said, you are such an asshole!

You don’t look like an asshole,  I added, but you sure act like one. 

I paused for a second, getting into the car, and added, before slamming the door 'And probably a racist asshole, too!'

Don’t ask me why I called him a racist asshole. I have no idea. It just came out. 

'Oh!' he shouted, glancing back quickly, 'I will tell my wife, she will be pleased that I don’t look like one!'

And with that, he ran away. 

So yes, I called an older man an asshole on the street. Into his face. And you know what? It felt amazing.
There is something about this word that I just love. Of course, there could be many other words I could have used on that bastard. But somehow, this particular word is my favourite. I say it out loud and my pulse stabilises and the sun starts shining again. 

I was not sure if Husband would approve of such common behaviour, and was pleasantly surprised when he supported me as I replayed the crime scene to him later on.

'You should have said you were going to call the police and report him for almost driving over your baby like that!' He said, and I thought That’s true! I should have, indeed. Instead of swearing impulsively and pointlessly like a child. But still... It felt good.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Some "me" time today.

I did something very sad today. Those very few of you who might think I am cool (I would like to think there are at least 3 of you out there somewhere in the world) will finally realize that is not the case. And such  realization can be upsetting. Someone clever once told me, that one of the saddest feelings she had ever had was disappointment in people. I am, therefore, sorry for confessing the following to you.

For a few days now, I desperately wanted to see the new Twilight movie. (Yes, I know. Pathetic is the word you are looking for) But I really wanted to see it. Also, exhausted by my baby religiously fighting sleep every night for the past two months, sleep-deprived and brain-damaged; I just felt like a break. A relaxing me time, you know? So, not only did I go to see the Twilight Breaking Down Part 1, I also went to see it:

a) Alone. As in by myself.

b) At 11am.

It went well.

At first, I got lost. I still can’t quite understand how I could manage that, considering that I have been to the very same cinema a hundred times, and know the route quite well. My brain, however, is so damaged right now, it just erratically switches itself on and off. Before I knew it, I was somewhere I had no intention of going. After fifteen stressful minutes of panicky aimless driving around, during which I was convinced my Escape to the Cinema plan failed due to such classic example of retardation, I suddenly recognised a roundabout that looked familiar; and managed to get to the cinema in plenty of time.

I then had another hmm....episode, and bought myself a VIP seat. I thought that, since I was treating myself to me time, I might as well get a fancy seat. Of course, I should have guessed, that at 11am, the auditorium would look like this

I also bought myself some popcorn. And this is what happened next

The whole auditorium, all ten of them, turned around and stared at me. I giggled but nobody smiled. Clearly, people who come to watch Twilight at 11am on a Saturday morning mean business.

And then the movie started and I really, really enjoyed it. Naked men turning into wolves, beautiful scenery, cool effects, a mother-baby-vampire love story...what’s not to like?

I even cried a few times, including at this fantastic Christmas ad by John Lewis. Watch it, isn’t it cute?

God, I need some sleep.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

My Favourite Street by Nailya aka Scary aka Azeri!

(I was going to start by saying 'Thank you God..', because, as a normal human being, I need to thank someone, right? But, who do you thank if there is no God? So, I shall still use this, as a figure of speech....) Thank you, God, for my husband is back, and I don't have to be a crazed, stressed out bitch that I have been in the past 5 nights, all by myself, with two children. Yes! I know "everyone does it". I am clearly not as good as everyone, alright?



A few weeks ago, I had an unexpected email, which started like this:

"Please excuse my intrusion into your mail box.  To cut a long story short, my email is to ask if you could write a short article (one page) for Qatar Airways in flight magazine, Oryx.

Each month Oryx magazine runs a ‘My Favourite Street' page, and they were going to feature Baku in their December issue.

Of course, I got over-excited, did not leave the house for three days,ate a lot ( any bloody excuse!) and composed something that I hoped was good enough. 

Then, I had to sit and wait for what seemed like ages, as I was not allowed to share it with you until the magazine came out. which was today! Yay! 

So here is the link to the online magazine, but also a copy of the article. I am very excited. Now off to enjoy my well-deserved glass of wine!

Monday, 21 November 2011

A very short parenting story.

I  had a very bad, bad, bad weekend, let me tell you. 

I have no idea how single mothers with children cope, because I find it incredibly hard when Husband is away and I suddenly have to do everything by myself.  And maybe, I could manage just fine, but my baby, like a pit bull, senses my fear and turns my nights into nightmares. 

As soon as the night falls, she stops being a lovely cutie pie and turns into a little monster. She knows that I never sleep well when husband is away and attacks me when I am at my weakest, so that I give in and put her into bed with me. I try to be strong, which results in both of us suffering. 

In between me not sleeping from anxiety and her waking up, the total hours I get to sleep are down to zero. 

So, it is not surprising that, as I lay there awake at 5:30am yesterday morning, I started imagining things. The baby was crying- again! - And I tried to calm her down, when I suddenly heard what I can only describe as a churchy kind of singing. It was beautiful, very quiet and pretty creepy

I froze, listening hard. That’s it, I thought. All these sleepless nights and the tiredness finally turned me into a mad woman. Either I am hearing angels singing to me, or we have a ghost.

I really did not like either of those options, so I thought I would get up and start the day. So what it is inhumanely early.  I got up, grabbed the baby, and looked into the landing. 

My older girl’s door was open and I glanced in, to check she was alright. She lay in bed and in a dimmed light I could see her actually looking at me. 

‘You okay’? I asked and she nodded. I suddenly had a glimpse of hope. There was a logical, not at all mental explanation, after all. 

‘Were you just singing? ‘I asked her, praying for it to be the case, and she said yes. Thank goodness, I thought.  It was her!

I was singing the song that Mary sang to baby Jesus to stop him crying’ she added.

Well, I wonder if it worked, I wanted to ask.  Did baby Jesus shut the fuck up because nothing works on your baby sister! 

As I said... bad, bad, bad weekend.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Let's meet in Dede Gorgud. Sorry, I meant Zabitler Parki. Bagi. Oh, screw it. Let's go to Officers' Park!

I have been approached by someone to write a piece on Baku. Very exciting! I will tell you all about it in more detail once it is published. 

I really enjoyed writing something about my home town. However, what proved complicated was getting the facts right. Not because I have not lived there for a while, but because nobody seemed to know what certain areas were actually called. I am talking about official names.

For instance, I referred to Torgovaya street. Everyone who ever lived in Baku,from taxi drivers to expats, knows where Torgovaya is. But not many people know the name does not exist on paper. On paper, it is called Nizami street. It is not a bad name, really, I quite like it. But I just have to ask- Does anyone actually call it that? 

I also wanted to mention one of my childhood favourites- The Officers Park near the Blue Mosque and Teze Bazar. 

I was sure they most probably renamed the Officers Park into something ridiculous and guess what? They have! According to this link someone kindly shared with me on Facebook, Officers Park is officially called Dede Gorgud. Okay, I appreciate the history behind the name, I really do but, did they really have to rename the poor park to something nobody can pronounce properly?   

I am curious how many local mums say to each other: 'Oh, shall we take the kids to Dede Gorgud today?'

What exactly was wrong with Officers Park, anyway? Were they not properly Azeri officers? Did they not fight for their country, whatever the country was called at that time? 

I appreciate the desire the country has to separate itself from anything Russian or ex-Soviet. But does the history have to be erased altogether, with no respect for the old names, the reasons behind them, and for the people who had probably deserved the honour of having a square or a street named after them?

Even an Azeri newspaper made the mistake, calling Dede Gorgud the old name. To me, the whole changing names charade seems to be a bit of a joke.  Dede Gorgud!  Seriously!?

But then, after I, having had come to terms with Dede Gorgud, sent the article off, someone pointed out to me that on Google Maps the Officers Park is actually called Zabitler Parki. Great. Just great.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Only in Baku.

Back in Baku, my mother has a social life ten times better than mine here. And mine is not actually that bad these days, considering how boring (very!) social life in the UK is.

She spent the whole day yesterday hanging out with two school friends who come to Baku once every three years.  G. who lives in the USA and V. who is a resident of Russia, both return to their motherland together- to visit the graves of their parents.

Of course, besides such noble reason, there are other things they come to Baku for. Like smoking a kalian  and eating good food with old friends.

Mother tried to find a good restaurant with decent food but also a kalian-smoking facility for her mates. She took the guys to a well-known place in the centre of town. It was empty. 

‘You can’t smoke kalian in the main restaurant’, they got told. ‘Only in kabinets.’ (private cabins)

‘OK’, said V. ‘We will take the kabinet!’

‘Er...No. The kabinets are for a party of over two guests only .’

‘But there are three of us?’, V. corrected politely.

The waiter thought about it and shook his head ‘No. Kabinets are for big parties only. You can sit in the main restaurant.’

‘But we cant smoke kalian there?’

‘That is correct. You may not. Only in kabinets.’

‘Why can’t we go to  a kabinet, the restaurant is completely empty???’

The conversation got interrupted by my mother, who took the party to her favourite Georgian place instead. Which was packed. The Kalian got smoked elsewhere; so the day was pretty perfect in the end.

As they walked around town, G. pointed out how dramatically Baku has changed. Look, he said. You even have gay clubs everywhere?! 

Çay Evi, my mother explained to her naive friend, is not quite a gay club. Just somewhere to drink chay.  

This confusion caused by the differences in alphabets and writing systems can be dangerous. It made me wonder how many potentially life-threatening mistakes will be made during the Eurovision 2012 by gay visitors in Baku. I say changing the fonts should be the city’s priority.

 It reminded me of an American friend of mine who had been asking me ‘what the hell is this ‘pec-to-pah’place??’ all over Baku. It took me a while to realize she was referring to the word restaurant in Russian. –РЕСТОРАН.

So, if you ever planning to visit Baku for the first time in 2012, please remember:

Çay Evi ( Azeri alphabet) is where you go to drink some tea. Normally a very traditional place. 

РЕСТОРАН ( Cyrillic, Russian alphabet)  is where you go to eat. 

Neither is a gay club. Not that confusing, really, is it?

Monday, 31 October 2011

Why I had to unfriend Steve.

OK, this might be a weird one. But it is Halloween, after all. A tad of spookiness is totally allowed and even to be expected. 

So, as you know, I was told that my magazine editor died a few days ago. It was pretty shocking. But, somehow, it was even more shocking and more difficult to believe because the Steve I knew was a virtual person, so to speak. I was told he was dead and yet, I could see his emails in my in-box and a part of me kept expecting another one to pop up on my screen. 

I shared the news of Steve’s death with a fellow blogger; and the next day, she messaged me on Facebook. 

‘It might sound crazy...’, she said, 'but is he really dead? Because I got a notification that he just shared some article on his partner’s wall???!  What if we got it wrong, what if he is still alive?’ 

And even though I knew for a fact that he was not, the question did not seem that crazy to me, somehow. When you know someone only by email and Facebook; it  feels they are still around. In a spooky kind of way.

Following the message, I looked at Steve’s wall; and, surely enough, there he was. With two recent activities. Alright-one was quite understandable- someone accepted his friend request. Accepted it  too late, not knowing the person was no longer alive. But another one was an article from the Guardian, shared, as claimed by facebook, by Steve himself.  Recent activity. Hours ago. 

Hours ago? The man has been dead for days.

Today, friends shared the news on his page, RIP messages started appearing...

It made me think about the virtual lives we live online. If you have a facebook page, a twitter account or a blog, how long before your friends and followers realize you are gone forever? How long will Steve live online?  What happens to our virtual selves when the real ones suddenly pass away? 

Looking through Steve’s recently tagged photos and activities made me feel uncomfortable. A little circle next to his name read Steve is unavailable. Of course, he is unavailable. He is dead. 

I scrolled to ‘Unfriend’. RIP, Steve. Someone has to close your FB  page.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Steve Hollier.

Steve Hollier, Editor of AZ Magazine in Baku, died a few days ago of a heart attack. 
Only that morning we exchanged emails discussing the next issue of the magazine, what he wanted for my column, exchanging jokes about life and the blog...and then, that very evening, someone suddenly Skyped me with the sad news. It did not even register in my brain straight away. You always think 'that is just not possible?!' But, sadly, it is. 
My condolences to Steve's partner and his family, and everybody at  AZ Magazine; who are, I am sure, in a state of a complete shock.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Azeri guide to using Facebook

I am so excited for my Azeri countrymen, especially those who have money.

I just realized that their lives have been enriched dramatically with Facebook. 

But, clearly, some of the rich and powerful Azeris quickly discovered that, besides all the obvious ways, such a sharing news and photos and keeping in touch, Facebook can be utilized as a perfect, lethal weapon to spread envy and jealousy amongst everyone they vaguely know, by showing off just how rich they are. Or, more probably, just how rich they want all those 1,000 friends to think they are. 

Recently I witnessed a few discussions on Facebook which made me realize just how useful the whole social network tool is for those who like to show off a little. Of course, I am not talking about my friends. The joy of Facebook is that every time someone who is my friend comments on their friend’s photo or news, it shows up for the rest of us to see.

So, with slight changes added to avoid personal insults, which I, of course, would not want to make too obvious for the sake of people I know and like, here is one extract from a spot- the-Nouveau riche- Azeri discussion:

She puts a photo of herself in a pretty dress at some event.  Someone compliments her.

‘Oh, sis,’ she replies, ‘thank you! You can’t go wrong with Versace!

Nicely done. To someone maybe even subtly. The meaning of the word is not easily translated into different cultures.

Another very good example was two girls, both originally from Baku, discussing things that, at first glance, were perfectly innocent.

Ha, says one girl, check this crazy car out! Who would want to spend so much money on a Range Rover in this colour? 

Her friend comes into the conversation. 

- Why, honey, what colour is yours?
 -Black, of course! What about yours?
- Mine’s white, honey!

OK, we all know they have expensive cars. Good for them. But you see, without Facebook, only people who live near them would know about their cars. This way, thanks to Facebook, people all around the world know about them, too. Isn’t that cool? Instead of 10 neighbours in Baku, hundreds of people abroad can be impressed by their cars, too!

But the best conversation I witnessed recently was two girls discussing their plans to meet up at a very short notice in New York. A friend of mine was excited as she clearly has not seen them both for a while, and was getting ready to have a drink or two when they arrive. Look, she told me, how free and rich they are! They can just jump on planes and meet in NY, in one of the most expensive hotels in the city?! Honestly, she said, isn't it amazing? I looked at the discussion thread. It went on for a while. Which hotel and what restaurants the girls were planning to eat at, were publicly discussed. My first question was why would two friends, knowing each other’s email addresses, and telephone numbers, have a long and detailed discussion of their planned weekend extravaganza in front of everyone else? 

OK, maybe email is too old-fashioned for them. But there is an option of  private messaging on Facebook, too. Of course, when my friend in NY got stood up because nobody actually arrived, it all got perfectly clear. Told you, I said to my friend, they were not really planning to fly to NY for a weekend, each from a different country far away, just to meet up for a posh dinner. But now everyone on Facebook thinks they were.

What was, in theory, designed to share news is now a tool to share the signs of wealth. Designer dresses, expensive cars, hotel destinations...all you need to do is tag your location and everyone will know you ate at the world-famous restaurant, or had a luxury holiday. Quick, easy and effective way to make all those virtual friends jealous. Perfect for Azeris and everyone else who loves to let everyone know just how well they are doing. Even if it is all just on the surface.

Monday, 17 October 2011

About a disputed territory. Not Nagorniy Karabakh, but one small balcony.

You might have noticed that I have not added any sketches recently. That is not because I am so lazy these days. OK, it is somewhat because I am a bit lazy these days. But mainly, it is because someone ( i.e. Husband) switched our broadband to a different provider and did not bother to figure out how to connect the printer/scanner to the new router.  You might ask what about you? Can’t you sort it out? The answer is maybe I could. But I don’t think a married woman needs to work things like that out by herself. What is the point, may I ask you, of having a husband, if you then have to worry about connecting printers to wireless routers? 

Anyway. I had to tell you this to explain why the following two sketches look a bit bizarre. I would hate for you to think the quality of this blog is deteriorating. I really wanted to illustrate this posting, and the only way I could do it was to take the pictures of my sketches by the phone and email them to myself. Very complicated but here you go.

My mother, as you might know, was here for a little (?) while, enjoying the new baby and kindly helping me stay sane during the first few months. While she was here, there was some vigorous construction activity all around her flat in Baku. Baku is all about construction activities these days, from what I hear. The neighbour above was extending his balcony and enclosing it- a typical Bakuvian way of adding an extra room in one’s flat. In the meantime, the neighbour next to my mother was also enclosing his balcony. Right in between my mother’s and the next door neighbour’s balconies there was this weird empty bit of space, which, according to my mother (and I of course, believe her) was technically hers.  There, for many years going back to the times my grandmother owned the flat, was a very large, very heavy metal trunk. See the sketch.

I guess an equivalent of a shed, speaking in my British suburb terms.  Upon her return to Baku, my mother found the trunk had been lifted out of its usual place, and chucked into her balcony. There is lies right now, huge and heavy, making it impossible for my mother to even walk out on the balcony. In the space where the trunk used to be there now is a large pole, which neighbours above built to support their new extension. 
Like this. 
Now, the neighbours next door are not happy.  They had their own plans for my mother’s territory, you see. They were planning to erect the side wall for their new balcony there, making their space nice and big.
The neighbours are now fighting. 

This is where an English mind faces a challenge. Husband was confused. 

 ‘What about a planning permission? Don’t those people need a planning permission in order to build something like that in a block of flats? ‘ 

I laughed. She should ask them to pay her at least, Husband suggested, trying to put his Azeri thinking hat on.  But sadly, none of his suggestions would work in a country where two neighbours can fight over your bit of balcony. Well, they promised to remove the trunk soon, mother told me happily today. She does not believe in aggressive solutions to problems with neighbours. Now, you tell me. What would you do, if you were a single woman living in a country like this?