Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Baku? Why not?

A friend complained the other night that I had been too lazy and had not blogged for too long. He made that comment straight after a discussion about people's intimate parts and what was considered ugly… or simply different, perhaps, as I really do think it is a matter of personal opinion (and thank goodness for that). I had, you see, once asked my Filipino waxing lady beautician, as you do, and she had shared some fascinating info with me, which I thought was hilarious. I mean, when I asked her if she had seen really ugly…parts...I did not quite expect her to give me an analysis by nationalities.So look, I said to this friend, sometimes what I want to talk or joke about is probably- well, most definitely!- is going to get me in trouble if I put it on the blog. So I am, sadly, a little limited in what I can publish these days. And I strongly dislike being limited when it comes to writing. It smothers my mojo!

Anyhow, he had a good point. I have been very lazy and distracted. But, I did promise to blog about my recent trip to Baku, which is a totally acceptable, as in is not about intimate body parts, and is a good, decent topic so here we are. I can totally talk about this.

So… guess what?I went to Baku! A few weeks ago. With six other girls. The fact itself is nothing unusual of course, but what you have to understand is that going to your home country with people who had never been there before is a totally different experience. In addition to that, going with someone who has a lot more money than you and is used to having things done her own, princess way, is also a totally different- and pretty awesome! - experience.

I have a girlfriend here, in Doha, who loves to celebrate her birthdays abroad. It is just something she always does, and can afford to, so why the hell not, right? She loves to celebrate it somewhere like London or Dubai, in style and with best girlfriends around. This year, she decided she wanted to go somewhere more exotic and different. Why not Baku, she exclaimed? Why not indeed!

When you fly with Princess, which is what I am going to refer to the birthday girl from now on, you learn how princesses live. You and your suitcases get picked up by her driver and taken straight to the separate, VIP building at the airport in advance. You in the meantime relax at her house with an early dinner. You then get driven to that VIP building (which I never even knew existed until then) where you relax in a private room, while everything gets done for you and then, like movie stars, you get taken right to the air plane in a BMW. (Yeah, take that, all you common lot!)

In Baku, we jumped in a white minibus provided by the hotel and the fun started immediately. Baku air is wild. It intoxicates you. With the windows wide open, no seat belts, wide roads empty in the night, Lambada (Really? Lambada?) blasting from the car radio, we get driven fast into town, cackling loudly like a bunch of witches.

When you only have a weekend to show your friends your hometown, where do you go? What will they like? I took them to the Icheri Sheher. I really wanted to show them the Shirvanshakhs Palace but the place was closed that day for a ‘function’. So, instead, we just wandered around the old cobbled streets and drank an awful lot of chai. The girls messed with sheep wool hats and bought strange, completely not ethnic? enormous bead necklaces, which I of course, made rude comments about.  An old owner of a carpet shop was not impressed by our silliness and told us to get losted. The knowledge of English is definitely improving in Baku.

For our first dinner I took them to the good old Mugham club. It was just as I remembered it. The music, the little courtyard with the old trees, the food…Just beautiful. Of course, we had to struggle to get to it on high heels, since our van was not allowed to drive up to the restaurant. Even Princess with her whole powerful presence and attitude could not influence the policemen guarding the old city.  But isn’t all this just part of the local charm?

The next day, I took them to a Georgian restaurant to eat khingeli and drink Tarkhun- a bright green, most likely carcinogenic, lemonade of my childhood. One of us really wanted some whiskey. Yes, I know, it was a lunchtime but hey, we were witches on a holiday, so why not? As we walked in the Georgian place, I saw a selection of impressive drinks displayed on top of a large wooden cabinet. Right in the middle, a bottle of J&B stood tall and proud. Look, I said to the friend, you can actually have it here! Check it out! We have everything in Baku now!

Sorry, the waiter explained, those bottles are for decoration only. I know, it is difficult to understand but you are somewhere different, just remember that. File the decorative whiskey under the local charm, too.

The most disappointing thing, and surprisingly so, was the nightlife. I remembered it being pretty good, in my young Baku days, but perhaps my standards and my understanding of what was cool were somewhat different. I thought clubbing would be better now, or the same but not worse. We were told that Energi was good. But Energi was just wrong, and if you asked me why I would not be able to really explain. The music was good, and the venue was impressive. However something was lacking and that something was significant. I think it was the crowd. When we eventually ended up on the Saturday night in Buddha-Bar it was a totally different story. The people were like I wanted them to be- that bit more sophisticated. Even the hookers looked classier somehow.

What amused me the most from this trip was that waiters (and I don’t know why I am so surprised) simply smelled money on my friend. She would walk in a crowded bar, like Buddha-bar that Saturday night when the girl on the phone had already told me there were absolutely NO tables available, not even at the bar…and request a table, nicely, politely, yet in a tone that made it clear that this lady was not used to being told 'no'. Look honey, she said, what is your name? Irina! What a pretty name. Please, Irina we so need your help here.. My friends and I…My name is (and here she tells you her name in a way that immediately fills you with a terrifying thought that she is someone very famous, and you are just a major uneducated idiot for not recognising her)…and we need you to find us a nice table straight away please darling. And of course, a table (‘no, I don’t like this one Irina, darling, please can we have a better one?’) appears almost immediately.

And on the last night, when we sat in a beautiful garden of Channaq Gala, one of my favourite local places, I laughed and pointed out to my mother that only last summer we had struggled to get a waiter to not only order anything but even to pay the bill! However, as we sat there with my friend, there were, I swear, possibly about twelve people constantly waiting around in case we needed something. It was truly an amazing experience.

It might sound like we focused our trip around food, and well, that is very true. And the food is so good, so why wouldn’t we? My friends all loved Marivanna, one of my personal favourites, as well as Narsharab, the seafront restaurant where we drank a lot of beer and ate sturgeon fish kebab.

We ate and we drank and we danced and we ate some more. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and small children dancing national dances on the stage at the Bulevard almost made me cry.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and made me feel all proud of my hometown, which was an unusual kind of feeling for me, really. All those years ago all I wanted to do was to run away from there, and now I go back regularly and take friends to show them just how nice it is? Madness. True madness.