ahoy! or, as they say here: salam! that and 'sahol' (thank you andgoodbye) are the only two words i have picked up here in baku, azerbaijan,to my shame. it is all one seems to need though, with muchgesticulating, mostly the action of putting donor kebab in bread, thestaple street food here. they mix it with yoghurt, coriander, tomato,cucumber and spices, a far cry from flames or similar, and also about1/5th of the price.
you find me (or i find your inbox) at 1230am local time sat with asunburnt chest eating peanuts from the minibar in a very posh airconditioned hotel room in the 'new' part of the city. i have just hadquite a special night- we went to the home of mir taymurhttp://azari.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai123_folder/123_articles/123_mirteymur_architecture.htmlwho is going to do live art during our concert on monday. he and hisfamily were amazing; their house in the walled old town is a piece of artin itself, filled with his sculptures and paintings and those of his wifeand students. he seems obsessed with curves, including the '[infinitecircle' that is essentially a short cylinder that is turned over at onepoint so if you were to draw a line along it with a pen you would coverboth surfaces.we ate walnut cake and he showed us the work he has done over the last 40years.
i have been cast as the 'boy' among the three of us (the trio thatmakes up our band has a azeri violin player and an iraqi-british oud/daffplayer- search 'ben sellers soas' and have a look at any except the firstresult, which has bad sound- they are both a few years older than me)which is brilliant as a)i can act like a boy and be silly and b)when i doadult things, like drink lots of azeri vodka and not fall all over theplace i look dead cool.
anyway, point is mir teymur's son looked just likeme so , although we had no language in common, we took to each other rightaway. the whole thing was like something out of arabian nights (or maybedisney's aladdin) with a stooped old man showing his treasures among highshelves of books, canvases, sculptures and old soviet photos. after toolong centred around this hotel catering (very well) for businessmen andtheir too-tanned wives this was a breath of non--airconditioned air and aglimpse at the azerbaijan of old.the city itself is really lovely in its own way, reflecting it'sgeographical position straddling east and west- turkey to the west, iranto the south, the caspian sea to the east, russia to the north- and racingto put soviet times behind it. much of the city is a building site, withmassive tower block hotels and apartments going up literally everywhere.there is oil here and lots of it, baku is the starting point of a pipelinethat extends through 3 countries to turkey where it supplies muich ofwestern europe's oil. even in the tourist video the 'i' of azerbaijan ismade from an oil tower.
i have only seen a certain side of the citythough, apparently a drive only 20 miles in any direction will show theroads turning to dirt and the people on the breadline. why aren't wesurprised? despite this, the city seems much more egalitarian than someplaces i have visited- less beggars and dodgy people than both uganda andindia, and no sense of a menacing police force. the streets are filledwith ladas and mercedes and nothing in between.
and i must segue for a moment into something that seems to be taking aneven more central role in my life these days- food and its appreciation.here it is all about LAMB and flat bread- lavash- and its variousmanifestations. there are also many nuts and fruits in savory dishes- weare talking cherry rice, apricot and butter lamb that literally melts inyour mouth, spinach with raisons... i could go on. the man from del montesays DA.
my days are made of rehearsal, deciding which swimming pool to go to,wandering round the city and fulfilling pretty random engagements. thecompany that is paying for us to be here represents- from what i cangather- upmarket boutiques (jewellrey, clothes etc) and other hideouslyexpense outlets, our violin player had met him at christmas and he hadinvited us over. he is paying for everything, from minibar to internet totaxis, fucking strange and generous until you realise the amount of moneythat must pass through his hands and our status as a cultural jewel forhim to show off to his friends.
on wednesday night i found myself in thebeautiful fountain filled courtyard of a traditional carpet making factoryfor an 'open rehearsal' with this guy and his guests. we ate caviar andthe essence of rose petals (rose petals boiled with sugar in water thendistilled) and drank vodka and hennessey cognac (supposedly the best inthe world) with, amongst others, the conductor of the national orchestraand the wife of mr hennessey himself. i learntafterwards that she had flown into baku from vienna just to meet this guyfor a potential business deal. we were the court musicians, entertainingthe drunk royalty whenever they desired.
i was told to play animprovisation thinking about 'the people who died in the earthquake insichuan' when i told him my grandma was from there (she isn't, i don'tknow where is from, but thats the only name i could think of). i almosttold him she had died in the earthquake just to shut him up. i played itand played it well, and he talked on his mobile phone. we were just likethe food- there as a glorious symbol for people who didn't necessarilyappreciate it for what it was.
among the other guests was a russianbusinessman who said little and had on his arm a beautiful blond nymph wholooked 17 at the oldest and was his wife. pretty fucking sick but again,what was there to say? today we were asked to go again as the guy wasentertaining one of george bush's brothers. the oud player is an iraqirefugee. we said we were busy.
earlier in the day we had met two professors from the conservatory inbaku. they were amazing, intense guys, one of them was a composer with 4gold teeth who could not sit still. the violin player, sabina, hadcomissioned a piece from him which he presented. it is avant garde andminimalist and i haven't decided whether i like it or not, but it iscertainly powerful and the first work that has been commissioned for me!
other highlights have included a full body massage from a buxom russingduring which i had to full my head with dismembered bodies and stuartpearce in order not to get billowing erection. infact, since i obviouslystopped smoking weed when i came i have been RIDICULOUSLY horny all thetime, aswell as remembering my dreams and writing them down as much aspossible when i wake up. two mornings ago, still half asleep, i wrote
stealing a bike. man in door saw me, was painting but didn't do anything.rode past cops. last day of term, went home, all partying in gower street,cleaner took notes. massage not hard enough.
strange eh? when i read the notes i remember the images but not the orderof them. its cool though to remember dreams as normally the weed killsthem all off.oh and yesterday we played a gig at the azerbaijani parliament!!! part ofthe 90th aniversary of the parliament with the president of azerbaijan andfull of ambassadors and chicken on sticks. ambassedors and theirentourages are as bad as soas undergradutes for fighting for the bestfood... we thought noone was listening to us but various people came up tous afterwards and said they liked it, and the croation ambassador said hewould like to invite us to a festival in croatia! so watch this space.
the fact thati am here as a 'musician' is kind of cool- i have always saidi wanted to be a musician and my family have always smiled and wished megood luck but i could tell they didn't think it was a feasible option, buthere i am, finished degree and taken all expenses paid to the old sovietrepublic to perform the musical masturbation they call improvising :).