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Sunday, April 09, 2006


Carpetblog has MOVED

You get what you pay for with Blogspot, which is a lot of technical problems, lost posts and limited features, so we've packed up the whole operation and moved over to Typepad. All you have to do is click here and change your bookmark or update your RSS with the new link. You subscribe-by-email folks hopefully will have to do nothing. Don't forget to update your links!

Expect some ugliness and some missing links until the monkeys who run Carpetblogger figure out the new system. You can continue to check this site but you'll probably get a little lonely.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Roots De Carpetblogger

Long before Issaquah, Washington became a place where bands came from, it was hardly more than a single exit off I-90 where mullet-headed kids drove camaros and smoked weed at the bus stop.


Accordingly, its architectural landmarks have remained largely underappreciated, until today, when BoingBoing featured the beloved XXX Rootbeer sign in a post about internet censorship that I didn't really understand at all.

Nevertheless, it makes a hometown girl proud to see an iconic childhood landmark get the recognition it deserves on the internets. More accurately, it relieves her to see that at least one iconic childhood landmark hasn't been paved into a CostCo parking lot or to make way for a gaggle of medium-density McMansions.

When I see that bright orange barrel from my couch in Kyiv, I crave a frosty rootbeer from the old XXX, even though I haven't eaten there since I was 10 probably. Anyone who's from Issaquah might be surprised to learn that XXX's signature product should probably considered "artisanal," according to the post. That level of attention to quality will certainly protect the XXX from Microserfs and their rapacious overlords.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Dangerous Divisions Cripple the AZ Seismological Department

So it turns out that this week's solar eclipse was not, in fact, responsible for yesterday's earthquakes in Iran, sez the AZ Seismological Department.

I feel adrift. I've often said that if you can't believe the Azerbaijan government, who can you trust? If those earthquakes were not caused by the eclipse, what could possibly have caused them? Mixing watermelon and water?

Friday, March 31, 2006


Embarassment avoided! Phew

I was preparing a catty post about the AZ Seismological Department warning about eclipse-induced earthquakes and look what happens! Earthquakes in Iran!

Boy. Would I have ever felt bad about mocking that.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Straight Outta Kashgar

Via Coming Anarchy, Xinjiang's latest pop sensation go to YouTube to see a video from an unnamed pop group from Xinjiang made of up three Uyghur girls from Uzbekistan.

What they lack in production values, rhythm and, uh, talent, they make up for in musical influences. You can hear Indian, Chinese and maybe even Persian/Turko pop (one of my goals in Azerbaijan was to learn how to distinguish between Iranian and Turkish pop music -- I failed) in their tune.

They aren't Shakira but the key to a satisfying life in Crapistan is to lower your standards.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A "Do Over?"

"All save one of Baku's votes got subtracted" due to a "server crash?" Is this for real?* Don't fuck with Azerbaijan, man. You don't want to end up like Armenia.

Oh, wait....

Get in there and VOTE

*You know, if Azerbaijan was a more technologically advanced place, I would wonder...

Monday, March 27, 2006


Baku is the Opposite of Wellington, NZ

If you're a Carpetblogger demographic, you probably think of places like Wellington, NZ only in terms of whether Azal flies there non-stop, whether there are good malls with decent shoe stores or the availability of a quality lunchtime V&T at a bargain basement price.

That's why you should visit Gridskipper and strike a blow against "ironic hair metal and low-fi electro" music scenes, Maori delicacies (mmmm, fresh Maori) and clean living.

Crapistan rules! Vote for Crapistan!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


A Revolution in Carpetblogger's Life

Took place today as we hooked up the CABLE MODEM in our apartment. Welcome to the wired world! Data wants to flow freely, and this means more photos uploaded and more music downloaded. What once took 45 minutes now takes two.

So here are some photos of people and things that made my life in Baku easier, more pleasant or funnier.

favorite signs
My favorite sign in Baku.

Ruslan Ramin
Ruslan, carpetdealer to the stars, and Ramin, the guy who actually knows about the carpets.

Ruslan was the first person (well, after the Producer) I saw when I returned to Baku. Ruslan is Baku's best salesman, bar none. Coming from a distinguished line of sellers, I feel qualified to comment on this. He could sell oil to an Arab and cleans the clock of all the other dealers in the Old City. He would attribute this skill to the fact that he is Daghestani. Over the last two years he sold a number of things to me, even when I insisted I already had too many of his products and didn't want even one more. He even took some things he already sold to me to sell again. He sells to the Producer, which is very difficult, except when the Producer is in the doghouse. Then it's easy.

Samaya the housekeeper loves the Carpetdogs. She earned their slavish devotion by feeding them homemade blinis and varenkies until they burst. She said Mo is smarter than her grandchild. She wasn't that great of a cleaning lady, but she was nice to have around.

john taxi driver
Javanjir, or John as he insisted we call him, lived in our courtyard and drove us in his battered Zhighuli all over town. Like most of Baku's taxi drivers, he is not a driver by trade; he was some kind of metallurgist and ran steel factories in Ukraine during Soviet times. He's got a lot of ideas for boosting Azerbaijan's industrial output and is always trying to get people to listen to him. Since he's an ordinary guy from Sheki who drives a Zhighuli and reads opposition newspapers, he shouldn't quit his day job.

fruit and veg guy
This guy and his wife sold several-day-old fruits and veggies at inflated prices to me from right outside our apartment building. One of several people whose standard of living took a hit when we moved, he was always supportive of my feeble attempts to speak Azeri.

merd petrol
Truth in Advertising


From the Department of Dictatorial Backslapping

There's a special club for dictators who get 70%+ of the vote. They gotta stick together. Maybe Ilham can give Alex a few tips on how to crush peaceful protests with water cannons and dogs and stay friends with the west. Maybe find some oil under Polatsk?

On a different, but related topic: If Lukashenka is Europe's last dictator, where does that leave Ilham? Not a dictator or not in Europe? Discuss.

Friday, March 24, 2006


If you'd like to see some phenomenal photos

from Turkmenistan (and other parts of Central Asia), check out photographer Chris Herwig's site. Chris travelled through Turkmenistan with us this time last year and Registan reminded me to check in at his site. I was totally blown away. I am appalled and embarrassed to admit I was on the same trip, based on the photographs. Of course, he didn't take the vomitorium back to Baku.

If you want to see a picture of Carpetblogger, check out the burning crater.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Just Can't Get Enough

Carpetblogger's return to Baku to liberate the Producer and the Carpetdogs failed. However, since liberation was not the trip's only agenda, it wasn't a complete failure. There was a lot of swine (since beef is rarely an option, all forms of lamb/mutton/haggid absolutely off the table and the poultry population decimated by "starvation," what choice did we have?), twice as much wine and more than a little whine.

A few things became abundantly clear as soon as the smell of assfat mutton and clothing infrequently washed in cold water hit me while standing in line at passport control:

1). Nothing has changed in two months
2). I remember EXACTLY why I wanted out so badly
3). Baku is lot more fun when you're not working

Carpetdogs Admire Dom Soviet


Car Bombs at Finnegans

Baku has every kind of bar, as long as it's English, Scottish or Irish. Finnegans, arguably Baku's most popular bar, falls firmly into the latter category. I don't think it's one of these pre-fab Irish bars in a box, though it might be and serves the same purpose. The gold standard for local watering holes, it's probably the first place you go when you come to town and the last place you hit before wheels up. Many an evening begins and/or ends in its yellow-walled womb of smoke and Guinness.

Its clientele is unique Bakuvian: balding, middle aged, middle management suck-ups, snaggle-toothed rig monkeys and the women who love them for money. Personally, I don't care for the place because of the smokey haze, that men outnumber women 10 to 1 and whores outnumber non-whores by 10 to 1. These characteristics hardly distinguish Finnegans from every other bar in town, however. If smoke and whores bother you that much, you might as well stay home and swing.

Besides the excellent hamburgers and wonderfully competent waitstaff, St. Patrick's Day is by far the best excuse to wade through the masses of corporate logo'ed polo shirts and bad tattoos for the best drink in town.

before car bombs
Before Car Bombs

The place seemed oddly empty for any Friday, not to mention St. Paddy's day, but some (probably British, spit) company held a Ball with an open bar to celebrate the holiday which drew many barflies elsewhere. The last few years, we've sent sentries to stake out table space in the early afternoon and reinforcements by mid-afternoon to replace their fallen comrades. But this year, four foreign girls had no trouble sliding into a table at 8 pm. The thin crowd also made liquor delivery that much more efficient.

We came for the Car Bombs.

I doubt Finnegans invented the Car Bomb, but that's the first place I ever tried one and you always remember your first. It's quite a simple concoction -- a shot of Baileys Irish Cream dropped into a pint of Guinness, which is then slammed. No one believes this but it's true: it tastes like Dr. Pepper.

Car Bombs go down so smoothly and so quickly, that before you know it, those gold chains and wranglers on the guy sitting next to you start looking attractive.

After Car Bombs
After Car Bombs


Attention Numismatists!

The new YAM coins are being recalled, so you're gonna want to get one for your collections.

The reason: No dates on them.

Do you think I make this shit up? 'Cause I don't.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The Forest and the Trees

It's been a while since we've checked in on the battle between Donald Trump and Turkmenbashi for world domination, but I think we have to put another win in the 'Bashi's column.

Trump has never come up with an idea so grand, so visionary as foresting the desert. Really, trees are the only thing that missing from Turkmenistan. Trust the 'Bashi to implement a plan to rectify the situation.

Thanks to Registan for the RFE/RL link.

Yangykala Canyon would be vastly improved with the addition of a few cedars, don't you think?

Sunday, March 12, 2006


A Carpetblogger Kyiv Nightlife Quiz

So you find yourself playing a gig at Art Club 44, one of Kyiv's hipper joints in which the oligarichal influence is minimal. Hailing from Seattle, you play grunge/punk accordian while channeling Tom Waites, frequently while wearing a mask and shaking a plastic bottle full of dirt. The thonged Natashas at the front of the stage writhe and remove layers of clothing, until the nuances your original lyrics exceed their English capabilities and they lose interest.

You attended which of the following liberal arts academies:

a). Reed College

b). Evergreen College

c). BCC



Carpetblogger and Bush Agree!

It turns out that Carpetblogger and President Bush have more in common than just a desire to see democracy flower in countries with oil! We both love carpets. Thanks to SF friend and reader Gina for the link.

"And then there's the rug. Don't forget the rug. President Bush never does.

For whatever reason, Bush seems fixated on his rug. Virtually all visitors to the Oval Office find him regaling them about how it was chosen and what it represents. Turns out, he always says, the first decision any president makes is what carpet he wants in his office. As a take-charge leader, he then explains, he of course made a command decision: He delegated the decision to Laura Bush, who chose a yellow sunbeam design.

Elizabeth Vargas, the ABC News anchor, was the latest to get the treatment. She went by last week to interview Bush before his trip to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Sure enough, she wasn't in the room but a minute or two before he started telling her about the carpet.

"You know an interesting story about the rug?" he asked. "Laura designed the rug."

"She did?" Vargas said.

"Yeah, she did. Presidents are able to pick their own rugs or design their own rugs."

Bush went on: "The interesting thing about this rug and why I like it in here is 'cause I told Laura one thing. I said, 'Look, I can't pick the
colors and all that. But make it say 'optimistic person.' "

Carpetblogger likes to think that her rugs say something about her, too. Probably, "someone who likes carpets and has better taste than Laura Bush."


Spin the Ukraine Wheel

This week's destination? Vinnitsa, a regional city in the South Central part of the country. It's place so dull and gray the photos aren't worth the bandwidth it would take to post them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


The March Toward Europe Is Long and Slow

The Clever Minx, who apparently has increasingly limited social options, was watching Lider TV (Baku's favorite all-President, all-the-time TV station) the other night and sent an update on the government's efforts to reassure the public that they've got this whole bird flu thing completely under control.

The report she saw showed guys in full protection suits throwing chickens into a pit and then setting them afire. Only problem was the chickens weren't actually dead! Flaming chickens flew from the pit, shrieking "we're not dead yet!" resisting all efforts to corral them.

This might be my favorite story since the Hash guys were arrested near the reservoir with white powder and accused of terrorism.

Relax Stonepay. Everything is under control.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


My First Closed City!

I visited my first closed city! As home to the Uzhmash missile factory, Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine was so important to the Soviets that they closed it to foreigners. Today, not only is it the money laundering capital of Ukriane, it's a proud mine of Sovietica without irony or sentimentality.

long cold walk
Long cold walk in DNP

Dnipropetrovsk's history museum is a rare breed -- apparently well-funded, well-curated and well-lit. It has a phenomenal interwar Soviet exhibit, with lots of Ukraine-specific propaganda that exalted the peasants while at the same time "encouraging" them to move to the cities to work in the factories. The World War II era displays are remarkable as well. It also has an exhibit "it won't happen again" that displays the pictures and personal effects of local victims of Stalin's gulags. The ladies in charge are eager to talk about it all with you. Unfortunately, they don't speak English and none of the displays are in English. It helps a lot to go with a Ukrainian speaker.

DNP history museum posters
Propoganda posters in DNP history museum

I almost didn't even bother to go into the museum, but I was attracted by the display of Pani Yushenka's personal collection of flatweaves from Western Ukraine. Count on Carpetblogger to locate the textiles! Maybe she will loan them to me after the DNP history museum is done with them.

Flatweave from Zhitomir in Western Ukraine

ICBMs made Dnipropetrovsk what it is today and if you ask really nicely it's possible to tour a small museum of models of the satellites, missiles and launch vehicles with an actual rocket scientist who worked to build them all! It's more of an exhibit that encourages students to study physics and engineering than a museum; all of the displays are replicas. But Viktor, the director, can barely contain his glee when he points out to someone who was traumatized from watching "The Day After" in 8th Grade the missile "that could hit you anywhere in America!" He himself worked to build all those SS-7s and Zenits and Cosmos and his blue eyes sparked with pride. It's hard to think of anything cooler than this and I highly recommend it. The Uzhmash factory also is noted for launching the political career of sort a dud -- its one-time chairman, former President Leonid Kuchma.

Viktor the Rocket Scientist

I heard a rumor that there's a display of the real thing at the factory, but the cold war isn't so far over that citizens of the great satan can just stop by and have a look. Next time....

There's not much to recommend the Academy Hotel in the center of town, except the amazing display of Soviet Realist paintings in its hallways. The owner is a collector and doesn't mind if you drop into the lobby to have a look. Some are better than others, but the painting of Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova (first people in space) absolutely rocked, as did the one of Uncle Lenin leading little children on a walk through the woods. There were also several that exalted the Ukrainian peasant (at least when they weren't starving), which is an interesting propoganda theme from the period that I never saw that in the Caucasus.

yuri gagarin
Painting of Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova

uncle lenin
Uncle Lenin

Anyway, I ended up enjoying DNP much more than I expected. The trip was totally worth it and I'd go back.


Fun with Campaign Signs

The Parliamentary election in Ukraine is the 26th and you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a kid standing on a street corner waving a flag in the snow or a middle-aged lady sitting in a tent lazily handing out campaign lit.

party of regions

These sort of stunts are a heck of a lot easier than actually going out to talk to voters.

Anyway, there is some interesting stuff out there and I've documented it below

My favorite signs (certainly not my preferred bloc...) are from the Lytvyn crowd. Some of it is a big arcane and clever by half, but in these, their message is clear: Restore Stability

restore stability
Shevchenko (not Lenin, as I originally thought!)

restore stability 2
Ukrainian Parliament

My favorite campaign techniques are 1). draw a clear contrast with your opponents and 2). take advantage of voters' ignorance. The "Ne Tak" block ("Not Yes") hits both targets straight on.

Ne Tak

"Ne Tak" says: No to NATO. Yes to Economic Integration with Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan (heck, I would have thrown Azerbaijan in there for good measure, but then again, it might be too European). And wraps it all up with Yes to Russian Language. No mistaking where those guys stand. Some clever monkey has taken issue with these positions and posted responses in Ukrainian. Will have to find out what the graffiti says.


Peaceful Coexistence

It's election time and I am collecting photos of my favorite campaign signs to post soon, but this is my favorite so far. It's in Dnipropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine, where democracy thrives under the watchful eye of capitalism and communism.

Peaceful coexistence

Monday, February 27, 2006


More Lviv

I'm not a big goer-into-churches or mosques or temples unless they are truly extraordinary. Religious art is the most limited art form, IMHO, and gets boring pretty quickly. I usually want to see something really unusual. Lviv actually has some pretty nice churches -- Catholic, Armenian and Orthodox, all in a very compact area.

armenian church
The gloom of the Armenian chapel was pierced by this shaft of sunlight.

boyim chapel dome
This is the dome of the Boyim Chapel, the tomb belonging to a Hungarian noble family. Each of the 36 sconces holds a Catholic saint. This chapel is most noted for the seated Jesus on its roof, a skull at his feet. I didn't get a photo though.

accordian guy, lviv
I wonder if this is the same accordianist from Uzhgorad.


Faces of Lviv

I think Lviv, with its baroque and neo-renaissance architecture and fine bakeries, is the nicest Ukrainian city. Of course, I have some Polish friends who cringe when those two words are used next to each other. Control of Lviv seesawed among Poles, Turks, Austro-Hungarians and Germans, and the Poles are still more than a little bitter over losing the city in 1944 to the Russians.

It's easy to get the impression in Lviv that you're being watched.



lviv lions
Lions on the Boyim Chapel, a tomb of a Hungarian noble family


wheel guy
Wheel guy

boobs 1

boyim chapel
Boyim Chapel

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Happy Red Army Day!

Thursday was Red Army Day, a holiday that is still acknowledged in Ukraine. The Ukies in my office organized a rather elaborate lunch to celebrate, with red wine, champagne, pizza, red caviar on toast, fruit and boxed candy.

Admittedly, I found this a little hard to swallow. As I understood it, the Red Army was like the boorish uncle who showed up late to the party emptyhanded, drank all the liquor and kicked the dog. Why acknowledge it with toasts and a two-hour long lunch?

Turns out that while it’s still called Red Army Day, it has been transformed into the equivalent of the much-beloved International Women’s Day on March 8th, only for men, even if they never got anywhere near a tank or a gun.

International Women’s Day is a HUGE deal in the former Soviet Union. In fact, I remember the traffic in Baku on that day at its worst, with Ladas and Hummers alike double and triple parked in front of perfume shops and flower stores. A man gets a free pass to behave boorishly 364 days a year as long as he congratulates every woman in his life – from teachers and bosses to his mother, wives, daughters and all his mistresses -- on March 8th. In fact, in Baku, you could tell it was International Women’s Day because the restaurants were filled with nervous, dolled up housewives, strained conversations and men exchanging sympathetic glances with each other, eager to exchange wives for whores.

Personally, I find there are simply not enough opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of men. So let’s raise a glass of Armenian cognac at lunch on Red Army Day to all the men in our lives who find the time to protect the Fatherland AND all of us weak women.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Controversy in Baku

So the Financial Times' FDI magazine recently published a fantasmagorical article proclaiming Baku as a "2006/2007 European City of the Future." The panel decreed:


Winner: Baku, Azerbaijan
Runner up: Rivne City, Ukraine

With an estimated GDP of more than 12.6bn for 2005 and an economy growing at more than 10% a year, Baku is emerging as an important economic powerhouse for the Western Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. The Azerbaijan government estimates that more than €4bn in FDI flowed into the city in 2005.

IT and communications are still catching up with EU standards, but more than one in four people have access to the internet, and data connection speeds of up to 500 megabits a second are available. Modern housing is available close to shopping areas where familiar outlets such as Polo, Benetton and McDonald’s have opened.

It's hard to know if this was written by a European who has never been to Azerbaijan, or an Azeri who has never been to Europe. People who have been to both Europe and Baku take issue with this assessment, particularly the acid-tongued Breed:

"With an economy based on oil and corruption, it's difficult to see how the FT figured this one. While the Azeris rich enough to have bought their government positions can estimate whatever they like, if more than €4bn foreign direct investment flowed into the city in 2005, one wonders how much ended up outside the personal control of the folks estimating FDI (perhaps that's how they know - just checking their savings passbooks). Lots of pretty buildings (if your sense of aesthetics is in your ass), but driving between any point A and any point B will reveal the decrepit state of the infrastructure.

"'IT and communications are still catching up with EU standards' is one of the grimmest pieces of understatement I have ever heard. Ever. The only reason the average Ramiz has access to the internet is (a) internet cafes and (b) the prodigious labor of international NGOs, e.g. through IATP et al.

"Does anyone reading this in Baku have data connection speeds of up to 500 megabits a second?

"In my country - which is, admittedly, not Europe - we have gas and power 24/7. This is what we call "modern housing." Is there another standard of which I am unaware?

"However, I note that neither respect for human rights, the rule of law, nor issues of transparency are mentioned, but that good shopping is a desirable quality. Perhaps Baku is becoming the American city of the future? One can only hope."

Indeed, Baku has taken a huge step toward becoming an American city of the future. Look at all the stolen elections. And it already has two McDonald's!

I think the panel needs to seriously re-examine the model against which these cities are being judged.

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