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Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Why I Think I Might Apply For Asylum

As I sat on Jenn's comfortable SF couch this morning, drinking coffee and using fast wireless, I got this email from the Producer, who drove the Neva up to Guba today with some visiting friends:

No oil in Car. Oil indicator does not work.
Get stopped for speeding. I actually was.
Flat Tire. No wrench in car to get tire off. Break guy's borrowed
wrench, buy new one for him.
Get pulled over by another cop. Our driving permission does not have necessary stamp. Goes to impound car. Paid the money and now I'm pissed.

Called Afa. No water in mornings, broken toilet, garage door will not shut.

I really do not think much more could happen to me today.

This email raises a lot more questions than it answers, but since I'm 10,000 miles and 12 hours time difference away, I'm merely a spectator, just like you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Please Stand By

Carpetblogger is on a work-release program in the US. Unless you're interested in hearing about how great it is to sit in Starbucks, drink coffee and use fast internet, there's not much to report.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Congressional Smackdown

Blue-eyed anti-war rogue and former Labour MP George Gallaway is testifying in front of Congress about accusations of his involvement in the oil for food program right now. BBC, god bless them, is carrying it live.

I'm not a big fan of congresisonal testimonies, but this guy has Carl Levin and dumb-ass Norm Colman with their tails between their legs. "I was right and you were wrong." "This is the mother of all smoke screens." Would that all congressional hearings were so spicy. I'm sure it will be covered on page A14 on Friday before Memorial Day.

This guy is en fuego.

I worship at the altar of the Rude Pundit

Monday, May 16, 2005


Getting a little crabby

Our water isn't working. It's taken an inexplicable week to fix the office email system. Half the lightbulbs in the house are burnt out and cannot, for reasons I can't begin to understand, be replaced without calling the master.

It might be a good time for go home for a visit. How convenient that I am leaving on Saturday for my first trip west in 11 months.

Target, here I come.


An interesting experiment

Yesterday morning, we were a wee bit early for a brunch that ended up lasting until 10 pm, so the Producer made his first attempt to navigate the Neva through Baku traffic. We've got some friends coming to visit (first ones! But they've been here before. They almost don't count) and the Producer has to be competent behind the wheel since I'll be in the States.

After doing donuts in the empty concrete plain of Freedom Square, he pulled into traffic. We had not gone a half block before he got pulled over by the cops.

The traffic police have these brand new slick VW sedans and I swear there is one on every street corner. I don't know what they're for, since traffic laws are completely arbitrary. Just 10 minutes before we'd seen a black mercedes run a red right right in front of a carful of cops. When they want you to stop, they don't turn on sirens or lights. They yell at you through loudspeakers.

Of course, The Producer had done nothing wrong. He'd barely even shifted into second gear.

So, we did the old, "Salaam Alekium. Nope. Sorry. Don't speak Russian. Don't speak Azeri. Take these documents. Smile." He had no choice but to wave us on. Cops pick easy targets for bribes and the secret is to be neither in a hurry nor be combative.

During the last three months I have driven this Neva halfway across this country without once getting pulled over. The secret to keeping the fuzz out of your hair may be letting the girl drive.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Excursion to Lahic

We made a second trip to Lahic this weekend to see what's going on. Since it's a tiny village of stone houses in the mountains up near the Dagestani border, the answer was, as we expected, "not much." But it's a charming place and it was a beautiful drive (by Azerbaijan standards). The fields are green and wildflowers in bloom.

Lahic is known for its coppermakers, old mosque and unique Caucasian culture. We sat in a tea garden playing the game of "we could live here if...." We also wondered just how much this place had changed in the last decade since the end of the Soviet Union. We decided that the street scenes in front of us probably didn't look that different than scenes from the 70's or 80's. Maybe even farther back than that.

lahic may 14 (11)
I think these old men were sitting there last time we visited

lahic may 14 (6)
Residents get their water from spigots like this.

lahic may 14 (7)
Old Volga

Sunday, May 08, 2005


How Throw a Party in Baku

Because the British-pub oriented social life here tends to get monotonous, people like to entertain at home -- dinner parties, barbeques and fraternity-style ragers. We have Sunday dinner almost every weekend, and since we have a large, if inconveniently located, apartment we often offer to host the larger events.

Unfortunately, the most extravagant parties are held in honor of someone leaving. One of the things they don't tell you at ex-pat school is that you have a revolving door of friends. People usually only stay around for a year or so before heading home or to some other garden spot. Our social circle has taken very some hard hits recently so there have been a lot of big parties.

One our friends, who's been here for 3 years, is leaving next week for Afghanistan, so we held the event at our house. The pool was used. The kitchen, now with terminally sticky floors, was the dancehall. The Producer forcibly removed people at 4 am. This is normal. The cops didn't come this time, though.

Here's what you have to do to prepare for a rager.

1. Fill the pool. Even though it takes 12 hours or more to fill our pool and probably depletes the whole neighborhood's water supply (I don't feel as bad about this as you might think), you need to fill the pool in our basement in the event someone wants to go in it. Warm up the sauna, too.


2. Make ice, and tell everyone you know to make ice and bring it. If you forget to make ice, you've got problems. You can't buy it (do Azeris not have the recipe?) and it's not like you can whip some up at the last minute. Believe me, people complain when you don't have ice.

3. Think of a theme. This isn't as hard as you think. The theme can correspond to or be completely tangential to actual events, a product of wishful thinking or simply a special concoction of liquor. Regardless, parties are best recalled when you can say something like "yeah, that happened at the party where we gargled Cointreau and set the couch on fire." Since the Kentucky Derby was Saturday we prepared mint Juleps with fake bourbon. They were dreadful.

3. Get in the Neva and start driving around town. Big surprise, we don't have Costco. The acquisition of alcohol is much easier now that we have the Neva. Indeed, the Neva is making itself worth the purchase price since we can now go to the wholesale liquor stores to load up and not have to carry it home like mules.

Dead soldiers

4. If you invite Azeris, be ready on time. If the invitation says 8 pm, Azeris will be there at 8 pm, not 8:01. This might be one of the most difficult cultural barriers to overcome. After this long, we've actually found ourselves showing up to parties at the appointed time.

5. Don't forget juice. As hard as it is to remember this, some people don't drink. We do still invite them, despite this handicap.

6. Lock everything down. This doesn't just mean the valuable stuff. The Producer's cologne, a backpack and my cell phone were stolen at Saturday's event.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Support your Local Master

One of my most favorite concepts in Azerbaijan is the "Master." Master is a catch-all term for guys who fix things. There is a specific master for every system in your house (plumbing, electrical, stove, TV, water heater, satellite, etc) and everything you own that might break, rip or be ruined by a power surge.

A couple of things appeal to me about this.

First of all, I like the idea that if things stop working, you get them fixed instead of throwing them out. This only works in a place where consumer products are expensive and labor is cheap. Do you know how many times I've sent a set of speakers to the Speaker Master after they've been blown by power surges? Countless.

Masters also restrain frivolous consumer impulses. In the old days, when the TV stopped working, the Producer would say, "time to buy a bigger one!" but now, we call the TV Master.

Second, I like to say, "call the Master!" It implies that there is someone who has the skills to solve my problems, that there's someone who can restore order to a chaotic and unpredictable world.

This is not always the case with Masters. In fact, I think back about the goofball water heater masters who spent hours in my bathroom "fixing" the water heater. They left a swath of destruction and the water heater still didn't work. Most of the time Masters are old guys who stand around smoking a lot of cigarettes and who disappear for long periods because they "have to go to the bazaar to find a part." And, come to think of it, Masters tend to show up when they want to, so they don't contribute all that much to stability and predictability in a chaotic world.

Overall, though, Masters are good to have around.

Monday, May 02, 2005



Carpetblogger has been recently taken to task for being insufficiently respectful of Ultimate Frisbee.

Indeed, Carpetblogger has been on the receiving end of a drunken diatribe from the team's hotshot flack for failing to acknowledge how Ultimate Frisbee promotes American values such as teamwork, camaraderie and world domination.

Carpetblogger officially apologizes and promises to use her power for good, rather than evil. Note to hotshot flack: good press comes at a price.

Here's some UF news:
Baku's team was recently re-christened, and not a minute too soon. Besides possibly being the worst team name ever conceived, the "Nodding Donkeys" apparently sent the wrong message in a country where no farm animal is safe in spring time. Carpetblogger fully supports the new name: "the Evil Eyes." They have had the ubitquitous blue and white eye printed on to their regulation-sized frisbees and blue uniforms.

After an intense recruiting campaign, the squad can now field four teams. Impressively, one of those teams is all Azeri women.

The team is going to Moscow to play this weekend. Huzzah! Kick some commie ass! (Don't worry. Patches is staying in Baku).

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