that Carpetblogger is light on substance and heavy on irresponsible froth, particularly when there's so much happening in this part of the world.
You're asbolutely right. You want substance? You'll have to seek it elsewhere.
When you're finished reading here about the Producer's tour of hospitals and police stations of the former Soviet Union or the latest advances in cherry stacking techniques at the bazaar near our house, check out either of these excellent blogs on central asia and beyond Registan and Coming Anarchy
Despite having all his new clothes stolen off our balcony Saturday morning while he was out playing Frisbee, the Producer managed to join me for a trip to the bazaar Sunday morning.
I hadn't been to the bazaar since before I left for the States. In the meantime, it's clear that the bounty of the earth has been released, in the form of cherries.
Having spent a bit of my youth in Yakima, Washington, I thought I knew from cherries -- bings, Raniers, maybe another "heirloom" strain here or there. I also thought that cherries were generally sold from wood-slat boxes lined with old newspapers.
The cherry growers of Washington could learn a little something about cherries from the Azeris. Every vendor in our bazaar offers at least 6 or 7 different kinds, ranging from incredibly sour to sugar-sweet, in every size and color. Some cost about 30 cents a kilo (two pounds). The more expensive ones reach a dollar a kilo.
Trying all the different kinds is even more fun than salsa tasting day at New Seasons on a Saturday morning, mostly because there's no double dipping to worry about.
Not only that, the Azeris are way ahead in the marketing department. Their cherries are meticulously pyramided in clear plastic bowls. Since the average Azeri makes even less than then average newly arrived Oaxacan, this gravity-defying marketing gimmick is pretty cost effective.
Unfotunately, all this sweet agricultural goodness could not salve the sour attitude of someone who had recently been mugged while participating in a wholesome, family-oriented sport, then had all his laundry stolen from his very own balcony while out participating in the same wholesome, family-oriented sport.
In the last six months, three people I know have died violent deaths in Baku, -- two of which were in traffic accidents. The other was a murder, but you can read more about that on other sites. This means that I have been to a lot of funerals.
In Islam, mourning is a drawn-out process. If you're interested in reading about funeral ceremonies in the 24 hours after a death, I wrote about it back in January. The 7-day, 40-day and one-year anniversaries of the death are marked with prayers with friends and family. The recently-deceased are also remembered on Thursdays.
I used to look skeptically at my staff when they asked for time off to go to a funeral. No longer. Going to funerals in Baku could take up all your time, especially if you know a lot of people who ride in cars.
Funerals are often held in big tents that are set up in the middle of the street. Inside, mourners sit at long tables, while the Mullah and the victim's family sit at a head table, like at a wedding. The only evidence of the dead person is his or her picture hanging on the wall. Almost always, these tents are open only to men, but one funeral I attended was for someone who led a more progressive lifestyle, so there was tent time for men and for women.
Tea is served, as is special funeral plov with chicken, dried apricots and raisins (plov a greasy rice and meat dish that is served throughout Central Asia with hundreds of variations). The Mullah recites prayers from the Koran and people cry. No one talks.
Sick minds here often speculate about the number of "collateral funeral deaths" which are caused when a typically maniacal Baku driver on his way to a critical backgammon game at the chaikhana (tea house)flies around a corner at a high speed, maybe going backwards, and plows into one of these 40 foot long tents filled with mourners.
After the first funeral, I was hoping that I would get invited to a wedding before I had to go to another.
No such luck.
My office manager's husband was killed in a car accident while I was in the States. He was Turkish and left behind a 24-year-old widow and a 2 year old son. She had never met his family, but flew to Turkey with his body for the first funeral and burial.
I went over to her house on Thursday with the other women in my office for a funeral meal. It was just the three of us, her mother and sister, and a mullah. Instead of a tent, it took place in their tiny living room in a Soviet-era high rise apartment block in Baku's sprawling, anonymous suburbs.
Since this was a funeral for women, the Mullah was a woman. I had never met such a person before.
She wore a headscarf and a high-necked dress and had gold teeth, but that didn't really distinguish her from many other Azeri women. After some chitchat that my beginner's Azeri couldn't keep up with, she moved into 30 minutes of reading from the Koran in a wailing chant.
I assumed that I was the only one who didn't understand the prayer, but since it was in Arabic, it was just as foreign to the gals on my staff. One lamented that she wished she knew the words but given that she grew up under the Soviets, she never learned them as a child. It's like never learning the Our Father or Nicene Creed.
After the Mullah finished, the mourning meal was served. Once bread is placed on the table you can't leave, so I settled in for a lengthy meal, afternoon meetings be damned. Anyway, it was much more interesting to chat with the Mullah.
The Mullah grew up in Masalli, which is a town in Azerbaijan's conservative south, closer to the Iranian border. Although she never attended a Madrassah (Islamic school) her father forced her and her siblings to learn the Koran. She resented it, until her own husband died and she began reading the Koran at funerals to support her children. I couldn't tell how old she was. Azeri women age very quickly but I guessed she was probably in her late 30's.
When she mentioned that all Azeris should know the words to the prayer, my friends looked the floor.
Another one of my young staffers plans to get married in September. Azeri weddings are the holy grail for expats because they are so extravagant. I hope that I get to go to that before another funeral. My track record suggests otherwise.
So now that we've taken down the "Save the Producer" website and he's finally back in town with some fine coffee-colored bruises and a temporary passport, we can praise the team's fifth place finish. They also received the "spirit award."
I'd like to be able award them the "getting there and back with all of their members in one piece and accounted for at all times" award, but unfortunately, they were ineligible this trip.
Today is a holiday in Azerbaijan, Day of National Salvation. It is the day, in 1993, former President Heydar Aliyev returned from exile in the enclave of Naxchivan to save the country from chaos.
We will now return to our regularly scheduled castrated programming.
Just got word from Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. The Producer was mugged last night on his way home from a bar. Everything was stolen -- camera, credit cards etc. He's not hurt badly, though he was literally jumped by five guys and knocked around a bit. I guess it's easy to forget that not everywhere is as safe at 2 am as Baku.
If his passport hadn't been stolen, I think it would be time to revoke it, at least for Frisbee trips to Russia. The team came in fifth, though, a vast improvement over second-to-last in the last tournament.
The Producer is in Moscow this weekend playing frisbee. No reports so far of broken bones, although I am usually among the last to hear about these things.
I'm a little jealous. We haven't been back to Moscow since we were there in August, 1991, during the first coup against Gorbachev -- the most significant in a decade-long+ chain of events that resulted in us being here. When we were there, the shop shelves were empty and people lined up around Pushkin Park to eat at the recently- opened McDonalds. I can only imagine how it's changed.
He took the camera, so maybe I'll post some action shots when he gets home.
The Producer had no problem finding me a birthday present this year. My dealer knows what I like well enough that the Producer can shop with confidence.
This carpet is quite different than all my others. It's a traditional Azeri pattern (Guba or Gazakh -- have to check) and has a very thick pile. It's very soft and nice to walk, or lie, on. It's not new but not old either. It's in very good condition.
As if our sporadic water supply wasn't a good enough reason to move, I'm running out of floor space.