Sunday, September 18, 2011

Growling and spitting progress

Bağişlayan! ϋzer isteyiram! Sizin necesiniz? Pis deyilam!
Azerbaijani language class is going pretty well. The teacher is very good, my accent's not horrible, and the book we use is very practical.  The only words we've had that are not much use to me are "oil man" and "driver" (with drills on "my driver"  and "where is your driver?").     I can say "my name is...", "Baku is a beautiful city" and "our apartment has a bad rug".

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alti Agac National Park outing

K went on a day trip arranged by the International Women’s Club to Alti Agac National Park, about 1 ½ hours' drive from Baku. Ladies from many countries—10-15 from Azerbaijan and 15-20 from Scotland, Denmark, Trinidad, New Zealand, the US and ??—piled onto a bus and headed north, along the coast. 
Ladies ready for a fun outing SANS MEN
Oil derricks in the distance, it was good to see a few new looking wind turbines (made in Denmark) along the way. (no photo) Otherwise the scenery looked like this:

Alti Agaci lies in the eastern part of the Greater Caucasus and is one of 8 national parks in the country. There are also 22 nature reserves—parks being new since independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. We had the good fortune to travel with a lady, now retired, who formerly served as chief ecologist of the country. We also had a guide hired for the trip. Both were wonderfully knowledgeable, though didn’t always agree—for example on species of trees in the park.

Alti Agaci means six beech trees. Way back when, distances were measured in 20 kilometer stretches, and a tree was planted at each 20 km mark (shows you how few trees there are—at least in some areas). The park is at 6 trees, or 120 km from Baku.

Poet's photo and arrest order

We stopped on the way at a memorial site to an Azeri poet and outspoken member of the Soviet resistance Mikayil Mashviq. He was arrested by the Soviets and killed, at age 30. His body was dumped in the Caspian Sea, so there is no grave, only this memorial museum. (photo of the obligatory statue is down below--can't move it for some reason)
fossilized sea creatures, from the Candy Cane Mountians

Another stop at the nearby so-called Candy Cane Mountains, with their distinctive layers of iron ore. We exited the bus to search for some kind of sea creature fossils, of which there were many pieces to be found—at least before each member of the large group had pocketed their fill…

The crew, several among them Haliburton wives

On to the park. As 8 of the 11 climate zones of Earth are found in Azerbaijan, it is not surprising that suddenly forests appear where only barren, windswept hills lie for miles around. The forest is lovely, with rather scrubby trees 10 – 20 feet in height. There are birch, oriental beech, and hornbeam trees, along with “many animals” –jackals, jehran (a type of gazelle), a few endangered leopards, many bears, and an overpopulation of wolves. The wolves are protected by the World Wildlife Fund (if I got that right), and are responsible for the rapidly decreasing population of jehran/gazelle.  A great scheme would be welcoming German hunters to come and pay big bucks to hunt the wolves, but that's far too un-PC  to happen.

The ecologist lady describes a very different forest in the south, along the Iranian border, that is unique in that it was not covered in ice during the Ice Age, because at that time the Caspian Sea was warm (if I have the story right). She led a team who drew up an application to UNESCO to have the forest declared a World Heritage site. The application was deferred, as the majority of the forest lies in Iran. 

The Park features a veterinary clinic and an animal rehabilitation center. We view a caged bear and are told that another had just been released "over that way" earlier that morning.
Some of the Azerbaijani ladies, one reportedly a university professor, feed sandwiches to the caged bear, over protests from the foreigners. Sigh.

Gotta wonder what happened here

resort where we had lunch--fab place for a swim!

view on way back

Friday, September 9, 2011

(Mostly) Gripes and Ganja

After a two week odyssey we got TV service. K had to sign a two page contract  in Azerbaijani. And she learned a new word, kohne, which means "worn-out"--the state of both the two TVs we have, the second one given after we complained about the first and asked for something "from this century." Unfortunately the replacement we got has only blue for color, and the sound comes and goes. Oh well. The main snafu re installation had to do with our location down the hill from the (er, one of?) the presidential palaces, which required the landlady being here to show her ID to allow access to the roof.  It took many phone calls and three trips of the TV technicians to sort that all out. But now we have BBC, CNN, a channel with some US dectective series, a BBC entertainment channel, and a couple of decent sports channels.

So, due to the TV odyssey K met the landlady, presumed decorator of our flat and player of the locked baby grand that takes up a significant piece of real estate in the living room. She spent several hours in the apartment with K, while the TV people did their thing and while she waited for her sister to bring us a small bookcase (so that, no doubt,  K would remove the books from the closed piano keyboard, where she had put them in defiance).  K thought it was a pleasant visit—the lady played the piano while her sister and K listened. And K thought sure she would leave it unlocked when they left, but no…  While here, she visited the bathroom and told K that she needed a maid, and suggested a person.  All in Russian with hand gestures but the message got through. Sigh—it does SO not feel like a home. K was even polite when landlady asked if she liked the gold table cloth. Now of course K wishes she had been honest and pointed out the holes in it, or not that, but waved her hand at all the locked storage and expressed annoyance, incredulity. Or just asked if she would please unlock the darn piano.


I started Azerbaijani class yesterday. I have a private teacher, in a language school used by BP execs. Classes are held a short bus ride away, down the coast, near BP’s aging (40s?) headquarters , up the hill from the world’s tallest flagpole (ah, but I heard that Kazakhstan just bult a taller one…).  The course is practical and well organized and the teacher engaging and patient.

Pronunciation challenges are aided by my previous attempts to learn some Arabic (e.g. “gh”, rolled). To Tom, of course my practice seems only more growling and spitting…

We had a great trip over Eid break to Gangja, Azerbaijan's second largest city--300,000 people.
Here is a photo of the window covering in the first class train compartment. And a tiny one of three of Tom K and one of our two fun traveling companions, Nicole.

The main square of Ganja.

Rasta colored park benches


Nicole, Andrea and Tom in front of section of old city wall--which is all that remains
Nice iron work

Fanciful fountain in front of tea house in a park

Here we are at the tea house, \(traditionally the purview of men only, but this one seemed welcoming)

House decorated with hundreds of bottles, as a memorial to a mssing relative

Bottle house detail


Costume in shop window--this is what you wear to your circumcision ceremony!!

On a minibus on our way to a village to explore.

View from Xanlar, a picturesque village not far from Ganja. Tom with two of his harem...

These are "buta" symbols. Famous here but T and I can't remember what they mean!

This is a photo we saw in a very modest hotel in Xanlar. It shows President Obama with an Azeri dignitary--the ambassador to the US perhaps?
Andrea and Nicole

Andrea pretending to appreciate Khash, delicacy of Ganja, made from unmentionable bits of some animal--there was actually a hoof floating in it!!  And yes, Tom ate it  (well, not the hoof). It did have lots of garlic.

We visited the mausoleum of Nizami, beloved Azeri poet and contemporary of Shakespeare.

Great park sculpture in town of Shamkir, about 40 km from Ganja

Aluminum work

The area is known for this craft