Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eurovision finals

It is the most watched non-sport event in the world, with over 150 million viewers.  Azerbaijan went all out as host of the annual song contest this year.

42 countries participated, minus Armenia which pulled out in fear for its participants’ safety, or perhaps, as the NY Times reported, because they would rather pay a fine (for not appearing) than to step foot on enemy soil. (

The vast majority of songs were in English (shocking Mon dieu! to see that the French entry’s song title was in English but phew it was sung in French). Your author really liked the Estonian, who sang, presumably, in Estonian.

It began at midnight, timed more conveniently for London (8 pm) and central European time (9). T and I went out after 11 pm to walk along the Bulvar and catch the vibe.

Lots of people were out--a party atmosphere. The short funicular railway up a hillside just down the street from us, closed since we arrived last August, had been rebuilt and opened for business in time for the event. A line of people waited to ride.

The Crystal Palace, built at great monetary and social cost for the occasion, lit up with the colors of the flag of each nations’ act. Sorry our photos did not catch the Palace, but below is a shot of the new funicular building with the three new "flame towers" behind. A video runs on the towers, showing a person waving an Azerbaijani flag and then flames, a national symbol.

Eurovision is known for its flamboyant acts. This year did not disappoint--lots of kitsch and weirdness: The Romanians had a moon-walking bagpiper with white rimmed glasses,  the Dutch singer sported a full Indian (native American) feather headdress,  the Danes a women’s band with token males who play cello and a small xylophone. Ukraine has men in dresses and white go-go boots, and the hit Russian "Grannies", round and smiling Siberian babushka women in headscarves, average age 75, moving to a pop number.

We watched some from a giant screen on the seaside Bulvar, the rest on a Russian TV channel at home. Fans worldwide voted by SMS for a short time (half an hour?)--we couldn't find a local TV station to find the correct number to vote or I would have...  People cannot vote for their own country, but many seem to vote for neighboring countries. Representatives from each country then beam in, giving their country's votes for first, second and third: "Good evening! Belgrade calling" and a screen quickly updates the tally (how did they do this before computers??).  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

M? M? No, M.

When our planned trip to Iran (what? where?!, you may say) was cancelled (hearing your relief, perhaps) we looked into the Maldives--expensive, not much variety of things to do, then Mauritius--less expensive but winter there now and still not lots to do, before settling on Madagascar. Tom loves lemurs.

Iran seems a beautiful country indeed, with a rich history and people whom we hear are amazingly welcoming and lovely despite the enmity between our lands.  Our decision to join a tour there was a bit rash--we were invited by a friend and it sounded like a wonderful opportunity. Even got as far as having visa photos taken--me in a borrowed full head scarf. But the trip was canceled when only the three of us had signed up.

Having already committed the funds for travel, and not planning to visit the US this Summer (which your writer is a wee bit sad about), we decided to go for another adventure.  Now madly searching for travel info and hotels.

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Random street photo

  • In the metro: USAID-sponsored poster advising people to cover their mouth when coughing
  • New rogue bus trick:  up on the sidewalk for about 80 feet to avoid traffic
  • Saw my first police woman today. Wearing heels, albeit only about 2"
  • In the Didn't Think it was Possible Department: young lady on the bus, wearing full 3" platform high heels, the spikes of which approached 6".  Hope she makes it.
  • This is buried at the bottom of a list on purpose. How much will really get done in time for E-r-v-s-o-? We noticed that the army has been deployed in a couple of spots in the construction blitz. OMG--will the new carpet museum on the main sea-front road, less than a mile from the brand spankin' new festivities site, be ready?? It still lacks a portion of its outside panelling and looks completely unfinished inside. Needless to say no priceless carpets installed yet. It should be a major tourist draw.  Less than two weeks before people start arriving. Will heads roll???
  • Direction signs are popping up all over town, to hotels and tourist sites. A nice touch.