Experiencing Azerbaijan

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Location: Kansas, United States

Monday, January 24, 2011

Baku from the Boulevard: A windy night in January

To live by the sea. What a joy. Such a wonder. To walk five minutes and be beside the waves, splashing from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan, sharing with all the coastline, unknown peoples, all and each a part of the life of the water.

Tonight, the wind was up and the sea, from the Boulevard, was a thousand million waves, each one capped in white. Like a thousand million happy babies slapping water in a thousand million baths. Short, sharp waves that hit the retaining wall sending spray up and over the walk. I stood to listen. I closed my eyes and I heard each wave hit the wall, and felt the spray across my face. Each drop of the benthic mist carried the history of thousands of years, molecules of lives and ships from the bottom of the sea floor. An eternity in each drop and this great mist was upon my face.

The wind was stiff, pushing against me as I dreamed along the Boulevard. Seabirds could not light on the waves but they sailed along hoping for the chance to fish. Walkers and lovers moved against the wind, and the trees so gently bent toward the sea by warmer winds that sweep down from the peninsula onto the sea, were whipped back against the land tonight. I stopped under the trees to listen to their leaves brushed by the wind, leaves made crazy by the slapping and whoosh. New tree transplants, exotic and accustomed to hotter climates, were motionless in their protective plastic frames. “What are you trees doing here,” I asked. “Where is your sun?” Great blackened palm trees, short and stocky, all the way from Australia, or the Canary Islands, in formation, two lines, each boxed in plastic. Two fat baobao trees encased for their full twenty feet look out on pedestrians like watchers from house windows.

No vendors on the Boulevard tonight. If you need popcorn, you will have to go home and make it yourself. Cotton candy? Maybe tomorrow. Water or chocolate? Stored away for the night. The wind gusted and whipped. I pushed on and on but each step into the wind made me think of turning around. As I turned into the south walk, along the yacht basin, along the temporary ice skating rink, still not cold enough to freeze, and walked on toward the rusted heaps of discarded ships and seeing in the distance, the huge platform built for the world’s largest flag, I turned around. Enough.

To turn around, to have the wind forcing me along the smooth paving stones…step and slide, step and slide. I ran. I pulled my scarf off. I ran more, and took my coat off. There was little cold; there was only a great moist wind. There was one star. There were no low lying clouds.

I knew the ships were out there, over the horizon. No lights visible. But yesterday, the ships lined the horizon, dividing water and sky with their great hulking angles. All anchored into the wind like great metallic cows. Yesterday, nine ships, tankers, sat and waited. Three hours out by boat are the offshore oil rigs. Manned by workers from across the world, two weeks on, two weeks off. Or one month on and one month off. Men from other planets, it seems. Men who have been rooted then uprooted from Egypt or Louisiana or Brazil or Scotland. Strangers in a strange sea.

Landward, new construction. Flame Baku, or Baku Flame, grey glass towers that rise over thirty stories into the air. Every day, another row of glass panes are fixed to their anchors. In the fog of cool seaside evenings, in the haze of sunset, the top floors are obscured. Cranes swing around to the men, but the men are invisible. Shouts from heaven, might as well be. And the fog softens every line, every corner, and Baku becomes a fairy land. Behind, in the east, along the arm that reaches out, hooks and holds the sea to the bosom of the city, so to speak, is Xetai region. It is a hook with city dwellers, apartment buildings, houses and, thousands of windows that, from across the bay, unbelievably reflect the setting sun that peeks out from between the flame named buildings and the fire of the sun lights those thousands of windows setting the land alive with a red orange brilliance. It is captivating.

On the Boulevard. Lovers and loners, young and old, mothers and fathers, endless children, the fat and the skinny, the fur coated and the thinly jacketed. Poor and hungry, rich and overfed. The loud and the quiet. The aggressive and the shy, those born with a cell phone stuck to their ears, modest women arms linked with complacent men, bleached blondes with massive chests, tight jeans and pointed heels. Criminals. Toughs. “Stay out of my way” men. Self conscious gangs of boys, supporting and shaping each other into the future generation of husbands and fathers. Flocks of girls, smiling and trying not to glance at the boys but hoping, all the same, to be noticed. All these against the backdrop of an eternal sea, against a thousand million waves, capped with white.


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