Man, the people at the Moscow Airport were so rude this morning. The lady at the desk where I had to pay for baggage handling slapped my passport down on the counter like an angry blackjack dealer. So when I arrived at the hordes of people waiting at passport control, at least I could rest a little before my next unpleasant encounter. Instead, I met another intrepid voyager who, like myself, is a world traveling avid scuba diver and someone who also didn’t want to get mired in the humdrum everyday life.
After finishing my chocolate muffin, we started up a conversation that lasted through the passport line and an airport bar until we were both five minutes late for our boarding call. Inna was nervous about flying as she always is, but has never lets it get in the way of going where she pleases. About the only thing that causes me problems are overcrowded, chaotic countries. As it turns out, I know quite a bit about overcoming fear, and Inna has traveled to India a great deal and coped with the chaos and confusion it affords. In fact she was returning to Mumbai to assist in the Russian translation for a line of Ayruvedic Products.
Needless to say, I was impressed with a woman traveling solo in the roiling chaos that is India. Her experience with scuba was also something she toughed out since she was initially intimidated by the sport. The rewards were great and she totally gets the magic that diving affords, and it was so nice to share diving experiences with someone who understands it’s transcendent nature.
Originally from a small town in Russia, she had broken the shackles of her origins, and has traveled extensively throughout the world. I gave her the name of a classic book to help with the fear of flying, and her experiences with chaotic cultures have helped to diminish my fear of India. Hopefully the cure takes for both of us.
The airport can sometime be a drag, but occasionally you find the opportunity to put the time to good use.
INNA – A world travel aficionado gets a little liquid fortification before the flight. Amazing shades.
BAKU: THE OLD CITY – This top historic landmark is just a couple of blocks from my AirBnb which has made my lazy start here in Azerbaijan more productive than would have been possible in another location. Aside from taking the time to catch up on Russia’s blog posts, I am suffering from a flare-up of my PMSD (Post Moroccon Stress Disorder).
I have encountered a large quantity of Burkas, pushy shopkeepers, and a guy even demanded money for showing me where a palace was a couple of hundred meters away. It just seems as if I see that crescent and star, I’m going to be in for a bad time of it. Of course, the encounters were very mild in comparison to Morocco. I am just a little raw from that prior experience.
MAIDEN TOWER – 12th. century monument in the Old City and symbol of Baku.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL RUIN VISIBLE FROM BÖYÜK MANGAL RESTAURANT WHERE I GRABBED MY FIRST MEAL IN BAKU.
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE – As it turns out people here in Baku do not wear burkas, and are not so compelled to force the hijab on each other. Women from Baku wear colorful hijabs, not the black ones, and most wear no headscarf at all.
My nonreligious tour guide Sariyya educated me on the fact that the women in the burkas were from Saudi Arabia, and that much of the problematic interpretations of the Q’ran also find their origins in that country. In fact she informed, me that there are no directions in the Q’ran for the wearing of head coverings at all. It is all just an oppressive tool dreamed up by insecure men.
It is ironic that Trump’s travel ban omits Saudi Arabia which teaches some of the most venomous tracts that directly contributed to 9/11, and it is their twisted and virulent form of Islam that continues to wreak havoc on our planet. Lest we forget, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.
So, I think the real trick is to avoid the muslim countries that practice extreme forms of Islam which is unfortunately a lot of them. Even the less extreme ones are under threat from fundamentalists which was in evidence in Tunisia. Also there are upwards of 12 countries in the Islamic world which would deem it appropriate to execute me for my lack of belief in a deity.
It’s a good thing that I am not gay or they could conceivably sentence me to death twice in many of those locations. I’m not one to miss out on the myriad travel experiences the world has to offer, but I think I will be cutting a number of countries a wide berth in the future.
PALACE OF SHIRVANSHAHS – 15th. century palace built by the Shirvanshahs and described by Unesco as “One of the pearls of Azerbaijans architecture”.
BAKU – A contrast of modernity and antiquity.
Two of the three flame towers are visible in the distance. A city of contrasts. Old/New, Religious/Secular.
DIVANKHANA/TOMB OF SHAH – 15TH.CENTURY – One of the masterpieces of medieval architecture of Azerbaijan.
DAGGER – 19th. century
WATER JAR – 20th. century – Elegantly formed water jar used in the palace.
SALVER – 19th. century – Dish for serving and baking national sweets.
Headpiece – Necklace – Koran-Case Amulet – 19th. century
BATH SHOES – 20th. century
BRACELETS – NECKLACE-AMULET – 19th. century
TAQIYAH (CAP) – 20th. century – gold thread embroidery
AN AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR
SOME OF THE ORIGINAL FACIA FROM THE PALACE
TRACES OF SHOOTING – March 31st. – April 2nd. Armenian Dashnaks committed the genocide of Azerbaijanis in many parts of the country, including Baku. In the city of Baku 12,000 innocent citizens fell victim to this massacre. The traces of the shooting you can still see on the Palace walls are silent witnesses of those tragic events.
LONDON CHEESESTEAK – This is amusing since cheesesteaks come from Philadelphia. The owner is looking to rename, but he really does have his recipe worked out. It is a big surprise to find a good cheesesteak halfway round the globe at half the price.
SARIYYA – My guide for the afternoon is actually involved with Formula One in Baku. She shows people the city purely for pleasure. Sariyya reaffirmed my faith in humanity by virtue of her generosity of spirit.
LITTLE VENICE CANALS
AZERBAIJAN’S GREATEST WAR HERO FROM WWII
AZERBAIJAN PARLIAMENT BUILDING
MARTYR’S LANE – Dedicated to the people who lost their lives on January 20, 1990. Known as Black January, the Soviets killed 133 people while trying to preserve the Communist regime in Azerbaijan and strangle the national liberation movement. Subsequently, Azerbaijan declared independence on October 18, 1991.
Plaques Dedicated to the People Who Died
ILHAM & FARIZA – Upon hearing that Ilham had been killed by the Soviets, Fariza committed suicide with poison even though she was three months pregnant. June 30, their wedding day is now Azerbaijan’s version of Valentines Day.
BLACK JANUARY MONUMENT & ETERNAL FLAME
ETERNAL FLAME – With the amount of wind here in Baku, its amazing this doesn’t blow out on a regular basis.
LARGEST FLAG IN THE CITY
THE BUILDING ON THE RIGHT IS BEING CONSTRUCTED FOR THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST
FLAME TOWERS – Specially lit at night.
OLD TOWN CITY WALLS
WORKSHOP ALI SHAMSI – Ali Shamsi is a local artist with his studio in the Old City.
ALI AHAMSI – A good artist and a very nice guy.
THIS LION LOOKS AMAZING AT NIGHT
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
I have traveled the world for two and a half years, visiting modern art museums in more than 45 capital cities, and this is without a doubt the worst one I have ever encountered. Starting with the rude and aggressive security on the door and finishing up with the art itself. Much of it is what you have come expect to find stacked up against a wall in a basic home decorating store like Bed, Bath and Beyond or perhaps at a yard sale, and no I’m not talking about the odd Jackson Pollock you might find hiding in one of those that you might have heard about in the news.
Even the few viable pieces by Chagall and a couple of others were not originals except for a Dali sculpture and a very nice large Picasso of a dalmatian which were probably worth more than the rest of the exhibition combined. The artists mentioned would probably be mortified to have their work displayed amongst the rest of this dreck.
I’m going ease you into this slowly so as not to traumatize you. This is one of the less cluttered spaces, and I didn’t zoom in on second and third paintings from the left which are particularly atrocious.
Tofig JAVADOV – Wind – 1950 “Not Completely Terrible”
Altai SADIKHZADEH – Wonderful Life Machine – 2011 “Insipid Title & So-So Concept”
Nazim BABAYEV – Unnamed – 1993 “Good Piece – No Cheesy Title”
ELDAR – Looks like something Picasso painted while blackout drunk on absinthe after a night out drinking with Henri Matisse. “Grey Scrotum and Testicles Anyone?”
Things are starting to get a little more crowded.
This didn’t seem too bad, but take a deep breath now.
This is what most of the place looks like.
Lipstick Seizure (Red Eel Breast Implants)
Mammad MUSTAFAYEV – Composition – 1948 “Pleasant Abstract”
Salvador DALÍ – Female Figure “No Photos Allowed” – Beat the Docent at his own Game.
Makhmud RUSTAMOV – Woman-Camel – 1993 “Oh My God!”
Looks more like “Dogshit on a Dinosaur” or a Chocolate, Soft-Serve Special Delivery. Regardless of the title, it’s a total abomination and an insult to women and camels everywhere.
Rustamov is a graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture of the Azimzade Azerbaijan State Academy (1986), of the State University of the Arts (1992) and of the Creative Workshops at the USSR Arts Academy headed by Omar Eldarov (1998).
In 2000, Makhmud Rustamov became a holder of the “Sculptor of the Year” prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry for Youth and Sport of the Azerbaijan Republic.
His works can be found in private collections across Europe and at the State Museum of Art in Azerbaijan.
Makhmud is an acknowledged master, whose work was acquired in 2013 by a major collector during the London exhibition “At the Crossroads”, organized by the auction house Sotheby’s.
Niyaz NAJAFOV – Untitled – 1968 “PETA’s REVENGE”
Altay SADIKH-ZADEH – Travelers – 1951 “Road Trip From Hell”
These repulsive characters are standing guard outside the Art Café. They really make you want to go an have a bite to eat or a cup of something. The creature on the left looks as though it can consume through two orifices. How very appetizing.
THE DESERTED CAFÉ – Since there was nobody in the museum for duration of my visit the empty café came as little surprise. I suspect the Art is responsible for the dearth of people, that and the surly security and docents. I suppose they are cranky because at the rate they’re going they won’t have jobs for much longer.
SEE, LOADS OF VISUAL CLUTTER, NO PEOPLE
The sculpture in the middle wasn’t bad, but the surrounding amateurish display methods are totally mind-numbing.
Kamal AKHMED – Moon Guardian (aka Pavlov’s Guernica) – 1993
“Hey Kamal baby, Picasso called and he wants his dog back!”
Actually aside from its derivative nature, it’s starting to grow on me. The bar really gets lowered here so badly that I’m mixing my metaphors. The commentary is however in keeping with the environment, and is an attempt to immerse the viewer completely in the confusing, insipid, revolting, catastrophic and disturbing experience that is the MOMA, Baku.
FURNITURE STORE – BARGAIN ART – DISPLAYED IN CHARACTERISTIC MODE
THE FINAL INSULT – I guess we all can take away something from this last enigmatic masterpiece. That would be to get together a petition to remove the small quantity of quality pieces of art from the premises, and then give the museum a nice healthy enema to flush out the rest of the crap. That way perhaps Baku can preserve its attempt at becoming the world class city that it aspires to be.
Beside the fact that the museum and layout have been praised on TripAdvisor by a small sample of 20 reviewers with questionable taste, the space is far too visually noisy to properly focus upon and appreciate the substandard art that is here. In many cases, the canvases are stacked one on top of the other, and there is little rhyme or reason for their over crowded placement. I kept going back for another look round to see if there was something I was missing or if I was just being too hard on the place. There is simply too much art and excessive visual noise for the space. The more I gazed upon the artistic miasma, the worse it got until I feared my eyeballs would literally be seared out of their sockets.
I knew I would have to act quickly if I wanted to survive this encounter. I returned to that inspired Picasso for a last prolonged look as if to take in a healthy dose of visual oxygen, before holding my breath as I ran down the stairs through all of the debris in my path while trying to avert my eyes, past the dour security guard, out the door, and away from the museum into a world temporarily free of mediocre or repellent aesthetics.
As I stood there trying to regain my equilibrium, and my eyes began to perceive color, line, and space in a normal manner, a strange building loomed in the distance.
Yes, on the horizon in all its vaginal glory was the Donald’s worst deal ever, the now defunct Trump Tower Baku. Yes here was Trump’s vulgarity made manifest not only with the giant gold letters(now removed), but a building that inescapably resembles a woman’s vulva in a country that is 97% muslim.
The only thing that could have made matters worse would have been a sculpture of two giant hands grasping upwards at it. They would have still been very small in comparative scale, thus symbolizing his tiny hands, and memorializing his poignant moment aboard the Access Hollywood bus, when he declared to Billy Bush his sovreignty over a women’s vaginas.
The Former Trump Tower Baku – Erotic Art – Hiding In Plain Sight – The irony is stunning since some here in this city find it unacceptable to go without a hijab, and yet here we have what looks to be the worlds largest modern art sculpture of a woman’s hoo-hah on the planet smack dab in the middle of the capital city for all to see. It even has two levels of slightly darker windows right where the clitoris ought to be. Perhaps this structure marks the final the final steps toward equal rights for Azeri women. Surely there will no longer be a reason for head scarves, and with the male population driving past this instructional piece of anatomical architecture every day surely there will be no more excuses for any inability to find the man in the boat.
This was just the sort of comic relief I needed after that terrible Modern Art Museum. It’s not every day you get to see the worlds largest piece of erotic art free of charge even if you happen to be in Amsterdam. I think the Guiness Book needs to be informed of this unintentional master stroke.
However, with all of freeways and overpasses, there is no way to gain entry into the front of the thing.
If you really want convenient access you’re going have to go in through the back door, and that will take a good deal of navigation to put yourself in the appropriate location. I guess this was perhaps the architect’s way of saying that the honorable Azeri women are not an “easy” bunch.
Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower | Panama City, Panama – So much for that theory. Evidently, Baku is not the first place he has engaged in this sort of labial engineering. Looks like this one is bigger too. I’ve been to Panama City. How did I miss this? Better check my pictures.
COURTYARD BY MARRIOT – Oh no, even Marriot has gotten into building vulva towers. I guess they all just got tired of the same old phallic symbols.
LOOMING IN THE DISTANCE IS THE MOST COMPELLING PIECE OF ARCHITECTURE IN BAKU
BRAINCHILD OF THE GREAT IRAQI ARCHITECT, ZAHA HADID
Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center
NOT A SQUARE EDGE IN THE BUILDING
I’m glad I waited for someone to come along. I would have made a crap selfie on this one. Evidently, this sculpture had a large collection on exhibit inside, but I really didn’t feel like spending money on a bunch of angel stuff, especially after the suffering I went through at the hands of the MOMA BAKU. I felt that a world class automotive museum would be a safe bet.
Indeed it was. The cars were all showstoppers in impeccable condition, and were lit and displayed in a professional manner that the MOMA could take a lesson from.
MERCEDES-BENZ – Motor Carriage – 1892
Essentially, this automobile is a light coach in which a modified and more powerful version of the early petrol engine was installed. First cars looked like coaches or chaises without horses. The 1892 “Motor Carriage” is a typical “chaise car” of that period.
FORD – Model T – 1918
The car that established a mass market for automobiles, The Model T, was introduced on Oct. 1, 1908. The Ford Model “T” was one of the most widely used vehicles the world has known. What made the “T” popular was not so much its performance, but its reliability, ruggedness, low cost and ease of maintenance and repair. The “T” was durable, and could take a lot of punishment and neglect. The design was extremely simple. The first Model T had a 20-horsepower, four cylinder engine, reached a top speed of about 45 mph and weighed about 1190 lbs.
FORD – V8 Monoposto – 1938
Hardly any other car had shaped the American automotive history, such as the Ford V8 motor did. First introduced in 1032 with a powerful 8 cylinder engine, a new era of racing history began.
FIAT – 504 Balilla – 1933
The 508 Balilla was a car introduced by Fiat in 1932. The car had its unveiling on 12 April 1932 at a motor show being held on the Fiera Milano trade fair site.
“Ballilla” was the dialect nickname of a Genovese boy called Giovann Battista Perasso, who back in 1746 threw a stone at an Austrian officer in protest of the Austrian military occupation. The action triggered a Genovese revolt against the Austrians, and for this Balilla was celebrated as a local hero in Northern Italy through the two intervening centuries.
FORD – WILLYS MB – 1944
One of the first military vehicles mass produced in the United States. One account of the origin of the term “jeep” begins when the prototypes were being proven at military bases. The term “jeep” was used by Army mechanics for any untried and untested vehicles.
CITROËN – Traction Avant – 1953
The Citroën Traction Avant is and automobile, which was produced by the French manfucturer Citroën from 1934 to 1937. The Traction Avant, French for “front wheel drive”, was designed by André LeFèbre and Flaminio Bertoni in late 1933 and early 1934.
The car was very popular on the silver screen, and was featured in numerous gangster films, including James Bond’s “From Russia with Love”.
PORSCHE – 550 A Spyder – 1955
This was the first sports car and the first racing car of the Porsche company. Actor James Dean died at age 24, in car accident on Sept. 30, 1955, in his brand new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “The Little Bastard”.
PORSCHE – Diesel Super 308 Tractor – 1960
Most of the tractors produced by Porsche were in red and had a nose-like bonnet, which gave them a more or less sporty look. Tractors produced by Porsche are still being used all over Europe.
MERCEDES-BENZ – 300 SL “GULLWING” – 1956
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL stands as one of the most memorable coupes of the fifties, and was owned by luminaries such as Pablo Picasso and Sophia Loren.
A BEAUTIFUL AND DYNAMIC DESIGN WHICH HAS TRULY SURVIVED THE TEST OF TIME
MERCEDES-BENZ – TYPE 219 W105 – 1958
The Mercedes-Benz “Ponton” models were produced during nine years from 1953 to 1962. The “Ponton” appeared as a beautifully styled vehicle built on several platforms as a result of Germany’s slow comeback after WWII. I learned to drive in a manual version of this car, and nearly wrecked it driving up our driveway. One of our dogs ran in front of the car and I swerved to miss him as I bore down on a large oak tree. I swerved back in the other direction, and took out a water faucet which I turned into a fountain. It was actually my first skilled piece of driving. Live beagle/Dead faucet.
BUICK – EIGHT – 1952
CADILLAC SERIES 62 COUPE DEVILLE – 1955
The name “DeVille” is from the French de la ville or de ville meaning “of the town” or “town car”. It came with power windows standard, was luxuriously trimmed and was appointed with leather seats. In the movie “Scarface” Tony Montana drives a Cadillac Series 62.
CHEVROLET – BELAIR – 1957
A Classic 57 Chevy.
LINCOLN – CONTINENTAL IV GENERATION – 1963
Lincoln Continental IV Generation is a car that was produced by the Lincoln Motor Company from 1961-1969. Sadly it is a Continental convertible of the same year pictured above that President Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated in Vietnam War. President Kennedy had made the decision to pull out of Vietnam a few days earlier. I’m sure that upset a few people in the War for Profit Industry (Military Industrial Complex). I’m sure they’re tickled pink with their current stooge in the White House. That is, I suppose until things get really out of hand.
VOLKSWAGON – BULLI – 1964
It became popular among the hippies. The Hippie Bus became the symbol of an era, a symbol of the revolution, freedom, love, and of course travel.
FORD – MUSTANG – 1967
The first-generation Ford Mustang was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company from April 1964 until 1973. The Mustang’s styling with its long hood and short deck, proved wildly popular and inspired a host of imitators. “Bullit” starring Steve McQueen featured this iconic vehicle in an equally important cinematic car chase.
JAGUAR – E-TYPE (XKE) – 1967
ROLLS-ROYCE – SILVER CLOUD – 1958
The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud is an automobile produced by Rolls-Royce Limited from April 1955 to March 1966. It was the core model of the Rolls-Royce fleet during that period. In a 1971 song called “Up To Me” the British rock band Jethro Tull refers to this car with the lyric “I’ll buy a Silver Cloud to ride.”
ROLLS-ROYCE – SILVER CLOUD – 1956
BENTLY – S2 CONTINENTAL MULLINER PARK – 1961
The high performance Bentley Continental S2 was a luxury car with a V8 engine which was produced from 1959 until 1962.
YURI GAGARIN – Next to an automobile which pales in comparison to his exploits in spacecraft. Despite his diminutive physical stature he is a giant of a man. They could have at least given a national hero a coat the correct length with the sleeves properly tailored. It makes him look like a kid trying on his dad’s clothing.
It seems there was a fair amount of controversy around this beautiful structure when the architect received an award. People were forced from their homes to free up the space, and people involved in the construction were allegedly mistreated as well.
I LIKE BAKU – Not quite loving it. I think the right accommodations with a social element might made things better.
NIKOLA TESLA PARK – I don’t know why this is here. Tesla’s originally from Croatia.
MASSIVE BUILDING SEEN WALKING ACROSS TOWN BACK TO MY APARTMENT
ONE OF MANY OF BAKU’S BAKU’S
FORMULA ONE BLEACHERS – In the process of being dismantled from June’s race.