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What you did not like in Baku?
I couldn’t help but notice everyone knew everyone. It seems like a terrible city to have an affair! I’m just kidding.
The only uncomfortable moment for me in the city was when I was in a restaurant eating alone. I have a book that I keep notes where I just brainstorm for ideas. I was eating while writing when a photo given to me by a Ukrainian queer erotic photographer fell out of my book. A waiter came over and picked it up. He asked if it was a man. I said no despite it clearly being a man. He just looked at me with a mix of rage and erotic passion. He just put the photo in his pocket then walked way saying something about a tip. He definitely jerked off to it that night after work!
Would you return someday to Baku?
Absolutely! I found the city an amazing mix of often-conflicting cultures, ideologies, and classes. Certainly, Baku has its struggles and everyone knows them. However, people are absurdly nice and welcoming. I think the city has all the components to be a truly remarkable place and I’d love to see how the youth culture grows. What I found so interesting is how people are constantly looking to breath new air into their culture while keeping themselves still very much rooted in Azeri identity. Can we also give Azeri food a shout out? Insanely tasty.
Could post-Soviet be a new destination for Western youth?
I think it already is. Tbilisi and Kyiv has really established themselves as countercultural centers. In many ways, they have got too much press because things are happening outside those two cities that are equally interesting. Baku hasn’t attracted as much attention yet I think people will find the city pretty appealing. What I loved about Baku is how grassroots everything appeared. People collaborated and supported each other a lot. I am not sure if other tourists will get the same insight as me because I had contacts before but if they are curious enough then they’ll find a remarkable city. It is incredibly easy to make friends in Baku. What else would you want while traveling?
What about Baku night life? Have you been to performances of any local bands lately?
Obviously with different regulation and laws, it can be more difficult to cultivate a strong countercultural nightlife. People are trying though. It was nice to see Etud and Barrel. I had a good night out in both places where there was a great jazz band at Etud (who’s singer I think is your music editor) and some Georgian fellas DJing. I’d certainly like to explore Azeri music more. Farhad Farzali got me on some brilliant Baku funk from the 70’s that’s pure class. Akif Islamzade is the shit!
We are regarded as Eastern, Muslim country unlike Georgia or Ukraine. Did you feel the difference or not?
Like, not really. I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years and spent a lot of time other parts of the Middle East. Azerbaijan did not give off the same oppressive religiosity that places like that. It is rather more similar to Persian culture than Arab culture. Yes, Iran’s government is crazy but most people don’t care about religion. I found the same in Baku. There is a call for prayer and there are some beautiful mosques but I’m sure after prayer time that the lads have a couple shots as well. I found Azerbaijan less religious than let’s say Georgia or Russia.