Archive for the ‘Dear Diary’ Category

6000 miles from home: London to Baku, Azerbaijan

On the flight from London, they handed us very hot towels, which was awesome. I already felt scummy and it was a good start to wipe my face.

Everything felt five times more intense than my original trip to London. I kept saying to myself, “I’m over the North Sea, i’ve never been this far from home. I’m over the Black Sea. I’m over the Caspian Sea.”

The flight was so empty that most people lay across their seats like a bed. I tried to stay up for the entire flight because i knew i’d have to reset to another five-hour time difference, but ended up sleeping for a few hours, which really just made me groggy and gave me a neck crick.

They showed what may well be the BEST INFLIGHT MOVIE EVER. I think the name was “Fantomas,” but i can’t be sure. It was originally in French and then poorly translated (i could still hear the original dialog underneath the translated voices) into what i assume is Azerbaijani.

Did i say AWESOME? The villain looked like he’d dipped his head in lime-colored rubber and the police chief occasionally had three arms.

By the time i landed in Baku i was sleep-deprived and extremely nervous about language and customs and, i don’t know, being arrested for having purple hair or something.

Okay, fine, it wasn’t as bad as i’d worried, but i did have to run through four people and they took my passport for awhile and made me sit.

The Baku airport has smoke everywhere. Everyone smokes! As far as i can tell the airport is run by eight guys in grey suits with cellphones who rove around handing out boarding passes and pointing to gates.

Within an hour getting into Azerbaijan i saw not less than three men and one woman with entirely gold teeth. Entirely. Gold. Teeth. My camera battery died as soon as i left London, so i don’t have any pictures.

When i left again through the smokey airport, the pilot walked through the airport yelling, “Aktau! Aktau!”

Our plane died on the runway …

OUR PLANE. DIED. ON THE RUNWAY.

There was a lot of discussion, heated discussion, i didn’t track any of it … because it was all in Russian and possibly Azerbaijani. They sent a bus to bring us back to the airport while they got another plane.

Yes, this was kind of stressful and i briefly considered living in Baku forever or taking the train.

Once we did take off toward Aktau, they gave us onion-potato knishes, which sort of made everything okay.

Whitwell to Leicester to London

House-sitting in Whitwell was largely a success. Matt and Klara, the owners, were funny and interesting. Matt picked me up at the train station and Klara made me dinner. Rocky and Milo, two Yorkshire terriers, were the kind of dogs that magically appeared on your lap the second you sat down. The night before they left I stayed up till far too late talking about American politics and theater. Their house was awesome, big and comfortable. They left me with a ton of food for the week.

I spent a big chunk of the house-sit writing and learning mandolin. The dogs were pretty hyper, Milo in this sort of chill way. Rocky was … well, Rocky was a very angry dog. I mean he liked me, but was enraged that people would dare walk by the front window and on walks he was constantly trying to mix it up with other dogs, seriously ignoring that just about any dog in the world was two to four times larger than him.

I once accidentally stepped on his paw and he was seriously going to KILL THE SHIT out of my shoe. I just sort of stood there and held out my shoe out for him to maul until he got it out of his system. After a few angry minutes, he eventually forgave me.

So, like i said, the house and the dogs and the owners were all nice. The town of Whitwell itself … well i’m not sure the people liked me all that much. There were some exceptions. The folks in the chip shop were friendly and there was this really nice guy at the Boot & Shoe pub, but in general the vibe was distinctly “foreigner go home!”


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The worst moment was when I went to the pub across the street from the house. I literally had one of those movie moments where everyone stopped talking and started at me till I left.

There’s not really anything to do in the town and i started to go seriously stir-crazy by the end of the week. I even took a bus to the nearby towns Clowne and Worsop, but people still didn’t seem really that into me and there weren’t markedly huge things to do. The Worksop pub, which felt disturbingly close to a Denny’s, didn’t help much either. After the worst Guinness i’ve had outside of America and a DEEP FRIED VEGIBURGER (??!!?) i gave up and spent the rest of the week in the house watching movies and writing.

Once back from their trip, Matt and Klara graciously drove me to Leicester, right to my friend Damien‘s door.

Damien, as always, was awesome to hang out with. He was great host and played tour guide around Leicester, giving me a feel for local flavor, history and political vibe.

I liked Leicester a lot, but Damien says i still have to see the dark side. We spent most of the day and night talking writing and books. Unfortunately I had a house-sit to get to the next day, so I had to take a train in the morning.

In London now. More on that soon.