baku

Baku bits, what to see in Baku

The vertigo starts, as upon arrival in the airport there are few direct clues as to which country you might be in.  You will see people from every part of this hemisphere, and furthermore the Azerbaijanis won’t stand out as such.  The facility itself looks like an average of five or six other airports, like how some TV shows film in Canada to get that generically American look.

Matters seem to go downhill as one rides into town — “Dubai, yet without the charm” is how I described it to Yana in an early, premature email.  Yet this petro-city grows on you quickly, and I don’t just mean the cherry jam.  Closer to town center there are interesting buildings in every direction, and of three sorts: the medieval Old City with walls, a blossoming of late 19th century European architecture (and they are still doing contemporary copies of it), and the Brasilia-Dubai like modern buildings.

In 1905 about half of the world’s oil was produced in or near Baku.  In 1942, it was Stalingrad that stopped Hitler from taking the place over and perhaps changing the course of history.  Not long ago, oil and gas were estimated to account for sixty percent of the gdp of Azerbaijan.

And you can see that money being spent, to the benefit of the tourist I might add.  Baku has perhaps the most attractive and walkable seaside promenade.  The walker has views of the Caspian, of spectacular buildings, of the port, and there are multiple paths with beautiful gardens and cactuses and baobab trees, benches everywhere, Eurasians in abundance, and in August the weather is perfect for a long stroll every night.

Baku is reputed to be the world’s lowest capital city, standing about 28 meters below sea level.

It is the first Shiite country I have visited, and it seems less conservative than say the Turkey of ten years ago, for instance in terms of dress and demeanor.  A small percentage of women wear burkhas, most of all by the seaside walk, but the look of their companions suggests most are tourists or expats.

In short, several generations of communist-enforced atheism do have a persistent effect.  One Azerbaijani, with whom I had an extended dialogue through a translator, stressed to me how much universal Soviet education elevated the region (and she was not pro-Soviet or pro-communist by any means).  The Azerbaijanis address me in Russian, as few can converse with ease in English.

The police go to great lengths to limit jaywalking, which is in any case dangerous.  The city roads are wide, and like some parts of central Brasilia have few traffic lights.  Never have I wished so often that I was on the other side of the street as in Baku.

Baku has three working synagogues, and, unlike in almost every other country in the world, they do not require police protection.  It is a remarkably safe city.

There is strong sentiment here that Nagorno-Karabakh, technically a part of Azerbaijan but not controlled by the government in over twenty years, is ruled by “Armenian terrorists,” backed by Putin. This issue, largely neglected outside the region, is likely to flare up again.  When I applied for a visa, I had to answer whether I come from Armenian blood (no).  It seems like a much less friendly conflict than say between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Baku was the easternmost part of the Roman Empire — does that make it European?

“Relatives may eat your flesh but they won’t throw away your bones” is an old Azerbaijani saying.

Newborns are washed in salt water, to make them truthful and bold.

As a vacation spot, I recommend three to four days here for anyone looking for something off the beaten path, but without logistical difficulties.  Here is Wikipedia on Baku.

The lockdown culture that is Singapore

S’porean man charged in court for leaving home 30 minutes before quarantine ended to get breakfast

And:

According to CNA, Tay is accused of leaving his home in Choa Chu Kang between 11:30am and 12pm, half an hour before his quarantine ended.

He thus breached his quarantine order by leaving his home to go to his neighbourhood shopping mall for breakfast without getting the permission of the Director of Medical Services, said the MOH release.

And:

The day prior, Thursday, Apr. 23, 34-year-old Alan Tham was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment for breaching his Stay-Home Notice (SHN) to eat bak kut teh.

To be clear, I am fine with Singapore doing this, but it hard to imagine the United States enforcing quarantine with the same vigor.  And on the other side, I might risk prison for laksa, but for bak kut teh?

For the pointer I thank Tuvshinzaya.  and Jeet Heer asks:

I have to confess I’m becoming more pessimistic since I don’t see much signs that most countries outside Asia & the Pacific are developing the testing-tracing-isolation capabilities needed. Am I wrong about this?

Places to go in 2020

Here is the mostly dull NYT list.  Here is my personal list of recommendations for you, noting I have not been to all of the below, but I am in contact with many travelers and paw through a good deal of information:

1. Pakistan, and Pakistani Kashmir.  Finally it is safe, and in some way it is easier to negotiate than India.  The best dairy products I have eaten in my life, and probably it is the most populous country you have not yet seen, or maybe Nigeria, but that makes the list too.  Islamabad is nicer than any city in India, and watch the painter trucks on the nearby highway.

2. Eastern Bali.  Still mostly unspoilt, the perfect mix of exoticism and comfort.  This island is much, much more than Elizabeth Gilbert, yoga, and hippie candles.

3. Lalibela, Ethiopia.  Has some of my favorite churches, beautiful vistas and super-peaceful, and the high altitude of Lalibela and Addis means you don’t have to take anti-malarials.  I know a good guide there, here are my Lalibela posts.  the central bank forecasts 10.8% growth for the country for next year, so Lalibela is likely to change rapidly.

4. Lagos, Nigeria.  A bit dangerous, but immense fun, wonderful music every night, and not nearly as bad as you might be thinking.  Africa’s most dynamic city by far and a new modern civilization in the works.  Here are my earlier Lagos posts, including travel tips.

5. Odisha [Orissa], India.  Sometimes called India’s most underrated cuisine, that is enough reason to go and so now it is on my list for myself.

6. Sumatra, Indonesia.  Surely a good place to understand the evolution of Islam, and supposedly to be Indonesia’s best food.  I hope to get there soon.  First-rate textiles and lake views, I hear.

7. Warsaw, Poland.  No, not a fascist country (though objectionable in some regards), and rapidly becoming the center of opportunity for eastern Europe and a major player in the European Union.  First-rate food and dishes you won’t get elsewhere, at least nothing close to comparable quality.  Nice for walking, don’t expect too many intact old buildings, but isn’t it thrilling to see a major part of Europe growing at four percent?

8. Baku, Azerbaijan.  The world’s best seaside promenade, and wonderful textiles and food, in the Iranian direction, here are my travel notes.  Feels exotic, yet safe and orderly as well.

9. Macedonia, or anywhere off the beaten track in the former Yugoslavia.  Then think about the history and politics of where you are at, and then think about it some more.

10. Quito, Ecuador.  One of the world’s loveliest cities, including the church, wonderful potatoes and corn for vegetarians too.  There are some iPhone snatchers, but overall safe to visit.  Very good day trips as well, including to the “Indian market” at Otavalo and volcano Cotopaxi.

Azerbaijani road trip

About half the world’s mud volcanoes are in Azerbaijan, and some good ones are about an hour’s drive from the edge of Baku.

I saw a Koch Industries truck parked about ten miles down the road.

The Zoroastrian Fire Temple attracts scores of Indian tourists, unlike anything in Baku.  It dates mostly from the 18th century.  And:

Yanar Dag (Azerbaijani: Yanar Dağ, meaning “burning mountain”) is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (a country which itself is known as “the Land of Fire“). Flames jet into the air 3 metres (9.8 ft) from a thin, porous sandstone layer.

Here are photos from somebody else’s Azerbaijan road trip.

Which ten restaurants would you most want to live next door to?

Seherli Tandir, in Baku, Azerbaijan is now on my list, but let me first explain the criteria.  This is not about the best restaurants, it is about the ones that give you the most consumer surplus.  For most of the “next door restaurants,” as I shall call them, you want them to be inexpensive, to offer some healthy options, to satisfy some of your cravings, to offer unique dishes, and not to take too long serving you.

It is not a mistake, if you are visiting Baku, to simply have each and every one of your meals at Seherli Tandir — the other restaurants in town are dominated assets.

The menu allows you to order three different types of cherry jam.  Get the one in the middle, the sour one (don’t let them tell you that you should not be ordering a jam, and don’t put it on anything, just eat it).

Have I had better yogurts and rices?  Order the little dumplings with sumac (gurza), asking for yogurt sauce on the side.  The qutabs — thin breads stuffed with either pumpkin or meat — are the surprise knock-outs.  The soups, the stews, the dolmeh.  Did I mention the pilaf with the chestnuts?  The “tandir” bread-baking oven in the middle of the restaurant?

The typical entree costs about $4-6.  And the staff is friendly and helpful.

The restaurant is located in the old city, on the “restaurant street,” near four or five other excellent but nonetheless inferior options (when in doubt in those order dishes with pomegranate seeds).  Go to the tower, and start walking up to the right, maybe 5-7 minutes.  No taxi can take you there, as it is in a pedestrian zone.  Simply ask when you get lost, as the restaurant is quite famous.  You can’t make a reservation and may need to wait out in the sun, thus another reason why it should be next to my home

In general, Azerbaijani food lies in the space between Persian and Georgian cuisines, a double yum.

Which other restaurants should be in the top ten you want right next to your home? And why aren’t those restaurants simply the best period?

p.s. watermelon jam tastes better than you think.

What should I ask Bruno Maçães?

I will be doing a Conversation with him.  Bruno is the author of Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order, published earlier in the United Kingdom but just now in the United States.  It is one of the essential reads of the last few years and was last year a tied favorite for my “Book of the Year.”

On the book:

Well, it turns out there is a book explaining all the recent, strange events in China, Russia, Turkey and the European Union

Here is his excellent recent piece on what the West is becoming, and why.  I also have read he is currently writing a book on China’s “One Belt, One Road.”

On Bruno, here is one bit from Wikipedia:

Bruno Maçães is a Portuguese politician, political scientist, business strategist, and author. He studied at the University of Lisbon and Harvard University, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation under Harvey Mansfield. He is currently a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington.

My Conversation with Bruno is in fact one reason why I took my August trip to Kiev and Baku — what better and indeed necessary way to prepare for a discussion of Eurasia?

So what should I ask him?

My favorite things Azerbaijan

I am arrived in Baku!  Here goes:

1. Chess player: Garry Kasparov.  Maybe the greatest player of all time?  He is not ethnic Azerbaijani, but grew up in Baku.

Teimour Radjabov.  It is amazing for how long he has gotten away with playing the King’s Indian Defense at the highest levels of chess competition.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.  Over the last year, he has had the best results of anyone in the chess world, including Carlsen.  His forcing style resembles that of Kasparov.

Vugar Gashimov.  He was pretty good too, passed away prematurely in 2014.

Cellist and conductorMstislav Rostropovich, born in Baku.  His Bach Cello Suites are perhaps my favorite of all extant recordings.  Here is one (different) YouTube version.  As a conductor he was uneven, but capable of spectacular live performances of Shostakovich.

Pianist: Bella Davidovich, born in Baku, especially her Chopin.

Philosopher: Max Black, also born in Baku.  He edited Frege and worked on problems from Leibniz, such as the identity of indiscernibles.

Note that numbers 1, 5, 6, and 7 on this list were Jews who emigrated to America.

The Power of Online Education

One of the best things about teaching at Marginal Revolution University is the emails that Tyler and I receive from our students all over the world. Here’s a recent email we got from Rasim Mollayev, a student in Azerbaijan.

Sir! I’m writing this from Baku, Azerbaijan. I am studying at ADA University in Baku. Due to my personal and health problems I couldn’t attend my lectures properly in previous Fall 2016 semester. I missed most of my “Principles of MicroEconomics” class.

And then I found your videos on YouTube and prepared for all my midterm and final exams with your videos and quizzes. And passed that course successfully. I just wanted to say thanks for your great help.

Cool!

*Heyday: Britain and the Birth of the Modern World*

That is the new book by Ben Wilson, and no it has nothing (directly) to do with Brexit.  Rather it is a survey of the technological breakthroughs of the 1850s and how they reshaped Great Britain and the globe more generally.  Here is one short bit:

Japan may have secluded itself from the rest of the world, but it had not closed itself off.  That was a distinction that people in the West were slow to grasp.  The shogun’s court subscribed to the Illustrated London News, for example, and the bakufu had acquired books and papers detailing global politics and scientific discoveries through their Dutch and Chinese trading partners.  This knowledge was strictly regulated, but the seeds of scientific enlightenment were diffused in small numbers across the archipelago.  Perry did not know it — and nor did many Japanese — but his telegraph was not the first on Japanese soil.

Other parts of this book which I enjoyed were on the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1859, how the British saw a connection between the U.S. Civil War, and the origins of Reuters.

If you want a new Brexit-relevant title of interest, try Brendan Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation.

The world’s 25 dirtiest cities

Here is the article, here is the top of the list:

1, Baku, Azerbaijan

2. Dhaka, Bangladesh

3. Antananarivo, Madagascar

4. Port-au-Prince (pre-quake?  I believe they are now uncontested #1 or will be soon.)

5. Mexico City

Most of the rest are in Africa.  If I did the ranking, Mexico City would do much better than number five, since air pollution isn't as bad as the lack of sanitation in cities such as Conakry (a mere #19).  And why does Bangui (CAR) get such an idyllic photo?  Nor does Google offer up any nasty photos of the place.

Hat tip goes to the essential Rachel Strohm, Twitter feed here.

What’s the opposite of antitrust policy?

Georgia is a transit country. Through our territory went the Great Silk
Road. And we have confirmed our transit potential more than once.
Through our territory go the BTC, the Baku-Tbilisi- Erzurum, and the
Baku-Supsa pipelines. Not only liquid goods transit through Georgia,
but also dry goods by railroad. However, apart from the existing oil
and gas pipelines, there is a potential for new ones. But they will
only be considered if the oil producing companies themselves become
interested in them. With today’s price for crude oil, the
attractiveness and profitability of the BTC and the Baku-Supsa are
obvious. Therefore, with the growing production of hydrocarbons in
Central Asia, and in the Caspian region, new oil pipelines will
undoubtedly be profitable. Therefore I would like to emphasize that all
of the proposed projects are viable and have prospects.

And the transit of fossil fuels through Georgia endangers the profit of which country?  You have three guesses.  If you don’t know the word "Transneft" you will soon.  Here is more.  See also Marshall Goldman’s new book Petrostate on the Georgia-Russia relationship and the economic factors involved.  In my view today’s series of events is very, very bad news.  Not only are the events bad, but it is a bad signal of type about the new (is it new?) Russian government.