Monday, October 20, 2008

"Luca Brasi Sleeps With the Fishes"

My first full day in Azerbaijan included a long series of election briefings in the ornate State Philharmonic Hall in Baku, after which several of my new friends and I set out for a night on the town.
Azerbaijan Philharmonic

We walked through the “old city” section of Baku, past the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the Maiden Tower, and into the narrow streets lined with carpet weavers and local restaurants.

The Old City

Late into the evening, after a delicious meal of grilled lamb and chicken washed down with local Azeri wine, the manager of the restaurant where we’d dined arranged a taxi to take us back to our hotel, located several miles south of the city.

Mmmmm - Azeri Cuisine

We got in, and I was quickly reminded of one of the most colorful aspects of visiting this part of the world – the local drivers!

In most of the South Caucasus, drivers are kept in check by the poor conditions of the local roads. In the major cities, however, the pavement is just good enough to allow drivers to speed around without regard for their cars’ suspensions…

I enjoyed blitzing down the autobahn during the three years I lived in Germany, and spent ten years in southern California where many people typically drove twenty miles over the speed limit – when they weren’t stuck in traffic…

But drivers in Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku are erratic enough to make even me nervous – though I do enjoy the thrill…

This night, as our taxi sped towards the outskirts of the capitol, our driver switched from the radio that was tuned in to a local station and put in a CD – totally stunning us with his musical selection.

Driving into the midnight darkness, my companions and I were perplexed to be hearing the theme from The Godfather

Is this what an Azeri taxi driver thought three Americans and a Swede wanted to listen to, or was there something more ominous going on here?

Were we going to be ambushed at a toll plaza, like Sonny?

Would we be dumped into the Caspian to “sleep with the fishes” like Luca Brasi?

Were we being “taken for a ride” to edge of the city, where our lifeless bodies would be left in an abandoned Lada as our driver walked away mumbling “leave the gun, take the cannoli?”

Thankfully, we arrived safely back at our hotel – laughing at the theme music to our night on the town…

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