Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, the largest city on the Caspian Sea, topped and tailed by Russia and Iran. The name Baku is derived from the original Persian name, Bād-kube. This broadly translates to the rather catchy ‘Place Where Wind Is Strong And Pounding’. Which is fortunate, as when I was there it was consistently above 35℃. The breeze definitely kept things bearable. In the winter it can get quite severe.
Baku was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Russian is still spoken by a proportion of the population, and there’s definitely a slight soviet flavour. But the city also has both a European and a middle-eastern feel. If Paris and Dubai had an illicit fling, and the love child was shipped off to a Russian Uncle, then that’s Baku.
In spite of what the title says, I actually spent five days in Baku. But most of the daylight hours were spent working at the airport, and consequently I had just a single afternoon to look around. Ideally, I would’ve liked to take my Nikon F100, but I knew there’d be few chances to use it. And I didn’t want to put my film through at least two x-ray scans without even having used any. Instead, I took my compact and perfectly formed Fujifilm X100T.
The X100T was given to me as
compensation a reward for 10 years service with the company. I don’t normally get on with digital cameras, especially compacts. I don’t even like using my smartphone for pictures. I assume they chose it based on its vintage styling. But Fuji’s camera has many of the things you normally don’t get in a compact. A viewfinder, for one thing. And ‘real’ controls; an aperture ring and a shutter speed dial. Best of all for me, it shoots natively in black and white, and crucially, the photos rarely need any editing. I shoot it much the same way I would any film camera and don’t need to spend hours editing in front of a computer. Just like film, all the choices are made before and not after I press the shutter. Oh, and it also features a fixed 35mm (35m equivalent) lens, the same focal length I use on my Nikon F100. I feel right at home.
I see that some sources refer to it as the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, but my visa just said the Republic of Azerbaijan. Democratic in a country’s name is always a bit of a warning sign. Yep, I’m looking at you Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Anyway, I’m not going to make any comment on the state of Azerbaijan’s democracy. But it’s worth mentioning the 2013 election, where the incumbent Government won with 72% of the votes. The one problem? The results were accidentally released via a mobile app the day before voting started. In the words of one of our greatest philosophers: “Doh!”
Go and visit Baku. It’s warm (in the summer), the food’s great, the people are lovely, the city is safe, and the atmosphere is relaxed. And even though the driving’s vaguely disconcerting, it still only scores about 5/10 on the Cairo Brown Trousers scale.