Caught up in general ESC euphoria, locals and visitors wave their flags on finale day in Baku as police look on suspiciously, making sure they don't do anything else. On the road with DW reporter Suzanne Cords.
I'd sent off my diary at dawn. I'm back on Eurovision duty this evening. But today I can sleep in and finally visit the hotel pool and its Turkish bath. I slip into the robe hanging in my wardrobe and cheerfully step into the hall. The cleaning lady stares at me aghast. Half-naked to the pool? And it's men's hours. Not to forget, I'm a guest in an Islamic country. Women are admitted only from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
A call to the reception desk sorts things out.
But if no man happens to be in the pool at the moment, could they maybe make an exception and block off the area for a while? It's my lucky day. Only the lifeguard gawks at me as I swim my laps. No chance to stretch out on the hot stones though; outside, a member of the opposite sex is impatiently waiting for his turn.
Seat covers and Eastern composure
An hour later, I walk up to the receptionist, and her smile freezes. She's certainly worried that like a thorough-minded German, I'm about to ask again about the missing London Taxi receipts she'd promised to get from the company. A violation of Orient Rule No. 1: I insist on sticking to something the poor woman only agreed to because they never say "no" here.
Today I couldn't care less about the receipts. After all, I've been here a couple of days and have learned from experience. I hope the company travel office will too.
I don't even order a London Taxi. The sister-in-law's brother's car will serve the purpose. No taxi sign on the roof, but it does have bright blue crocheted seat covers – and he charges the correct fee, unlike the driver yesterday evening, with whom the same route had cost three times as much. "It's normally one-third the price," I'd protested in Turkish. The driver gazed lackadaisically out the window. "That usually costs only one-third as much," I repeated, this time in Russian. The driver ignored me. We both fell silent, then I accepted my fate. If that isn't an example of Eastern composure!
Babble of languages and a culinary final statement
I strike up a conversation in the hotel courtyard with an Azerbaijani who'd lived in Leipzig for three years. He says there aren't as many Russians living here as I'd assumed. The country was a Soviet Republic until 1991, so many people grew up speaking Russian better than Azeri. Some can't speak the language of their forefathers at all. It's actually a beautiful, ancient variety of Turkish. Modern Turkish is somewhat different, but people in the neighboring countries can understand each other. It's still a long way towards finding a cultural identity.
This evening, Alim will be working as a bartender in the Crystal Hall. "All the foreigners in the hotel ask whether there'll be beer there or vodka." Disappointing news: all he's allowed to serve are an Anatolian yoghurt-based drink called ayran and soft drinks.
Before the grand finale, my stomach is grumbling. An Eastern-looking structure on stilts looks promising. A woman is baking bread in huge stone ovens there, and locals are standing in line. As it turns out, the food is in heat-insulated containers that haven't been warm for hours, and with chicken bones on cucumber, the second sample of local cuisine leaves me unenthused. I can fill up on bread.
Public viewing in the camera lens
Baku City is a hub of activity. The last couple of days, only a few tourists had wandered through the old city center, but now the narrow alleys are chock full of locals and visitors. The local telephone company has distributed little Eurovision flags. Many people wave flags of their own countries. It's a party mood. Hours before the finale, hundreds have gathered for the public viewing in the "Peace Park." The show will also be televised on advertising screens and on round globes throughout the Old City. Competition songs have been blaring out everywhere for days.
A ticket to the finale costs 240 manats. That converts to roughly the same sum in euros, unaffordable for many Azerbaijanis. Two Swedish women tell me that the discount fan package for the two semi-finals and the big final show at last year's ESC in Düsseldorf had cost only 200 euros. In Baku the same deal comes at a price of 300. Not to mention the exorbitant hotel, 400 euros a night.
And they're fed up with all the police and the endless bag checks. Otherwise, they're in a good mood though, and their own Loreen is a favorite artist here.
Singing, the two move on to the Crystal Hall, closely observed by a couple of policemen, whose ranks have tripled since yesterday. Cameras are trained on the crowd everywhere. Nothing can be allowed to go wrong is the decree from the governmental palace, but unaccustomed to mass events, the men are nervous. In the middle of the street, a police car halts our taxi to the Crystal Hall. Who's permitted to proceed, and who isn't? Shaking heads, discussions, then we're allowed to continue.
Eurovison collateral damage
I was actually a babushka fan. But after having heard the grannies from Udmurtia for what seems like the four hundredth time in the press center, I've sustained permanent damage from their song "Party for everybody." Every time they perform, the Russian front to the rear bellows out the refrain, not quite sure of the text but at an ear-splitting volume. In front of me, a storm of flashes, taking pictures of the out-of-control colleagues. Thank God every Eurovision song lasts only three minutes. And they gave me a present, a flag of Russia.
But I've not only heard enough of the babushkas. I've been inundated with ESC songs for five days now. Enough! Then it finally comes to pass: the Russians behind me sadly dispatch their reports back home. And I'm already gearing up for next year's Eurovision in Stockholm…
Author: Suzanne Cords / rf
Editor: Neil King