November 24, 2011
This past May, Azerbaijan attained a fundamental symbol of national progress: It won its first ever Eurovision Song Contest, the wildly popular annual televised event in which European nations compete to produce the catchiest (or kitschiest) pop tune. Its entry was a saccharine, synthesizer-heavy number called “Running Scared,” sung by Ell & Nikki, a photogenic duo clothed in billowy white garb who share a fondness for gazing earnestly into the camera. On the night of the victory, Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, erupted in celebration.
March 17, 2011
Once the enchantment of living in a foreign country wears off, one begins to notice the small discomforts—for example, that the daily call to prayer can sound absolutely awful. I mean no disrespect; I, like many godless Westerners, quickly fell for its beauty and reliability. But I also noticed—when I could no longer speak on the phone, say—that my Istanbul muezzin had, on occasion, taken to screaming. The voice was so terrible that guests would stare out the window in astonishment, unsure of what to say.