By Jill Sperandio
I will be leaving my home
in Icheri Shahar,
I know I will miss the morning pasagiata of two turkeys, six ducks and assorted chickens, together with an occasional rabbit, to the little park by the gates of the Shirvan-shahs' Palace. Here they enjoy a scratch around in the scruffy grass, a shuffle in the dust, or a splash about in the little pond that has formed by the dribbling fountain, before proceeding in stately procession back to their courtyard home, their watchful owner bringing up the rear.
And I shall miss the cats. Stone cats carved above doorways and real ones too. Beautifully groomed, wellfed cats looking down on you disdainfully from balcony and window as you pass through the passage beneath. The garbage cats, big, bad and begrimed, that leap from the bins as you approach, waiting resentfully till you depart so they can resume their rummaging in search of some tidbit in the newly deposited plastic bag. Romantic cats, their nightly love songs less than music to the ear - rambunctious cats, hiding around corners and under cars to ambush their rivals in a whirl of hissing, clawing, tabby and striped and tortoiseshell.
Which season will I miss the most? Winter, when the wind howls and you hurry to find the shelteroffered by the narrow, twisting streets? Passing neighbors bent against the wind, women wrapped tightly in their ankle-length leather coats, faces framed by fur lined hoods, and the men carrying bags of groceries homeward, collars up and fur hats pulled down around their ears. The thrill of an unusually heavy snowfall that transforms the rooftop vistas and has you ducking the snowballs of the gangs of kids beside themselves with glee at the welcome change from the daily street
football, dodging the cars and learning to score goals uphill.
Or maybe spring, when the grapevines clambering up the balconies of the older buildings soften the stone and iron with a fretwork of green and the parks around the walls arstocks and the promise of daisies and hollyhocks to come. Spring, when the old trees, roots and trunks now one with the foundations of the city, flower and give shade to hidden corners and tiny squares. This is the time when the children salvage timber from the latest house renovation to build Novruz bonfires, leaping through the flames to bring luck to the coming year.
Or perhaps I'll miss the long, slow autumn, when those same vines and trees turn golden but refuse to relinquish their leaves until late November. Housewives lay out the wool stuffing for their winter bedcovers to air in the sun, washing flapping on the lines crisscrossing the alleys and the pomegranates and grapes piled high on the vegetable stalls.
But best of all are the memories of summers evenings, looking out over the rooftops of the Old City as the setting sun turns the stone buildings golden, the distant sea lies a shimmering blue in a bay of pastel pink and a lonely sail boat tacks back to shore. As the sky darkens to a velvet blue, the swallows swoop and swerve between the buildings, vying for the last insects of the day. A flutter of white doves settles down to roost in the trees around the Shirvanshahs' Palace and a cat that has dozed lazily on the warmstone steps of the ruined bath house wakes up and stalks off among the fallen stones in search of mice. A new crescent moon and the evening star hang silver over the minaret of the deserted palace mosque. The clock in the tower above Baki Sovieti plays its tune and strikes, and the call to prayer drifts up from the Juma Mechid mosque where men are hurrying from the darkening streets, passing through the ornately carved door to an interior ablaze with the light from the crystals of the enormous chandelier. Night settles over the city and the music of the tar, accordion and tambour fills the air as a lively party gets underway in the caravansarai. All through the streets and alleys the smell of roasting lamb on charcoal braziers slips under the gates of a hundred courtyards to tease the noses of passers by hurrying home through the streets to their own evening meals. Close your eyes and watch the camels passing through the city gates, shaking the desert dust from their hooves...
To live in the
Photographs: Shahin Abasaliyev, Jill Sperandio, Maya Fatheldin.