Azerbaijan International

Summer 2004 (12.2)

The Ali and Nino Walking Tour
by Betty Blair and Fuad Akhundov

Ali's Residence
Kichik Gala

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Located inside the Citadel walls on Kichik Gala Street behind the Ismayiliyya Building.

Ali reflects on his home, his room, and the view from the roof of the large two-story residence inside the walls of Ichari Shahar ("Inner City" or sometimes referred to as "Old City"). Ali's home according to details in the novel is directly accessible through a gated entrance off Sabir's Garden.

Here Ali reflects on the differences between perceptions of Baku from the local population and those foreigners who come to make a "quick buck" on oil.

From "Ali & Nino", page 7

"I loved my room on the second floor of our house. Dark carpets from Bukhara, Isfahan and Kashan covered the walls. The patterns represented gardens and lakes, woods and rivers, as the carpet weaver had seen them with his inner eye, unrecognizable to the layman, breathtakingly beautiful to the connoisseur. Nomad women in faraway deserts collected the herbs for these colors from wild, thorny bushes. Long slender fingers squeezed out the juice. The secret of blending these delicate colors is hundreds of years old. Often it then takes a decade for the weaver to finish his work of art. Then it hangs on the wall, full of secret symbols, allusions, hunting scenes, knights fighting, with one of Firdowsi's verses or a quotation from the works of Sa'adi in ornamental script running at the sides.

"Because of these many rugs and carpets, the room looks dark. There is a low divan [sofa], two small stools inlaid with mother-of pearl, many soft cushions and among all this, very disturbing and very unnecessary, books of Western knowledge: chemistry, physics, trigonometry-foolish stuff, invented by barbarians, to create the impression that they are civilized.

"I closed the books and went up to the flat roof of the house. From there I could see my world, the massive wall of the town's fortress and the ruins of the palace, Arab inscriptions at the gate. Through the labyrinth of streets, camels were walking; their ankles so delicate that I wanted to caress them.

In front of me rose the squat Maiden's Tower, surrounded by legends and tourist guides. And behind the tower, the sea began, the utterly faceless, leaden, unfathomable Caspian Sea. Beyond that, the desert-jagged rocks and scrub: still, mute, unconquerable, the most beautiful landscape in the world. I sat quietly on the roof.
What was it to me that there were other towns, other roofs and other landscapes? I loved the flat sea, the flat desert and the old town between them. The noisy crowd who come looking for oil, find it, get rich and leave again are not the real people of Baku. They don't love the desert."


It was in Ali's home, that his father offered him some "Fatherly Advice" upon graduation from high school.

From "Ali & Nino", page 25.
"I went upstairs into my father's big room. He sat on the divan, my uncle beside him, they were drinking tea. Servants stood along the wall, staring at me. The exam was not finished yet, not by a long way. For now, when I was about to begin my adult life, father had to instruct son in the wisdom of life, formally and in public. It was touching and a bit old fashioned.

"My son, now that life begins for you, I must remind you once more of a Muslim's duties. We are living here in a country of unbelievers. If we are not to perish, we must maintain the old customs and our way of life.
Pray often, my son. Do not drink alcohol. Do not kiss strange women. Be good to the poor and the frail. Always be prepared to draw your sword for our faith. If you die on the battlefield, I, the old man, will mourn you, but if you live dishonorably, I, the old man, will be ashamed. Do not forgive your enemies, we are not Christians. Do not think of tomorrow for that would make you a coward. And never forget the Faith of Mohammad, in the Shiite interpretation of Iman Jafar."

"My uncle and the servants seemed to be in a solemn trance. They listened to my father's words as if they were revelations. Then my father rose, took my hand and said, his voice suddenly forced and shaking: "And one thing I beg of you-do not enter politics! Do anything you want, but not politics!" I could swear that with a very easy conscience. Politics were far from my way of thinking.

"Nino was no political problem. My father embraced me once more. Now I was really grown up."

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