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Azerbaijan: Dynamics and Tradition

Welcoming guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence, teaches the Talmud. We like to think we have taken this to heart. Think again!
The first blossoms are out at the foot of the snowcapped mountains of the Caucasus. Azerbaijan is celebrating Novrus, the arrival of spring. The whole village has turned out to welcome guests. A massive bonfire is lit. Stalls proudly present local fare: handicrafts, fruit, cakes, sweets, little pads of sprouting wheat… Spontaneously, you are showered with presents. Your arms can barely carry all the gifts. Flowers, foodstuff, handmade goods, eggs. Simultaneously, you are invited to sample the local foods: cilantro-omelets, grilled chicken, mutton, eyran, pakhlava… Just when you think you are through, you cannot miss the generously laid table: plov is dished out in staggering portions, greens, sweetmeats, local wine, fruit preserves, kebab, dolma… At least seven dishes are required by the occasion. Make sure to try them all.
IMG_0886 (2)_cc_Alexander MichelWherever you go in this country of overwhelming hospitality: You’ve just sat down, a glass of hot strong tea is placed in front of you – the first of many… Enormous plates with sweets, fruits, dates, almonds seek to be cleared. You want a guided tour to Zaha Hadid’s spectacular building, the Heydar-Alieyev-Cultural Center in Baku? No problem, a phone call later you are there. You want to meet with a representative of Baku’s Jewish community? With pleasure, the same morning you are welcomed at the recently built new synagogue. Everybody goes out of their way to make you feel welcome, at home. The generosity knows no bounds. Hospitality and tolerance are part and parcel in a country where the three great religions coexist peacefully.
Legend has it that on completing Creation, God allocated countries to each people. When almost through, the Azeri rushes in. God: “You’re late!” “I am sorry,” replies the Azeri. “But I had to look after my guests…” “All the land is gone…,” says God, “…so instead I will give you a piece of Paradise…” There we go!

Photo Credit: Alexander Michel

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