Azerbaijan International

Summer 2004 (12.2)

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

Vahid Park
At the corner of Istiglaliyyat and Niyazi Streets adjacent to the Philharmonic Hall

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Located outside the Old City [Ichari Shahar] where Ali lived, this park, which was called the Governor's Park, provided a neutral meeting ground for Ali to meet Nino.

From "Ali and Nino: A Love Story," pages 25 ff.

"When the first excitement was over [about graduation exams], I sneaked to the telephone. I had not spoken to Nino for two weeks. A wise rule demands that a man should keep away from women when he stands at life's crossroads. Now I lifted the grip of the unwieldy apparatus, turned the bell and shouted into the mouthpiece: "3381!"

Nino's voice replied: "Passed, Ali?"

"Yes, Nino."

"Congratulations, Ali!"

"When and where, Nino?"

"Five o'clock at the lake in the Governor's Garden, Ali."

"I could not go on talking. Behind my back lurked the curious ears of my relatives, servants and eunuchs. Behind Nino's - her aristocratic mother. Better to stop. Anyway, a bodiless voice is so strange that one cannot really enjoy it.

Left: Vahid Park where Ali and Nino used to meet secretly.

"It was a big dusty garden with spare sad-looking trees and asphalt paths. On the right was the old fortress wall. In the center stood the white marble columns of the City Club [now Philharmonic Hall]. Between the trees were innumerable benches. Three flamingoes were standing amongst dusty palm trees, looking fixedly at the red ball of the setting sun. Near the Club was the lake, that is to say, an enormous round and deep reservoir, built of stone slabs. The Town Council's idea had been that it should be filled with water and have swans swimming about. But that was as far as it went. Water was expensive, and there was not a single swan in the country. The reservoir stared up at the sky eternally, like the empty eye socket of a Cyclops.

"I sat down on a bench. The sun glared behind the tangled pell-mell of the square gray houses and their flat roofs. The shadows of the trees behind me lengthened. A woman passed by, wearing a blue-striped veil and clip-clopping slippers. Over the veil, a long curved nose protruded. The nose sniffed at me. I looked away. A strange lassitude began to creep over me.

Left: Governor's Park under construction in the early 1900s. Today, it is known as Vahid Park. It is located adjacent to the walls of the Citadel of the Inner City of Baku. Photo: National Photo Archives.

"It was good that Nino did not wear the veil and did not have a long curved nose. No, I would not make Nino wear the veil. Or would I? I did not quite remember any more. I saw Nino's face in the glow of the setting sun. Nino Kipiani - a beautiful Georgian name, respectable parents with European tastes. What did it matter? Nino had fair skin, big dark laughing Caucasian eyes under long delicate lashes. Only Georgian girls have such sweet and gay eyes. No other girls - European or Asiatic. Delicate half-moon eyebrows and a Madonna's profile. I was sad. The comparison made me feel melancholic.

"There are so many comparisons for a man in the Orient. But these women can only be likened to the Christian Mary, symbol of a strange incomprehensible world. I looked down on the asphalt path of the governor's Garden, covered with dazzling sand from the great deserts. I closed my eyes. Then I heard carefree laughter at my side: "Holy St. George! Look at Romeo, falling asleep waiting for his Juliet!" I jumped up. Nino stood beside me, still wearing the chaste blue uniform of the Holy Tamar. She was very slim, far too slim for the taste of the Orient. But just this fault made me feel tenderly protective. She was 17 years old and I had known her since the day she went along Nikolai Street on her first day of school. Nino sat down. Her eyes shone. So you passed after all? I was a bit afraid for you. . . .

Left: City officials required that ships entering Baku's harbor for oil bring rich soil so that they could build up the parks and the Boulevard. Early 1900s. Photo: National Photo Archives.

"My hand glided over her hair. She lifted her head. The last ray of the setting sun was in her eyes. I bent towards herher lips opened tenderly and submissively. I kissed her for a very long time, and very improperly. She breathed heavily.

"Then she tore herself away. We were silent and stared into the twilight. After awhile, we got up, a little shamefacedly. Hand in hand, we left the gardens.

"I really should wear a veil," she said as we went out.

"Or fulfill your promise." She smiled shyly. All was good and simple again. I saw her home . . . .

"I went home. My uncle's eunuch - the one with the face of a wise, dried-up lizard - grinned at me: "Georgian women are beautiful, khan. But they should not be kissed so openly in the public gardens where many people walk past." I pinched his pale ear. A eunuch can be as cheeky as he likes. He is a neuter - neither man nor woman."

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