We spent most of the day playing a game of connections. Perhaps it was the champagne air in the rolling uplands of the Kapaz mountain which lightened the mood. It started slowly with a climb out of Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city. It wasn’t the road or the hairpin bends which slowed our pace. Kevin our cameraman’s sharp eye was working overtime.
“Stop!” was his cry as we negotiated just about every corner. For there before us would be a stunning view, sharp colours merging into a blue sky, dry stone walls marking out territory, a lone shepherd boy with his flock and there in the distance on the ridge of a hill and caught in the sun’s rays two horsemen driving their cattle. Every frame a Rembrandt we joked, but all the literature was true. The scenery around Ganja is some of the most impressive in Azerbaijan and yet ironically few come here to enjoy a trip into the mountains.
Poetry is what draws people to the city for it is the revered birthplace of the 12th century poet Nizami. His writings, thoughts, sayings and lifestyle are well known across the Islamic world but less so in the west. And that is how the game of connections started because the chances are, yes you will have come across his themes, his writings without knowing the source.
The Police, (the band not the men in blue) the Beatles and a vial of poison, are just a few examples of people and events which lead back to Ganja and the themes in Nizami’s five narrative poems, the “Hamsa” as they are known. You will see sculptures of the characters from those poems at the Nizami Mausoleum which is a place of pilgrimage for tens of thousands.
Whether or not you choose to visit the city which has grown to become the literary centre of Azerbaijan you will still have to work at those connections. So when you have one of those idle ‘google’ moments start with Layla and see how close you get to Nizami or try for the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s tragic tale Romeo and Juliet. His literary legacy is imprinted across generations throughout the world.