Wednesday 16 May 2012

Eurovision 2012: Day Three

All the days appear to be merging into one. I seem to have lost track of what is going on in the real world. The perils of the Eurovision bubble!

We've finally worked out where the shuttle buses to the arena leave from (the very plush Hilton!) Getting to the hotel was more than a challenge. You would think that crossing a road would be simple but not in Baku. The cars kept on coming and coming and coming. When in doubt follow what the natives do; just step out in front of the on-coming traffic and hope that they stop. When in Rome and all that. We lived to tell the tail and boarded the shuttle bus to the Crystal Hall.

There is more food available in the press centre (at a small charge) and coffee has arrived. It seems that slowly but surely things are becoming more organised. Outside the landscaping is continuing and the pavements are nearing completion. They're working day and night in preparation for next week. Security is pretty tough and airport-style checks are in place. This is the only press centre where I've noticed that the security officers have guns. I'm not sure if this is just the Azeri way or if it's as a result of some sort of threat.

Building continues outside the arena

On the streets, people continue to stare. Eurovision delegates are a curious attraction. In the local mini market several school girls piled in to speak to us and in general people have been very friendly. One thing which is notable is that I've not seen much in the way of people begging or stray dogs for that matter. Could it be that the rumours of "cleansing" the streets are true? Several YouTube videos suggest that culls have taken place and beggars removed from the city centre. Who knows?

Another day of rehearsals. Ukraine was the most highly anticipated of the day. Gaitana is in my opinion, the best singer in the contest. She's a belter. As for the staging, whilst it was only the first rehearsal, it looked a bit "busy". After she was selected to sing for Ukraine, Gaitana came under attack from politician Yuriy Syrotyuk who claimed that she failed to represent "organic Ukrainian culture". In other words she's a bit too black for his liking. I asked Gaitana about her response to this. She said that it was the first time in her life that she had experienced overt racism in Ukraine and that whilst she was initally devastated, she chose not to respond and kept a diginified silence. Gaitana is a classy lady and a fine ambassador for her country. It's interesting that she is the first singer of African origin to represent Ukraine, with their Euro 2012 anthem, in the same year that there are concerns over racist football fans overshadowing the matches.

In the evening I went to meet up with some locals who had befriended many of us on Facebook. We went to a local bar and learned about life in Azerbaijan. Later on it was decided that we would go to the Euroclub for a bit of dancing. You can't get into the Euroclub without accreditation. However our new friends somehow managed after one of them phoned their father. It seems that money and connections speak louder than regulations here.

Tomorrow Estonia, my adopted country, take to the stage. Stay tuned!

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