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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Pursuit of Fast Food in the Freezing Cold

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Hardened Muscovites will no doubt sneer, but for Bakuvians last week's snow flurry was a major event.

Thirteen centimeters of snow fell on the city in one night, transforming mosques, bazaars and even the 12-story concrete monstrosity that belongs to the National Bank of Iran into a scene from a fairy tale.

The next day children bunked off school to build snowmen and throw snowballs at passing trolleybuses. Pensioners pulled ancient furs out of the back of their wardrobes and slipped into thick felt boots, and courting couples dusted off their skates to glide along the promenade beside the Caspian Sea.

"There's nothing like a snow spell to lift one's spirits," said Gulya, our enormous rosy-cheeked neighbor, who had baked an extra batch of cream buns to celebrate.

Inevitably, though, the euphoria was short-lived. By lunchtime, the snow had brought power lines down across the city and by evening the roads had frozen over, turning the capital into a giant skating rink.

"The whole country's going to the dogs," said my disgruntled taxi driver as he tried and failed to inch his car out of a snowdrift. "I'll tell you one thing. This never would have happened when we were still part of the Soviet Union," he added.

As more snow fell, schools and businesses closed and the traffic ground to a halt. There were reports that bus drivers were charging triple the usual fares to cash in on all the extra passengers and that sports shops sold more skis than ever before.

Still, the bad weather didn't delay the opening of Baku's first drive-through McDonald's next to the former Lenin football stadium. Hundreds of people braved the cold to attend the opening ceremony, presided over by President Heidar Aliyev himself.

Aliyev was a little late because he had been forced to abandon his sleek cortege of black Mercedes in favor of a modest Jeep. He looked freezing. As someone handed him a pair of scissors to cut the ribbon on the first drive-through eatery in the South Caucasus, a hush fell over the crowd.

"It gives me great pleasure to open this new venture," the president said as he snipped the ribbon. "But why is there nothing to eat?"

There was an embarrassed silence before staff swung into action in their shiny new kitchen to produce hundreds of free hamburgers, french fries and apple pies for the ravenous masses.

I couldn't see what the president was given to eat, but he climbed back into his Jeep looking much happier than when he'd arrived. If it can handle the snowdrifts, it looks as if the McDonald's corporation has a bright future in Azerbaijan.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.