Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Couple Days Late -- First Meetings

So, on monday I met with my contact at the Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature, Irakli. He is, as I have been told several times, the foremost leading authority on Galaktion Tabidze -- the poet I'm here to translate. He's also a member of the Georgian Parliment (quick note: Georgia is about to have their first set of local elections since the revolution in 2003. They're on Oct. 4th, so anyone working for / with the gov't is very busy right now). I'd had several emails with Irakli before arriving, but we hadn't actually talked. I didn't know how much English he knew, or how well we were going to be able to communicate (what little Georgian I have is coming back very slowly, and I don't have a tutor yet).

So, when I called him yesterday morning, I figured we would set up a brief meeting later this week, and hopefully I'd get a quick tour around the offices of the Institute (hoping beyond hope that I might even have a desk or space to work somewhere) and then we would make plans to start working more seriously after the elections. How wrong I was. What follows is, as best as I can describe, what happened. It didn't realy make sense then, and little of it makes sense now.

I called Irakli around 11:00 a.m., and he immediately asked me to meet him in front of the Parliment building at noon. I said "sure" and he immediately hung up. I got to the Parliment building (a huge monolith of pink marble columns, arching fountains, and no -- absolutely no -- signs announcing what it is) at ten to noon. A few minutes after noon a tiny gray-haired man in jeans, a white button-down shirt and gray sports-coat came running up, shook my hand, and with little more introduction began dragging me by the elbow around to the back of the Parliment building, and inside. On the way he turned and said "Why did you call me?" -- I stuttered some explanation unsure if he was asking why I'd waited so long, why I'd called him now, or who the hell I was. Apparently he knew who I was, because when I mentioned "Fulbright" he nodded vigorously. Then he said something in a long string of Georgian I didn't catch. Then he said "To learn Georgian, you must forget English." I agreed with that.

We entered the Parliment building, he took my passport, and began to have a long talk with two levels of security guards. While in line, he introduced me to another man, a professor (I think) named Giorgi, who is a six-foot tall octogenarian with smoker's-breath. During the introduction, I hear my name, and Giorgi goes "Ahh!" and begins to lecture me in Georgian. I catch that he's talking about Galaktion Tabidze, Stalin, and the words "why, why, why?" and "difficult. Painful." I'm not sure if he noticed that my conversational Georgian is terribly meager, so as he talked, I managed a couple of "ah, yes." and "hm.." and otherwise tried not to look like a deer in headlights.

Giorgi held my elbow and spoke, his face about six inches from mine, as we swept through security, up to the fifth floor of the building, and down a long hallway to a tiny room, where both Irakli and Giorgi suddenly started intensely pacing and smoking and staring at me without saying a word to me or each other. Very slowly and deliberately Giorgi removed an academic journal from his satchel, and opened it to a poorly translated summary of an article he wrote about Freud, Bakhtin and the nature of the word. Then, without any other indication of what he was doing, Irakli walked over to the phone, called several people, and informed me that he'd found an apartment (can you pay $200? I think it's too much), and that I could see it in one hour.

Then he grilled me on Tabidze, my knowlege of Georgian history, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. I told him what I knew of Tabidze, what I was interested in, and some of the connections I saw between him and Frost. He said things like: "When Eliot wrote, he had a whole philosophy behind him. But there are many Tabidzes." and "When Stevens wrote the word 'tintinabulations' it had no specific meaning. Tabidze uses words similarly." I did my best to be clear. We talked like that for a while. Then Giorgi, who had been chain-smoking and staring silently at a computer screen the entire time without touching either mouse or keyboard, left.

I called Karen and went went with a third person (also named Giorgi, much younger) to look at the apartment. As soon as we left the Parliment building, Irakli disappeard, only saying that he would make "line by line translations" of a poem or two, and that I should call him. Thus ended my first meeting.

The apartment was no good, but Giorgi was incredibly nice, and we had some good conversations. Irakli has the energy of ten intense men, but I think we're on the same page philosophically. I absolutely need to start studying Georgian immediately. I go to pick up the "line by line" translations in about half an hour. We'll see what those are like.


Anonymous said...

Your entire experience with Irakli is very much like a repeating nightmare of mine. You handled it way better though. big hug, mom

joe said...

sounds f-ing insane... in both the good and bad way, or maybe a combination of the two.

sending my serenity and thoughts of 111.


Gary Friedhoff said...

I am enjoying this Chris. You are living the adventure. Enjoy.

Tell Karen Cindy and I said hi.