Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Haircut Pictures

Okay, so here's before:

and here's after:

Sigh. Well.. at least it's short now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It just needs a little time

so. I got my hair cut. uch.

Right around the corner from our house, there's a little collection of salons (or sometimes, if it's written in English, "saloons") that cater to both men and women. I picked one and, armed with my two phrases ("I want a hair cut" and "how much?") steeled my resolve, and entered the shop.

I was immediately welcomed, my coat was taken, I was spoken to almost entirely in Russian, despite saying several times that I only speak Georgian and English. ("you only speak Georgian?" "Yes, Georgian and English. And French." "And French? Oh, dearie. Russian Russian Russian.")

Then, using a complicated series of gestures and simple words ("big, little. no. yes. okay.") I explained what I wanted -- short on the sides, a little longer on top. Then I took off my glasses, offered a short prayer, and closed my eyes.

Now, for many of you, you might be able to say something if you see the barber beginning to go awry. But, with my glasses off I'm nearly blind. When I look in the big mirror in front of me, I see a large, bib-colored splotch with a smaller head-colored splotch on top of it, with a large multi-colored splotch moving around the whole thing, and scissor noises.

So haircuts are a matter of trust, even when everyone speaks English. Still. she did a good job. I'll put up a picture soon.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bigger Things

Last Thursday night was Thanksgiving. On Wednesday we packed up a few things and left Tbilisi for Sighnaghi. Back in the States, after K. and I discovered that we were going to be living here, P -- K.'s mom, decided to extend her stay a couple extra weeks, and celebrate Thanksgiving with us.

About two weeks ago, our painter-friend J., who also lives in Sighnaghi discovered that the day was going to be considerably bigger for him. After the Russian ban on Georgian Wine (which is primarily from this area), there's been a big push to find new markets. The Georgian gov't had put together a press tour for a handful of freelancers and journalists from big-time european and american media (bbc, washington post) and was bringing them through the region. On Thursday, they wanted to have a big supra, and wanted J. to host it. All the food and wine would be brought in -- J. just needed to provide atmosphere, and Tamada duties. So we were invited, by J., as guests. Whoo!

This would be much more exciting than a traditional thanksgiving dinner, plus it would have all the same trappings -- too much food, lots of conversation, family (not all of them, unfortunately), and news. Although, instead of just having people talk about current events, we got to have journalists.

I haven't seen the articles -- I'll link to them if I see them. But the day was...surreal.

Although everything was supposed to start at 10:30 sharp and end by 1:00 pm (the junket was on a tight schedule) they didn't actually arrive until a quarter to noon (nothing is on a tight schedule in Georgia) and didn't leave until three or four o'clock. The supra was going to be held in J.'s basement -- a huge, stone room with a fireplace that had been roaring for two days straight to get it warm enough, and a long table that filled the whole room. An outer room, with stairs that led up to the street, was outfitted with a traditional trough for a grape-pressing demonstration. The press arrived, and a couple people jumped into the grapes and started pressing, with a couple journalists eventually joining them. As this was clearly a photo-op, lots of pictures were taken. Then the press drank some "professional" wine -- bottled by a local company. Afterwards, we retired to the room with the big table for the meal, accompanied by copious amounts of "peasant" (traditionally made) wine.

It started off fun enough. By now, I'm used to the traditional fare at Georgian supras. There's always fresh tomatoes and onions, shish-kebab, hot cheese-bread, these little pickled greens, which I love, called jonjoli, and strips of fried chinese eggplant rolled up with a walnut sauce and pomegranate pips. This stuff is so good, I could eat it for hours. In fact, I have.

And the company was nice. I enjoyed talking with the lone american (wash. post) and a couple of the brits (bbc, guardian) and made encouraging gestures at the spanish/italian/german press that was present. One guy from the bbc got drunk and made kind of a fool of himself, in a very endearing way. The rest of the reporters, who had not yet filed their stories, stayed sober, as they were working. But our host got drunk in a less pleasant way. And, after the journalists left, when the local and regional governmental officials returned, we had another supra, this time with a much more visibly sloppy host. But then, they made their excuses, and left.

and there was another supra, with just a small amount of friends. And a very, very sloppy host. Who stumbled and fell. Who kept drinking. Even after we left.

To be honest, this was the first time I'd seen this kind of behavior from anyone here. Georgians drink a lot -- but you rarely see a Georgian, even in the city, so publicly drunk that he's unable to walk or stand. Typically, people get expansively drunk, celebrating life, and friends. You never see anyone drinking alone.

It was a big day. Sighnaghi -- a tiny little town of maybe 8,000 people on a hill, with a great view, is getting a reputation as one of the cultural centers of Georgia. Millions of dollars are now going to be pouring into the city for renovations, and soon it will be restored and rebuilt, and made ready for tourists interested in woodcarving, and winemaking, and rugweaving, as well as painting, dance, music, and (hopefully) poetry. A lot of this has to do with P. and with J. and their work. It's heady getting to see all this. But it was also kind of a weird day. I don't know if J. is under more stress than usual, or if this is a side of him I just haven't seen before. But I found it oddly incongruous amidst all the positive signs.

Or maybe it was just more of Thanksgiving, shining through.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ballet Part Two, -- Of Things Unfamiliar

Well, so Saturday night was a night of several unfamiliar things.

First: the ballet. This was a thing to behold. There are, apparently, two competing major Georgian dance troupes. We saw the one called "Sukhishvili" -- also known as the Georgian National Ballet (although so is the competition). How to describe this...

Imagine a crowd of about seventy dancers dressed in stylized versions of various Eastern European folk costumes, dancing highly complex broadway-style numbers involving acrobatics, leaps into the air that would make Spud Webb weep with shame, spark-inducing sword fights, people spinning like tops across stage on their knees and flinging dagger after dagger (after dagger) into the ground.

This is ballet on crack.

To be honest, there's some history here that needs to be acknowledged. Yes, it's derived from old folk dances, and yes, those dances are far from accurately represented. Same with the costumes. So, among the purists, it's far from "Georgian." -- I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to be that the development of the Georgian National Ballet had much more to do with the USSR wanting to promote "culture" and to impress the world ("look what the Communists produce!") and that's fine. It's not anything like an accurate representation of history. Fine. But what a show! We sat in the third row, and sweat from the dancers (which shot off them because they were spinning like tops) sailed over our heads, missing us completely. That's how good a show it was.

You know how, in regular ballet, you occasionally see a ballerina pop up on one toe, and maybe do a pirouette, or dance across the stage? Well, in this show, men were sword-fighting, and tossing daggers in the ground while leaping around en pointe.

Things unfamiliar indeed. Their website is currently down, but if it ever comes back up you should look at it.

oh yeah: second unfamiliar thing. After getting back from the theater Saturday night I promptly got ridiculously sick, and started throwing up everything but those little bones in the bottom of my feet. I'd only ever been this sick once before, and it ended up with me in the hospital. The puking ended (thankfully) early Sunday morning, but all day Sunday I bumped around in a headachy, weak-stomached daze. It was awful. Felt like the worst hangover I've ever had, only I hadn't drunk a drop.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ballet Part One -- Of Things Familiar

So today was the first part of a ballet-filled weekend. Tomorrow we're going to see the Sukhishvili Dance Company -- traditional Georgian folk dancing taken to crazy extremes. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

But tonight we went to the Georgian State Ballet company's production of three of George Balanchine's pieces. This was very modern, very familiar. Balanchine, as you probably don't know, was the founder of the New York Ballet Company -- he was a choreographer and collaborator with Igor Stravinsky, and basically founded the American Ballet scene. What you also probably don't know is that he was Georgian: his original last name was Balanchivadze. Weird.

So. Aside from occasional clips of the Nutcracker on stage, I've never seen a true ballet. But I'm a fan of outmoded, dying esoteric art forms that masquerade as cultural acquisition projects for the very rich (I'm a poet, right?) so I thought I'd give it a shot. Plus, at just over $10.00 for floor-level seats, it seemed worth the price.

Ballet is... Pretty. Very pretty. It's not pyrotechnics. The dancers jump high, lift each other way into the air, and twirl for long periods of time, which looks (and must be) incredibly difficult... but I've seen more traditionally amazing feats of derring-do at the circus, and besides in this age of seen-it-all, matrix-style special effects, it's hard to be impressed by anything live. But the grace and beauty of the dancers is really worth watching.

And they really manage to tell a story. The first piece we saw, Serenade was beautiful and sad, with dancers circling each other and leaping, shrinking, collapsing on the ground, leaning on each other... The dancers were traditionally dressed, and there was no official "story" (the program simply said it was based on Balanchine's 'memories of St. Petersburg').

The second was a telling of how the muses brought their gifts to Apollo. It told that story effectively, and was also quite graceful and beautiful.

The last piece was a western. Men dressed as cowboys and women dressed as dance-hall ladies (*cough euphemism, cough*) sashayed and two-stepped, ballet style across the stage. Weird. I loved it. The wonderful orchestra built in all these old country folk songs.

Okay. But what made it great and strange was that it was all so familiar. Like a number of things in Georgia -- strange little vignettes, sitting on the bus, watching people cross the street, or children playing, or just wandering with K. back in the narrow streets near our little apartment, if you take out the strange letters and fonts, you could be in any European or American city. Some parts of Georgia are so familiar.

I'm sure the strangeness will present itself during tomorrow's dance performance.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I have an article up!

It's at a website in New York, called -- in their Wanderlust section.

Go and read! or, if you're visiting from the site, welcome! send me a note.

Monday, November 13, 2006

There is Currently A Man Destroying our Upstairs Bathroom

...he's taking a hammer and breaking away the tile and concrete that surround the piping. Then, he's destroying the piping, and after that, I assume, he'll determine whether the pipes are broken. I can only guess that he'll conclude they are, but who knows.

When we first got here, everything was very new, and very weird, and very fresh, and I felt like I was bursting at the seams to write about all the strange things I encountered. As I'm sure usually happens, we've begun to acclimate to our surroundings a bit, and there is less and less that I find specifically worth writing about... I'm not sure that makes sense.

On the one hand, our living situation is very romantic, and very much what you might expect from a poet and a journalist living together in Eastern Europe... the buildings are very turn-of-the-century, and partly run-down.. one of us walks to the corner most mornings for fresh-baked bread, to eat with our little thimbles of coffee... crazy young men dressed in black squat on every street corner, smoking. There's even a piano teacher across the street, and so we walk out of our little apartment building to the sounds of Stravinski and Rachmaninoff.

On the other hand, living is living: 90% daily drudge. We run out of peanut butter. We watch the first season of "24" and contemplate buying the second season from iTunes. The goddamn toilet breaks. I'm tired from staying up late last night, and I have to study my Georgian homework, and there's this guy loudly destroying the upstairs bathroom, hopefully to find and fix the leak that made our kitchen ceiling shit concrete last week, and as soon as he's done and it's all fixed, we're going to do two weeks worth of laundry, which, because of airline luggage limits, is practically all our laundry. In these moments, it doesn't feel any different than living in Marshfield, or Burlington, or Oxford, or Columbus, or anywhere else.

But then you look out the window, and see a sixteen hundred year old fortress and think oh, yeah. That's why I'm here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Out Back

Opening the door to our balcony (a medium-sized wooden structure off the livingroom, where we mostly go to hang out wet clothes) and going out onto it at night is the nicest thing. From our vantage point, one can see up two streets -- ahead leads further into the neighborhood, and to the right leads back out to the main road. At night, both directions afford fantastic views -- one of a tv tower and church, lit up and glowing, and the other of an old fortress at the top of a hill.

But what's more fascinating is the local space. There's another building directly across the street. On the second floor, piano music constantly floats out an open window. On the third floor, which is directly across from us, our neighbor Nana occasionally comes out on to the porch to hang her own laundry. Off to the right, a man and a woman trade places, sitting and smoking out an open window.

And across the street to our left, a building is being renovated. While the rest of the facades in our neighborhood consist of chipped brick showing through broken plaster, the new building's front is whole, and freshly painted. The windows, which are vinyl, are still covered in dirt from the workers, and peering in them I can see that the whole place has been gutted and is being rebuilt, almost from scratch. When it's done, it's going to look georgeous. This is happening all over the place.

I'm looking forward to seeing how much this place changes over our ten months here.

On the other hand, our upstairs toilet pipes broke, causing our kitchen ceiling to crack and start falling over the floor, and I've no idea if it will be replaced, repaired, or simply shut off so it doesn't get worse. PVC piping is hard to come by. So everything isn't rushing headlong toward greatness. But there are signs.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Like driving in the dark

Living in a foreign city, I'm suddenly hyper aware of certain, mundane, everyday situations. This is really curious for me. I suddenly have a good idea of what it's like to be illiterate. Most products in the grocery store come from one of three places: Germany, Russia, or Turkey. Which means that the most familiar looking words are in German -- a language I speak not at all. For products from the other countries, I can't even pronounce the text. If it's in Georgian (which it only sometimes is) I might be able to suss it out. But, essentially, boxes without clear pictures on them are out of my reach. A box with a picture of a scoop with a bunch of white powder could be salt, or sugar, or maybe baking powder, or flour (or cocaine. Hell, I don't know). A box with a happy looking kid sitting on a swing could be anything.

And outside the grocery store, even the smallest task, if I haven't done it before, is incredibly daunting. I'm thinking I need to get my hair cut soon. There's a barber shop around the corner, and I've seen men there. But figuring out how to tell a barber what I want my hair to look like in English is hard enough. In Georgian? I'm toying with the idea of just letting it grow until I get home, just to avoid the hassle.

So. This morning the upstairs toilet backed up, and then started leaking. Instead of good PVC piping out the back, there's an accordion-style plastic tube. One end is cemented into the floor. The water level in the bowl wasn't sinking, and a small amount of sewage was leaking from the back somewhere, and the whole apartment started to stink. We needed bleach and a plunger. Bleach and a plunger! I found myself wishing that wal-mart had taken over here. Where do you even go for that? In the six weeks we've been here we haven't even been able to find nail clippers. There's a huge outdoor builder's market about half an hour north of town, but we can't go that far, and I don't think they're even open until the weekend.

K. and I ventured out, and began poking around various shopfronts. Eventually we found this little makeshift closet-sized store in one of the many underground passageways that join various sides of impassably traffic-heavy streets around here. It was a hardware shop. We'd looked up the word for plunger before we left, but K didn't have the piece of paper where we'd written it. So I said "toilet" and began making plunger motions until the very kind gentleman produced the correct product. Then we poked around other shops until we got to one that seemed to sell laundry detergent. I couldn't find the word for bleach in my dictionary, but said "liquid whitens" a couple times, and the guy behind the counter pointed to a small bottle near the detergent. It had no pictures, but looked vaguely bleach like. We bought it, and opened it. Success!

Back at the house, Karen remembered seeing a can of polyurethane foam in one of the closets. Thankfully, it had directions in English on the back. We found the leak (a crack in the concrete!) and cleaned, and foamed it up. Hooray! Problem mostly solved! But it was like making our way in the dark. Now we know where to go if the plumbing acts up again, but what if the vacuum breaks?