Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hooray A Bike!

I just bought a bike for my touring around the 'cuse (yes, people actually call it that. Actually, they put it on t-shirts).

..so it turns out that instead of muscles, I have a conglomeration of wet spaghetti and putty in my legs. Who knew? My, god, bicycling is difficult. I get out of breath before I even climb on the thing. Suddenly, I'm thirty.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Foto Time

I thought it might be nice to share a few photographs from the time that K and I were in Georgia.. with little descriptions.

Turtles for sale

This was a box of tiny little turtles (see how big the flowers are?) that K. found as we were walking through the big market in Vagzlis Moedani this spring. I wish we'd gotten a picture of the guy selling them -- he was a scraggly, grizzled old guy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, completely at odds with the pretty scene inside the box.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I. Am. In. Syracuse!

Hooray...

So.. K. and I made it Syracuse, and met my new roommate, Nadxi (pron. nad-jee), and her fiance, Rob. Both of them are quite cool, and I'm looking forward to sharing a house for the next few years. They hail from NYC -- Rob's into film, and riding bikes, and Nadxi is in the poetry program.

The house was a little gross when we got there. Ah, college towns. The former tenants basically just moved out, leaving hair-and-dust strewn bathroom floors, gunk in the corners of the living room, and a stove that had the beginnings of enlightened civilizations forming in and around the oven. Yum. So K. and I threw all the boxes in the diningroom, and then mopped/swept/bleached/scrubbed/brought the fucking clean onto every surface we could. Then Nadxi and Rob came and brought even more of the cleaning.

Karen went back to NYC, and started her "I'm living in a far awesomer city than you" adventures. Tomorrow I head down there to pick her up and we're going to head out on thursday for jen and eliot's wedding, in Ohio. Then back, then orientation (and internets at the house!)

Then I'll update more often. Maybe. If you're lucky.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Crossing Books

I just came across a book sitting in a little cubby outside Stauf's Coffee Roasters, in Grandview, OH. It's the Kite Runner, and on the front of it, there's a little sign: "I'm not lost, I'm free! Open for details..."

Turns out that it's a part of a game/website/thingy called Book Crossing. It seems like a neat idea. Everyone give away your old books, and sign them up for Book Crossing! People the world with books!

If they did this with cd's, the RIAA would shit monkeys.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm back in the states, and doing a little light summer reading.

Hey all,

Back in these here contiguous 48, and I'm doing a little light summer reading. So far: Harukai Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, and then A Crazy Book I Never Thought I'd Read (more in a sec).

God. Damn, I missed reading in English.

Okay, so on to the book I never thought I'd read:

I first came across this article (READ that article!) when it was published in 2004. It amazed and astounded me, and I went out searching for the book it mentions. After a lot of digging, the Ohio State Interlibrary Loan system managed to get me access to an original copy for all of seven days, but alas, I didn't have any time to actually read it.

Something caught my memory a few days ago, and so I looked at the Internet Archive (and their sister site, the Open Library, which has a way better system for reading than Google Books), and lo and behold, here it is.

Read the article first, and if you dare, download and read the book. It's the most fantastic science-fiction / humor/ post-modern / novel to be written in 1886, just after the civil war in the south.

But don't take MY word for it (thank you, Levar Burton) ...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Oh Jeezum

The 'rents are in town, and it's been a crazy (uhm... erhm.. how long has it been a month?! yikes) time since I last wrote on this here interweb journal-log thingy.

We went *back* to Uplis Tsikhe and Atenis Sioni, saw Stalin's hometown again, walked up and down the mountains and ancient fortresses of Tbilisi, took a trip out to Sighnaghi, where K's dad/stepmom and my dad/stepmom both took many many megabytes of pictures, and the weather stayed beautiful. Then we took a long daytrip to Davit Gareji again, to look at beautiful half-destroyed frescoes and cave-monks. The days were interspersed with voraciously appetited meals consisting of all the high points of Georgian cuisine -- fried eggplant with walnut sauce, fresh greens, dumplings, shishkebabed meat, etc. etc. All in all it was like a brief, intense recap of our entire year here.

Needless to say it's been a little overwhelming. I haven't been able to post mostly because the internet ran out in a long, and frustrating, and mostly boring-to-anyone-but-me story involving Georgian bureauocracy, my stupid backfiring money-saving plan, and hours and hours in various lines and on the phone.

Internets are back. Parents are here. Today we check out the antiques market and tomorrow we go up to the ancient capital of Mtskheta to see some beautiful churches, and maybe I'll write something that makes more sense, or post a couple more translations in a bit.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Town in Rocks

Went to the cave-town of Uplistsikhe (pronounced "oop-leet--seek-hey") this morning.. Took the nine a.m. train out to Gori (town motto: Birthplace of Stalin! He Changed History!) and then a taxi to the caves. They're only a couple miles away from Gori.

It's a strange town, built mostly out of rock, sometime in the millenium before Christ. It reached its peak in terms of people (20 k) and size in the early middle ages. Now it's a bunch of empty caves with some strangely beautiful carvings in them, and a lot of mysteries surrounding them. Number one: why would an entire town full of merchants and traders decide to live in caves? Number two: where did they go?

On the way back, we discovered some of that legendary Gorian hospitality (motto: Our taxis will leave you stranded, but unlike Stalin, we probably won't have you killed!) and spent some time in the parking lot of the Uplistsikhe monument begging for rides back, to little avail (apparent Gori bus driver mottos: "Fuck you! We're Full!)

What's weird about this is that Georgians are, deservedly, legendary for their hospitality. So, not being able to get someone to help is very, very unusual. Ah. well.

Hit the roads to wander the seven kilometers back to Gori, there to take the train back, when a busload of school kids from Tbilisi stopped, and offered to pick us up. "Are you going to Gori?" we said. "We're going through Gori, to Tbilisi!" they said. "You're going to Tbilisi?!?" we said. "Eventually!" they said.

And thus began the adventure of the second half of our day. We went to an old church (Atenis Sioni, if you're paying attention to names) and then spend three or seven hours picnicing beneath a weeping tree, eating fresh pork roasted on the ground, and cheese bread, and cucumbers, and potatoes, and watching a busload of sixth graders run around like wild things.

It was... well, incredibly fun. I played a little soccer (I wish I'd been thirty when I was in sixth grade. I totally would have been picked first every time in Gym class) I ate a bunch of pork. I hung out with an incredibly determined kid, who used all twelve of the English words he knew to convey a surprisingly large and subtle amount of information. I received a gift (an orthodox rosary, courtesy of the sixth graders) and became a "guest" for the Georgians, which is much like being a "mascot" especially when the "guest" is "American" which means "exotically cool."

And I hung out and chatted with the tour's English teacher, who was very kind, and helpful. And when she asked what I did, and I told her I was a poet, she sighed with the kind of dreamy exoticism that I cannot even begin to describe, and said "A poet...? Oh, wooooowwwww." I'm sorry Karen, but she did. It made my whole day.

Then I watched the students' history teacher wrap up all the garbage from the picnic, and throw it into the stream we were sitting next to. And I thought "I should say something!" Then I thought "I really don't want to walk home from here." And so I kept my fool mouth shut, as about three and a half kilos of unbiodegradable plastic bags and cups and knives sailed down the stream, toward the river, and eventually out toward the Caspian sea. Unless a cow eats it.

On the way back the bus driver graciously dropped us off near a metro station, and when we got on the train, we realized that we had been gone almost exactly twelve hours. So there must have been some kind of kismet going down.

All in all a good day. Maybe I'll upload some pictures of the cave cities soon. Meantime click the link waay up there. The website's awful, but the pictures are descriptive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: My Heart - Today The Black Sea - Drums

Written in 1934, this is one of Tabidze’s poems in celebration of his country. Note the rhetoric — the way that it seems, at first, to be a love poem, and then moves toward a national poem, confusing and conflating the two, and never fully explaining itself, or its subject matter.

Is the metaphor that of woman as country, or of country as woman? There are elements that suggest each.

Typical themes in Tabidze’s work — darkness, bitterness, suffering, endurance and just enough hope to survive. Many of Tabidze’s poems read like dirges — but what is interesting is that they don’t sound like dirges.

The lines are short, and almost spry, with flutters of internal rhyme liberally sprinkled among the stanzas, giving the sound of it an almost sing-songy music. Although I wasn’t able to capture all of the internal rhymes, read just the first line in the original: “chemi gulia dghes es shavi zghva” — the rhymes between “gulia” and “shavi zghva” as well as the “dges es” punctuation make this a nearly unforgettable first line.

It’s the tension between the darkness of the subject matter, and the poem’s musical insistence on making it sound lighthearted that makes the poem as interesting as it is. Sort of like dancing in a thunderstorm.

My Heart - Today The Black Sea - Drums

I was travelling, night approaching,
The sea showed me its gardens.
—Shota Rustaveli

My heart — today the black sea — drums
and leans against Adjaran slopes.
I have weathered here such furious storms —
Let them miss your placid boats.

And though the others cannot tell,
Your pine and fir will understand
that I’m not carved from mud or shale,
but made of doubt and faith — a man.

As such, I’ll suffer what may come:
Thirst, thunderstorm or freezing rain,
As long as, with the rising dawn
one hope has light enough to shine.

I’ll suffer every obstacle —
each prison cell, each bitter slight
As long as I can still see well
enough to know my country’s plight.

The darkest taste of loneliness,
the saddest unbefriended state:
I’ll suffer all, as long as I
can see my country’s shining light.

First printed in Georgia Today

The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: To Gautier

During the early part of the 20th century, the French intellectual and literary world had a great influence on Georgian writers. In the mid-19th century writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud had defined a poetic movement, called Symbolism, which was just beginning to make waves in Georgia. It would be only a few years later, with the Communist Revolution, that exchange between the Caucasus and the West would be largely cut off, but in 1920, when this poem was written, Georgian Symbolism (as denoted by the “Blue Drinking-Horns” group of poets) was at its peak.

Though Tabidze was not ever formally a member of the Blue Drinking Horns, he was obviously highly influenced by the Symbolists.

This poem, dedicated to Theophile Gautier, is filled, in its first 4/5, with references, both obvious and obscure, to “Western” literature in general, and to French literature, art and history specifically. In the Georgian, Tabidze uses a number of French-sounding words, in addition to naming specific people and places.

The last third, which I have taken the liberty of placing in italics, is much more specifically Georgian in tone and style, with a clean, almost anti-baroque imagery all the more evocative for its contrast with the elaborate style and philosophical/historical/artistic references in the first part.



To Gautier[1]

You named your native haven Pimodan[2],
A place forever Delaroche’s[3] hues.
The light awaited us, and it was laden
Laden down with laurel and with “petit choux”
This blessed time is even now more perfect!
In each: the lightning of Brumel[4] and Lauzon[5].
And please, please where are all the altruistic
Poets, painters, passing ladies, mimosian?
Surrounding us are white streams of remembrance.
Surrounding us are streams, light and clandestine:
The place glowed — a snug, erudite Parnassus,
It was a legendary lifestyle of the mind.
But we were seeking something profound, something Georgian…
Rhyme — and subtle nuance, rhythmic shadows.
Where were all the people from the pattern:
The Maenads[6]— swan and wing — Infantas[7]?
For now the road is thornier than thorn,
And no one else is trampled as this soul.
Now I’m an empty mountain church, forlorn,
And the dying sunlight dooms me with a smile.

1920



[1] Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist and literary critic. An influence on the Symbolists, from which Tabidze drew inspiration.

[2] Hotel on the ile de Saint Louis, famous as a gathering-place for poets and artists.

[3] Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (1797-1856), French painter

[4] Antoine Brumel (1460-1513), French composer.

[5] poss. Jean de Lauzon (1584-1666), French Governor of New France (Canada), or poss. one of several dukes “du Lauzun” — courtiers and soldiers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

[6] Female worshipers of Dionysus, Greek god of wine.

[7] Spanish title given to a royal daughter who is not heir to the throne.

First published in Georgia Today

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion: An Angel Held an Endless Scroll

[The poem’s meaning] is almost completely obscure. In such a case, the only freedom left to the reader is the certainty that his reading is wrong, his task unfinished. The connotations in this poem are much more important than denotations.

—Irakli Kenchoshvili

Here is a poem that, upon initial reading, seems entirely confusing. Images appear that seem to have no relation to the rest of the text. The main speaker, an angel, discusses trees, and the Holy Grail, and Asian skies, without making any obvious connections to them. Curtains suddenly appear, and then disappear “in a whirlpool of fire.”

Are these metaphors? Are they symbols? Are we supposed to understand what the Angel represents, much less the curtains, or the dying roses? These are the kinds of poems that make schoolchildren’s heads ache.

And yet, there is a logic at work. When the reader removes her focus from trying to assemble a story, and instead focuses on the connotations of the words, as Kenchoshvili suggests, we see strong religious/mythical images suffused throughout the poem — the grail, a tower, a scroll, shrines and an angel. And reading over the adjectives — words such as soft, ashen, wan, trembling, cautious — imparts a sense of both frailty, and loss.

This is clearly not a celebration of religion’s strength.

The poem is full of destruction and chaos — leaves are hurled, fire consumes, love has been useless. And the ending line, a triptych of goodbyes (in Georgian, literally “peace”) completes the sense of loss for a melancholy ending. So, maybe the poem isn’t as incoherent as it first appears.



An Angel Held an Endless Scroll

An angel held an endless scroll,
gazing sorrowfully at the world.
I loved you in vain! And so, farewell
luminous night of diamond jewels,
soft lips praying, shrines and glory.
Someday, you shall speak of me!
The Grail’s tower, the Lydian belfry
broke at your feet and I heard your misery.
And the dream of a heaven’s equality
waned as you planned it, its absence of essence—
an ashen cloud and stately cypress tree
which you moved from Asian firmaments.

An angel held an endless scroll.
Its wan sense was the hurling leaves.
I loved you in vain! We both wholly
desired each other. And so, I must leave.

The curtains fell in a whirlpool of fire.
Evening trembled, cautious, fearful.
The night subsided. The roses expired.
Farewell! …Farewell! …Farewell!

..as originally published in Georgia Today

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Learn Georgian!

Even if you can't be in Georgia, these phrases will make you feel like you've been here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion in translation: Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

I love this poem for its sweet imagery, and for its gentle, happy nature. Though many of Tabidze’s poems are dark dirges, accurately reflecting the time they were written, poems like this show that he was no less talented when it came to subjects of lightness, and joy.

Some believe that only darkness, despair, and anger are worthy subjects for a poem, but look at the subtlety of this work — how the mood Tabidze creates is not one of simplistic ecstasy, or overpowering joy, but a complicated sense of pleasantness tinged with an understanding that the feeling involves a forgetting of one’s troubles — not necessarily their actual disappearance.

It begins in the middle of a pleasant walk — late in the evening, almost dawn — to the edges of the city. Immediately the narrator discovers a place. It reminds him of an incident as resonant as it is strange. The reader is given only a few images to hang onto: sisters, roses, some kind words. Are these potential lovers? Fans of the poet? Friends of a friend? Guests? It’s not clear. Neither is it particularly important — the sweetness of the words and the memory of the flowers become more significant because their setting cannot be located.

“da gavida ivlisi” — and in this fashion July passes. This is how he remembers spending that summer, being complimented by ladies, and laden with flowers. What a life! And yet, in the middle of this incident, there is one word — “shpotiani:” anxious — a reminder, like a distant bell, that all is not sweet words and summer days. Again, what makes Tbilisi anxious cannot be located. But its very presence tinges the rest of the poem’s sweetness with a pinch of salt. It is an acknowledgement that all is not perfect. And ironically, it is this acknowledgement that makes the roses and sweet words that much more poignant, fragile, beautiful.

All of this is tied together with a sweet little song of remembrance. If you read the original over and over, you can even hear the melody…


Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

And now before my eyes I find
your cottage, where the woods begin,
And this night like a river, winds
into an azure opening.

Sisters proferring with roses
whisper such sweet haunting words:
“You’re such a noble,” one proposes.
“You are a poet,” the next avers.

And in this fashion July passes,
every second, every hour,
City of Tbilisi: anxious
kingdom of the troubadour.

The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: “You’re Going Away”

This poem, from 1956, is from Galaktion’s “late” or “classical” period. The imagery is simple, the voice is direct, and as the poem progresses, an entire story begins to unfold about the relationship between the speaker, and the addressee.

A great part of Galaktion’s strength lies in his ability to produce evocative, surprising, and intense images and settings out of relatively general descriptions and words. By allowing a word like “torment” in the first line to go unexplained, he gives it both a great amount of weight, and also allows it to hold a multitude of possible meanings, so that the poem may become personal to whomever is reading it.

The risk in a poem like this is a certain flattening out of the images — if descriptions are too general, then they lose all weight. If they do not seem real, they have no real meaning. Galaktion invests his poems with strong music, which invest each word with memorable importance, and so his poems’ images become resonant, even personal — and are allowed to do so, by virtue of the ambiguous imagery


***

You’re going away… and reaping your torment,
like hay from a seaside recently shorn.
Whoever said you’ve lived your last moments?
No: today is the day you were born.

You’re going away… but no one is angry,
either on earth or in paradise.
Whoever said that you were unlucky?
No: today is the day you were blessed.

You’re going away… may your journey be sweet.
Tales of your other dwellings are fiction.
Whoever said that you slept on the street?
No. You are sheltered now: you have protection.

You’re going… and many long for such fortune.
For anywhere else, fortune doesn’t exist.
Now you are finally up in the heavens—
now you reside as Eternity’s guest.

...first published in Georgia Today

Monday, April 30, 2007

Saturday Night at the Ambassador's

So last Saturday K. and I were invited to the ambassador's house. This past weekend was "New Orleans Days" in Tbilisi, which involved bringing a band from New Orleans, as well as a cook, and hosting a concert and cooking demonstration. So, being that famous Americans were coming to Georgia, the ambassador had a buffet/shindig at his place, and somehow we (because we are Amercians, I assume) were invited.

The ambassador's place is swank! High walls, guards every ten feet, waaaay out in the middle of nowhere (the cabbies both there and back got lost trying to find it)... but it was very fun. Plus, I got to wear my nice jacket. Since I work from home -- in my pajamas more often than not -- it was a good excuse to dress up and get out.

While we were there, our friend M. from the public affairs office handed K. and I tickets to the evening's event -- a performance by Sharon Martin, and her band. We drove back across town, to a theater that almost looked deliberately run-down. Although the stage was intact, it was unvarnished, and the sides of the theater were alternately covered in raw 2x4 scaffolding, or being held up with rebar-reinforced metal. In lieu of theater seats, there were (comfortable) chairs, set up on what looked like makeshift bleachers. Exposed plaster, bare light-bulbs, and ceiling rafters were all visible.

So, in a lot of ways, it was the perfect place for old gospel and jazz staples such as "Nearer My God to Thee," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "What a Wonderful World."

All in all, a great saturday evening.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hey Cool!

A whole bunch of my translations have been published by the National Parlimentary Library of Georgia.

there's a few typos at the moment, but I think they'll fix them soon.. and they may even add a picture.

American Poet Captures the Melody of Tabidze's Verse

he he he...

This is pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tomorrow Has Made A Phone Call To Today

Official word is in -- Syracuse University has a spot in their program with my name on it. I'll be teaching two classes in the fall, and shoveling nine feet of snow off my car in November. As of Friday, I'd officially given up hope -- seeing as they told me I would hear by April 15th, if I was to be moved off the wait-list. On Sunday morning (my time) I got the email.

Whoo hoo!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ah, Bano!

Tbilisi is a warm place. The city's name is a derivation of the Georgian word "tbili" -- which means "warm." It's named after the geothermal sulphur springs which run underneath the old part of the city, making parts of the metro system smell like rotten eggs, and supplying the bath house district ("abano ubani") with its wonderful, warm, rejuvenating water.

The bath houses are this:
Baths

a series of underground rooms, presenting themselves as little brick domes to the surface-dwellers, comprising a small block of space about five minutes walking distance from my apartment. Inside each of those domes, there's a marble-and-tile room. The nicer rooms have a hot pool, a pool of cold water, and even a hot-brick sauna. Every friday a group of expats meets to share the 50 lari ($30) per hour room rental fee. Generally we get beer, and chips, and at some point get the "massage" -- wherin a man with what feels like a diamond-tipped loofa and a pillowcase full of soap suds assumes that you actually need to be about two centimeters smaller on all sides, and attempts to scrub you down to proper size. This costs five lari (three dollars).

Now, when I first heard that a bunch of guys get together each week, and get naked and hang out in a hot pool of water, my first thought was "not for me." My second thought was "not for me. ever."

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like that was unnecessarily prudish, and so I decided, as a challenge, to go for it. Yesterday was my second time.

The feeling of being pampered is amazing. The water is wonderful -- the sulphur softens your skins, and the heat and humidity literally melt away the stress. Then, when the massage comes, all the dirt, and newly softened skin gets systematically scraped away, and you walk out feeling, as so many people put it "like a new-born baby."

It's been a while since I've been a new-born, but my sense is that they are frequently cold, frightened and in some amount of pain -- given the crying and shivering, and blue-redness that seems to accompany their sudden presence in the world. For me, I think post-abano is much more pleasurable than all that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Grand Keystone Tradition

This was too funny not to post. I spend a lot of time making my way around the city in buses -- they are cheap, reliable, and they have huge, glass windows so you can stare out at the street. I fully enjoy watching the passers-by smoke their cigarettes, engage in their fights, walk, mill, etc. etc. It doesn't tell me all that much about Georgians, but it's still fun to people-watch.

But today I saw something unexpected -- two policemen were standing and talking together, when a young man bowled the both of them right over, and kept running. One fell back against a wall, but the other one sprawled out like a first-time ice skater, his hat going cockeyed and everything. The two cops looked at each other, dumbfounded, and then scrambled up and took off after their perp, hands on their guns.

Unfortunately, they ran the opposite direction of the bus, and I didn't see what happened next, though based on scene, I wouldn't be surprised if, after they caught him, they put him in a black and white horizontal striped suit, with a heavy lead ball chained to his leg.

All still wearing his black mask and everything.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: From The Fields

This is one of my favorite poems by Tabidze. Written in 1925, it seems to mark a change from Tabidze’s earlier, more experimental writing, to a simpler, more naturalistic style, which he was to carry into his later poems. Note the vignette-like feel of the poem, this could be a description of a painting, one imagines, from one of the Impressionists, or perhaps the Russian Formalists.

And yet, its’ also deeply musical — the “soulful hymn of farewell” the village virgin is singing could easily be the poem itself. There’s a distance, a remoteness to the poem, with its end-of-day imagery, and its undescribed woman, whose form appears on the horizon. There’s also, you might note, some strongly christian imagery. In the original poem, the last two lines read “ the lambs are driven home by a village madonna / madonna will return to the huts.” — the obvious play on the word “madonna” — to stand for a young woman, and for the Mother of God — is evident. Also note her role as shepherd.

While the poem is, overall, quite straightforward, there is still some evidence of Tabidze’s suprising symbolistic imagery, and the image of the setting sun, like a spider, descending into the web-like branches of distant trees is one of my favorites.


The Fields

Swaying, a slender figure appears
walking alone, sickle in hand,
singing a song, her voice is the pasture
at village’s edge, where an old outpost stands.
The song is a soulful hymn of farewell
sung to a row of cranes facing the sea,
while the sun, like a spider is closing itself
in the delicate criss-crossing thicket of trees.
But what does the soul know of slavery? Nothing!
The rustle and braying of sheep fill the streets:
a young village virgin and flock are returning.
And the Virgin will soon return to the huts.

First published in Georgia Today

Friday, April 06, 2007

My Conference Trip

I just got finished attending the first international symposium on literature, at the Institute for Georgian Literature. I met a lot of great people, heard some really interesting papers on various aspects of historical and modern Georgian and world literature. All in all, it was pretty cool. Plus, I finally got to wear my corduroy jacket.

Here's some pics from the event. click for titles and descriptions:

Chris and Irma

Chris and Tamar Kenchoshvili

Chris and Irma

Chris, Irma and Emzar

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I live in Georgia. This is my life.

So I was taking the bus home this afternoon, and it was packed up like one of those pictures from the '40s of kids in a phone booth. Only this was a bus. And at every stop, more people would just look at the wall of people when the bus doors opened, and sigh, and then shove in. And this was making the bus driver angry, apparently, which made him reckless.

Check that. Georgian bus drivers are reckless when they're calm and carefree. There needs to be a superlative of the word reckless in English, which will be able to describe an incensed Georgian bus driver. It will need to include concepts of blindness, homicidal and suicidal behavior, and will conjure images of a person randomly punching at the air. He kept driving with the doors open, which wouldn't be bad, except that I was at the outside edge of the wall of people -- facing the open air. Did I mention that these new busses have a history of catching fire? So I'm not saying I was in the most dangerous spot.

Anyway, I got to my stop, got off the Goddamn bus, threw my change at the bus driver's head, and went to buy some bread from the bread maker around the way. He works in the basement of this building, and there's a huge, hole in the ground, with clay walls around it, and basically he takes the dough he's rolled out (something like a ton of dough two or three times a day) and then leans waaaaay in on the edge of the clay wall, waaaaay down into the burning hot hole-in-the-ground oven, and slaps the dough on the side of the wall. When the bread is finished baking, he scrapes it off with a long stick, with a hook at the end. It's blistering hot in his basement all the time -- like Hephaestus in Hell hot. And he works something like eighteen hour days, every day of the week. So, I don't blame this man for being generally grumpy. We've developed a rapport -- wherein I gingerly set money down on a nearby table, and he throws bread at me.

But it's amazing, fantastic, warm, delicious bread. So I'm figuring he means well. But today, I came in, and he greeted me with a big smile, and said "welcome" -- in English (I think he's been practicing) and I noticed that right by his hole-in-the-ground oven, there was a little black and white kitten, all curled up and purring. I pointed at it, and he shrugged, and looked grumpy about it. And then he threw two loaves at my head.

And... I love Georgia again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You’re Thirteen: The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in TranslationYou’re Thirteen

This is one of Tabidze’s earliest poems — it was published in 1919, in his first book, Crâne Aux Fleurs Artistique. Possibly written in 1915 — when Tabidze was only twenty-two — it looks at the infatiuation of a very young girl, from the point of view of a much older man. Little evidence exists to suggest that the poem is autobiographical — in fact, Tabidze rarely wrote directly of his own life, preferring instead to adopt voices and personae, playing with various points of view.

Interestingly, the only detail the poem’s narrator gives concerning his love interest (and the poem’s addressee) is that she’s thirteen. This is used as a launching-point for a meditation on the shame of corruption, the cruelty of ageing, and finally, the beauty that only comes when a thing is fragile and fleeting… quite a lot to pack into twelve lines. Note also the deliberate uncomplicatedness of the original — often only four, or even three words per line, the poem itself becomes what it embodies: fragile, fleeting, simple and beautiful.

You’re Thirteen

You’re thirteen and you’ve ensnared
a graying lover’s evil dreams.
Line up thirteen bullets here:
I’ll take my own life thirteen times.

Another thirteen years go by,
soon you’ll come to twenty-six.
The tallest iris gets the scythe:
time and poem mourn their necks.

How hastily youth slips away—
remorseless wishes of the lion.
And everything glows tenderly
when Autumn sunlight’s pouring in.

First published in Georgia Today

Kari Hkris: The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation

This is possibly the most famous poem of Tabidze’s. The smooth, swooping rhythm, indicative of the wind it describes, make it a popular poem for memorization. Additionally, the yearning, lost-love theme is beautifully symbolized in the image of a blustery day, bad weather obscuring everything from sight.

The poem is, for me, most reminiscent of Robert Frost’s poetry — poems like “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” or “Nothing Gold Can Stay” similarly conflate weather and loss. They also similarly make use of simple-seeming words and imagery to create a poem that lingers with you long after you’ve read it.

Galaktion distinguishes himself by pushing the music to the forefront of his poems. The sonic effects nearly overpower the meaning so that, like any good song, you can sing along almost before you begin to understand the words.

This poem is often taught to foreigners studying Georgian. Its relative simplicity, reliance on repetition — either exact phrases, or words like “how” and “every” that repeat within the line — and the song-like nature combine to make this short, sweet little poem eminently readable.

Sweeping Wind

Sweeping wind, sweeping wind, sweeping wind,
Brushing leaves, rushing up, gusting through…
Rows of trees, whole armies, bow and bend
Where are you, where are you, where are you?
First it rains, then it snows, then it snows.
Where you are, I’ll never know, never know!
Everywhere, haunting me, is your face.
Every day, all the time, every place…
An endless sky sifts its misty musings in
Sweeping wind, sweeping wind, sweeping wind…

Monday, March 19, 2007

Take You A Ridin' on the Train-Train

So Saturday night last, K. and I left our cold, cold apartment at 9 in the post meridian, and caught the subway to the train station, where a sleeper cabin to Batumi awaited...

The "new" train turned out to be an old Russian thing, leaving us to wonder what the "old" train was. And purchasing first class tickets seemed to mean that we got the entire cabin, which usually sleeps four, to ourselves. Either that, or first class tickets still kind of suck. Basically there were four benches, two attached about midway up the wall. There was a tiny little table, and some rubber curtains which velcroed shut, so that we wouldn't be bothered by the light. We ate some oranges and chocolate that we brought with us, drank a little beer, and tried to sleep to the gentle rocking/swaying, and occasional stopping of the slow train. It was actually quite a nice ride.

Our train pulled into the station around seven in the morning -- far to early for anyone other than street cleaners to be up anywhere in the country. So we got our meager belongings together and set about exploring Batumi.

Batumi is a small city in the far bottom right corner of Georgia -- in the "Autonomous Republic of Adjara" I think back in 2003 and 2004, before the Rose Revolution, and before Saakashvili put the boot to the local warlord/Supreme Comander "Aslan Abashidze," Adjara was far more autonomous and bananna-republican than it is now. Now there are well-dressed polite police, just like everywhere else, and trash cans that most people seem to avoid using, and a brand-new looking amusement park, and more. The city is actually pleasantly not in need of too much repair. Despite the (untrue) assertions of a recent slate.com article which claimed that all the manhole covers had been stolen and sold for scrap -- I'd say that Batumi was one of the most clean, orderly, un-broken places I've been in Georgia.

It was wet. Spring is the rainy season, also the cold season, so K. and I walked around waiting for the hotels and coffee shops to open up, and tried not to get rained on. We walked to the beach, and played a little bit among the rocks. We found the only early-bird cafe in the city, and drank some steaming hot turkish coffee.

We found a great hotel -- called the Montpelier. And this is when K. turned to me and said "you realize that we're starting a trend here. When we got engaged, we celebrated at a little B&B. When we got married, we went to Montpelier (vt) and stayed at a hotel. Now here we are on our first anniversary, and we're at a hotel." So next year we're going to Montpellier, France, and going to a hotel. It's only right.

We then spent most of the rest of the day wandering around. First we went to Gonio -- supposedly a huge, completely intact ancient Roman fortress. It was a little bit out of town, but the minibus took us right to the gate. The castle wall was huge, and stretched a good New York City block to each side. And peering in past the gate, you couldn't even see the back wall. But it was closed.

Then we went back walking along the beach. A big, brand-new ferris wheel, which looked really nice was sitting right on the waterfront. It was a bit windy, but we walked up anyway. I was impressed by how new and safe it looked --most everything in Georgia has at least a hint of danger to it. But it was closed.

Walking on, we found the Aquarium. Apparently during Soviet times, this was a dolphin research center. Statues and pictures of dolphins are all over the city -- there are dolphin statues in different parks, a mural of divers swimming with dolphins -- this place was known all over the USSR for their dolphins. walking in, we saw a beautiful coi pond full of giant goldfish. And we walked up to buy a ticket and go see the much-touted dolphins. You can guess what we discovered. It was closed. A pattern began to emerge.

Luckily, they couldn't close the beach. It's a rock beach -- which was actually nice, since the sand didn't get in our shoes, and it was way too cold to swim. And the waves made a lovely crackling sound as they beat on the shore.

For dinner, we ate at this little English tea shop.. then to celebrate our one year anniversary, we bought a bottle of champagne, and headed back to the cold, cold hotel. Next year can only be more luxurious.

Upon waking, we discovered, to our chagrin, that the 10:00 train home wasn't actually arriving, and we were five minutes late for the 8:25 train -- which normally wouldn't be a problem in Georgia. That would still give us time to eat breakfast and have a leisurely walk to the station. But apparently trains are on schedule here, so we missed it.

No problem, there's marshrutkas (mini busses) that leave every hour. We ate, paid up, and went to catch the bus. And proceeded to have the most harrowing drive of our entire lives. While Batumi is a rainy sub-tropical haven on the Black sea, with palm trees everywhere, and Tbilisi has had the driest, warmest winter in years (in the five months we've been here, less than a week of rainy days) the between parts of Georgia, are apparently a giant snowy mess. Add to that our driver who was working his way through a pack of cigarettes (and a box of matches) as well as engaging in a series of increasingly red-faced phone calls concerning a young ten-year-old boy in his care in the front seat (who kept stealing his cigarettes) and the only thing more engaging than the drama in the front seat of the bus, was the drama out the windshield, as we drifted around the road like a sailboat. I kept wishing our driver would use more than (or at least) one hand to drive, especially given all the freezing sleet that was pelting the road, the windshield, and us, every time he rolled down the window to smoke another cigarette.

This is the danger I'm talking about. I finally had to go to sleep.
And then we were home. Hooray!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Train Car

I just saw Orion out on the back porch. It's one of my favorite constellations, probably because it's one of the only ones I can recognize. Still.. I have many fond memories of wandering around way, way late at night, and seeing it in both HS and college. Thinking about stars, and light and distance, and wondering what's out there and up there, and thinking about how long it took all that light from all those very, very far-off places to come, at the same moment, to my eyes, and remind me of a box with a little line in it. hm.

Tonight, in about an hour and a half, K and I are taking a train to Batumi for our one year anniversary. It's in the far western/southern part of Georgia, a little port city on the Black Sea. We'll be sleeping in our fancy little train car, and arriving tomorrow, to what all the internets and weather sites tell us will be a rainy, cold, sleepy little town with not much in it except a beach, some coffee, and a little natural park. Sounds just perfect, actually.

As buying things that are not drinking horns or wildly fuzzy hats seems to continue to present problems here, K is not getting her anniversary present until April 2nd -- when she returns to the U.S. for a couple weeks to check out Grad schools and compete for a big-time fellowship at NYU. This is okay. I think she will like her present well enough, despite its tardiness.

I will tell you about Batumi when we get back. Karen will have to tell you about the present.

And Edgar Was Third

This poem is an homage to Edgar Allen Poe. One of Tabidze’s earliest Western influences outside the Symbolist poets, Poe shared the Symbolists love of and focus on the musicality of poetry — alliteration, meter, complicated rhyming, etc. Galaktion shared Poe’s grim disposition, even from a young age, and themes of impossible love, loneliness, sadness and desolation are prevalent throughout his work.

Here Tabidze refers to Poe’s muse, Lenore, (as well as to Poe himself) creating an appropriately dark, vaguely religious and lovelorn setting for “the stroll). The poem was published in 1915, during the beginning of Tabidze’s career, before the Communist revolution, during a period of relative literary freedom.

Some notable themes, which Tabidze was to continue exploring throughout his life, include the melancholic, romantic individual as well as elements of mystery, and the use of certain symbols (wind, bells, temples) which are given weight because of their roles as multifaceted (thus indefinable) symbols.

As you read the poem (especially in Georgian) read it out loud; listen to how artfully the poem moves, how the sounds flow together. This is where Galaktion’s genius lies.

And Edgar Was Third

We two toward the temple bore,
sunlight fading. Prayers. Tolling.
On our eerie way, Lenore,
the wind was snapping branches, howling.
These wings were pining for a bold
dispassion toward your isolation.
But suddenly there was a third
between us, quelling conversation.
And a hollow voice intoned:
The final hour’s drawing near.
In the crying, dying wind,
we three toward the temple bore.

(The Window Tangled)

This is an untitled poem by the poet Galaktion Tabidze (1891-1951). Galaktion was widely considered during his time (and after) to be one of the greatest poets in Georgia — and for good reason. The breadth and depth of his body of work is impressive — he wrote about a variety of subjects, in a variety of forms, and blended an easy accessibility with a complex symbolism, allowing for multiple levels of interpretion in even his most accessible poems. In this way he is not unlike the American poet Robert Frost.

According to the scholar Irakli Kenchoshvili (irakli kenWoSvili) this poem was first published, undated, in 1940. It was republished in 1957, backdated to 1915 — before the Communist Revolution — thus making the darker subject matter “appropriate” for the Communist censors. According to Professor Kenchoshvili’s speculations, the poem was written after Tabidze’s wife was arrested and shot, during the terrors of the “Great Purge.”

During this time, obviously, Tabidze couldn’t write directly about his loss. However, the obscured imagery and deft blurring of focus on background imagery (curtains, a candle), combined with the chaotic imagery of storm, thunder, and avalanche serve to create a sense of powerlessness, an inability to even see rightly in the face of uncontrollably destructive forces. It is this powerlessness that ironically gives the poem its force, and it is the hammering last line — the inconceivable loss, repeated over and over that makes the poem so moving.

* *
*

The window tangled
night and curtain,
a candle flickered
there, uncertain,
when your image
in the night,
left home
and did not return.

Your graceful, ardent,
bitter tears;
the glowing genius
of your stares—
so glorious and dismal;
Your tempest of ideas,
left home
and did not return.

Your brilliant eyes
which, when heightening,
expelled the darkness
with such brightening
it was like a
flash of lightning—
left home
and did not return.

And when the light
went out, I felt it:
an avalanche
of mourning melted
my life was wrenched
from where I held it —
it left home
and did not return.

First published in Georgia Today

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Yum

This is for all you squeamish readers out there.

I like to go out to the food markets, where the Georgians shop. Incredibly tasty vegetables, interesting sauces, spit-strewn concrete floors... but I haven't been able to bring myself to buy meat there. As interesting as it would be to get a piglet corpse, or a freshly-plucked, ungutted chicken, I can't bring myself to make the purchase yet. I'm scared. I'll admit it. Thousands of people buy their meat there every day, and mass contamination is not hitting the city, but I'm scared.

So, when I decided today that I wanted some ground beef for spaghetti sauce, I made for the brand-new, bright and shiny european super-duper market, replete with gleaming linoleum, sneeze guards, bright fluorescent lights, and styrofoam prepackaged goodies.

But some things only change so much. So when I went to the meat section and asked for a half kilo of ground beef, the kindly kid behind the counter grabbed a plastic grocery bag, scooped a couple handfuls of meat into it, and held it out to me over the counter.

We'll be cooking that thoroughly.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Avante Garde

Went to the theater tonight -- Hamlet. K and I even rejected the English-language live-translation headphones in favor of watching the play in Georgian (Hey, we already know the story, and some friday-night language study is a useful thing)..

It turns out that Georgian theater is awesome. Who knew? The play was directed by Robert Sturua -- a world-reknowned Shakespeare director. The play was wild-- very, very strange. Lots of technicolor coats and fedora hats. And Claudius looked just like Mikheil Saakashvili, the current president of Georgia. That's ballsy.

But this was a performance that -- I kid you not -- would have been right at home on any Broadway theater, whether in Georgian or English. The acting, the set design, the costumes, and the directing were all first rate. And this was one of the most inventive takes on Hamlet I've ever seen. First off, he was bat-shit crazy the whole time. There was no "I'm pretending wink wink" ... he was just insane. And Claudius was so vivid -- intense, wild. He seemed like he could murder someone pretty easily. And Gertrude was a slut. She just did this lurid come-on to whomever was nearest whenever she felt bad. The actors climbed all over each other. It was really a fantastic play. I wish Sturua had made it into a movie. That's how good it was.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I got drunk on national television

..and wrote about it in Lost Writers.

I also went to the turkish baths -- a luxurious experience, which I'll write about soon. Right now I'm putting together a paper for a literature conference here (what? I know!) so that's taking up a lot of my time.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Toot Toot

http://georgiatoday.ge/article_details.php?id=2448

The first of what will hopefully be many...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New Lost Writers

My article at Lost Writers is up.

... I'd repost them here, but I don't know if I can do that... I figure its better if you go to the site..

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Article at Lost Writers

Sorry I'm not writing so much here.. I'll try to post in the next few days. Meanwhile.. here is a new post at lost writers

Friday, February 02, 2007

A good article

There's another good article (by someone very familiar) here, at a site that seems to be increasingly about a small city in the central Caucasus.

It's fantastic, and very, very accurate.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

So Goes January

Hello my nestlings. The poetry translation is going -- I'm feeling a bit behind schedule at the moment (about 17 poems translated, want to have 25 by the end of February). This isn't bad, but I don't like feeling rushed.

We've been exploring the city more, during this freak warm-spell that Tbilisi's been having. As those of you in OH, VT and CT have been dealing with temps in the teens (or the pre-teens, in VT's case), we've had warm days up nearing the sixties. It's eerie. But we've taken advantage by touring through old turkish sections of the city, finding old out-of-the way bookstores and yarn shops, and a place that actually sells mops (!) and visiting the giant new church that stands out on the skyline. It's big. It smells like frankincense. Lovely.

Otherwise, I've been writing for Lost Writers, which, with their every-other-tuesday schedule, has been a nice change of pace. So far, I've got two articles up, one linked below, and one here. I like the formality of the writing, and also the idea of writing for a different audience.

Plus, my friend Holly writes awesome articles for them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I'm a lost writer

I've got an article up at Lost Writers. I'll be writing for them every other tuesday, I think.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Livin' in the Ci-tay

Well, we're out in Sighnaghi for a while. We put off going b/c K. was applying to grad schools, and needed the reliable internet and heat/light that Tbilisi provides.

And good thing we did it like that: we arrived to frozen pipes and cold, cold cold. The pipes are frozen mostly because of the Miracle of Georgian Engineering, which basically involves tiny, tiny little pipes, and, for no apparent reason, periodically running them up, out of the ground, and across the yard, then back into the ground a little later on. I'm not sure why. In the spring, when the ground thaws, we'll have to have someone attach larger pipes (which won't freeze so easily), and actually bury them.

An unusually warm day yesterday thawed the pipes (oh, happy day!) so we took hot showers and K. started some laundry. We've got enough wood to last a little while, but this is definitely tougher living out here. Still.. fun and very worth it. The past few days have given us the clearest skies, and the crispest views of the lower caucasus range -- all dusted on top with snow -- that I've ever seen. I like mountains and all, but this is literally, literally breath-taking. I can't stop gasping whenever I see them. Wook up this morning, and everything was covered in snow. Maybe we'll lose water again, or maybe the snow will act as an insulation (around the insulation that we already packed over the pipes in late fall. Or maybe that's just a pipe-dream.

Stay warm, everyone.