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.