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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Digital Death of My Photography

Year ago, I took a photography course.
Pretty famous cinematographer showed us camera tricks. We walked around Old Tbilisi, armed with Soviet Zenit (Leica rip-off) and one film roll (36 shots, sometimes stretched to 40). Zenit settings were manual only.
After great fretting about under-over exposure, when the printed results were too bright or too dim, too lifeless or too cluttered, we just had to live with it.
My teacher used to say: “a good photographer notices and controls everything in the frame”.
I’d get very excited when manual rolling button would move freely – the film was done. I had to roll the film back into the carcass. Sometimes I’d lock myself in the bathroom, lights off, to make sure that the film is safe in its Kodak or Fuji tomb.
My teacher used to say: “you know that you are a good photographer when you get three perfect pictures in row. Then you know, it was not an accident”.
The waiting period followed. Film had to be exposed. We’d unscrew our Zenit’s lenses, point them to the exposed films and carefully select frames. Lots of guesswork – green was red, it was hard to say if the image was blurry, etc.
And then…the final waiting…to see if real pictures matched the guesswork. Sometimes they were better, sometimes they were disappointing.
My teacher used to say: “a perfect picture does not need retouching”.
Some pictures were salvageable. I’d sit down and carefully crop the pictures with a paper knife, throwing away the garbage. Then I’d paste the much smaller pictures on a cardboard.
With all this work, with all this effort, every picture was revered. Every picture could become “the perfect picture”. I would never just snap a photo. I would carefully examine many angles, positions, double-check aperture and shutter speed.  I would carefully adjust the lens focus. And with each movement, I’d re-adjust.
My teacher used to say: “you have to consciously take many, many pictures, before you become a good photographer”; he said: “these images of a cactus do not qualify as homework!”
… Sometimes when I adjust focus on a projector lens for the trainings, I remember how I used to adjust lens for every single frame and I smile.
The only skill I have left now is taking pictures from different positions. Oh, I am not shy to stand right in front of you to take a good shot. A good shot is worth your frustration.
But I lost it all, the shutter speed, the exposure, the depth, the aperture size. The appraisal of the composition.
I just took 700 (!) pictures of an event. Some of those pictures turned out pretty good. Well, I do jump around and am bound to accidentally capture something special. I have a very nice camera - so nice that when I try to auto-correct exposure via Photoshop, no changes are necessary most of the time.
It takes so much time to sort through 700 pictures and pick several for the PR purposes. Because unfortunately I have still retained the skill of assessing photos.
11 years ago, my teacher told this boy from the other group who joined us for photo-taking tour: “here, choose the one you like” and the boy chose me. All the pics on my blog (with several exceptions) belong to me or this boy.
…I could never take three good pictures in a row. Now, I doubt I can take even one.
 P.S. I took this photo in Budapest. I actually like it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Roadside Georgia

Georgia for me is a big chunk of land divided by a highway. There’s stuff right of the highway and there’s stuff left of the highway. The road itself starts in Tbilisi and either ends in Batumi (the long version) or in Kakheti (the short version). My mental map of Georgia is this thin strip of land on both sides of the road, bordered by the mountains. I’ve been living in a two-dimensional Georgia.
Despite the fact that I have traveled all over Georgia – tents, nice hotels, bad hotels, cities, villages, valleys- despite the fact that Svaneti  is the only region I have not yet visited, despite the fact that for the last 4 years I always chose positions that include working in the regions - I am still a tourist in my own country.
Really, what is Georgia for me? Batumi in the summer and Gudauri in the winter? Nice hiking area?
These people I see from the cars, these people I train, I sit down for therapy, why do they wear different clothes, what do they all day? How do they live? What do they do for fun?
Do you know what is the first place that I absolutely have to visit, even if I have nothing to buy? Smart supermarkets. Thank god there is one in Akhaltsikhe, in Gori, in Gonio. Smart supermarket is where I find shelter, ATMs, tea, clean bathrooms. Where I know things.
My comfort zone has extended to Kutaisi now. I can walk around the center alone without getting lost and mostly understanding the situation.
I spend so much time, so much time with people who discuss Game of Thrones, Benedict Cumberbatch, the latest event at the Mtkvari club, did-you-see-that-video-of-a-kitty-on-9-gag, and I start believing that this is what Georgia is, that everyone around me watches kitty videos, that everyone misses Breaking Bad, that everyone has a FB account. I am not surprised that some people don’t know English, but it doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t mean perfect English, I mean not understanding computer commands or “Friends” dialogue. I realize how incredibly snobby I sound.
And I actually do go out there. I actually spend so much work and vacation time outside Tbilisi. Yet, I don’t let the country in. I leave, I lock up my thoughts and beliefs; I don’t try to fit in – I try not to annoy. The only thing that I identify with is the nature. Those mountains on both sides of the road. I feel like they are mine. Mountains and the Smart supermarkets.
How did it happen that I am a tourist in my own country? It had something to do with refusal to watch TV.  Something to do with declaring that I am better than all this. That I am "way too educated" and "way too liberal". And as we took the new shortcut around Kutaisi  last week, I felt like my point of reference – the road – shifted. I caught myself thinking: I don’t even know how long we need to ride to the horizon until we reach the border of Georgia. Is it 2 hours, 3 hours? What’s out there? Azerbaijan, Russia? But then of course the shortcut ended and we went back to familiar highway, this road I’ve been riding several times a month now. Western Georgia-coffee at Zestaponi-Rikoti twists and turns-Nazuki-Khashuri roundabout-Gori Smart-abandoned Berta building-Jvari-Digomi-home.
…I wish I had a village, I wish I was not born and raised here, I wish I could connect, I could remember,
how must it feel to wake up on the 2nd floor, under 4-sided roof, walk to the balcony rail, shiver and hurry downstairs for breakfast.

Cause I don’t know.

P.S. Pic I took in Kakheti last year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bar-hopping in Tbilisi

I used to complain that there is nothing to do in Tbilisi on a Friday night. That was era of endless-independent-film-watching.
I looked around the other day and discovered underground Tbilisi expansion. We’re no Berlin or NY, but still, things happen.
It’s Friday night and I have to choose between clubbing and bar-hopping. And that makes me exited.
So, if you decide to bar-hop in Georgia, let me share our favorite route which includes some newly-formed, informal bars.
1.       Warshawa  - a great place to start. It is located on the Freedom Square (Pushkin’s 19).  Menu includes 2 and 5 GEL drinks
You can hang around outside (people don’t smoke inside, yeah!), stay on a crowded first floor, or descend to a historical basement with long tables and benches. Basement serves wine only, so you’ll have to carry beer, drinks and food with you from the first floor down some pretty uncomfortable steps. Also, basement has no cell phone service.
Expect expats and young kids that don’t mind standing or sitting in the street.
2.   Walk toward old city hall, pass by the pretentious Tabidze, walk up Leonidze and turn left (Machabeli 2). The place has no sign, but you’ll see commotion outside. Arsad, located in the basement of former Lebanise restaurant (now just in the basement of nothing), Arsad (Nowhere in Georgian), used to be our favorite place to hang out about a year ago.  Expect shaggy, strange-haired youth here. It is also located in a historical basement and is usually pretty full on weekends. I love two warm design solutions here – Portrait of Shevardnadze that scared me to death last Halloween and writing on the bathroom mirror “Beware, the Chamber of secrets has been opened again”. By the way, the bathroom itself – yuck!
3.       Walk back to Freedom Square, down the Rustaveli Av. and discover “Reefer” (Rustaveli 28), another bar in the basement. Hipsters, dreadlocks. Concerts. Friendly management.
4.       Next stop – Canudos Ethnic Bar. Walk down the Rustaveli Av., until you reach McDonald’s, turn on Elbakidze, you’ll see a Samaia Park with hipster/i-like-dreds/ I-will-wear-Che-T-shirts crowd.  There was a time, when I absolutely loved this bar, it was one of the first ones to welcome different-minded crowd, but it is too mainstream for me now( I am aware of how pretentious that sounds)  I like the option of hanging outside, since bar is always crowded and you have to make your way through a unruly queue to get a drink.
5.       Walk  back to  Rustaveli, approach Wendy’s and eat something fatty. Or enter Smart and eat something fatty. The point is – after 4 bars you need to eat something fatty. (See my safe clubbing post).
6.       Continue walking on Rustaveli Av. and head left before you reach the Opera House. Walk down Lagidze street and turn left. Enter Dive bar (Lagidze 12). The crowd here is mostly friendly expats and young Georgians who have spent some time in Europe. It has two rooms, no floor and very underground feel. However, I just don’t find it cozy. Maybe the crowd is too young for me. Maybe the bar stand is too crowded. I don’t know.
7.       Now, take Tabukashvili street until you reach Tubo Partybar (Tabukashvili 14). I love this place. Blue walls, light fixtures made of red pipes, Ukrainians who opened it up. Sometimes there’s a DJ. It’s small, but not too many people know about it (they will now). Many expats from the Post-soviet space. Hubby has tasted variety of distilled house alcohol with no lethal results.
8.       Keep walking on Tabukashvili, until you reach the flower market on Kolmeureneoba. Here you climb the stairs to Pirimze (Atoneli 18) – There’s big policnica sing on the fisrt floor.. It is the quietest of all bars, but at this point you need to relax. Interesting artwork on the wall,  crowd discussing Sundance festival, old Singer sewing machines as a part of décor in an old, intelgentsia-styled apartment…you get the picture.  One of my favorite places on the route. Take advantage of a clean bathroom. Get some liquids. Check out the balcony.
9.       Next, you walk to Orbeliani street into second Ukrainian –owned bar, Absurd. It is located yet in another historic basement. It used to be a New Art Café, the space is pretty big and the crowd…you will not notice the crowd by this point. Barpeople are very friendly. They usually have pretty cool electronic music till 12, when they have to turn the volume down due to the neighbors. Used to be the only bar with no indoor smoking, but they had to allow it  - people used to smoke outside and annoy the neighbors.
10.   If you’ve started at 10 p.m. and moved pretty quickly, it’s probably 3-4 AM by now. But that’s OK because you have one last cool stop: the Drunk Owl (Samghebro’s 21). It is the newest bar on the block and pretty cool one. It has interesting décor (light fixtures made of bottles, owls of different sizes and shapes).  Bar’s mission is to introduce interesting drinks- also makes a good first stop, to appreciate pretty-colored cocktails before you are completely drunk. It is located right opposite the newly-built monastery, on the left right when you enter Abonotubani.
Happy drinking to you!
P.S. the pic: I stole it from their FB page, Absurd barpeople with lots of beer.
P.S. I've linked all the bar names with their fb pages, for your convenience. Because I am cool like that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kill Your Darlings

These last two weeks, I've been working for 12, 14 hours a day (not exaggerating), immersing in Gestalt therapy and trainings, thinking and feeling and crying and networking. And just now, I gave myself two-hour break and watched a film about Gingsberg and beginning of changes in US. And then I walked into FB and found out about killings, about a protest rally planned on Tuesday (when I am in  Kutaisi, working), and anger took over.
I'm mourning. I just don't know who I am mourning.
And here's my "poem".

There's change, there's process, there's relations.
What happens here and
what happens now.
Identity is a myth
I am different,
With you,
With the cat,
With a taxi driver.
I was different today from yesterday from year before.
And those who seek identity,
Who resist changes and process and relations,
Who define their own by opposing you,
And me,
And other faceless objects,
That we've become.
To them.
They come and kill us,
Because by killing they validate their selves,
Because by killing they know that they live.

We're blind. I'm blind. I'm walking blindfolded.
Until one day, they kill so many,
They kill so much,
That I'll be dead too.
Just walking.
Just working.
Just drinking pregnancy pills.
All dead inside.

Come, kill me too.
Come, kill your darlings.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kvareli Luxury

Now I have done it all: I stayed in one of those overpriced, trying-to-be-fancy, overlooking-a-pond hotels in Kakheti. I have to tell you, if we don’t take into account that I can find equal or better accommodation for that price in a very touristy place abroad, I am actually very happy with the results. But let’s not be hasty, shall we? I hereby present you overview of the overpriced Kvarreli area hotels – I’ve seen them all and tasted just one.
Royal Batoni – granted, it looks very kitchy. It is shaped like a freaking castle. If Vegas ever wanted a Georgian-themed hotel, well it’s either this castle, or some cheap Svanetian tower copy. However, the entrails of the castle are pleasant. It has carpets and Georgian motif (but not too much), an infinity pool overlooking Ilia’s “lake”, pretty terrace and picturesque views of the Duruji valley. Dream fall vacation.
Pros – We got the executive suite and it came with many perks. 1 absolutely breathtaking views. Now, I was told that the other suite had a better view- of the “lake”- but nothing beats fall-colored mountains. Lake-shmake 2. Huge bath in the middle of the room. Yep. It’s just huge, deep and just stands in the middle of a large, open-space suite. Overlooking the pros#1. Since, there was a group of us, we just sat there in our bathing suits, taking turns. Imagine: people having fun, talking, drinking, and you’re with them, only in a tub.3. Free bottle of wine from the hotel’s own winery. This is Kakheti. Hotel has own wine cellar. Duh. 4. Shower room with a transparent wall. You could pull the curtain. Or not.  5. Bright colors. OK, I hate beige décor. It reminds me of Big’s first wife in “Sex and the City”, who painted everything beige. Some hotels think it’s classy. Well, I got a perfect, warm, Tuscany-like photo shoot against orange background. Beat that, beige!
Cons- Hubby said it: it looks like one person built the hotel and the other runs it. Which is probably not the case. But how can you have a huge bath in the middle of orange-room and Georgian-food-only menu in the same hotel? Not only it is just Georgian food, it is boring Georgian food, it ruins the whole fairy tale illusion. Who wants to drip overpriced khinkhali just left of the infinity pool? They could at least make it a bit innovative, reinvent Georgian cuisine, or include rare Georgian dishes, or have seasonal menu, or something, or at least present it in a different way! Tasty – but limited.
So, what else is in the Kvareli area?
1.       Kvareli Lake Resort. Probably the best view of all of them. “Lake” from one side, Alazani valley from the other. Terrible food. OK design.
2.       Lopota Lake Resort. Nice infrastructure. Several types of restaurants, bars, pools. Comfortable. The view is worse than Royal Batoni and Kvareli Lake Resort. Prices bite. Was innovative years ago, since it was one of the first (if not the first) hotel that started this whole luxury Kakheri trend. Very good for tourists, training, meetings. Self-sufficient area.
3.       Kvareli Eden. Awesome Mediterranean/Spanish design. Specially-built, mind-blowing spa. Nothing like it in Georgia. Hence, they charge extra for it. You can sit in a glass steam room and look into the vineyard. You can get into a solid copper bath tub filled with wine! Endless spa fun. Massages. Aromatherapy. View-not so much, but it is in the middle of the vineyard. Some people prefer foliage to mountains. This is definitely where I would go with my hubby. It is just very beautiful. But ouch, why do they charge hotel guests more for the pool usage? Who does that?
      Anyway, so these are your options, should you have a weekend when you have spare money, but no time to travel abroad, or if you just want to wander in pretty part of Kakheti, not over-crowded by tourists, now is a perfect time to casually sit in a tub, look at the leaves displaying gay pride, and make peace with yourself.
p.s. the pic: view from my hotel window. Duruji valley

Sunday, September 21, 2014


The ghost of the fall has swept across Tbilisi.
I start writing posts and then delete them.
Kazantip is over. We returned for another weekend, danced our feet off, kidnapped pair of Russians and came back to our work.  Since then, I have been trying to avoid fall.
We’ve been walking with the Russians and going to parties. We went to clubs. We drank wine. They drank wine. I don’t like alcohol. It numbs me.
 I have started several posts, about futility of monogamy, about digital photography as the end of my picture-taking, about killings, about 90ies back in fashion and in spirit.
Summer is another planet, wrote someone, summer is my planet, even  unbearable, hot summer, it’s the time when the sea is salty, when the day is free.
...Sometimes I’m scared of this new job adventure, new house adventure, and I guess this is why I keep postponing it, postponing posting the prices on websites, postponing hiring designer, postponing long-term commitments.
I am sitting in my office, alone, waiting for clients to drop out of blue sky.
I had 5 clients yesterday. Clinic clients. It is uneven. It is unstable. I work good. I help people. I just started. I need time.
...I want it all and I want it now.
We’re selling our apartment, you know the one with all-night parties and bar stand and a cat and a hubby and plants on the windows that the said hubby systematically murders while I’m away for trainings.
Mortgage slaves. That’s what will become of us.
Of course, I can always sell my body.  I’ll probably be more successful then now, when I’m selling my mind.
...This summer planet, it was so nice. It had Lviv in it and new friends, it had Batumi with no rain (!), it had Kazantip , I miss the sea, I need more sea, my tan is pealing. I look like a zombie. I did not get enough sea.
When was the last time I got enough sea?
...The thing is, this psychological counseling thing, it’s a gamble. What if the market is not ready? What if I sit in this chair forever?
...Each day, I fear the winter. I keep thinking of cold weather and mushy snow.
Each day, I fear the new day.
...The ghost of rain and yellow leaves.

P.S. the pic: my happy summer planet - I took this pic at Kazantip
P.S.S. I wrote this post a week ago but I had so much work to do that I just couldn't sit down and edit it.
:-( I'm kinda over moping now :-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Samarkhvo Kazantip - Anaklia 2014

Never has my blog name felt so spot-on: my friend has been stuck outside of the Former Democratic Republic of Kazantip for two days now; he was promised Kazantip visa, to set up a condom stand. Once he got there, with a box full of prophylactics, he got stranded in a tent city. “There is no sex in Kazantip” is the official stance of this year’s republic.
The president declared that he respects Georgian traditions. This is the moment that I facepalm myself bloody, hide my Georgian passport and pretend I am from Mars.
See, Kazantip turned out to be so much different than I expected. I kept calling it a music festival, but it really is a separate country, with its own rules (and I thought that was just a marketing trick). People honestly believe in this idea. Hard to imagine, but citizens of Kazantip actually seek peace, love, community, freedom, acceptance. They call it “happiness”. Imagine, thousands come from collectivistic, harsh, rigid, post-soviet societies, they flee from repression and “must do”’s. They save money all year to visit a place where they can be not who they are, but who they want to be. Those are not empty phrases. People start transforming into what they want to be, from head to bottom, from crazy creative outfits, to friendly and loving attitude.
They do so responsibly. They actually read Kazantip constitution. They do not fight, do not sexually assault and do not pee in the street. None of them. But they expect infinite freedom beyond that. They seek happiness.
Where is the happiness? -  I keep hearing it from Kazantip citizens over and over. Happiness has been sacrificed to “Georgian traditions”.
Happiness is not drugs, it’s not sex and it’s not cheap food; people who say that Kazantip sunk due to shortage of the noted products, do not know what Kazantip is. Happiness is wearing whatever you want, animal costumes, Buddhist monk ensemble, polyester swimming suit or nothing; happiness is endless dancing without being molested by local boys; happiness is sleeping on the beach, on the pavement or on a bar stand without being approached by law enforcers; happiness is talking with complete strangers without being grabbed and insulted; happiness is wandering weary and possibly drunk at 6 a.m. without feeling gaze of judging police.
Suddenly, all of our Geo insecurities came to life, all of them. Oh, a tourist, great, let’s make them pay 2 Lari per Khinkali! Oh, Slavic girl, let’s grab her boobs instead of greeting her (this is not an exaggeration)! God forbid people sit in the middle of the road (inside of the gated, no-car zone)! Call the police!
The police. They are at every palm tree, behind every rock. They are riding motorcycles, BMW-s, Mini Coopers, Fourwheelers, Segways, Golf carts. They are blinking and yelling and just watching your every move. And here you are looking for infinite freedom and ultimate happiness, collectively watching sunset under enchanting music and tuning your heart to beats of a gong that are calculated to sound precisely as the last rays reach the Former Democratic Republic of Kazantip. And as you dance in trance, someone is asked not to sit on a pavement.
Every year, for closing, Kazantip citizens write their wishes on yellow balloons and send them to the sky.
Here is my wish: I wish for a miracle. I wish for Crimea to go back to Ukraine, I wish for Kazantip to go back to Crimea and I wish for me, a free citizen of my new country, to go back to Kazantip every year from now on.

Cause I want my share of happiness.

p.s. Samarkhvo means fasting in Georgian;
p.s.s. pic taken by my hubby. I took part in this fun Kigurumi parade. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lost Lviv

Don’t you hate it when you write something and it gets deleted? Has your E-mail ever evaporated? Did you throw the comp out of your window?
 My first Lviv post, the one that I wrote with care, the one that I did not publish right away because I wanted to re-read it, perfect it, is gone, gone, and now I have to write it again.
How do I confess my love for the second time?
My first post started with the words “good morning, Lviv, do you miss me, Lviv?” I was addressing the city, I was talking to the city, I was talking to its colors, to its funny tourist cafes, I was talking to its lightness and its miniature elegance.
I talked to Lviv, I told Lviv, hey rememeber, how I rolled my suitcase at 8 A.M. , to a bus stop behind the opera, spilled coffee on my new Ukrainian shirt, ruining my grand entrance? How resistant I was to move away from your streets for training? How I hated to leave training once I got there?
I wrote, dear Lviv, it was just the three of us, hubby, you and me, walking around at night, away from the tourist zones, talking about life, Lviv, about loathed work and dull existence. It was you Lviv, I wrote, who listened to our dreams, me with my hostel and him with his bar, you listened and grew quiet and your streets were hushed and peaceful.
Oh, Lviv, I wrote, I miss the training, I miss the people, I miss talking all night long. I wrote, Lviv, I tortured my body, I deprived it of food and sleep, but I gave it Buddhism, video stories, jokes, flirt, I gave it friends, I gave it global problems, debates, issues, I gave it new ideas, so who cares about the shell of flesh?
My first blog post, so pathetic at times, full of exclamations. I talked to Lviv, Lviv that is no longer close, no longer right outside my window, not even half an hour away, not even in the same country.
Lviv. Listen. Running like crazy to board the plane in Istanbul. Three-day non-stop touristing. Souvenirs. Searching for pins. Surprise hubby visit. Coffee that tired-rock-star waiter set on fire. The apothecary museum. Strudels. Walking golden statue in the rain. Masoch café with chains and bras. Flowery sheets in rented apartment. Singing “Suliko” in nationalistic underground bar. Coolest country presentation. Tornado energizer. Friendly folks with different accents. The stop-animation video our team produced. Funny punishments for late trainees. Sessions that we lead. Sessions that we watched. Car on 6th floor terrace café. Hot chocolate with a cinnamon stick. Constant picture-taking. Curly hair and midnight talks. Walks in the forest. The crisp sunset air and the Slavic church in an open field of grass. Talks. Smoking sessions. More talks. Those silly games with bottles and cards. Posing. Philosophical discussions. Gossip. Breezy trip on Bosporus. Airport. Hubby. Home. FB requests.
Listen, Lviv, I wrote. I miss you, Lviv, I wrote.
I miss you Lviv.
Good thing I lost it.  Repressing feelings of infinite freedom and returning to normal life.

Good-bye, Lviv.

P.S. the coffee with caramelized sugar set on fire in a coffee-mining cafe (I know, right!) in Lviv.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Safe Clubbing Rules

Second weekend in a row I’m greeting sunrise on Turtle lake, after all-night clubbing. And second weekend in a row I feel nauseous all day after. And I’m not even drinking alcohol.
So what the f...?
Dehydration, my friends. I get so caught up in dancing trance that I forget to drink water and I don’t want to be bothered with bathroom stops. However, several bottles of water could save my Saturdays. Thus, I've compiled web sources and my own experience to share with you guys the ways of healthier and ultimately, more pleasant clubbing. Here's the wisdom:
-       - Before you start drinking, eat fatty and sugary foods. Carbs actually help with nausea. Also, have some salty foods – they remind you to drink water even if you forget to.
-       -    Energizers block your intoxication awareness. Party regular vodka+red bull actually gets you much drunker than you think. Hence, worse hangover. Pace yourself. Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Have a fatty snack. Or just get prepared for a horrible morning.
-        -  Rule of thumb: if you mix substances, you will feel like shit later. Some substances are more mixable, bla, bla, yes, that’s true. However, generally, more you mix, worse you feel the next morning. That is if you wake up. Some substance mixes are very dangerous. So do your research! No high is worth dying for or even damaging liver, brain, etc. 
-         - If you are on some uppers – please stay hydrated. People die from dehydration. Put on water alarm on your phone before, force water in your throat when you don’t feel thirsty, I don’t know, ask your friends to give you liquids. Do something to combat "oh I can dance for days with no food or water" feeling.
-         -  Don’t go to sleep the moment you reach home. This works wonders for me: have some breakfast. What should you eat when you drag your un-cooperating legs home? What gets your energy levels up and helps your muscles restore? Complex carbs and proteins. Good source of complex carbs: potatoes, oatmeal, rye bread. As for the proteins, meat, fish, dairy, eggs. If you have consumed alcohol, add some fatty foods. So, in nutshell: if you fry some bacon or sausage, make an omelet and have a yogurt or cheese plus toast, you will get everything. Add some orange juice and there’s additional portion of vitamin C to help repair your immune system damage, caused by drinking, inhaling cigarette smoke (directly or indirectly), overtaxing your muscles, and depriving body of a night’s sleep. Also, broth restores sodium and banana – potassium.
-        -   Replace lost fluids. Restore electrolytes – don’t just drink water. In US they have sports drinks, in Geo – opt for Sprite. It is caffeine- free. 
-   - Buy food and drinks ahead of time! How often do you wake up with a headache and get to your nearest store shaking, wishing for miracle Borjomi (Nabeglavi, Mitardi, whatever)? 
-       -   Try contrast water therapy (O.K. I know that no one, no one will do this after clubbing, but still, let me put it out there): 2 minutes hot water, 30 seconds cold water, repeat 4 times. Allow a minute of moderate water between those 4 times. Smile – it’s for your own good.

-        -   Please sleep. In a peaceful setting. Your sleep will be irregular and light, so turn off the phone – you may not be able to fall back asleep if disturbed.  
Wish you good and safe and pleasurable nights of dancing!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tbilisi Tango Therapy

I won’t write about Shevardnadze’s death.
I won’t write about Mayor’s elections.
This week I will write about something enticing.
Have you ever considered many films and books telling a story about a hero outsider? That archetype of a born-outside-of-the-realm saver, the one who comes to a foreign world and helps natives find strength in their own resources? Like Paul Muad’dib in Frank Herbet’s “Dune”, like that soldier guy from the “Avatar”? Fremen’s term for Paul is Lisan al-Gaib (sci fi haters, bear with me): the voice of the outer world.  Yes, on one hand, it has a colonial, white-men-will-save-the-world aftertaste – because why can’t natives just save themselves- but on the other hand, when you’re stuck in the same shit daily, the voice of the outer world is what gets you out!
 Got me out, in any case.
Tbilisi has a little tango society. All you have to do is look them up on FB. Simple, right? No. Because why would I suspect it in Tbilisi? Thus, just like in a classical sci-fi adventure, a voice of the outer world, my Latvian therapist, who visits Georgia once in a blue moon (O.K. every other month), looked for the tango-dancing folks and joined them. And of course, despite his multiple stories about them, I still refused to believe that they exist. Tbilisi tango. A little cognitive dissonance. Beautiful magical unicorn.
But my best friend got interested and practically forced me to accompany our therapist to his tango lesson.
You get out of a smelly taxi.
Walk by the oft-visited TBC bank.
Glimpse towards road that leads to the despised Ministry of Education.
Walk into Eldorado café.
Chandeliers light up.
Girls in pretty dresses and high heels are perched on the wooden Vienna stools.
Pair of strangers dance.
Chocolate flows in the right corner.
And as time passes by, slim, well-posed boys walk to the group of girls, silently exchange looks, smiles, gestures, stand oppose each other, hold hands, press faces together and start dancing…
Couples multiply. It gets harder to focus on a particular pair. They are part of a bigger entity, they all do the same thing, they all do the different thing. Some dance shy. Some dance strong. Some dance close. Some dance apart.
 A confection of white lace and silk floats by and all I can think of is Rafaello dessert (I know, consumerism has maimed me for life). The girl has such reserved, tender passion, she keeps her eyes closed, she keeps her body away, save the temple area on the face, the hands around the back and sometimes, only sometimes, a high-heeled leg shoots up in the air, and sometimes it brushes against partner’s calves. Sometimes she wants to step away, but her partner blocks her with his feet. Smiling, with eyes closed, she dances in the free space that he lets her have, because, he is the one that cannot close his eyes, he is the one that has to watch out for other couples, choose direction, guess her wishes.
I squirm uncomfortably upon this realization. “But what if a girl does not want to sit around and wait to be picked? What if girls wants to lead?”, I ask. I live in a world where girls are not allowed to choose and lead. “They often learn the other part and partner up with each other”, casually answers my therapist and I really, really want to see that. He is back at the table, with his sickeningly good camera zoom, taking pics of the dancers. Then he walks up to a covey of Georgian girls, looks lingeringly, until one of them accepts his invitation, presses her face  against his and they join the dancing current.
We leave after 3 hours.
We walk through old streets with old wooden balconies.
I still can’t connect what I’ve seen with my city.
As I go on living in it, as I keep on walking in its streets, as things get mundane and tiresome, as I come up with all-night dancing and 100 happy days projects (more on that later), trying to fight this desperation, trying to cover up the emptiness, as I keep sacrificing sleep, healthy eating, rest, self-esteem, I forget that good things, truly good things exist in Tbilisi. I forget that I don’t always need to forge my own happiness, that sometimes happiness just sits there, waiting to be discovered.

I am plotting the next tango meeting.

P.S. the pic: this pic is horrible. My camera phone sucks at capturing motion and I didn't want to post close-ups, since I haven't asked for permission to post these pics. But, this is the proof that the unicorn is real :-)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vagina Monologues in Tbilisi. Again.

My vagina liked last year’s Vagina Monologues so much that it begged to come back. And come back it did, a director vagina. An important vagina.
My vagina sat with many other vaginas for 3 months and we talked about…guess…vaginas. We talked about our monologues. We talked about parts of our souls they touch. We wrote about the women we presented. We made their stories our stories.
My vagina tried to direct. Honestly, it was more like giving personal feedback. It’s not like my vagina ran around artistically, yelling at the actors: “action, action!”
As we changed, so did our stories. Some vaginas lost love, some gained confidence. Some vaginas grew stronger. Some vaginas fell into darkness. Our monologues changed colors. Though in the end, our vaginas felt accomplished. It was like vagina therapy.
And so it happened that my vagina went to a Vagina Workshop.  To discover own form and essence. After practicing and practicing, my vagina finally talked about it in front of 200 people and it was elating. It even tried to convey an orgasm on stage. My vagina was funny. People laughed.
My vagina also made a little speech in the beginning. My vagina said, hey, women are killed in Georgia. Wheelchair-adapted swings are taken down in Georgia. My vagina said, we need to hear these women in Georgia. My vagina said, we need to hear them.
Backstage, my vagina watched other vaginas talk, one by one, and it was proud, my vagina was proud, it was my team, it was our team, we dared and talked about vaginas when most do not dare and  do not talk about vaginas.
No one yelled and no one screamed.
Some felt uncomfortable. Sitting and listening to other women’s vaginas. Some laughed nervously. Some felt connection. Some felt like they knew these vaginas on stage – through work, through life, through their own vaginas. Even if they did not have one.
And now it is over. My vagina believes that after performing last year and performing and directing this year, it has talked its talk. My vagina wants others to get involved. My vagina encourages you to participate next year.
And then you can sit down and write your own vagina monologue.
Like the one I am writing today. Or this one.
In any case, come and listen.
Because we have to:
Let our vaginas talk. Let our women speak. Let our inner, hidden, repressed selves finally declare: Enough! No more violence!
P.S. My Vagina Workshop scene
P.S. life is so hectic, I hardly find time to sit and think. And if I don’t think, I don’t write. And if I don’t write…well, I loose you guys.
That’s it. I promise to write in July. And thank you for still checking my page out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Invisible Women : M

 It’s been a while and I am sorry. You probably got tired of waiting for me. I don’t blame you. I wonder if anyone is still left here...
May 17th went by just like any regular day. Some activists placed empty shoes on the “pogrom” site to honor the unseen, unheard people. Fliers appeared all over the city and stairway by Tavisupleba subway was painted in rainbow colors.
That day I arrived at the Pushkin square with my spare footwear to discover a man collecting shoes in big, black bags.  He told me that it was all gay propaganda. “But I brought shoes”, I whimpered. “You can put them down and I will collect them”, he answered very politely. He then complained that he “was forced to” throw away shoes.
Women were killed this spring, lots of women killed by angry men. Anyone notice that? Oh yes, government was preoccupied fighting gay propaganda (they demolished the rainbow stairs! Not painted over, demolished! I mean, the level of paranoia!!) just as it is preoccupied with incarcerating pot smokers at the moment.
I guess these several posts are my shoes. My attempt at “Dirty Pretty Things” (Haven’t seen it? Download right now!)
There are women in my life, who are invisible.  They are strong and they are independent and many times I look at them in awe. I just want you to know about them.  This is the first story:

M is smart, friendly, service-oriented. First time I walked into a salon where she worked (little, ugly thing  close to my house), she talked to me, explained stuff about my nails, hair, eyebrows, took care of my poor hands, walked me to the door and gave me her business card. As someone stuck in a post-soviet-service
limbo, I was pleasantly surprised. She was not nice because she worked in a high-class, expensive salon (it was yet another neighborhood barber shop) , not because I was someone important, but because that's how she usually talks to her clients.
Her skills are excellent. She had worked in Israel for many years, learning tricks of the industry, procuring better instruments, receiving better training. She was happy and busy and independent until one day her son almost boarded a bus that got blown to pieces in several minutes after the departure. They came back to Geo and she started working close to her house (to check in on her son).
Salon owner didn't treat M very well. He did not abuse her, nothing like that; he just did not value her. He had an exceptionally-trained nail technician in his shabby salon and he did not care.  He did not care about any of his female staff really. He was the boss who collected money.
M started saving funds, took a bank loan and eventually opened a tiny nail salon next to him. All of her clients moved away with her.  There she sworks now, in a neat little room that used to be a vegetable stand.
She decorated it and remodeled it and even extended walls a bit. Her salon has a tree in the middle. It was in the way and she did not want to cut it.
M is very strong. M sits all day, cutting people’s nails, shaping their eyebrows, she pays for the room, she pays for her life and she pays for her son’s life.  Sometimes she is sick, sometimes she is hungry - no time for lunch, though she never complains (We just chat about it. How are you? Oh well, hungry); she has never missed an appointment. Never. 
She is always fun. Sometimes she tells me her Israel stories. Some are funny, some are sad. How she got divorced.  How she loved. How she traveled. Other things.
Time after time she gives me mini lectures on skin care. She never judges me, no matter how horrible my nails look; doesn't reprimand me when sometimes I bite the skin on my fingers (gross).  She’s there, she’s always there and she probably does not even know how much security and stability her professional presence has given me over these, let’s see 3 years? 4 years? More? She has watched me change 4 jobs now.
I measure my month by how much time has passed since I last saw M.

I will always have M. Even when I move out of this place. I will make special trips to her little room with a tree.
M is invisible. M is not on TV. M does not attend rallies. M just does her job, professionally, cheerfully, with dignity. M is proud of her job. And I grow, I learn, I get inspired.

M is the first invisible woman I will tell you about. The first shoe that I put down.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Day That God Died

First, I heard the roar. It sounded like thunder. It was increasing so rapidly, I wondered, what could it be. And then I saw one of my friends running frantically.   I gestured “what?” and he yelled: “run, run, quickly, run!”
I ran. I took my aunt’s hand and ran towards the museum of arts (even before the rally, I decided that in case danger, I would take a shelter in some building; museum had security). All the other activists ran left.
And then… the mob, the river of people, running and yelling, literally flooding the freedom square, in minutes, in seconds, with sticks, with chairs, with hate and that sound, that horrible roar. It reminded me of a crazy antelope stampede scene from the Lion King. And they were ready to kill Mufasa, oh yes they were.
The museum security locked the door.
It took all my courage not to break into sobs. I called my friend who was late and screamed for her to stay where she was. I couldn’t see what happened to other activists. I imagined that they climbed the St. George’s pedestal and was about to join them when I saw pedestal people waving Georgia’s old flag. I stopped. I shuddered. My friends would never wave that burgundy-colored symbol.
Out of the window, I watched embassy people leaving in the buses. The late girl finally called and met me. We talked in English, cause had to walk through that mob to get to hubby’s brother’s car.
Fear left me then. Anger came. They did it, they ruined our peaceful rally! 10 000 of them were ready to squish the 50 of us under their feet, full of hate, full of anger. They would not allow us to stand in colorful t-shirts for 10 minutes in a silent rally commemorating all the victims of homophobia. They turned us into the victims of homophobia! They turned us into the victims of homophobia! Damn them! Damn them!
After anger, fear returned. On my TV screen, I watched buses full of my friends attacked by uncontrollable mob. I watched them forcefully opening the door. I watched them climb on top of it. I remembered everyone who ran towards the buses, everyone who ran left. Can you imagine how they felt, squatting down to avoid bus windows, shaking, with no control, surrounded by mob, surrounded by angry clergy that tried to flip the bus?!
Thankfully, no one received serious injuries.
Now, I don’t feel anything. I am very tired. I am exhausted.
 Now, there is nothing left to loose.
God died in Georgia today. His “servants” killed him.
And now, they’re singing of his death in their gold-encrusted Sameba church.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Under the Chestnut Tree

    Hubby and I wanted to open a bar and call it The Chestnut Tree Café, inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. It had to have this feeling of mock freedom in a totalitarian world – cameras by the entrance, Victory gin, recording devices. Scary bathrooms. 1984 quotes on the walls. We thought it would be funny.
    I came back from a remote village in mountains today. I visited a kindergarten there, a freshly renovated, clean and cute kindergarten. With young and motivated teachers. But despite the new toys, new trainings, kindergarten can't provide all the services it is supposed to.  A kid goes  to that kindergarten, just for 1 hour a day, and no one knows what to do with this kid. He does not play like other kids, he does not talk like other kids, he can't be managed like other kids.
    My colleague went to another village to discover family with several kids that have multiple disabilities. Epilepsy and blindness, intellectual problems and immobility, you name it, these kids have it. She saw one girl who has never left the bed in 11 years. Another one had puss coming out of her eye. The third one spent most of her days locked out on the balcony. These kids had conditions that could have been prevented but due to myriad reasons, they were denied regular healthcare.
    We spent some time talking about these cases. We felt responsibility crush us. We had to undo years of damage. 2 of us.
    Last night I watched the most ridiculous discussion on TV. Foaming, people were yelling that passing anti-discrimination bill will ensure homosexual teachers raping pupils.
    May 17th is coming and this time around, nothing is happening. After 2 years of rallying, just silence.
    My friend and her family had to sit through a 2-hour rant that declared their daughter and sister abnormal.
    After moving forward, we came back the full circle and are seriously discussing (again!) whether gay relations should be allowed.
   Clergy walks in and out Parliament sessions as it pleases.
   A young female lawyer talking about elementary, school-book level democracy principles is hissed at by audience in the Georgian fucking Parliament.
   Georgian government gives away one of the oldest hospitals in the city to the church that systematically destroys and deforms anything of historical significance that falls into its greedy hands.
   Anti-discrimination law is chopped down, mutilated, raped and killed. Debates are still raging over the corpse.  Necrophils from all over the county try to kick the cadaver just one last time.
   We won’t open a mock-totalitarism bar in a totalitarian country. I don’t need a bar for that – I can just open the window.

Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me:
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree

    P.S. the pic: clergy before walking out of the parliament. pic stolen from fb shares.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wicked Games

While everyone is celebrating Easter, I am sitting by my comp at 3 in the morning, feeling a bit heavy.
The team just left. We were watching our game on TV and we watched ourselves loose once more and I felt incompetent once more.
I started playing intellectual quiz game show thingy “What When Where” accidentally. My hubby was an active player from school years and since he was so involved I tagged along, supporting him and his team. The team soon became part of our family. I was jokingly calling myself their groupie, following them around, wagging my tail and just waiting for them to like me. One after one, I befriended them all, and I think for 6 years now, some of hubby’s original team members have become my closest friends. We shared food, room, hey, 6 of us even shared couches and beds J They silently stepped into my life and I –into theirs and we lived happily ever after, until one genius (no joke here) received sky high score on GMAT and left us for much better life at Stanford. And then… a vacant spot on the team. თhey took me in.
For a long, long time I felt redundant, like I was occupying somebody else’s seat and I think I owe it to my captain who kept emphasizing every game I played well, until sometime, I don’t even remember when, last year maybe, I felt like I really am a member of this team that I have some role in it, that sometimes I am useful. We played throughout the year, off TV, we played well, we played badly, we played together.
Time after time I was asked for TV show casting, when I was put with a group of other castees and we had to answer questions as a team, while people observed us. Twice I went to casting last year and twice I acted unnatural – too loud, too quiet, too pushy, too obnoxious, too shy. I never really wanted it though. I just went along.
This year, I was called again. I had training that evening and I debated long and hard, to go or not to go. The truth is, I did not really want to play on TV. I did not value this game so much to miss my training for it. But I went anyway. I like adventures.
I think I was closer to myself this time. I guessed some questions. I answered some wrong ones. I was mostly silent but enthusiastic about stuff I knew. And…I did not make it. But, since my hubby’s TV team (which is different from our constant team) was temporarily missing one person, they let me play just this once.
And this is when it happened. During rehearsals with my hubby’s team. When I actually started participating. When this shit started getting valuable. When I wanted to really play and not just sit and look pretty.
We lost. We lost though we played well. Actually, they played well. I sat and looked pretty. I looked pretty on purpose: I wanted to be pretty and sexy and smart and to prove to the whole world that girls with nice eyes and big boobs can be smart too. And I failed. Not that I was nervous – I just went dumb.  I went blank. I remember enjoying the game and I wished it would never end, and I did not want us to win quickly.
But we lost and I keep wondering if the team would win with their regular team member. If they would have been better had they been 6 instead of 5 and an appendix.
I also feel big regret. Had we won, I could have played one more time in May.  Maybe I could be more daring the next time. Or not. I don’t know. I wanted to make my hubby proud.
Fuck, after 6 years of resisting, I finally let this game get to me. And I feel pissed. Because now that my chance has escaped me, I want it so bad.
P.S. my bow tie: symbol of the game J

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bolnisian Cowboy

I was struggling with major disappointment (more details in later posts). And on the top of that, I had to go to Kutaisi for my new job, training some kids in disability issues. After leaving late, we finally arrived at our hotel which looked like a baroque explosion. Seriously, even extension cords had ornaments.
My friend and I decided to take a half an hour walk in the neighborhood. It was getting late and we aimed for a short stroll. As we walked by a jazz café, we forced ourselves to check it out.
And here, in the middle of Kutaisi, we found American country.
It was surreal and it was weird. Some guy in the cowboy outfit was playing guitar and harmonica and singing motherfucking country!
Now, I don’t like country. I also don’t like Kutaisi. But seeing combination of these two made me very happy. As I was contemplating whether I should dance (old stereotypes die slow. I was afraid some Kutaisian boy would interpret my dance as flirting), damn cowboy started singing Bowie’s Space Oddity. I had to stand up in awe.
I love this song. I spent a wild, stoned weekend in Prague listening to this song over and over again. I listened to it crazed by the fumes of cannabis, alone with hubby in a foreign city, wondering from one medieval street to another, trapped in a tin can, floating through the air. I listened to it as we took off to the sky,  I listened despite all “turn off your electronic devices” warnings, I listened to it as we left the ground and my fogged up mind came up with myriad of stars, and man, here I was listening to it again, in Kutaisi, out of all the places.
I talked to the cowboy after the show. Turns out he is a star of Georgian “Voice”. What do I know, I don’t watch TV. I think he was a bit disappointed that I didn’t know who he was. He shamed me as a journalist. I embarrassingly started explaining that I was no journalist that I wrote for my fun and readers’ torture but how do you explain this whole stupid thing?
Anyway, he is a country singer. From Bolnisi. He likes country because it is a matter of taste (when I asked him “why country” he looked at me like really, are you really going to ask that?).  He plays here and there; touring a whole country isn’t option – no demand. He was on Georgian singing reality show. That’s when he played “Space Oddity” (“I just did that for TV, as you can see, that’s not my style at all”). Despite his American accent, he's never been to the states. Nowhere further than Poland. He came to Kutaisi with this cute girl with nice voice that sang with him. He is a Bolsnisian cowboy. He hasn’t shaved forever. He’s on YouTube. We should be FB friends. I can get more info that way.
I felt like a pesky reporter. I was like, thank you, this is fine, I really just have a personal blog. I am just writing impressions. I am sorry for bothering you…could I name my post “Bolnisian cowboy?” sorry for being a weirdo. Sorry for not knowing who you are. Thank you for playing. Umm, yes, OK, bye.
So here I am back into my Luis XIV room, thinking of Shota Adamashvili and cursing myself for not obtaining a wifi password to look him up. I have no idea who I met and what he does, but I was so down this morning and he restored my faith in humanity.

He played country in Kutaisi.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sulfur Baths Relaxation

   I love Tbilisi sulfur baths - uniquely Tbilisian, casually mentioned in several books I read long time ago. The whole bath area is one of the oldest in Tbilisi. There’s a monastery on the left that is built upon wine cellar built upon church built upon a house built upon a cemetery….dating couple of thousand years…if you’ve done any Tbilisi research (or went to a Georgian school), you know that here the king-killed peasant fell into a hot sulfur river, thus prompting him to establish capital city in the middle of the forest. Hence the name Tbilisi (warm).
   According to Wikipedia, 65 sulfur baths operated in Tbilisi in XIII century. Most of the modern baths were created in XIX century. Of course, the insides were renovated during soviet times, ruined during 90ies, some of them renovated again for the modern consumer. But the walls and interior counts 2 centuries, which is impressive in my book.
   Sulfur is known for antiseptic and medicinal purposes. So people went there to feel better. Later, in infinite history of female discrimination, future mother-in-laws took young girls to check out their bodies for defects. Legend has it that my grandfather took my father there to check out his potential for giving offspring. As a result of the successful inspection, I am typing this post today.
   Tbilisi sulfur baths have been traditionally gay-friendly since XIX, a tradition that did not die during soviet times, when baths became a main place to seek a partner, under a regime that imprisoned homosexuals. Research has it that men looked at each other and wrote phone numbers on the walls.
   For a recent while, baths turned into brothels (as did all the hotels and any rent-a-bed place in Tbilisi), where sex-hungry Tbilisian males would bring girls, bang them on a couch in a private pre-bath room and then, I guess, disinfect in a pool of sulfur spring (just my sick fantasies). This reputation still hangs upon some of the baths and though many places successfully moved on to regular spa services, some of my friends’ husbands still act very offended when I try to get their wives into the baths.
   As for my practical experience: I used to go to the Chreli Abano (the one with beautiful Persian-style blue ornaments); ironically I used to go with my mother-in-law :-) It was freshly renovated. They closed it indefinitely. So after wandering around to Royal Baths, Baths #5 and others, I finally chose my favorite – it is an old XIX century bath, away from the main dome-shaped ones. You have to walk up a bit, see a sign “Bohema” (that’s a fancy restaurant), follow the sign and discover the bath next to it. Other baths were not that well-kept. My favorite Orbeliani baths have original XIX century bricks inside. Regular rooms are smaller than in other baths though. Usually, renting a private bath means you get two rooms: one for de-clothing and resting and one with big tub/small pool of constantly running hot sulfur water. It cost around 50-80 Lari/per hour, depending on the place. Most baths also provide “lux” option – you get a bigger tub and sauna and pay 90-120 Lari. Sauna is redundant, of you ask me. Being in naturally-steamed room and occasionally dipping your body into hot sulfur water does the trick.
   Please do not attempt public rooms. Dirty and unappealing. It’s much better to find two friends and share the cost.
   I recommend paying for hour and a half. Hour is just not enough to strip clothes, get into the pool, get out, get in, etc. speaking of clothes, nude bathing is healthier and more comfortable. I’ve taken timid American friends there who quickly shed their polyester swimming suits and enjoyed diversity of human bodies. It feels librating. Just bring a customary sheet to wrap your body when you’re out.
   Finally, order some 5 Lari tea. You’ll get thirsty. Let your pores breath. It feels great once you get over the smell :-)
P.S. Pic: Orbeliani baths.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Orhan Pamuk in Tbilisi - Writer Who Writes My Books

   The meeting was organized in Rustaveli Theatre. Lady from the publishing house announced him several times and we gasped but no one entered. Poor woman kept babbling nonsense, when Mr. Pamuk walked in, surrounded by a herd of journalists, like some kind of Benedict Cumberbatch. He walked up the stage and sat in those godawful, maroon-and-gold, squiggly-legged, a-la real housewives of New Jersey chairs.
   My Pamuk-reading experience is very location based, just as his novels are. I read Istanbul in Denver, in English, as a part of my I-swear-I-will-read-all-of-the-Nobel-winners quest. It made me homesick, though I’ve never been to Istanbul. It was closer to home than Denver, so instead of looking for Turkey, I was searching for Georgia. Here, this is my neighbor, I thought. We share the same sea. And shit like that.
   I did visit Istanbul, on my second honeymoon (wedded to the same person. Long story, see this post). It so happened that I was reading My Name Is Red, in Russian this time. I remember how dazzled I was by Istanbul (two posts here), I loved everything, strong tea, Marmara sea we saw each morning, prayer calls, Blue Mosque, crowds of people on Taksim Square…and as we walked and walked, I read My Name Is Red during short rests. We visited museum of Islamic art and saw Koran manuscripts. I was seeing what I was reading. Funny, how that book feels so much more Istanbul to me than Istanbul ever has.
   I went back to Denver and once again, reading about Kars (Snow) in Russian, made me think of home, though the situation was inverted – Georgian liberal minority was trying to revolt against mainstream Orthodox religion. I thought of uneasy relations with god in this part of the world. I also felt like the book, unlike two others, dealt with women characters with sensitivity, respect, made them interesting. Anyway, we visited Kars last summer, just to check out what Mr. Pamuk wrote about and it was totally different. I was really mad at him for a while.
   Meanwhile, he talked about my books, my multi-cultural, multi-lingual books. It was so weird, he just wrote them, just sat down, with a pen in his hand, in a quiet room, charted the chapters, like an engineer, avoided writers block, worked hard, a silent clerk, using visual imagery, editing heavily, every day and wrote my goddamn books! He sent out a message, I misinterpreted it, I mixed it up with different countries and different words, and he doesn’t even know!
   He was funny. He was very relaxed and funny. Not snobby, not a wiseasss, normal, witty person, talking about his life and my books. My hubby stood with a microphone to ask a question, but never dared. I am not sure my hubby breathed during the whole thing. He has a special love affair with Mr. Pamuk. I don’t even come close.
   After the Q&A was over, we poured into the lobby for a book signing. Journalists occupied the first row and defended the table with their cameras like it was a warzone. The crowd boiled and coiled and made horrible noises and absolutely refused to form a line. And this is how we lost opportunity to see Mr. Pamuk in person and ask him for an autograph. He left without us.
   I was about to call 4 hotels who could host someone of his importance, when a friend disclosed his dining location. My hubby and I rushed to the restaurant and patiently waited until he finished eating. I was reading White Castle. In Georgian.
   He walked out and I sprang on to him and first of all, informed him that we were waiting for him, so he would feel guilty and sign the book J I was desperately afraid he would say “no”, but, tired and probably angry, he was nice and signed our Istanbul. I managed to squeeze in how much I love his books, like he has never heard that before. Hubby was the worst. He just lost his ability to speak. Just gently shook Mr. Pamuk’s hand. He was walking in coma for the rest of the evening, looking at the signature and making sounds. Taking pictures of it. Whispering "my precious".

   And this is how I met a real writer. A writer who writes my books.
P.S. His signature!!!!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Requiem for a Leo

If anyone asked me a month ago who takes home the Oscar - I’d said Leo, Leo for sure. However, as I sat up all night yesterday, watching a stream of nothing-too-special dresses sitting down and eating pizza, I was rooting for Matthew, an actor I don’t particularly like.
IMHO Dallas Buyers’ Club is wonderful; IMHO Matthew McCounaghey kicked ass.  The film was realistic, no Hollywood dramatization, just raw reality of HIV and AIDS, the phrama mafia, the faulty medical system, the demonization, the society that kills one faster than the virus. Lacking that overly-sweet pathos of Philadelphia, dynamic and intensive, educational and symbolic, it is a film perfect for seminars, discussions, and a lonely tearful viewing. Though some symbols are pretty transparent (really, death on a rodeo while having sex? Butterflies, symbolizing metamorphoses? Clown, for the irony of life?), the overall honesty of the film, and just stellar Matthew-Jared duo, makes up for any intellectual snobbism imperfections I can list.
Gravity took technical Oscars in bulk, also well-deserved. Given the fact that I detest Sandra and George (and no one else appears in the film, save this one young fellow in the very beginning), I was surprised how much I liked it. Its cinematography reached new levels and once more, director shook me up and yelled: “look, here’s what I can do to a film!” I always welcome directors who hit me in the face and in such masochist pleasure, I applaud Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar for the best director. I couldn’t breathe for the duration of the film, my hands clenching the chair, my breath – trapped in my diaphragm. Finally, I stared at  Sandra’s painful re-birth, back in the Earth water. Her cosmic embryo pose changed to a toddler walk in the mud, while I witnessed a conquest of a new frontier – the fucking space.
Speaking of fucking, the proverbial Wolf surprised me also (I have been waiting for it since the previews) and not in a good way. Not that it was bad, not that Leo didn’t fucking turn the world upside down, not that I could do anything but watch the endless parade of boobs, drugs, and witty dialogue, but it was so…familiar? With scam films like I Love You Philip Morris and Catch Me if You Can, the bar is set too high and the film cannot rest on Leo’s god-like performance alone. And whenever I see a room full of people with phones, the only thing that comes to my mind is “always be closing” and until some director comes and slaps that Alec Baldwin phrase out of my head, films like the Wolf of Wall Street will stay a wonderful imitation of already existing gems. As for controversy on too much ass and cocaine, well my friends, I just finished a decade-old series on Showtime that shows a lot more ass and all kinds of drugs, right on a national TV.
Moving on to the best gals in the town, no one had any doubts that Cate Blanchett would hit the jackpot. Her statue was probably the only undisputed one among critics and fans. Hey Cate, you deserve it and thanks Woddy Allen, my fav. director ever, for still making films. For a moment there, I was scared that you moved to a European tourism PR department, and suddenly you give me so much to think about. I love you. Please don’t ever die.
The princes of the ball, Lupita Nyongo took home the other “female” Oscar, and please don’t hate me, but I think she had to. I like Jennifer Lawrense, yes she was great. And so was Amy Adams and the whole gang. But in the end…the film was just not that grand. Maybe Bonnie and Clyde spoiled me for life. I don’t know. I just got bored during American Hustle, and since I can watch 3.5 hour-long black-and-white “artistic” movies fully alert, I honestly doubt it was me. The dialogue was not as witty as actors strived to make it sound, the scenes were not set-up properly and though the gang tried to act the hell out of it, there is only that much you can do. It was good film and maybe last year it would’ve been the best film of the year, but this year, surrounded with the likes of Dallas, Nebraska, August, even the fucking Wolf, not a chance.
That brings me to the last two of my favorite nominated films (I already talked about Blue Jasmine), films that got lost in the crowd, not because they were invisible, but because they were largely un-Oscarable. Nebraska, this warm, heart-clenching film, probably the first film in a long time that moved beyond plastic good-looking people and not only dealt with the “normal” folks, but, oh god, with aging folks, with wrinkly, not-pretty, not-witty, not-cocaine snorting, not-super-fucking, not-politically-correct old grumpy men and women and it killed my heart and it twisted my intestines and it made me think of what is most important in life.  Nebraska did not aim to entertain and that is the best praise I can give a film. And August Osage County…rarely does all-star ensemble produce good results, but this time it was like a fine-tuned mechanism, like a well-built orchestra, and every person and every character stood exactly where they had to and said exactly what they had to. And it had Benedict Cumberbatch in it.
So did the best film of this year, 12 Years a Slave, which was just as much an Oscarable film, as Nebraska wasn’t. It had all the ingredients – effective cinematography, good dialogues, the best actors sprinkled with the American- dream-come-true newcomers, Brad Pitt saving the world, well-defined good/bad dichotomy, easy-to-grasp-meaning, historic figures, social consciousness, family reunion – and despite all these, it managed to stay entertaining. And please don’t give me that crap about how we had enough of slavery films winning Oscars, please name at least one decent slavery film on the top of your head (O.K. that masterpiece Jungo is a whole another animal). What, is the long and boring  Lincoln the one you can think of? My point exactly. This film is perfectly-cut for discussions and seminars and technically it is pretty flawless, even has several hidden symbols here and there, I am glad I saw it once (that’s it for me). As two of my favorite actors in the world, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano, happily stood behind a director who poured his heart into this film, holding the most-deserved Oscar of the night, Rustavi 2 decided to cut his speech short and make way for 9 A.M. news. And so this technically perfect but pretty bland ceremony ended, leaving me with bunch of films to cherish, several to watch for the first time (Her, Philomena), Leo to love, and gifs of Ben photobombing U2 to admire.

 P.S. the said photobombing in action.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

It’s the little things that make the injustice. Maybe because I've been more open about it, because I told the whole world, because I am visibly affected and finally, because it is after all, my body, I get all the sad faces in facebook, while my hubby stands outside of the whole process.
But how it is fair, if I require that in this partnership we both get the benefits, if I require that we both do what we like (under the circumstances), if we both split the chores (again, under the circumstances) and if I fully expect him to be involved in diaper-changing, in sleepless nights, in parenting classes, how is it fair that after this failed in vitro attempt I am the only one getting any attention?
How is it fair that we live in this fucked up world when it is such a big deal to write to a man “I am sorry that this happened to you” or “I know how you wanted that baby”?!
Didn’t he go to the doctor’s appointments? Didn't he memorize required standards of endometrium, didn't he count all the eggs with me, didn't he sit with my after the procedure? i am not sure I could stand and watch my partner being stabbed with hormones day after day, take care of her when she is in hysterics, work till 3 A.M. to pay for all this and feel left out and maybe helpless. I don’t know if he feels that, I know that’s what I’d feel.
Truth is I don’t really know how he feels. Because I’m the only staying home in bed all day, eating ice-cream and answering phone calls. I’m the one who has emotions. He’s supposed to work like nothing happened. I’m sure my boss wouldn't force me to stay at work the day I learn that nothing worked out. But hey, men don’t have to tell, do they? They’re not really expected to share anything at all. Can you imagine how weird it would be to hear that your male co-worker wants to stay home because his wife can’t get pregnant?  Would you take him seriously after that? Would you still think that he is a strong, powerful person that is required to manage a team? Would he even want to say anything?
Not only because it is weird. But also because it is confusing for everybody around. I guess we all are scared of emotions and we have no idea how to deal with them. We become overly rational and say things like “oh, try another time”, “it is so rare to get pregnant during your first try”, thus diminishing the perceived weight of the problem. However the problem doesn't have an absolute weight. It weights as much kgs, as it feels, and when someone tells a problem-holder that really and objectively this problem is much slimmer, it brings no comfort, just anger. Cause here’s the person crushed by the weight and there’s someone, telling the person that she is making it up, instead of just saying "How are you?" or “this must be so heavy for you”(even to get a response, no, I am dealing fine). Later, there’s always time for the encouragement later, to end the pity-fest and shake the person up. Not when it is so acute though.
And then there’s person who carries the weight and nobody knows about it. Cause real men don’t cry.

P.S. I am really not fishing for pity comments, so please, please don’t write anything comforting or encouraging. That’s not why I wrote the post.  I wrote it because I think this role division is unfair, whether it concerns me or anyone else.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lagodekhi National Park:Cure for Common Depression

One month ago, I was in a very dark place. Apathy came over and I don’t really remember any of the holidays. Yes, we decorated the tree and we had a Sherlock party and I saw friends that have gone missing abroad, but I was still too busy lamenting about my stupid life.
Mid-January, hubby finally got a little break from work and we left Tbilisi. Those are magical words. Tbilisi needs to be left time after time. I need to get Tbilisi out of my lungs.
Hubby refused to reveal where he took me.  We drove towards Kakheti and I was going through different places in my mind: Kvareli,Lopota,Telavi, Gremi…which one? We ended up in Lagodkehi National Park. Well, at a hotel that was just by the entrance of the Lagodekhi National Park.
What can I tell you? Air does not get cleaner than this. We got settled in a cute little guest house “Caucasus” just by the entrance to the national park. It cost 50 Lari per night and 15 Lari per meal, if we wanted one. There was a lot of food even by Georgian standards and the hostess made us laugh, she was warm and inviting. She lit the fireplace for us and we spent happy times sitting by the fire and reading. It was such an unrealistic, corny romantic comedy setup, but it worked miracles on my psyche.
That night we drove around, looking at the Caucasian mountains, planning the next day, taking a quick stroll in the park before the sun went down. We made a pact not to open FB (we left laptops home for that purpose) and returned to our room. I embarked upon Doris Lessing’s Shikasta, while hubby tried to read Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, only to fall asleep for indefinite time.
Next morning we rushed into the national park, eager to hike to Lagodekhi waterfall. Park infrastructure was surprisingly nice and different trails were marked with different colors. We followed our black-and-yellow trail, all on our own, feeling sense of accomplishment; here we are, hiking alone into the wild. After 2-3 hours we saw the waterfall, but since the hill leading to it was all covered in ice (what sane person hikes in Lagodkehi in January?), we just looked at it from the distance, waved hands and hurried back before the sunset. That evening was just like one before – lots of food, fireplace, books, me sneaking hubby’s Iphone while he was showering…
Day 3 of our stay we visited the stables and encouraged by yesterday’s successful hike, decided to rent horses on our own, despite no riding experience. After receiving a horse-management instruction from a ranger, we boldly went into the forest. I am not a good enough writer to convey all the peace and quiet and little rays of sunshine sipping through the branches and horses warm and just walking, walking…so cool, you just sit there and take in the scenery, while little hoofs make click clack sounds. In the middle of the trip, hubby’s horse decided that she was done for the day and lowered herself on the ground. One moment my hubby was on my height level, the next moment- he was one level beneath me, legs spread on the ground, looking helpless. “You broke it!” – I yelled. We talked sweetly to the horsey and gave her grass. She finally decided to comply and let my hubby back on her back.  We were so scared. The ranger appeared soon after the incident and said that those horses were used to walking all day and they never stopped like that. I guess they sensed how weak we were. Hubby’s drama queen horse attempted another fainting act later, only to get her ass kicked by the ranger. She kept on going after that. We reached an old fortress, looked over the valley and the river that separated Georgia from Azerbaijan, smelled fallen leaves and headed back to our citadel of food and warmth.
Needless to say, our behinds and legs hurt for many days after that. But I was cured of all that self-pitying nonsense and came back to my poor, abused blog.

I’d definitely visit that place in the summer. Bringing along tents and friends.
P.S. the pic: the hike to Lagodkehi waterfall