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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.