Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Way to Prove My Point, Proud Georgian!

Just breaking my blog silence (you can find me scribbling about Kartveliana, interactive theatre, and French decadence a bunch of other places this month and next, including Los Angeles Review of Books, Conde Nast Traveller, and the upcoming anthology from Sundress Publications Not Somewhere Else But Here: an Anthology of Women and Place) to share this delightful comment on my article for The New Statesman about the first full-length* Georgian-language Vagina Monologues performance in Tbilisi, in which I interview fellow-blogger pasumonok and more. "Proud Georgian" graces us with the following words.
"*so whats the big fuss over people leaving because they do not like vagina talk? if it was vaginas walking away from mucho georgian talk this vagina media would be just fine but if its the other way around you guys call it conformity (typical). Well guess what? I do not conform to your way of thinking, were if anyone is anti gay or anti feminist or anti vagina propagandist, they are plain wrong. check yourselves, and in my opinion you are not so different from those angry men and women who hate your propaganda. you are like cops and criminals, although apparently different not very different in essence.there is nothing wrong with defending your rights and believes and expressing your dissatisfaction with the way things are.
next thing you know men in georgia will be just as men in us, castrated homos looking up to their mommies and female parters for aproval. screw that! I'd rather be loud and proud!
Peace, I'm out!

Thanks, Proud Georgian!

*I believe there was a trans-Caucasus "scenes from" that happened for V-day a while back.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Work Round-Up - Winter 2013

Images from Flickr via Melissa Maples
So, one of these days I'll get back into the habit of blogging more regularly, both about Tbilisi and about all those other places that are also sometimes home, but until then, a round-up of where else I've had Kartvelian-(and Turkey)-related work on the web.

(I should note that I write on far more topics than Kartveliana - my latest story sale, about which more presently, is science fiction in futuristically-classical Rome, and my latest journo piece is on immersive theatre and my Sleep No More obsession - but certainly, these seem to sell a bit better...)

  • "I am at a jazz cafe called Near Opera. There is no jazz band. The opera house is shut. The furniture is ill-proportioned, dollhouse pink; there are imitation Beardsley paintings on the walls. It is lunchtime and I am the only one here. This is Tbilisi; this is normal. Georgians dine at vague hours, nowhere is ever open or closed. Business hours, like thresholds, are permeable.Another essay on change and my failed search for a "local" cafe in Tbilisi for EssaySaturday at Litro. 
  • "We had not died. We had made it deep into Khevsureti without tumbling off the pass or being shot by itinerant Chechens; the van had rolled precariously down the mountain until we thought to secure it with a stray log, and Misha, beleaguered but well-paid, had escorted us to the summit of a nearby cliff and pointed out the crypts with one of the three remaining fingers on his right hand." A fantastical take on hexes in the Caucasus in "The Snake Eaters" at Jersey Devil Press.
  • The books are everywhere: cheap paperback copies of Hardy and Durrell, smelling of vanilla; midcentury spy thrillers; Jurgen Moltmann’s three-volume study in systematic theology. Kemal has piled them up in the doorframes. He has scavenged wood from a deconsecrated church and from it made lopsided shelves that line the equally slanted walls. The courtyard overflows with Hellenic detritus: roof shingles, broken shutters, sculpture-heads, sheared Roman stone. Only the sign out front—a dubious-looking owl advertising “Books Old and New”—indicates any sense of order. A look at the marvelous Owl Bookshop in Antalya over at Guernica.
  • It had been raining for three days. The electricity had been out for two. The police had declared a curfew – three soldiers had washed up in pieces on the beach – and so Tatiana took tea at the lobby of the Grand Palais Eristave, where the foreigners huddled over the last of the NescafĂ© and the chandeliers shook with the bombs. A grifter adrift in a wartorn port city in the grandly fictional city-state of Eristavis, in "The Siege of Eristavis" at The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review.
  • At the climax of Robert Sturua's production of Twelfth Night, a mainstay of the repertoire at Tbilisi's Rustaveli Theatre, a curious thing happens. After Viola and Orsino, Sebastian and Olivia, have all fallen into one another's arms, their newfound nuptial bliss is disturbed by the sudden appearance of a twenty-foot-tall crucified Jesus onstage behind them. Overcome by terror, our lovers run offstage, followed by Malvolio, Maria, and Feste – here represented as commedia-style clowns – as farce gives way to the solemn drama of the liturgy. A brief Georgian theatre round-up for The New Statesman.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New pieces up at Guernica and Lady Adventurer

Two new articles up this month! The first, from the excellently titled Lady Adventurer, is on Khevsureti, which is perhaps my favourite place in Georgia outside of Tbilisi, and by far my favourite mountain region.

Going to the Mountains

Everybody knows the mountains. My landlord tells me stories of stone towers and stolen icons; the taxi-driver warns me of the dangers of being bride-napped... More here...

The second article is a particular source of pleasure for me, as it's at one of my very favourite publications, Guernica, and because I've finally published a piece about something other than Tbilisi! It's a personal essay about the trip I took to Sicily a few years ago, focusing on Palermo rather than Cefalu - with some rare details about my bizarre family life.


I went to Palermo because it was home, and because nowhere else yet had been. I had too many stamps in my passport, too many languages only half-spoken, and a room in a shared house in England piled high with the talismans of my wanderings...Read more at the source.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why We Travel - Lesley Blanch - Journey Into the Mind's Eye

"I must have been about four years old when Russia took hold of me with giant hands. That grip has never lessened. For me, the love of my heart, the fulfilment of the senses and the kingdom of the mind all met here. This book is the story of my obsession."
This isn't a review - at least, not a proper one. It's a post that I feel ought to be made, because today I started crying in public, and it's been a good few years since the ending of a book made me do that. But Lesley Blanch's Journey into the Mind's Eye - equal parts travel narrative and elegy for lost love - had me bawling. It's ostensibly about Blanch (who is in many ways my Career Idol, possibly one of the best prose stylists of the twentieth century, and all too often dismissed as a "great life" when, indeed, her writing is easily as good or better than that of Paddy Leigh Fermor) and her search for the "imaginary" Russia - the idealized version of a country she learned about from her much-older Russian lover, known only as the Traveller.

But it's about so much more than that. It's about seeking a lost love, and coming to terms with loss, and about that imaginary city that we look for when we travel, which is never the place we come to, and which is always nevertheless what draws us from the places we leave behind. It's about the "journey into the mind's eye" we take when we travel, when we find that our journey takes us nowhere new, but only deeper into ourselves. It's about how love can shape us, infect us, and make everything that comes after us about that love.

For me, at least, as for Blanch - love and wandering are inseparable. The perfect place and the perfect Other - they're all part of that endless process of homecoming, of finding that place where we can set down our household gods, where we can belong. That's the theme that's been running through the collection of short stories I've been working on this autumn - that's how Blanch sees her travels: at once an encounter with the profound otherness of her love and a realisation that her experience is ultimately her story, imprinted upon that otherness.

It's a relief, too, to read a female travel writer (although, full disclosure, I can't get through Freya Stark). The Great Men of the business - PLF as the greatest offender, though Philip Glazebook much less so - often ignore this subjectivity. They're privileged enough to barrel through mountain passes without fear of rape or abduction; often, there's a wilful blindness about how much of what they see is of their own creation. Lesley, like the also-marvelous Bettina Selby, like I try to be (I'd be the first to admit that my article in the Spectator is as much about me as it is about Tbilisi itself), is utterly open and unapologetic about that constant dialectic between traveler and place, between storyteller and story-subject, that happens when we travel. About that relationship between the place we see in our mind's eye, loaded down with cultural baggage and emotional resonance and easy orientalizing (because we want, after all, otherness, or we wouldn't be traveling at all), and the place as it is, which perhaps is no more home to us than the places we're running from.

So there you go. Go read Lesley Blanch. 
Because she made me cry.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fantastic Duqan

At the request of the incredible pasumonok, the ultimate Hipster Paradise of Tbilisi, a hidden and largely-unmarked cafe (as of last summer) in the back courtyard of Mtatsminda's Literature Museum. I speak, of course, of the inheritor to Near Opera (in menu content, ownership, and general aesthetic), the persimmon garden and art nouveau faux-tavern that constitute my favourite new cafe in Tbilisi: Sofia Melikova's Fantastic Duqan. (Map provided, as it's all but impossible to find - it's in a courtyard with a yellow door on which the Duqan's name is scrawled, but which is often left open with the sign facing the wrong side.

With power sockets that don't quite fit (push) and eclectic Shoreditch-meets-seraglio furniture, the Fantastic Duqan is the ultimate novel-writing venture in Tbilisi. (And it has the virtue of being where I was seated when I learned that my now-agent was interested in my novel, giving it bone fide Novel-Writing (or perhaps Novel-Pitching) Credentials!)

I can say from experience that they don't mind me sitting and blathering on endlessly, typing on my laptop and eating pelmeni (the menu is largely recycled from the defunct Near Opera, although sadly without the Uzbek Pilaf that was my favourite dish there - although the excellent Asian Town now serves the best Uzbek food in  town!) Food and drink good, cheaper than the National Gallery and indeed all of Sololaki at this point, though still expensive by TBS-wide standards.

A place to write: A rueful, Lawrence-Durrell-inspired saga of love gone wrong in 1920's Paris, femme fatale seductresses, and romances on horseback.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

From Your Resident Sololaki Hipster - Cafe at the National Gallery

Having just been termed a "Sololaki hipster writer" by the incomparable Mark Mullen over at TBLpod (I'm not denying it - I embrace my hipsterness, which in turn means I'm earnestly embracing irony, which in turn means that the laws of space and time have imploded), I feel it's my solemn hipster duty to share a few more Hipster Cafes in Tbilisi.

Where to Write a Novel in Tbilisi - Part the Billionth
Sleek, minimalist, and utterly strange, the cafe at Tbilisi's National Gallery looks and feels nothing like any other cafe I've been to in Georgia. A bit like a child's playroom, a bit like Vienna's Cafe Phil (still the gold standard in Minimalist Retro Chic, and my "home base" for any trip to Vienna, the National Gallery Cafe is achingly trendy, agonizing hip, and refreshingly air-conditioned. The terrace - overlooking the park - is one of my favorite writing-spots in Tbilisi; the interior is attractive but not exactly comfortable (credit to the staff, though; they're very nice about plugging in laptops in the corner and letting me potter about on the keyboard for a few hours at a time). Still, when I'm sick of strangely-slick, faux "shabby chic" (Tartine, despite my love for its brunches/enormous coffee cups/etc, is an offender, as is Moulin Electrique) vibe, it's nice to go somewhere that embraces its status as Hipster Capital of Tbilisi more openly. (Although it's a tough competition between the gallery-cafe and nearby Fantastic Duqan, which is its closest rival)

The food, though expensive, is absolutely fantastic - think odd, organic combinations of various cheeses and vegetables, served on lavash (Armenian nouveau cuisine, maybe) wraps? I'm partial to the tomato sandwich myself!

The cafe is on the second floor of the National Gallery. While there's technically an entry fee to the gallery itself, I've never been stopped from going directly to the cafe without paying for the museum.

Go to write: an experimental piece of neo-modernist stream-of-consciousness fiction about the impossibility of human connection in an unnamed Central European city, told from the point of view of a coat hanger.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Exiles and Homecomings

It's been a while. The problem with having a Tbilisi blog is that I'm only in Tbilisi some of the time the time - right now, I'm spread out mentally (and physically) over three continents, living what feels like three parallel lives.

Technically speaking, Oxford is home. I'm there now, co-habiting with the Very English Gentleman, working on a doctorate in fin de siecle French literature, learning to cook Sunday roasts and taking walks through muddy fields and musty libraries. But I'm also very much, mentally, in Tbilisi. Most of the work I've found as a travel writer is Georgia-centric; Tbilisi was the first place, in a whole lifetime of growing up and moving from place to place, that ever felt like mine. Growing up, so much of my experience of place was predicated on my mother's experiences, on family history, on my mother's memories of this or that piazza, or this or that street. I took the "homeliness" of those places for granted. England, I suppose, was "mine" in a sense - but in moving to Oxford I never quite felt that I was moving to England. Jokes about Oxford not being part of the real world aside, England felt less like an active decision in its own right and more of a by-product of other considerations: university, field, degree - and later on, romantic entanglements. I'd never choose to live in England by itself; it's all the "other stuff" - Oxford, my partner, that tidy graduate stipend that pays my rent.

But Tbilisi - where I rented my first apartment on my own, where I ghostwrote romance novels to pay off my undergrad tuition, where I decided to be long after my family had left it (although - full disclosure - my mother eventually came back) - still remains a different kind of home for me. It'll be the first place where I stopped thinking of myself as my mother's daughter, as a "student-at", constantly in relation to the safety of structures. It was the first place that I ever challenged myself to exist in as myself, with all that dizzying vertiginous freedom that comes with it. It was where I got up the nerve to send out those pitches, to send out my novel, to take serious steps towards being the person I wanted to be. It was where I grew up, in the truest sense of the word.

A few months ago I was back in New York renewing my student visa, and I did what I always do - I nested. New York is where I was born - it's where things are easiest for me. It's where my grandmother lives; it's where I remember being five or six, and coddled. It's where I revert to childhood so easily. I love New York - I feel alive there in a way I don't feel alive anywhere else (except perhaps the McKittrick Hotel). It's that adrenaline rush of a place that's mine. But that's what scares me. How complacent I become. How "home" holds me.

Of course, anywhere I go, I'm foreign. I've figured out long ago that "Home," for me, is a terribly elusive place - I don't belong anywhere. The frustration - invigorating but also frightening - that I wrote about in my Spectator piece was never a frustration with Georgia. My landlady is wonderful; "Nino", about whom I wrote plenty, was one of the kindest, most intelligent, most awe-inspiring women I've ever met. But that divide - between me and what felt like "real life" - that subtle boundary between one of us and stranger - that's the divide that makes Georgia so maddening and so challenging and so wonderful.

I continue to not belong anywhere. I continue to make cultural faux pas - in Georgia, but also (perhaps even more so) in England, where I still do everything wrong. In New York, too, because I don't fully belong there, either. So I keep writing.

(Speaking of which, for those of you who wish to follow me on twitter, you can do so here. This is all part of my Grand Career Development plan of having one of those "social media" presences, in part because when you google my professional name you get not only my website and my recent publications, but also, somewhat awkwardly, the adorable/terrible "novel" I wrote when I was eleven (think Ann Radcliffe meets bizarre mysticism meets finger paintings), and which my family thought it would be so sweet to self-publish with a vanity press. Now, its terrible-ness is mitigated by the fact that I was eleven, and so there's something ALMOST cute about the sheer ambitious pretension of it - characters are oh-so-subtly named "Raoul" and "Christine" because I was a huge Phantom fan, and the word "azure" is probably on every page...). But it's still the internet equivalent of having embarrassing naked baby photographs online.)

Don't worry - next post will be a Useful Review of an excellent cafe or two in Tbilisi.