Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Foreign Tongues and Kindred Spirits

I mentioned in my first entry that my experience in Tbilisi has been vastly different from that depicted by other bloggers. I don't live with a host family, nor do I have a built-in network of colleagues or co-volunteers. I do my job with a laptop and a wireless connection, and live alone in the heart of the Old Town. This can be enormously liberating; I have space and silence. I can drink tea on my porch at sunset, or sleep until noon, and never become prickly through lack of privacy.* But it also means that I'm starting my life in Tbilisi completely ex nihilo; finding friends, for me, is less an easily organic process than another item on my morning shopping  list: (To pick up - Milk, coriander, kindred spirits).

This hasn't been an issue up to now - I lived with my mother whenever I returned to Tbilisi. But with her return to New York, I find myself in the all-too-familiar position of building up a new life for myself. I don't want to socialize exclusively with expats; I attended a few embassy-related functions, but in the end foreign in the American diaspora as I do in the heart of the bazaar (that I might want to leave the posh boulevards of Vake for cobblestones, or learn Georgian to communicate with "locals," was roundly treated as ridiculous. When I mentioned I was a writer, I was immediately asked "who for?" as if my identity could not exist without reference to an American paradigm of prestige and systematization)

Nor is my (functional but basic) Georgian good enough to allow me to just "meet" people - a fact brought home to me when I eagerly clicked hundreds of blog profiles of interesting-looking people based in Tbilisi, just to find their entries locked away by language. This puts rather a damper in my dream of being adopted by:

a) an elderly, eccentric violinist, with trembling hands and novels in his head, who keeps parrots
b) A radical group of bohemian artists, who shout their visions from the top of the Narikala Fortress. OR
c) The brilliant soprano I saw performing La Traviata at the Georgian National Music Centre last September.

I recognize that there's something dangerous in letting my ideals run away with me. There's something predatory about chasing after potential novel-characters, as if Tbilisi was just an Orientalist fantasy for my amusement, but if I didn't want to encounter the Other, why travel at all? I want foreign-ness, the strange, bizarre encounters, alleyways, spices - and I recognize that what I want is shaped by the imperialist narratives of dead Englishmen. Edward Said would be disappointed in me.**

The question is, then - how do I get beyond my own expectations and desires -get out of myself, really- and meet people, make new friends, both Georgian and expat? I've made a few connections through the Internet, and met a few lovely people on the last visit I hope to see more of. I want kindred spirits, and I want them to be what I've always wanted, and I want them to be nothing like I've imagined. I suppose I want to find the very thing I can't find by searching.

(Now, if you're reading this, and you're an elderly, eccentric, parrot-keeping violinist capable of communicating in French, English, Italian, German, or any dead/Biblical/antique language, by all means do contact me! And if you see a tiny girl with enormous blonde hair hunched over a novel manuscript at Near Opera, tell her a story. She'd love to hear it.)

*I, to the astonishment of the Italian side of my social network, find little as terrifying as enforced, inescapable social contact. Blame it on being a home-schooled only child of a single mother.
**But I promise to make it up to him with my next planned post!

Monday, November 29, 2010

An introduction, of sorts

Because I cannot exist anywhere without immediately wishing I were somewhere else, I've spent the past few weeks reading a variety of Tbilisi- and Georgia-based blogs, primarily from TLG volunteers, and dreaming about the alleyways of Abanotubani. I've found other blogs amusing, enlightening, but above all things surprising, in part because my experience in Georgia seems so very different from the experience of other bloggers - in. And so I feel compelled, because I'd secretly like to be the love child of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Isabella Burton (although Sir Richard would do nicely), to add my own voice to the cacophony of stories I've been killing time with lately.

A bit about me, then - I live in Tbilisi, except when I don't. I'm American, except when I'm not. I'm a freelance and ghost-writer, except when asked about my student visa. (I have two names, too, but that's a story for another blog post). For approximately half the year, I study Byzantine theology at Oxford, focusing on the philosophy of language in the Cappaddocian Fathers, on a student visa stamped in an American passport that - among other things - allows me to avoid paying for American health insurance. I brush must off of magisterial tomes and sometimes I even read them. I like nineteenth-century French literature, chocolate tea, classical music, and cobblestones. I wear scarves.

For the other half of the year, I go adventuring - basing myself in a messy, art-nouveau-styled Artists' Den in Tbilisi - scribbling for my supper and the price of train tickets. I work as a ghostwriter of romance novels, a travel writer, a video game storyline advisor, a script analyst for a film development company: whatever pays for a) the bills and b) my tuition. I also work on the Great Franco-Italian-American Novel. Sometimes I even get published.

I grew up in Paris, Rome, and New York City. My father is Italian; my mother American. I moved to Tbilisi with my mother, who had a Diplomatic-Related Job, fell in love with Orientalist fantasies of the Caucasus, and decided to stay once she returned. I'm not affiliated with TLG, the Fulbright, the Peace Corps, or any governmental organization - which is at once isolating and liberating.

My experience of Tbilisi is art nouveau street-corners late at night, toddling alleycats on the ruined staircases of Betelmi, baklava in unmarked Iranian tea rooms, saying the word "caravanserai" aloud in a whisper, finding fin de siecle postcards from Karlsbad at the Dry Bridge market, the monarchist on Rkinis Riga who cooed at the pigeons in the Meidan cage, and informed me that he was a relative of "Konigen Erzbeth" - producing a worn, decades-old newspaper clipping of Prince Charles as evidence.

Once, I was staring down icons in the Anchiskhati Church, and a young man entered through the side door. He pressed his lips to the stone in prayer, and when he kissed the stone he stared at me, and I thought it would make a good beginning for a novel.

So here it is.
-Fleur Flaneur