Wednesday, July 6, 2011

At Home, Abroad

writing the Great Franco-Italo-American novel, natch.
Note the llama in the corner.


After an extended absence (during which I took a couple of minor examinations), I am now back in Tbilisi for part of the summer, and significantly more "established" here than previously, as my mother (now working in Uganda part-time) has decided to return to Tbilisi part-time start a business, and will be taking over the flat in my absence, hence alleviating my need for a constant revolving door of subletters. I'll be in Tbilisi for about six weeks over the summer, spending the rest of the time in Turkey with (on separate voyages), my mother, grandmother, and Very English Gentleman. (Thank you Pegasus - normally the bane of my existence - for introducing low-cost Tbilisi-Antalya direct flights!)

Mademoiselle Flaneur herself
on the leafy, leafy terrace!
Life upon my return has been idyllic - reading books in the newly-installed terrace hammock (highlights of my return so far, Francoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse and the memoirs of Madame de Stael, although Jelinek's The Piano Teacher earns points for sheer audacity) - eating a novel badrijani-yogurt concoction at the newly-established Cafe Gabriadze (new favorite!), and marveling at how much the Old Town has changed even since March. THREE new Moroccan shisha-bars have joined the existing two in the Chardini Street area - one of which, Marrakech Express, earned particular favor from me after providing me with air conditioning and a power socket during today's outage (and for those who complain that Chardini street is expensive - my 10-lari "glass" of sangria proved to be an enormous Pimms-sized PITCHER for about ten people. The wait staff seemed offended that I declined to drink it all).

Carpet from Tbilisi antique shop, guitar
from Dry Bridge, pillows from Rome, shisha
pipe from Oxford, prints from Uganda (via mother!)
The ongoing flat-decorating is nearly finished (found a carpet for the study at the antiques shop near the Dry Bridge market!), although I'm increasingly aware that the lack of solid BOOKS in the flat - as opposed to my full-to-bursting-kindle - makes it feel somewhat cold. The next trip over may involve carting an Oxfam raid's worth of tomes for the currently-decorative shelves.

Hence: pictures of yours truly in the (Almost-Completely) Decorated Flat!


With Bear, my longtime travel companion
and noble chronicler of adventures.



Coffee-table book: "The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe"
Future posts - on Cafe Gabriadze (!), the million-and-one new bars in Old Tbilisi, and an oh-so-loving ode to the waiter from a cafe I visited in March who, despite getting NO information (credit card or otherwise from me), somehow found my number and persisted in telephoning me at odd hours to enquire if my boyfriend was Georgian.

No, he's English. This means he probably will not challenge you to a duel. But he will (as he did to one would-be lothario 'in the day), "have words with [you]. At Mass."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Running Errands, Running Scared

Another week of trying to outsmart the weather (no, Tbilisi, the ability to lie on my terrace in a bathing suit on a sunny day only to spot snow-capped hills in the distance is NOT NORMAL), to get strings for my new guitar (50 lari at the Dry Bridge!), and to acquire boxes for my loose tea.

Yes, that's right, I managed to defeat the pesky
language barrier and acquire churckhela.
Mostly by creative use of mime.
One of the wonderful things about living here is that I feel so gosh-darn-ain't-that-swell proud of myself whenever I accomplish something that would require absolutely no mental stimulation in Oxford. Getting my prints framed, buying flowers, explaining precisely how much jasmine tea I require (something between "small" and "big"...) - all these things make me feel like the most accomplished, skillful, brilliant, fabulous person in the world! I mean, clearly nobody else in the entire world is capable of pointing at "ispinakhi" and gleefully chanting "erti kilo! minda es!" until said spinach has been procured! Just me - I'm just that special! (To be fair, the smug self-satisfaction I get out of running errands in broken Georgian manages to last for a good few hours, and is in fact redoubled when I come home and manage to ARRANGE said spinach in a picturesque manner in a wicker basket alongside some equally picturesque tomatoes!) That takes skill, damn it!

Furthermore, errand-running usually turns into finding-exciting-new-things.
Exhibit A: I had been told that there was a Populi located in Ortachala, much closer to my house than the "nearest" one on Orbeliani Street. Now, this Populi was in fact in no way closer than the other one, but walking there took me through the single most bizarre street in Tbilisi (and that's saying something.) The Ortachala end of Gorgasalis Street is not just "Tbilisi-odd", it's "Kafkaesque nightmare" odd. Ruined caravanserais give way quickly to an Art-Deco-esque faux-Egyptian obelisk (WHAT?), followed by some enormous shards of pseudo-Classical pottery, including a massive Trojan horse (WHAT???) followed by what appears to be a (pseudo) Ancient Burial Ground (WHAT WHAT WHAT??). Followed, naturally, by a pharmacy and a Populi. Odd.

A house near the intriguing one in Betelmi. A house I
*WANT*, damn it.
Exhibit B: Not quite an errand, but bears mentioning. An attempt to go to Mtskheta with my friend N., and her Georgian husband on Sunday is delayed by three hours because N's husband wants to look at a potential house he wishes to buy in the lovely district of Betelmi. We drive up to the address listed and discovered that the house is, in fact, not a house but rather a pile of rubble. The workmen explain that the house is in the process of being rebuilt, but that in order to avoid a price increase the money should be paid immediately. N's husband considers the rubble. "I think we should get this," he says, stroking his chin and surveying the empty, rubbish-strewn lot. "It's a good deal." He is completely serious.*

Though the delay forced us to rather rush through Mtskheta, it all worked out in the end, because Saakashvili bloody turned up at our restaurant - Salobie - while we were eating, with the world's least secretive Secret Service/posse imaginable,. (Hint: if a passerby asks "Is it Misha?" it's not exactly discreet to wink and say "Yeah...").

Don't ever change, Tbilisi. (Except for clearing up the rubble between Botanikuri and Median so I can walk up that street in heels. And more permanent electricity would be good. And I'd quite like a Populi and an Indian restaurant near me.)

*Upon further reflection and research, it IS actually a good deal - a good enough deal that my mother is considering returning to Tbilisi and buying a being-built house herself! This in no way diminishes the hilarity of the moment.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Twelfth Night

I promised to write this post a week ago, but life (read: power outages, work, a trip to Mtskheta, headaches) waylaid me. But I'd be remiss if I didn't write about my attendance of Robert Sturua's Twelfth Night (which I idiotically referred to as The Tempest in my previous post - blame aforesaid headaches and a preponderance of shipwrecks in Shakespeare!)


It was absolutely bizarre. Not, like The Decameron, which was on at the Marjanishvili Theatre and is one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen. Twelfth was simply...strange. I know the text well enough to be able to follow the story, and while I may be rusty on minor plot-points, I'm quite sure (spoiler alert), it doesn't end with a thorn-crowned Jesus turning up carrying his cross while Viola and Sebastian run away in terror! Nor does it open with the annunciation to the Virgin Mary and the despairing of Joseph (I was wondering why Duke Orsino was wearing tallit, and Olivia a wimple). Having caught onto the Holy Family presence once the donkey turned up (...and didn't leave during the dramatic homoerotic Orsino/"Cesario" scene), I came to the conclusion that we were meant to contrast the frivolous festivities of the twelfth night celebrations with the gravity of the true meaning of Christmas.

I'm not sure it translated emotionally, but nevertheless, Twelfth Night was extraordinarily technically brilliant. I've noticed, both here and in The Decameron, that the predominant theatre-style here tends to be far more physical/visual, over-the-top, commedia-dell'arte-style than is fashionable in the US or UK. There's little here of "method" acting, or rough "kitchen sink" drama - if anything, the style here is far less naturalist, far more choreographed, stylized and theatrical. (As a devotee of commedia dell'arte, I happen to vastly prefer this sort of theatre.)

And the thing is - pulling off that kind of theatricality is bloody hard. You don't simply need to be a "good actor." You need to be able to control your breath, facial muscles, body, posture, timing. And the cast at the Rustaveli theatre were bloody fantastic. Maria and Feste were played as stereotypical "harlequin clowns" (complete with balloon-popping and head-knocking and gleefully unironic skipping about), with Malvolio as the mincing, prancing, fantastically hammish star of the whole production. The three of them (and indeed, the cast as a whole), displayed some of the best vocal/physical training I've ever seen in an ensemble - even with my lack of Georgian, there were few lines whose "points" didn't come across physically or aurally.
(Meanwhile Olivia was played as an overly melodramatic femme fatale, and got rather subsumed into the "clown" narrative, while poor, dreadfully earnest Viola and Orsino were all but forgotten...)

After three years of Oxford theatre, which can get terribly pretentious/full-of-itself/"relevant", there's something truly joyous about going to a show like this - a show where the actors stop and preen when the audience goes mad over a certain funny line (and Malvolio deigns to wink at the front row), where the audience leaps up in applause, where nobody is afraid of being theatrical or over the top - there's such a sense of delight and play, in the best sense of the word, that renders the lugubrious earnestness of so much "kitchen-sink" theatre ridiculous in its very attempts at gravity!

Between this and The Decameron, I think I've been won over by Georgian theatre. (Lest ye bloggers think I'm obnoxiously positive about everything in Georgia, however, be sure that nearly had a conniption last night after suffering the THIRD long-term (almost 12 hrs) blackout in my flat in eight days (after months of no problems at all), and that I haven't slept in almost a week due to my neighbors' noctural tendencies (but they deserve a post all to themselves)

To be fair, I'm still not sure I got much out of the donkey.

Also - a special mention to commentator Mixho, who recommended the "Patriarchy Food Shop" to me. I'd been wondering where to buy produce in my area, as I'm a twenty-minute walk from the nearest Populi, and most of the markets in my neighborhood focus on bread/eggs/canned goods, with only a few pathetically bruised vegetables. While slightly pricey, the food shop associated with Sioni Cathedral (to the right, facing the church from the river, in the little garden) is amazing. Monk-produced honey, beans, bread, cheese, phenomenal produce - including delicious oranges and armfuls of spinach - all procured for you by World's Nicest Orthodox Priest. Take that, Dean and DeLuca!*




*English readers, read: Waitrose and/or Fortnum and Mason.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Home, at last

I've been nesting over the past week or two, clinging to moments of quiet between enormous piles of revision-work, paid-work-to-fund-my-currently-unfunded-postgrad-work, more funding applications, bazroba-visits (30 lari for an enormous chocolate cake, seven or eight different spices, and about 5 kilos of fruit and vegetables), and a few sunlit moments with a book and Uzbek pilaf at a sidewalk cafe.

Home sweet...
I've managed to make a home here. I love this apartment - its bright-painted walls, the guitar hanging from the study wall, the lilies in the living room vase. I knew when I moved here that I wanted more than a flat, and this apartment is a repository of beautiful things - things that had previously been living in storage in my grandmother's apartment, under my mother's bed, at my boyfriend's house, in the basement of Oriel College: at last I'm able to gather up this fragmented collection of memory.

For the first time I can remember, I'm not divided - not sprawling my stuff over continents. Everything that was beautiful or important to me at some point in my life is here, making up this chaotic, colorful whole - from the bedspread I had when I was thirteen and living in Paris (Indian, orange, now living on the guest bed), to the one I bought while living in Rome a year later (emerald, fraying, now covering my study chair), to the Venetian masks I made eight years ago (hanging in my bedroom), to the black-and-white photographs in my bathroom (from a Parisian coffee table book entitled "Girls") to the stuffed llama I bought in Piazza Navona shisha pipe once used in a Pirandello play I directed at Oxford. I have the boxes my mother made for me out of antique Bible pages for Christmas, and the Thai box my grandmother couldn't take with her when she moved.

I still gasp when I see Old Tbilisi from across the river, and think I live there. I still smile every time I catch a glimpse of the fortress at night. I eat a (second) dinner at my land-family's and drink tea until midnight. Soon my friend Kam (of blog fame) will be moving in next door, and then we'll transform our shared private terrace into a summer wonderland of flowers and deck-chairs!


I get a bit tetchy when people here (often expats) complain about Georgia - that it's a "backwater," "barbaric," what-have-you, that its nicer bits are filled with nouveaux riches and its less-nice bits are Soviet terrors. I saw Robert Strurua's The Tempest at the Rustaveli Theatre, and in terms of technical skill the actors/direction easily outclassed anything I've seen in England (and the Decameron came second, in recent memory, only to Al Pacino's Merchant of Venice in New York). The food here - both Georgian and haute-European - is phenomenal. There's so much here - especially in Old Tbilisi - that's affordable or free (just walk around), and I hate to think that so much of the public/expat discourse about Tbilisi is what it "needs," what it "lacks," what needs to change. Of course there are serious issues here, as in any country, but there's something dreadfully imperialist about demanding that a developing country fit the paradigm of uniformly "poor/miserable/depressed" - as if the idea that there are plenty of Georgians who don't need "saving" somehow threatens the "first-world-ness" of the expats in question. (Though most of my expat friends here are lovely and non-imperialist!)

When it's sunny out (rare these days), I sit outdoors on Erekle St, at Cafe Kala or the Grand Cafe. The four cats (the imperious albino, who enjoys rolling around on colorful carpets just to be contrary, the sweet gray one, the energetic ginger, and the enigmatic other-ginger), that haunt the area have come to know me: they mew at me and I feed them bits of chicken liver, and from time to time they jump in my lap. The artist across the street (long white ponytail, wifebeater) sells his paintings and plays Edith Piaf and jazz on his stereo.

I'm home.




Monday, April 4, 2011

Sioni Cathedral

Now, as an Eastern Christian theologian, I'm quite happy to tell you what Gregory of Nyssa thinks of the idea that there are three gods, but I'm not so comfortable with the practical things (i.e, what on earth I'm actually doing). I've been thinking about converting to the Orthodox Church (I think Cabasilas's writings are astonishingly beautiful), and studying the liturgy of the Byzantine Church in preparation for finals, and so I thought I might as well make the leap, as it were, and attend a service at nearby Sioni Cathedral, a largely thirteenth-century (with revisions) church that served as the former Georgian cathedral before the building of Sameba:

Academic, it wasn't! It was two hours of sheer sensual assault, both extraordinary - the feeling of kneeling on a marble floor alongside two hundred congregants, the sound of the choir (the three-part harmony apparently meant to reflect the ultimate unity of the Trinity - I quite like that, actually!), the mosaics, the iconostas! 
Stolen from someone's blog - respectfully!
 I don't have a camera and the Internet had very few interior shots.
Then again, there were difficulties when it came to effecting spiritual reflection! I wore a pair of heels (the only non-open-toed, non-trainer shoes I could find) that proved very painful after two hours of standing in a sardine-packed church, and the density of the crowd made it impossible to see the priest. That, combined with my inability to follow Georgian liturgy, made the experience somewhat trying... I'd like to go to a smaller, more intimate service next time around, in order to better focus on and take in the actual order and process of the liturgy.

I love the idea, expressed in Maximus the Confessor and Cabasilas, much later, in Zizioulas, that in the church on earth one can be an icon of the heavenly Church, the heavenly world. Not an icon in the sense of mere "image" - but rather something with two meanings: I am partaking of the Eucharist, for example, both in the present, literal sense, and also simultaneously undergoing the process of theosis: the twofold reality of art. I am drawn by the idea that by participating in sacred space and sacred time, and performing certain actions, I can participate in that two-fold reality. 

What was particularly striking, however, was how much less FOREIGN the adoption of certain mannerisms (here - a head scarf, a long shirt, and a modest skirt for church) made me feel! I've rarely experienced harassment in Georgia, but I found that, having identified myself as a "religious orthodox person" (if not a Georgian), I moved differently; I walked differently. My sense of space and time and self was so much less other - and I acquired far fewer stares than usual. (And was even taken for a Georgian by one (Georgian-speaking?) woman asking me a question/directions - no mean feat for a pale blonde blue-eyed girl!)


More to come - I saw an absolutely MAD production of Twelfth Night directed by Robert Sturua, which deserves a post of its own!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Back in Tbilisi

The problem with blogging about Tbilisi is that when I finally arrive, strung out on Diazepam and muttering softly to myself about the various inadequacies of Air Pegasus, I immediately allow myself to become swept up in the city (and in eight hours daily of revising for finals, which has replaced Hegel-izing as my Distraction Du Jour). I must therefore update scantily, focusing on

Highlights of My Return

a) The Market at Orbeliani Street
April 9 Park
If you need to acquire something random in Tbilisi, be it goods or services (spinach, which bizarrely Populi never stocks, or trainers...), you'll probably be told one of two things. If you look like a clueless foreigner (which I do), you may be told to go to Goodwill/Saburtalo/Vake/one of the many expat enclaves where Cheerios are imported and people's housekeepers do their shopping. Or, if you look like a clueless-foreigner-with-no-money (which I also do, especially when wearing my gym clothes), you may be told to head to the bazaar at Vagzlis Moedani, which is enormous and terrifying and somewhat overwhelming.

But I have discovered, gentle readers, that nearly anything in the world (LL bean shorts! Nike trainers! Garlic and onion on braided ropes! Obscure vegetables!) can be found cheaply and relatively easily at one of the stalls between April 9 Park and the large Populi! Ditto cheap food, flowers, cobblers, key-copiers, and more! (Except for framers, whom I consult frequently to house my ever-growing set of antique prints torn from old-book pages. They live on the steps of the Academy of Sciences.)

I *love* doing errands in Tbilisi! Where else could getting simple things done make me feel so clever and accomplished? What do you mean every Georgian woman manages to buy spinach and get her prints framed and trainers bought cheaply? I feel special!

b) My new favorite restaurant

The Chaikhana has been closed for the past three days, which is worrying; much in Tbilisi seems to be subject to Sudden Closure Syndrome. However, while little will ever replace the Chaikhana in my affections, I have discovered my New Favorite Novelizing Haunt. This being Sheriklebi, located on the right side of the Academy of Sciences, a bizarre vintage-film-meets-19th-century-meets-Pirosmani (really! I think each section of the restaurant is meant to represent a different century) Georgian restaurant with an owner who, upon discovering I spoke Italian, rushed into my arms and kissed me firmly and joyfully on the forehead. There is also an adorable puppy who lives outside. Lunch was 15 lari for lobio, mchadi, pkhali, and bottled water. 

c) Theatre in Tbilisi is Amazing
At the moment I'm disappointing myself by failing to leave my wonderful, toasty flat for a production of Jean Anouilh's Antigone, at the Marjanishvili Threatre (I directed it in high school, which gives me a shot at understanding it in Georgian!). It's one of my favorite plays, but I am alas recovering from post-Couchsurf-hosting-exhaustion-syndrome, and need a day to stretch out in my flat and reclaim ownership of my study!

This is all the more of a failure, however, because the last play I saw at the Marjanishvili - a wonderful Belle Epoque theatre on the Other Side of the River (ie, Too Far Away) was one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen...ever! This is a new adaptation of Bocaccio's Decameron, told in a mixture of commedia dell'arte and intense, visual-metaphor-laden physical theatre, which was gorgeous in exactly my preferred style (over the top, Grand Guignol, velvet-curtain-and-hooked-nose-mask, people throwing roses on the stage at the curtain call, theatre). I understood the vast majority of the plot(s), despite having no Georgian whatsoever! But amorous men and virtuous women are telegraphed the same the world 'round.

(Incidentally, I also went with my New Friend N., a writer and translator (and future co-Oxford student!), whom I met through this very blog! So write me a comment if you're reading this and in Tbilisi - I can drag you to bizarre interpretive theatre too!)


I do want to make it to Antigone (playing in repertory) at some point, as well as Robert Sturua's Twelfth Night at the Rustaveli Theatre, which is on tomorrow, as well as My Hamlet, La Ronde, and Private Lives.


I have an unexpected weekend in Tbilisi, due in large part to the windstorm overtaking Borjomi (I was meant to go horseback-riding! Alas!) What on earth should I do with my Sunday, other than a trip to Sioni Church for a proper Orthodox service. (a mixture of finals-revision and another tiptoeing step towards proper conversion...)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Italy, Part II: "But then, I love you more!"

There are moments, like that on the train from Agrigento, that Italy overwhelms me, that I feel that it is too much for me, and I am too foreign for it. And then Italy creeps up on me - it surprises me, unbidden, not in its ruins (the Valley of Temples at Agrigento, the Ampitheatre at Taormina), but in its living things - its color and vibrancy. And then Italy is part of me, and I belong to it, and it will never leave me, and I can never leave it.


The day after my last entry, I took the train to Palermo, and there I walked through the narrow alleyways, the marketplaces. The shouting and the freshness of the fruit – ripe, big, bright things that belonged to a buzzing world of ripeness and brightness: not the withered broccoli and stony pears of England. The aubergines were purple and bulbous and phallic; the tomatoes were like red stones – the oranges dripped and all around me the cries of “novanta-cinqo” (for it was all in Sicilian dialect). The spices in bags and the smell all around me of things that not only lived but thrived, grew up to the sun, burst themselves open with juices and seeds and skins, proud to live, wanting to grow large!

But what struck me most was the fishmonger who grasped in his bare hands a collection of squids – soft and embryonic and venal – and let his grip linger as he flung them down upon the table. He was not disgusted, and I was not disgusted. It was life – pure life! - venal and squelching and dirty and wonderful. Handfuls of squid – the feeling of something slippery and wet and slimy! Or the half-flayed goats and sheep – how could I feel revulsion, when the corpses really meant life!

It meant real things – handfuls of squid and halves of goats and bright, hard tomatoes – it meant life. It meant knowing the shape of food which would soon become me (c.f. Cabasilas, I believe, who sees food as becoming the eater, except for the Eucharist, where we become the food), and entering into an honest communion with it – the life of the plucked fruit and the life of the slaughtered goat. (And, of course, the squid!)

And I felt alive! And for all my anger at Italy I know that I can never really leave it, really stop loving it, not when I am part of that buzzing, fly-covered life, part of the stray dogs and the burst tomatoes and the truck full of squacking chickens off Via Turkory, the Hebrew and Arabic lettering on Via Mesquite, part of a life so alien to my normal self-narrating neurosis. So alien, too, to my walk at Agrigento, where I stood at the feet of dead things and thought about my novel.
Valley of the Temples

So I am the thought-self, the thinking-self, the doing-self, the wanting-self, and the living-self! Not a bad conclusion, inconclusive thought it may be, for my terrible gaze into the sea. 

Cefalu was hard, I think - Taormina harder still, for I lost my panama hat in the rain among the orange trees. But I think my voyage to Sicily did provide me with what I was looking for, somewhere between my endless hours of reading (highlights: Romola especially, but also, The Deptford Trilogy, The Princess Casamassima, A Time of Gifts, Cities of the Plain, Zorba the Greek, and Monsieur, plus many Agatha Christies) and my journaling and my sunburn. It made me more of a person. I became Romola and Marcel, and in Palermo, I felt more alive, more in tune with my own selfhood, than I've felt in a while.

Not quite an alma mater, Italy, but a primordial earth-mother of some kind.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Italy: I hate you then I love you; I love you then I hate you

Disclaimer - I may say many nasty things about Italians in this essay. I am, in fact, Italian (non-English-speaking Norman-Sicilian father living in Orvieto; grew up in Rome; Italian was my first language). The following should be taken as an expression, therefore, of exasperated love, rather than xenophobia.


If two men, traveling together and chatting amicably, enter an EMPTY train-carriage, in which ONE girl is sitting quietly, reading, in a 4-person-section, they have a few options...

a) Sit in an unoccupied 4-seat section on the other side of the compartment, and talk easily and quietly among themselves (most considerate).
b) Sit in an unoccupied 4-seat section across the aisle from Girl, whereupon Girl would be only mildly annoyed at overhearing their conversation. (considerate)
c) Sit in two of the three unoccupied seats in Girl's section, which would be intrusive, given that the rest of the compartment was empty, and speak quietly. (a bit inconsiderate, but forgiveable)

But NO! This is ITALY! Therefore, the only conceivable option MUST be

d) have one man sit in Girl's section, have the OTHER man sit ACROSS THE AISLE in a COMPLETELY EMPTY SECTION, and thus SPEND THE ENTIRE JOURNEY SCREAMING AT EACH OTHER ACROSS THE BLOODY AISLE!

I was Girl, in case you were wondering.
Don't mind me! I'm just trying to enjoy the scenery.

Every time I go back to Italy (twice a year, more or less), I have a rather uniform set of reactions. I begin by feeling that at last I have come, returned to my ancestral home, immersed myself in the beauty and poetry of Classical Rome, orange groves, olive trees, and the unparalleled perfection of cicoria in padella. I learn to appreciate my feminine beauty. I let my hair grow long and curly and turn my face up to the sun in piazettas. This lasts about two days.

This is shortly thereafter followed by the realization that I CANNOT STAND ITALIANS, and that in NO WAY am I suited to Italian culture, and that I can NEVER COME TO ITALY AGAIN. I've worked for six weeks in Liguria; I've lived for years in Rome; I've spent many summers in Ischia. And the result is always the same uncanny disconnect - this place, in which I was raised, into which I was born, is entirely antithetical to several fundamental aspects of my existence. (Even as various Italianate qualities make me completely incapable of living outside Italy, alas!)
The Horror! The Horror!

It was only during this latest excurse to Sicily that I put my finger on it:

The culture of "la bella figura" - the Italian idea that every action and every moment and every turn of the head must be beautiful and graceful (to which I subscribe), leads collectively into a culture in which everybody is simultaneously actor and objet d'art.

 Marvelous as this sounds in theory, in practice it means that I am always visible - as an objet d'art, I exist explicitly for public consumption. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for Italian girls to publicly point, stare, and laugh at me for my "foreign" dress sense, old women to loudly comment on the unsuitablity of my shoes, and young men to follow me in their cars, insisting that I speak to them.

I am not a self-for-myself, in Italy. I am a self-for-others, condemned to playing out my Art-Muse-Virgin-Whore-Mother role by being beautiful, graceful, and charming, whether or not I particularly feel like it.

This plays itself out, too, in drastically difficult understanding of privacy (an old boss of mine in Liguria couldn't understand why I didn't WANT to "befriend" my pupils outside of lessons, even as I felt that she was expecting me to "work" well beyond the agreed-upon hours. Likewise, I've had to hide from flatmates in Rome in order to avoid being forced to eat with them because they had decided I didn't eat enough that day - my body, their business!).

I - well and beyond even my Very English Gentleman - like clearly delineated social situations. Public/private. My time/your time. Alone/with others. My space/your space.

This dichotomy does not exist in Italy. All time is public time. All space is public space. At no point am I allowed to be invisible or for-myself; I am expected to, by virtue of being female, young, and reasonably attractive, share myself with others. My body is your property - feel free to comment on my footwear, fashion, or fitness as appropriate! My room is your property - come in uninvited and refuse to let me read in peace! My time is your property - be as late as you like upon making an appointment with me, especially if I've inconvenienced myself in order to be on time!
This is me, in Italy. Except
sans penis.

When I was growing up in Ischia in the summers, my Italian friends and I used to wander the town together, like a pack of feral dogs, aimlessly drifting from one street to the next in an endless passiagata. I always hated the "aimless wandering" form of social intercourse - still find it hard when expected to do so with Italian friends - and yet it's so tied into Italian notions of space and time. What could be more Italian than avoiding the pub/work, home/bar dichotomy by turning a public street into "social space," time into indefinite "social time," such that everyone in it - whether an innocent passerby or a tagalong half-breed like me - gets dragged into the unbearably, endless process existing-for-others?

That's not me. I love beauty and piazzas and sun and ruins. I love existing as an objet d'art. I find the lack of immediate sensuality and un-examined selfhood (as opposed to Anglo neuroses), to be lacking outside of Italy. But the difference is that, outside of Italy, it is my choice to behave in a "visible, artistic" matter (blogging, for example, or indeed any form of writing). In Italy, I feel as if that choice, that sense of autonomy and self-hood has been taken away from me.

Up Side: Exhibit A
The positive side of this, I suppose, is that I get to be a "self" in a different way. In existing in the Italian fashion, in-myself and for-others, I don't exist for-myself, constantly narrating my own life story, verbalizing and intuiting my own experience. Self-overhearing is so completely foreign to Italy: I can't imagine an Italian "Hamlet." One just is, one is one's body and senses and experiences. And that, I suppose, is refreshing, especially for a neurotic like me. For all my complaints, I do love sitting by the sea, editing the latest draft of my novel, eating pasta with sardines and simply experiencing sunlight without having to fit it into the novel of "the girl who reads/eats/experiences sunlight."

But is it worth the cost of losing myself in the process? In good news, it looks like I'll be at Oxford another year for a master's, so my brief flirtation with the idea of doing graduate work at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome is out, so I'll won't have to contend with my Italian shadow-self.

(I suppose this explains why, unlike many TLGers/expats here, I haven't found Georgia to be difficult/a culture shock at all! Compared with Italy, it's practically Scandinavian! Except for heavily-Austrian-influenced Trieste, which is wonderful, in part because people leave me alone there!)

In "The Rebel Angels," Robertson Davies writes of Maria Theotoky, a half-Gypsy medievalist whose academic selfhood is constantly threatened by her Gypsy past. She discovers that she needs both the root and the crown. Can I come to terms with my roots?


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cefalu and The Eternal Dichotomy

Thalatta, thalatta
The thesis is handed in, tutorials have ceased, and I've run off to Sicily (land of my ancestors, who unfortunately were not Byzantines but Normans, although my great-great-grandfather was an acceptable sort) to attempt to sort out my life, which is as-yet-unsorted until I hear back about grad school applications, funding, etc. I found a bed and breakfast overlooking the sea, which whipped wine-dark all night during a storm, and am attempting a week of meditative retreat, extensive journaling, and sorting out the problematic dichotomy that seems to have unwittingly conquered my self-perception.

I was once told by a rather drunk and venal potential-romantic-interest that I was "Manichean" - that I saw things in terrible, stark binary. Incorrect in context, as it turned out (though he prided himself on uniting the body and soul in a profoundly Whitman-American way I do admire. If I moved back to America I'd ride horses and spend nights under the stars.). But right in theory. I do divide things into cliches (even if I like to soften the blow by calling them "archetypes"). West/East, academia/bohemia, Catholic/Protestant, Hebraic/Classical, Europe/America, Old World/New Word. I'm in love with images and ideas: my favorite writers, like Lawrence Durrell, are the ones who evoke: they can write of "Circassians" or "scented marketplaces" or "Arabian deserts" or chateaux in Avignon and have the very images carry something over to me.
Just saying the WORDS Arab-Norman-Byzantine excite me - c.f., the Cefalu Duomo.

The problem, of course, is that this turns quickly from evocation into Homeric epithet ("wine-dark sea"; "grey-eyed Athena"; "clever Odysseus" .... "sun-dappled Sicily", "melancholy Vienna", "wild Caucasus") and from epithet into cliche. ("Georgia, a blend of East and West, a melting pot of cultures...." I've done web travel writing to pay the rent in time gone by, and there's been a lot of [insert country here] is a fascinating mix of old and new, with charming [ruins/temples/churches/casbahs] standing alongside vibrant [cafes/galleries/performance art installations]. And I know, I know, my weakness is falling in love with novel-worthy images and ideals, and casting myself as the heroine in my Many Great adventures.

The Professorial Personage's Demesne
The problem is that these tendencies mean that I've got two completely incompatible novels of myself in my head. There's the Novel of England, which involves me getting my D.Phil, fussing over manuscripts, trudging around Oxford in musty skirts, getting my boots muddy in the canal, writing theological tomes (ideally promoting the cause of Christian feminism combined with esoteric studies of minor obscure Eastern Christian texts), drinking tea, and snuggling under quilts. This Professorial Personage is intellectual; she is cerebral. She probably wears glasses and looks down her nose at you for not knowing the proper application of a dagesh forte. Easy evocative images here - West, Gothic, Old Norse, stone, ice, winter, establishment, country house parties.(To compound the dichotomy, Very English Boyfriend is, in fact, an Oxford-educated Old English and Norse scholar who loves Jane Austen. Although he's a Catholic, which is messy.) Cliche One, enacted for six months of the year.

The Bohemian Novelist probably lives here -
when she's not sleeping under the stars or on the road.
Then there's the Novel of the East (yes, I know, Edward Said is turning up his nose). The Bohemian Novelist who poses in garrets for Parisian artists, serves as a dark-eyed muse for pianists in Vienna, dresses in Bedouin garb, and writes novels while trekking from Syria to Egypt. This is my life in Georgia, to some extent (or at least I pretend to myself that it is) - melancholy wanderings in Sololaki and long tea-breaks at the bathhouse, although Georgia is frustrating precisely because I can't put it nearly into my mental dichotomy or ascribe to it Homeric epithets. Images: Classical poetry, the Mediterranean, carpets, terracotta, whitewashed houses. Cliche Two.

So, with everything hanging in the balance, I've got decide what on earth I'm going to do with my life (keep this precarious Georgia-England balance? Leave it all behind and go to Rome? Decide to stay in Damascus halfway through my summer tour? If I don't get Oxford funding, who knows? It may be Damascus after all, - or else I'm bound to ghostwriting quite a few romance novels at 3 am*

The problem, of course, is that I can't be a cliche. I can't have my tomes-and-tea or my scrolls-and-sands: at least not in the unadulterated way I read about in novels. (Both of my Cliches also assume it's 1935). I've got to integrate these various sides of myself - to find a way to be both professorial and bohemian, Gothic and Mediterranean. I suppose Byzantium fills that hole for me - it's musty and ancient and irrelevant, but it's also mosaiced and gold-haloed and evocative.As does Georgia, although Georgia I'm still figuring out.

So fitting, I suppose. I come to the land of my ance stors literal  (there's a village that bears my father's last name right down the coast!) and figurative (mess of Norman-Byzantine-Arab-Italian that makes up my day to day life) to try to accomplish something like integrated selfhood. A self that isn't just "the one who" goes to Jordan or "the one who" does a D.Phil in Byzantine theology, but is something more, something that is a self beyond its attributes.

(And this is where my Christian Trinitarianism comes in, and I do think Zizioulas has something interesting theological to say on the matter of selfhood.)

And yes, this is very much a First World Problem. But this week - the first week I've had without either schoolwork or (much) ghostwriting work in a very long time - ought to be a start on sorting it.

Future Sicilian travel plans (and posts-to-come): Taormina, Castelbuono, Agrigento, Palermo/Monreale.

*How I pay my rent/tuition/travel costs. Really, I swear. But I can't tell you which ones. Then they'd fire and sue me and I'd have no more money to go to Cefalu!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Pilgrimage!

The Hegel thesis is a few days away from submission, finals are approaching, postgraduate applications are pending, and looming over me is the promise of three, glorious free months.

...during which I will sleep in Bedouin caves, ascend the monasteries of Meteora, and write novels in the caves of Cappadocia! The arrangements have been made, and I plan to spend the first seven weeks of summer (along with a combination of surplus savings, graduation gifts, and birthday/Christmas presents) on a solo tour through the Middle East and the Balkans.

My itinerary looks something like this:
Late June: Leave Tbilisi for Batumi; at Batumi change for Trabzon, Turkey. Spend a day or two pretending that I am in the ancient kingdom of Trebizond before embarking on a nearly 24-hour bus ride to Antakya, former Antioch (!), from which I will catch a bus to...
First Week of July: Syria (visa permitting), where I'll indulge in my Orientalist tendencies by wandering through Aleppo, Palmyra, and Damascus. I shall also wag my finger at the Crusaders at the Krak as a means of preserving the honor of the Comneni and Byzantium! I haven't forgotten 1204, you scoundrels! (1453, eh, I'm not bitter. No hard feelings, Seljuks! But the FRANKS, on the other hand...)
Second Week of July: Jordan, where I shall sleep alongside the Bedouins in Wadi Rum, wear a panama hat, ride a camel, and pretend to be T.E. Lawrence.

Third Week of July: NOT ISRAEL. That's right, Syrian authorities, if you see this before giving me my visa, I have no intention at all of going from Aqaba to Eilat and Jerusalem! None! I'll be taking the boat from Aqaba, and NOT the bus from Jerusalem, to the Egyptian border at...
Totally NOT GOING HERE!

Fourth Week of July: Taba, from which I head to Dahab before landing in Cairo. From Cairo to Luxor and back, until on the 30th, I make my way to Alexandria (which I have convinced myself is still a place of languorous doe-eyed women called Justine) to take the morrow's ferry to...
Early August: Venice! As I am poor, and cannot afford Venice, I'll take the train onwards to my favorite haunt, and former home of my namesake Sir Richard Burton, Trieste, before bussing to Split.

Somewhat more luxurious than a Bedouin tent

 A few days in Hvar and Dubrovnik, then a mad dash down through Montenegro and Albania before catching the ferry from Saranda, Albania, to...

Orthodox monasteries! 
Second Week August: Corfu, Greece. Eventually I will reach the mainland, and from Athens I will make my way to Delphi, Meteora, and Thessaloniki, bussing back to...

Kas, Turkey





Third Week August: Istanbul, where if all goes well I shall rendez-vous with my Very English Gentleman by the Hagia Sophia before washing off my Lawrentian (T.E., not D.H.) grime with a few days by the beach at Kas with the V.E.G. Then onwards to find the Cappadocian fathers at Goreme and back to Tbilisi, via Trabzon. Ideally, I shall kidnap the V.E.G. and keep him in Georgia until October, with side-excursions to Armenia and Svaneti.

I'm afraid I'll have missed one of the Pentarchy (having been to Antioch, NOT!Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Alexandria - four of the five great Sees of Christianity), but given that I've grown up in Rome, I feel rather comfortable sitting the See out this time 'round.

So, gentle and brutish readers, will this tiny, twenty-something blonde girl return triumphant from her intrepid adventures, newly-written novels in hand and skin browned with the blazing sun of adventures! Or will she crawl into a hole somewhere near the Der Mar Musa monastery and rot from dysentery/get kidnapped and sold into slavery/fall into the Grand Canal (the latter is most likely, especially if I am wearing heels)?

Help me avoid dysentery, abductions and Venetian water-beetles! Suggest itineraries, locations, travel tips, or - ideally - the home of your hospitable Israeli/Syrian/Jordanian/Albanian/Greek/Egyptian friends, who would be oh-so-glad to host a wandering novelist with grand presumptions of pilgrimage?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Across the River: Phenomenal Views and Faux-English Tea Houses

I have my haunts. If I'm not in or around Abanotubani, I like to wander through the back streets of Sololaki or up in the crisp mountain passages of Mtatsminda. I take my shortcuts into town through the gardens and crumbling churches of Betelmi, or else I head down Shavteli into the centre of town. Prospero's Bookstore, the Academy of Sciences, and the Opera House represent "the end of town" to me, and Vera, Vake, and Saburtalo are visited on rare occasion when I'm meeting friends in the area.

Full disclosure: I don't particularly like Vake or Saburtalo. I will go to particular restaurants or cafes IN Vake or Saburtalo, on occasion, but I find the chain stores and modern apartment blocks to be a perfect waste of a melancholy-historic-poetic city.

But it's still rare for me to cross the Mtkvari river. There's little there by way of tangible destinations, with the exception of the Sameba Cathedral, the National Music Centre, and the Cafe Flowers, where I am willing to risk regular food poisoning in order to experience this view:

Definitely worth food poisoning.

But, by and large, I tend to avoid crossing the river, which is a great shame. When it comes to long, aimless walks, stretches of Avlabari are some of the most beautiful in Tbilisi* (I once wandered into what appeared to be a pine forest about five minutes from the river, and still for the life of me can't figure out how I got there!) The walk up to Trinity Cathedral is among my favored Saturday-morning activities, and it's a wonderful mechanism for head-clearing and pretending that I'm Exploring Somewhere Remote without running into Ray-Ban stores or Geocell shops.



*Erm, usually: 

I don't often go to the David Agmashenebeli/Marjanishvili area (I avoid McDonalds on principle) - I don't mind it, particularly, but since I do nothing all day but read books and write novels/thesis, I might as well do said nothing in scenic spots.

That said, I had a very curious experience with the English Tea House on Marjanishvili Street. As a sometime-Englishwoman, I have a very precise idea of what an English tea house is. (Beamed ceilings, cramped quarters, heavy wooden tables, a roaring fire, sticky toffee pudding, a panting pub dog, G.K Chesterton smoking a pipe in the corner). This is precisely what the English Tea House isn't. Other than serving Whittard's tea, the English Tea House is, basically, the Anti-England. If it resembles anything English, it's that sort of horrendous "trendy" London chrome-and-glass, cheap-looking "business luxe" hotel my Very English Boyfriend is prone to bemoaning in the same breath as the Blair government and London transport.

It's enormous, drafty, sleek, cold, impersonal, and generally horrid:
Do YOU see a pub dog anywhere?
...and yet, somehow, I love it! I love the rubbishy Whittard's tea, the un-English dessert menu, the uncomfortable chairs! I love curling up with my Agatha Christie novels, ordering an overpriced cup of Earl Gray, and marveling at the hilarious non-Englishness of it all. (That this correlates with an increased self-identification as English is perhaps coincidental).

But I need more reasons to cross the river, friendslist! Send suggestions in my direction!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The "Local" - or three

It is a truth universally acknowledged that my blogging prolificacy waxes when I'm supposed to be writing about Hegel's Phenomenology. (When I'm meant to be writing about the Byzantine Empire, I procrastinate by reading hilarious travelogues instead - who knew that the Byzantines all smelled like fish?) But I'm avoiding doing revisions of my thesis draft, and will instead focus on writing restaurant reviews and other such things about Tbilisi.

Now, in England, one's nearest watering-hole, most likely a pub, is referred to as one's "local." My "local" in Tbilisi is the marvelous Iranian chaikhana, where I am charged an arbitrary sum for some arbitrary food (no menu - I sit in front of the fire and hope today is baklava day!). But, while I've waxed rhapsodic about said chaikhana in the past, I've neglected to mention three other places within a stone's throw of my apartment, which deserve rather more profiling - especially as none is featured on the normally-comprehensive Info Tbilisi.

Alani
Gorgasalis Street


Known more commonly as the "Ossetian restaurant," this basement cavern is one of the best-value options in the city. Extraordinarily cheap, especially considered that it's steps from Chardini St and the 15-lari cocktails there, Alani serves platterfuls of Georgian food (my mother swears by the chicken shekmeruli; I prefer the khinkali, although I thought the kuchmachi a bit too rich).
Things I can't get in England

It has no windows, which makes it a bit depressing in summertime, but it's the closest traditional restaurant in the area (with the exception of Bread House, which I find enormously overpriced and far less good), and a wonderful wintertime escape. It's also the only place near my house I can afford.


Salve
Abanos St


Apparently there's a very trendy bar in Sololaki called Salve. This is not that bar. Salve is, rather, an elegant French restaurant next to the baths that, like its next-door-neighbor L'Accent Francais suffers from being both extremely pricey (by Georgian standards, maybe 20 lari for a main course) and extremely good. (therefore, it's where I go whenever my mother decides she wants to take me out to lunch! She has, alas, moved back to New York, rendering these visits less frequent). Decor-wise, it's the closest thing in Tbilisi to an Old World Central European Cafe, and as such, lures me in with its promise of mushroom pastries and proper coffee! Salve also has the advantage, unlike Alani, of being more welcoming to customers dining alone - so I can bring books and feel only mildly awkward!

L'Accent Francais
Abanos Street


Apparently Saakashvili loves this place, and it's become the most popular venue in town (i.e., secret service cordoning off Abanos Qucha). This is, clearly, because I started the trend: I'd like to take the time to point out that I've been eating at this French wine bar since it opened this summer, and that the necessary conclusion to be drawn here is that Georgia's political elite take their fashion cues from me!

Now, I tend to come here for lunch/an afternoon snack, so I miss all the apparent social frippery (preferably, really), but the prices are something of a testament to the place's clientele. (Nice bottles of wine on the menu can easily reach 3000 lari/1000 gbp). Not having 3000 lari to hand, I content myself with a very excellent 10-lari glass of wine (and I do mean excellent!) and some of the most decadent, glorious tapas known to man (duck and fig skewers, melted camembert cream with ham and crackers, bite-sized poached pear brioche!). They too are pricey at around 12 lari for a small plate (you'll need 2-3 to make a meal), but given that they seem to have been cooked with a combination of divine ambrosia and hallucinogenic lotuses, they're oh-so worth it!

Now, the fact that two of the three closest restaurants to my house are terribly pricey is rather trying, but the 7 lari tea+baklava+fruity things at the chaikhana more than makes up for it! And I can always walk across the river to Cafe Flowers...



Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tbilisi Pet Peeves

And the inevitable happened! Life, academia, an undergraduate thesis, and ghostwriting all conspired to put this blog on the back burner for a while. I'm in England, now, missing Tbilisi horribly (but set to return in late March!). I find myself missing the expected (my now-familiar Sunday ritual of antiquing at the Dry Bridge market, tea at the Iranian chaikhana, and a luxurious bath at the Royal Baths - with dog-eared, damp paperback book handy) and the unexpected (the fantastically inaccurate English tea house on Marjanishvili Street)

So, in order to make myself feel better about being extraordinarily homesick, I've compiled a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of things I don't like about Tbilisi (which in turn manages to make me miss Tbilisi more, but it's better than  rhapsodizing about Khinkali when clearly nothing can be done about the situation!)

So, without further ado, the Things I Don't Like About Tbilisi


1) Perovskaya
Given the sheer number of foreigners who seem to spend their lives between the Radisson and the Rustaveli Square McDonalds, it may be surprising that this expat, at least, absolutely can't stand the bars and restaurants of Perovskaya. The idea of pub crawls terrifies me (a pub should have fifteenth-century wood beams, a friendly pub dog, and serve me canalside Sunday Roasts), and I find the whole block of Perovskaya/Kiacheli Street/Kostava Street to be like some horrid frat-house labryrinth of cheap shots I cannot escape! (Kiacheli Street slightly less so - I've always wanted to do karaoke at Tan Tsaige)

Not a real pub.

Where do I go for a night out? If I wanted to go to a trendy, pricey nightlife area, I find Chardini Street and Erekle to be far nicer (given that my alcohol tolerance is laughably low,  and finishing a single cocktail is enough to make me giggle and fall over, the per-drink price differential is minimal), with a vibe more condusive to sipping mojitos rather than downing shots of tequila. Of course, living right next to the world's best wine bar, which is pricey but home to some of the best tapas I've had in my life, is a bit of a spoiler (except when Saakashvili decides to use the bar for his private party and the police cordon off Abanos Qucha, forcing me to find a circuitous back-alley route home!)

For a slightly less pricey nightlife option, I'd prefer Caravan or Near Opera - arty restaurant-cafe-bars near Rustaveli Avenue.

(Although I do have a weakness for the bizarre semi-French smoky cafe on Kostava St. Anyone know what I'm talking about?)

2) Trying to Navigate the 5 million food shops on my block
I haven't yet mastered the bazroba (that's for next time), and one of the things I find most difficult about Tbilisi is mentally calculating which of the 5-6 tiny "grocery" shops in my area might have the vegetable/fruit I would like. Since I feel too guilty to go into any one shop without buying anything, a trip in search of carrots may result in my guilt-buying chocolates, bizarre Russian cereals, and tea bags BY THE BAG. This is a result of my own ineptitude, and no fault of Tbilisi (and I'm gradually improving - I know the place by the chaikhana does great baked goods, and the place near the Ossetian restaurant has the best rotisserie chickens), but given that one of my favorite things about living in Oxford is my daily trip to the Covered Market, with a bakery, cheese shop, butcher's, fishmongers, and greengrocer's all easily available for my culinary pleasure, it's irritating nonetheless.


3) The Freedom Square Underpass
I've just taken a marvelous, scenic walk through Old Tbilisi, wandering through cobblestoned streets, gasping at the beauty of crumbling balconies, feeling oh-so-smug about my Bohemian Poetic Existence, removed from the cruelty and aesthetic apostasies of the Modern World! Aha, I think to myself, in my most elegant mental cadence, I have succeeded in my fantasy of recapturing the echoes of the Lost Byzantium!

...and then I come to this.
The steps to a depressing, yellow-lit Kafkaeske maze of despair and urine puddles.


I used to ADORE underpasses on my first trip to Tbilisi, due to the wonderful number of street-sellers that set up shop there, selling flowers, trinkets, books, etc. It made the necessary journey interesting! But ever since sales have been banned in underpasses, they have turned into unattractive, empty tunnels. (Although a friend of mine met her husband when volunteering to clean one of said tunnels, so they do serve a purpose! Perhaps their grime is but a pretext for inspiring subterranean romance!)

4) Couchsurfers who want to sleep with me (not Georgia-specific)
This isn't limited to Georgia, but is a natural result of the fact that, in order to meet people in Georgia, I am compelled to join a good number of traveling/networking sites in order to avoid being a solitary catless crazy cat lady (although I mentally "own" an adorable kitten called Marius, whom I fed khachapuri back in September, and whom I'm convinced I saw (and who recognized me!) on Gorgansalis Street in December! Now, I make it extraordinarily clear on my profile that:

a) I'm not interested in "date-surfing" at all.
b) I've been in a relationship for two and a half years.
c) if you're a random guy that messages me without any sort of reference to my profile (interests in common, etc), it will come across as creepy. (Men  messaging me because they share a love of mint tea? Totally fine!)

But that doesn't stop me from getting plenty of messages, from both Georgian and non-Georgians, that seem to be copy-pasted to every female with the misfortune to register as "located in" Tbilisi. I've actually never been propositioned by Georgian men in the street (unlike other Tbilisi bloggers - seriously, I'm starting to get offended! No Georgian man has EVER come on to me in the road! What am I doing wrong?), so this is the worst "harassment" I've experienced. Not offensive so much as irritating, as it means that my attempts to Find Friends other than Marius the Kitten get thwarted.

More about my increasing disillusionment with Couchsurfing in a later post...


Unfortunately, the conclusion arrived at in this post is that the things that annoy me about Tbilisi are so silly, so enormously miniscule, that in fact Tbilisi is one of the Best Places Ever. Which makes me miss it more!