Georgia on my mind – Tbilisi, 2006 – #5
Tbilisi, Georgia – October 16, 2016 – Continued
Okay, here I wrote myself some key words to remember in the morning. Now it’s morning and we’re supposed to have a car pick us up and take us to the theatre.
I must say, I really enjoy not having to choose something off of the menu and just having food brought to me – one plate after the other creating a big spread. Each plate containing something different and surprising and unfamiliar and delicious. The food has lots of flavor because they use all kinds of herbs and spices probably from Asia. When I look on a map, India doesn’t look that far away. The most delicious thing I’ve had is khinkali. The “k” is pronounced with a rough sound in the throat – like you’re gurgling.
So, the telephone in my room isn’t receiving calls. Maybe the ringer is turned off? Let me check. Eh! Voila – what do you know? Gmadlopt (thank you). I just turned it back on.
Yesterday, I was told to wait in my room and the front desk would call me when my ride to the press conference arrived.
Well, I waited and waited, and the call didn’t come (since, as we’ve discovered, the ringer was turned off). So, finally I went downstairs and they told me my ride had left 5 minutes ago. They called Andro’s cell phone from the front desk, and he sent another car to pick me up while I waited in the lobby.
The press conference was held at the opera house in a magnificently beautiful room. I have so many photos and if I had the luxury of a chunk of time, I would download them from my camera and include them here. That would be so fun to do! I’d love the afternoon to do that.
Well, anyhow the people included in the press conference were Keti, Paco Pena, the festival publicist, another American artist, and myself. There were lots of cameras and press people with tape recorders. The press would ask Keti questions in Georgian directed at one of us. Keti would translate.
The only questions they asked me were “What countries have you performed your show in?” (Probably because the Lilia! press release opens with the words: “Internationally acclaimed”). That introduction always seemed a bit over-the-top to me. A colleague once read my understated press release and said, “No, no, no this will never do.” He rewrote the whole thing with such exaggerated superlatives that any reader would think “If she’s so phenomenal and internationally acclaimed why haven’t I ever heard of her?” Then not believe a word that followed. So, I’d toned it down A LOT, but “internationally acclaimed” was still in there, since I couldn’t argue the fact that I’d received great reviews in Canada, Scotland and America. I named those three countries for the reporters.
They asked if Lilia! was the first play I’d written, and I said yes. I also said something about how I’d always admired my grandmother, and how it was natural for this show to be written because I wanted to share the woman I knew with the world. Yesterday, I had a foot-in-mouth experience with a lingering feeling of “why did I say that? That’s not what I intended…” But I’m learning to let that go. I used to torture myself over that kind of thing.
I’m jumping all around here. Oh, The Cherry Orchard was in Georgian, not Russian. Everything here is in Georgian. For many years Russian was the second language. A new president came in a few years ago and said the only way to bring Georgia into the 21st Century was to make English the second language for everyone to learn in schools. So now apparently most people under 40 know at least a bit of English.
I read somewhere that Georgia was the second country in the world to convert to Christianity, after Armenia. But maybe I got something confused because – what about the Holy Roman Empire? What about Constantine and Constantinople? Unfortunately my recollection of that part of history is fuzzier than fuzzy.
Oh, and here’s an amazing story. Ylena and Nina drove me past a restaurant on Saturday where [George W.] Bush ate when he was here. She said the prices shot way up after he left. Bush got very drunk there and started dancing. The Georgians were so amused and delighted by this, it made them love him even more than they already did.
Bush stayed at the Marriott in the middle of Tbilisi, which was already expensive, but after he left, prices skyrocketed. The room he stayed in became astronomically expensive. Bush is a superstar to these people – bigger than The Beatles. When he was scheduled to ride through the center of town, the entire city gathered and screamed as he went by: “Bush, you are president of the world! President of the world!” Isn’t that fascinating? My guess is that he represents a model of democracy that Georgians admire and aspire to. I made this comment to the other American, and she said, “I think the other reason they adore Bush is because he’s Christian, and this is an extremely Christian nation.”
Ylena said there was a man in Tbilisi who had built a bomb to kill Bush when he drove through the crowds. It didn’t go off, and the man was infuriated. Ylena was pleased that the man wasn’t Georgian. “He was an Armenian who lived with his very elderly mother and hated every political leader except Jacques Chirac. Now he’s in an insane asylum. If the bomb had gone off,” she mused, “none of us would be here now because we were all there.”
Last night, Paco Pena’s performance opened the festival at the Opera House, which is a magnificent building with painted gold leaf designs on the interior walls. Crystal chandeliers hang throughout.
As part of the opening ceremony, Keti asked the other American and me if we would say a few words to the audience before the Flamenco performance began, since Georgians LOVE Americans. The other artist and I agreed we would address the audience in unison with the word “hello” (in Georgian). “Gmarjoblat.”
It sounds exactly the way I’ve spelled it. The Georgians pronounce it the way an American would read that spelling aloud for the first time.
(It’s an amazing language. There are so many syllables for the simplest words. For example “please” I think has 5-7 syllables. They chalk it up to being such an ancient language. English is by comparison a relatively new language. And our written form is even newer.)
So, I practiced and practiced “gmarjoblat.”
Our arrival on stage was met with warm applause as we were presented with huge, magnificent bouquets of colorful dahlias. I never imagined the day I would be standing on a European opera house stage receiving a giant bouquet and applause. I thought of my grandmother Lilia who always wanted to be an opera singer.
Then we said it. “Gmarjoblat!”
Our efforts received another round of applause. I followed by saying how honored I was to be a part of this festival, how honored I was to get to know the Georgian people and their warm hearts that were embracing the world by hosting this festival. A translator translated.
There wasn’t an empty seat in the house which sat maybe 800. Everyone wanted to be there for Paco Pena. At 9:30pm, the concert began and went until midnight.
I was sitting in the 7th row, so it felt a tiny bit more intimate, though I longed to be around a camp fire watching the dancing, rather than in this elegant palace with dripping crystal and gold.
(I came to know and love Flamenco in Seattle when I befriended and studied with a professional flamenco dancer named Alison Adams (Alicia Adame), a patient, gentle teacher with very high standards. I even had a pair of castanets handmade for me, and she taught us how to use them, before she moved to San Francisco and I to New York.)
People smoke like chimneys around here. Fortunately, I was so fully in wide-eyed absorption mode when I initially encountered it, that I didn’t have time to get irritated.
The first day, Ylena and Nina asked me if it was alright with me if they smoked. We were driving through town in Ylena’s Mercedes with the two side mirrors missing. Ylena said, “Someone stole the mirrors off of my car.” Once again, she didn’t seem appalled, just slightly annoyed in a passing way. Resigned. I didn’t have the feeling she would replace them any time soon.
I told them it was alright with me if they smoked, as long as we rolled down the windows. With sighs of relief, their cigarettes were lit in their mouths in an instant. “Everyone smokes here,” Ylena said, “Georgians are very nervous.”
The people in Tbilisi do drive in a crazy way. And NO one wears a seatbelt. When I reached for my seatbelt, they laughed and told me that no one wears one. I told them it’s the law in the US. “Not here,” they said. I felt I was being handed a cultural behavior cue. What not to do in Tbilisi: wear a seat belt. So, I went without.
“Also, no one takes the metro or public bus here,” Ylena said. “It’s not cool.” She’s lived here all her life and has only taken the metro or bus once. “It’s a small city and everyone knows each other. Someone would see you if you did. It’s okay to have a car or take a cab.”
I was sitting in the backseat, Ylena was driving and describing certain landmarks, getting involved in conversation. Her head was turned around to the backseat the way people do in movies when I’ve always thought how obvious it was that the actor wasn’t really driving, because his eyes were so rarely on the road. Then her cell phone would ring, and she would talk with her phone to her ear while negotiating hair pin turns on the side of a hill at outrageous speed. In those moments, you can only say, “OK, God, my life is in your hands.”
Back to the opera house. People smoke in it. I mean when I stepped out of the auditorium into the lobby areas people were smoking. Maybe it used to be like that in the US, too. Though in my recollection, there were always “smoking areas.” Here, everyplace is a smoking area. So, I’m getting used to eating with smoke blowing in my face without mentally complaining.
At intermission, I needed to use the restroom, so I set about looking for one. I heard two girls asking someone for the ladies room. My ears perked up. “I’m looking for a ladies room, too.” They smiled, took me by the arm and I was adopted. “Come with us, we’ll find it together.” They asked if I was from England. They were Georgian. Both beautiful with excellent English pronunciation. I complimented their English, which pleased them. When we found the ladies room, it was so thick with cigarette smoke, you could hardly see in. They were both disgusted. Two young Georgians who don’t smoke!
I told them in America you wouldn’t find this kind of smoking everywhere. They said it was terrible here for people who don’t smoke. We waited to get to the stall. There was no line, just people jammed into the room. Whoever was standing closest to a stall that became available would go inside. This elegant opera house didn’t have toilet seats. They’d been broken off long ago. There were no dispensers for toilet paper, or signs of toilet paper anywhere. Apparently they don’t provide it. I was so grateful to have tissues in my bag. There was no soap or soap dispenser by the sinks, nor were there towels, towel dispensers or air blowers. Just cigarette smoke. Wow! There’s so much to be grateful for in America!
The intermission must have been longer than 1/2 hour. When the concert was over, we were taken in cars to a restaurant for dinner which started around 1am, and lasted until 3am. Then we were all bussed back to the hotel. The flamenco performers didn’t speak English. Only Paco Pena did. They were fantastic. I mean, top notch. I can see why they are considered the foremost flamenco company in the world.
Though, I must admit – jumping back to the concert – that although I was not tempted to nod off this time, I was at times a bit of a zombie, and I wasn’t able to take all of it in. I watched with glassy eyes, and sometimes the applause of the others was my cue that it was time to applaud. Other times, I watched with my mouth hanging open because the performances were so breathtaking, and I found myself calling out “Bravo” with a Spanish accent. The other American turned to me and smiled. The Georgians yelled “Bravo” as well. It must be universal.