Every time I go to Tbilisi, I’m left with the conflicting thoughts of really really wanting to live there because it’s an awesome city, and also knowing that if I lived there, I would have a reeeeally hard time living within my TLG budget. Of course it’s a moot point — but man, did I have a great weekend.
We hopped a marshutka after school, and the ride was easy, as it always is. We were the first people on, so we didn’t even have to deal with the extra bumps that come from sitting in the last row! We got off at the marshutka hub, bargained with some taxi drivers, and then headed off towards Vake, where our wonderful hosts for the weekend live.
The cab ride itself was actually an interesting story. I usually talk to the drivers in Russian, just because I’m so much more confident with it, and let’s be honest, I’ve got a whole lot more words to work with. After figuring out that I could communicate in Russian, our driver decided to strike up a conversation that lasted the entire ride and ended up making me really happy to get out of the cab. He started by asking normal questions about our jobs, where we studied, where we were from, and then jumped straight to “How much do you make?”
This is generally a bit of a sore subject, because TLG volunteers make more per month than the average Georgian English teacher, who has to supplement her income by taking numerous students for private lessons. I tried to defer the question and should have just stopped talking, but I ended up telling him, which launched him into a huge tirade about how Georgia is the only country in the world who treats foreigners better than citizens, etc etc. As it turned to Misha and his shortcomings as a president, how it was better under the Soviets, then how he could just show us around Tbilisi for free because we were such pretty girls, I stopped listening/trying to understand. When we finally got to Vake (he had taken a roundabout route, it seemed like to me), I was hugely relieved to get out of the cab.
After that, though, the weekend was nothing but awesome. After a delicious Georgian dinner we went to Tbilisi’s premier expat bar, The Hangar, for the chance to watch some March Madness Basketball in Georgia. It was a remarkably successful night — they had the channel turned to ESPN America, which was switching between games, so I got to see about 10 minutes of the Duke game, in addition to catching some other very exciting ones, plus a short spotlight on Northwestern’s own John Shurna, which including shots of Welsh Ryan Arena. Never expected to see that, or Brian Zoubek and Kyle Singler’s championship celebration, on TV in a bar in the other Georgia. Plus, it turns out the Hangar has a pretty good American food menu, despite being an Irish bar. All in all, a big success.
Saturday we went to the bazroba, or the big bazaar/market, partly for shopping, partly for the spectacle. I’ll be honest — all the stimulation really tired me out, but it was worth it to see what they had, which was pretty much anything you could ever need. It was booth after booth of clothes, shoes, accessories, underwear, everything — and we didn’t even get to the food market! Some of my friends had success in bargaining the vendors down to get something closer to Georgian price, and I wandered around with them, admiring the cute European shoes and trying to figure out what all the old ladies were yelling about.
Afterwards we met up with our host Nino, who took us, along with her small niece Nato and a friend of Nato’s, up to Mtatsminda Park, an amusement park on the mountain that overlooks Tbilisi. Between the bumper cars, the whimsical architecture, and the views from the ferris wheel, we had a fantastic time.
We had another great night, which was typically and wonderfully Georgian. It started with a puppet show at the Tbilisi State Theatre Studio, but if you’re thinking puppet show like what they do in The Sound of Music, you’ve gotta change your view a little. This particular show “The Autumn of My Springtime,” and another by the same director, have toured worldwide, and we were extremely lucky to catch them in Tbilisi, and that Nino was able to get tickets for us. The theatre was small, probably just over 100 seats, probably because you’ve got to be pretty close to see how wonderful the puppets are. They’re maneuvered by people dressed entirely in black, who draw no attention to themselves. There were even English subtitles for the tourists in the audience . . . lucky us.
After that we tried Tbilisi’s best Thai food, which was good food, but not quite the Thai food that I’m used to after living in Evanston for 4 years. We had said that we wanted to go dancing, which didn’t actually end up happening, but we followed our Georgian friends around first to a homey Georgian pub, and then to a swanky lounge on the 18th floor of the new and beautiful Radisson Hotel, which, like a drink on top of the Hancock Tower, was worth it just for the view. So, perhaps not as much dancing as we might have liked, but the company made up for it. And it wouldn’t have been so Georgian if we had gone according to plan.
We closed out the weekend on Sunday with a trip to Prospero’s, the English language bookstore, so I could finally get my hands on some Georgian literature in translation, and then possibly the best part — red velvet cupcakes! Georgian cake tends to look really good, but I usually end up slightly disappointed. All we needed was a little American control of the situation, though. Our cupcakes turned out great — although we had to do buttercream icing, because cream cheese doesn’t seem to be so available. But I think everyone was happy with the results, including the two 12th grade students of mine who I ran into on the marshutka ride home. I think it was their first cupcake ever, and I was so pleased to be the one to provide it.
Anyway, it’s back to real, Kakheti life now . . . hopefully my students didn’t notice me yawning all day long!