Friday, October 27, 2006

Bread - or how to keep warm of an evening

'of an evening' is kind of a bookish phrase. The only living person I have heard it use is my friend Pat; otherwise it is in books which have been written a few years (a good few years) ago. I love this phrase - it has such an air of relaxation about it; 'perambulating of an evening', 'partaking of a wee tincture of an evening'.

Anyway, I digress. 'Tis Friday and apparently all the foreigners (hardly 'all') congregate at a hotel at the end of my road. I went past it on the way home tonight, and the place was full of four-wheel drive cars - did not really fancy it. Will meet many of them at the hash on Sunday anyway. Also had a 'deid lump of meat' (as Mrs Rab C Nesbitt said memorably about her husband's genitals) in the fridge, which needed to be dealt with.

So the first way of keeping warm of an evening is to cook a slow stew on the gas cooker. All the chopping and slicing works up a steam, and cooking it for an hour or more also helps. Must say though, that beef, pumpkin and aubergine does not make for an entirely happy combination. There is enough left of it now that it'll last for another 3 days.

The second way of keeping warm is to go to the baker's down the hill and returning. Bakers here seem to have a bit of a pole position in society. For a few days in the afternoon I had noticed people looking through a window at groundlevel watching people at work, and I wondered what it was all about. Today I discovered that it was the baker's shop. But not the one nearest me - though I had spotted an entrance in a house near my flat that had a painting of one of the interesting Georgian breads on it (like a frying pan with two handles). So while the stew was stewing I wandered off through the pitch black lanes towards this place. Across the entrance was a table; the shelves were bare, but in the shop two men were hard at work.

Georgian bread is not backed on shelves in ovens, but in something called a 'tone' (although that might also be the word for 'baker'), which is a bit like a tandoor - a large clay oven which sticks out of the floor and is quite wide. The dough is rolled out into an oval and stuck over a shape like a cushion; with that the baker throws himself into the oven, legs flying in the air, and sticks it to the oven wall. Obviously he would not wish to linger in that position. But they still seemed to have their eyebrows. A short while later the bread is done.

Since the oven is always open, the heat coming out of the baker's shop is quite considerable, and at this time of year it must be nice to live above such a baker. So when you get there, you get the bread straight out of the oven - and a piece of paper from an official document to stop you burning your fingers while you carry it. The taste is out of this world! Like French bread used to be. The baking and pastries here are generally very good, and usually hot. In some shops you get cut, wrapped bread but that is nothing like this stuff. The only problem is that it is so large (in Georgia one person families are not common).

Going home through the little alleys near my house, in the dark, is interesting. It is very quiet, very dark. There are hardly any cars in the street which is very roughly cobbled, and lots of little shops, about one every 5 houses. The houses are small, old, and have extensions stuck on everywhere, with external stairs all over the place. Much like the film 'Mon Oncle' where you would see M Hulot leaving his top floor flat via a variety of stairways and balconies. Must take photos.

Last night, at the Opera house, there was a premiere of two ballets, one called 'Conservatory' by the Dutch composer H S Paulli, and then one called 'Two Pigeons' which turned out to be choreographed by Frederick Ashton, and miles, miles better. But before there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the seats since I found other people sitting in my seat who would not move. Turned out in the end that there are two blocks of seats in the stalls, and my third row was in the rear block - albeit with the better view. It was a sell-out.

The stage settings were sumptious, very lovely painted 19th century rooms. The 'Conservatory' was very traditional - it was based on 1849 choreography; rather oddly it was paired with a couple of other pieces of dancing, a kind of horsey dance and a pas de deux. This gave the first half an odd shape - starting with a crowd scene and ending with that horsey dance and the pas de deux. When the crowd came back on the stage we expected them to dance, but in fact they were there to take their bows. It's rare that a ballet ends on a pas de deux - were they trying to pad that part of the programme out a little? The trouble with strictly classical ballet is, as the Lithuanian ballet could have told them, that it needs to be really precise and together. In this case there was a fair bit of wobbling in the back rows - and when the 'children' did their little bit in front of the ballerinas, the boys of the second row had a distinct five o'clock shadow. Maybe it is difficult here, too, to get boys to dance.

The piece by Ashton (which I did not know at the time) was vastly better; a story about a painter and the girl he is due to portray, and love falling apart and back together again. Very pleasant, and very funny. The quality of the dancing was much better here, as well as the choreography.

The audience was fairly noisy throughout. The orchestra was a bit thin sounding; instrument quality? The US ambassador was there, too; Johnny Tefft. He had been in Vilnius a few years ago. Also there was a group of German tourists of the Saga++ generation; some of them may have celebrated the jubilees of getting their first pension payment. I thought they were very enterprising - Tbilisi in the dark has many treacherous places to trip over.