Saturday, March 31, 2007


'Swan Lake' today at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre. Do I need to do that to myself, I hear you ask? How many times have I seen it? Probably too many, but I was urged to see it since the female lead was a ballerina recently returned from Moscow. (Looking at her CV, it seems she was born in Moscow, her name is not Georgian, so 'returned' may be a slight overstatement.)

My heart sank at the first entry of the orchestral brass, in the overture. Imagine running a fingernail across a roughcast wall - that was roughly the sound! The intonation issues, though, come from the flute end of the orchestra - as soon as more than one played, things became iffy. And the fiddles were a bit on the thin side - the orchestra lacks bite.....maybe that's why the audience talks through the music, and starts chatting again as soon as a curtain comes down, even during an interlude.

The beginning was surprising - I had expected the usual Tchaikovsky court scene/outdoor scene/court scene arrangement for the evening - but the curtain opened to a ballet school! And very nice it was, too - plain simple ballet school costumes, the guys in Tshirts tucked into their tights (difficult to do that little movement of pulling down your vest...), mirrors behind them; there was a dancing instructor and they all did their little things. A lovely idea.... but after that it went into traditional sets and costumes, with the usual forest glade and the court scene, followed at the last moment by the lakeside scene. But wait...our hero falls asleep....and the curtain opens anew on the ballet school, where he wakes up to the laughter of his friends...it was all a dream. It was nice that there was at least an attempt at some originality!

The dancing was not bad; at first I thought that Maria Alexandrova was a bit stiff; when she did the fluttering things it was noticeable that she had elbows (I am sure Maya Pliseckaja did not have elbows or any other joints when she was young, but she does now), and sometimes that tripping stuff that dancers do to float across the stage, seemed a bit forced. And she did not relate much to the audience, or even to her Siegfried. But when she was Odile, her athleticism, and her aura of sheer triumph was awesome! Maybe she is more an athletic than a lyrical dancer.

The others did well, too - Siegfried was good, as was Rothbart. The little swans were sweet, as always; the bigger swans, who should be absolutely together every millisecond, had moments of distraction (because of the star in their midst?), and sometimes those legs came down like the keys of a piano, when you run your fingers along the keyboard...

On reviewing - the wife of a pianist whose playing I reviewed in November has expressed her support for her husband here.


When one is in the know...

...in Georgia one no longer buys the wine in a boring glass bottle, corked and sealed....One goes to the little wine shop up a back alley, or sometimes even in a main street, and buys the wine loose. As you can see it comes in all sorts of bottles - you just ask for the number of litres you need. Here we have an unknown bottle with a Coke top, a 7-up bottle with a Borjomi top, and a Nabaghlevi bottle with a Sprite top. If you are fastidious, I suppose you could bring your own bottles .... So now we know what happens to all those bottles that the poor people collect out of everywhere. And no, so far I have not got sick from the wine. It costs about 2.40 Euros for a litre of red, and less than a Euro for a litre of white wine.

Bizarre moment No 57 in the wine shop; it's a very small shop and there are always some people sitting on chairs, looking vacantly at the door - not convinced whether they are employees. One of these asked me in German if I spoke German, and I confirmed this. When he asked where from, I said 'Vilnius', as is my wont. Whereupon he launched into Lithuanian! Geez. His parents were of two different European countries and he had spent some time in Chicago where it seems he learned Lithuanian. As one does, in Chicago - my Chicago readers might confirm? He also speaks English, I think, and Georgian. When I asked why he was here, he said because he is an orthodox ('ortodoksas' in Lithuanian, it seems). I wonder when he had last spoken Lithuanian - it was halting, but it was good!


Friday, March 30, 2007


Belted home from work, wolfed down half a tin of beans (cold, with mustard), shot down the hill...to find that my Friday evening fix of 'Hamlet' had been cancelled. Bit weird anyway, it had only been put on the programme relatively recently. Had they not sold enough tickets? I'd looked forward to a relaxing evening watching my favourite dialogues, but well... have seen it before, might see it again. And anyway, the theatre gave the money back for the tickets without any problems.

Not in my case.

The Rustaveli Theatre has the habit (it's a Soviet thing, I think - I have seen in many non-EU post-Soviet countries) of printing books of tickets, for every show. These books are multi-purpose, and you identify the show by stamping the date on the show on it, as well as the starting time and the ticket price. Let me rephrase this - the date of the show is usually stamped on the back of the ticket. Picture the person sitting in the box office, stamping sheets of paper on the front, with two different stamps, and then turning them over and stamping them on the back, with a further stamp. She will not make a mistake by eg forgetting to change the date on the stamp because if she does, she will probably get punished for it, eg by reduction of salary. In case you ever wondered why certain things work only slowly over here. Labour is cheap.

So, in case you had not noticed, I am a frequent theatre goer. That means I have piles of tickets for different performances. Usually I try to arrange them in date order, but it's difficult when the date is on the back of the ticket. Also the person checking the tickets at the theatre is busy, looks at the front of the ticket which most people usually show, and does not check the date on the ticket (but tears off a strip, in case you were beginning to have smart ideas).

Thus it happened that a week ago I had two tickets in my bag, and on 25 March I handed over the ticket for 30 March, and had the control strip torn off. Discovered my mistake as soon as I found someone else in 'my' seat. The girl suggested then to buy another ticket, I said I had it at home (in fact I then found it in my bag and I found my correct seat). So today I was prepared to tell my story in case the lady looked at the back of the ticket. But then this did not arise.

What did rise, however, were the eyebrows of the person at the ticket office when I showed her today's ticket, with no control strip, and last week's ticket, complete with control strip. She wasn't having any of it. I tried to explain in best Russian what had happened (I could see her point to some degree); there was a man in the box office who tried to shoo me away...but, as an experienced social security administrator, I know what our customers would do if we were to try to shoo them away. So I stayed, and blocked the tiny box office window....until I got my 10 laris back....It's all a big mix-up, but the fact was that I had paid for two shows, and been able to see only one.....

It's time the Rustaveli Theatre follows the Tbilisi Opera House which already has those new-fangled ticketing machines which print everything on the ticket. But perhaps the Rustaveli needs to use up lots of ticket books first?

Ended up going for a drink at Betsy's hotel, the Friday night hang-out for expats. But arranged a hike for Sunday, which is not bad, even though I will have to cater for about 20 people in our choir practice on Monday night, after a day's work....


Thursday, March 29, 2007


One of my faithful band of readers enquired what had happened after I had not blogged for a few days....I've been busy!

I am looking forward to sitting at home with my feet up - FEET UP! - this time next week, not doing anything in particular; for about 6 days....

Meanwhile at work I am finishing a report, and as I write it, one of our ministries changes, as it has been doing for the last 6 months - since we have to try and transfer some activities from another into this ministry, trying to pin down the places where they should go is literally a question of the moving target. I thought I had finished revising the report today, when, just as it was lying in the out-tray, ready to go, an email told me quite another story.... ho hum. In the former Soviet Union things always go in extremes - either 'it can't possibly be done, impossible, the Ministry of Finance will never allow it', or 'it was done yesterday' ('and we did not take into account your recommendations', though we are never told that).

At home I am trying hard to finish all my studying before I leave, so I won't have to take any of the books home this time - that'll make me about 2 months ahead of my colleagues - the great advantage of correspondence courses! Just finished a section on transcriptions/reductions which was a bit of a pain because it meant doing real work, like writing things down. I don't like writing itty-bitty notes! And especially with transcriptions it seems that you are not allowed to lose anything - you end up with pauses written all over the place.....The advantage is that after 10 years of playing the viola I've learnt to name the notes on the viola clef (correctly, I hope!)....Now I've got a week to finish the last bit of work, but I see that the assignment for this involves some listening skills - and I'm really bad at that. Should probably start now, to get it done.

Today the piano teacher cancelled due to sickness; a bit of a relief.....two lessons a week is quite intensive, and this week there would have just been two days between the lessons...talk about pressure! I see that one of my pieces, after about 2 months of lessons, is at grade 2 UK style, and another one, I suspect, is higher than that - it's even got some music (not sure that my playing has, quite yet). Being chucked in at the deep end and all that.... If my hands only learned to relax it would be even better.....


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nationalism on stage

Another Sunday, another night at the Rustaveli theatre - Ilia Chavchavadze's 'Is he human, this man', edited by Robert Sturua and others. Actually, the original title of the play is 'Is a human a man?'. Leaving aside feminist thoughts, it reminds a bit of Robert Burns' 'A man is a man for a' that' - wasn't that sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament?

You may have spotted the Georgian name of the author. There are at least two writers of this surname, Ilia who has a fine avenue named after him, and Alexander, a poet, who has a steep little cobbled street named after him (albeit opposite the opera house, and the one I have to climb every evening to get home; twice if I go out at night). Guess who is more highly rated, I guess.

According to Wikipedia, Ilia of that ilk was, amongst other talents, the leader of Georgia's national liberation movement from 1861 till 1907, when he died. There was much of this around at the time in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe. He was also a lawyer, poet, humanist, philosopher and publisher - all of which gave him plenty of scope to further the aims of his movement.

This figures. The play, which had English translation, is about a Georgian nobleman and his life. This guy is greatly given to philosophising about life, and the meaning of life. His court contains his wife, of particular ugliness, two random women, one of whom seems to be a bit feebleminded but usually hits the spot with her remarks, two male servants, and a Russian military type who loiters in the bottom lefthand corner of the stage (halfway down the pit), and who knocks back the shots of vodka.

For the first half of the play the main character just philosophises, talking to his wife, his servants, the random women and the Russian, who often corrects his facts. He tries to drink vodka with the Russian but cannot drink so fast (a frequent jibe at the Russians; there were quite a few sideways comments at Russia). He is dumbfounded, though, when it turns out that the Russian has a Georgian mother. Then the play flashes back to his earlier life; where he loses his mother quite young (as did Chavchavadze), the death of his brother (ditto), and where he goes looking for a wife - 'if the worst comes to the worst, he can always taken an Armenian girl'. Eventually a wife is found for him, and to everyone's horror, she is not excessively pretty. However, they arrange themselves, but no offspring arrives in 20 years. Off they go to pray at a particular shrine, possibly in Tbilisi (St David's mountain is mentioned - on which I live; it's a holy mountain). And would you know it, the wife becomes pregnant. Unfortunately then some Brits appear, including a guy in a kilt, and it seems, just buy the country off them - or have signed an agreement to get the land.....

It was a great, very close to the audience performance - the actors mostly leaned over a fence at the very edge of the stage - luckily they had not sold the tickets of the seats bang in front of this fence. The music was, guess what, Kancheli's Styx (again!) but also some other music, including that wonderful polyphonic Georgian song 'Suliko' which we also sing in our singing group.

I wonder what effect such plays have on the audience at a time when national pride might be a bit in the forefront, and considering that the President himself modelled his movement on Chavchavadze's moment of over 100 years earlier..... This play was premiered during Shervanadze's time, in 2000, and it would be interesting to know what the reaction was at the time. Now perhaps it provides a useful counterbalance to the other play about the president?


Spring has sprung!

Another Sunday, another hash. The crowd is getting bigger and bigger and includes dogs, who generally get on, more or less, quite often....we know what it's like, don't we, Jack? Some dogs one would not want to take to a situation where they have to socialise....

The trail, set by a very keen runner, went down a valley, up on the other side, round a village, and back to the starting point. If you think it was hard walking in shorts through Tbilisi, you should have seen the village. 'Gee, there's a bunch of foreigners!'.
'You know, they are running.'
'Oh my God, some are wearing shorts - in this weather? How can they expose their legs like this?' (from the heavily clad priest we ran past).
'Oh no - There's a WOMAN WEARING SHORTS!'
It must have been the most fun the village had for years - I tried to encourage a fat pudding of a boy to join us, but to no avail.

And then, at the starting point, which we felt we had reached all too soon, we discovered that we had to do another loop, through a forest and up and down some steep slopes. That's where I spotted the flowering trees. Not entirely sure what kind of flowers they are..... Also spotted some cactuses growing very flatly on the ground, but they were not nice enough for a photie.

The hash is now moving over to summer time, with a later start - which will be a problem if I have the theatre on the same evening.....


Saturday, March 24, 2007

A humbling moment

Foreigners, in travel guides to any poor country, are usually advised not to give money to beggars because it will encourage people to beg. So we don't, usually. And then you see the residents of the country giving money to the beggars. And even more, today I spotted some street children buying a drink from a sweet drinks seller near the market, and when they offered to pay, the seller refused to take the money. It makes you think.

Today was kind of a dreich day, constantly slightly raining - do we call it 'smirr' in Scotland? Totally out of veg, I wandered over to the market near the railway station. It's not what you might call a tourist attraction, but it has good vegetables, meat (if you are not squeamish) and everything. Strange though, how even in the indoor part of it, I found myself skating around on a thin layer of mud.....Buying meat is difficult for me, what with it being big hunks of meat with a lot of bone, for those larger Georgian families. But I found some liver and watched with fascination as the salesman dug into his pocket with his bloody hands, trying to retrieve some change. Also bought a bottle of those sauces that the Georgians love. This one is red, but it seems to be as sour as the green sauce I have tried elsewhere. Not sure what they are made from ....something a bit spicy and/or a bit sweet would have been nice. They are all home-made and bottled in recycled bottles. Let's not think about the hygiene police. Whilst I was negotiating this purchase, a guy slipped by and offered me a delightful watch with yellow glass across the clock face. I showed him my nicer Swatch watch. He departed.


Fairies, flashing furtively

...or 'knickers, boxers and y-fronts'. Sounds worse than it was, Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream at the Marjanishvili Theatre in Tbilisi! Don't ask who the producer and actors were - I don't know and the Theatre's website is in Georgian - 'tis too much to deal with at this late hour.
In any case, it's not Mr Sturua who produces the shows; he presides at the Rustaveli Theatre. That theatre's website has some English.

The Marjanishvili's productions are not as in your face, and strident, as those of the Rustaveli Theatre (she says confidently, having seen two of the first and five of the second). For a start, the music does not touch the pain barrier, and it does not involve Mr Kancheli's music either.

This production then was very pleasant, a real fairy tale with fairies flitting across the stage, a very camp Puck (who had even glittered his armpits), a pretty camp Oberon (though he seemed to go for anything), a lovely little old theatre director for the show-in-the-show, especially when at the end he appeared in a floral jumpsuit, some lovely music, good use of the stage machinery, yes, they did flash, lots of laughs for the audience, also from the dialogue - these were the most laughs I have ever heard in Tbilisi, including the two comedies I have seen at the Rustaveli theatre. Maybe those productions are just too brash? Even without translation, this is a great show to go to for those who 'know their Shakespeare' - and if you don't, you look it up on the internet.


Friday, March 23, 2007

CO-Gas Alarm!

Don't know how we got around this in today's performance of 'The Misfortune of Darispan' in the Rustaveli Theatre. 'CO-Gas-Alarm' maybe needs to be explained to those whose parents did not leave a car with the engine running in an underground car park whilst going shopping ... then again....

Tonight's offering was a Georgian comedy, about an impoverished nobleman with 4 daughters who is having trouble marrying them off, finally finds a guy who two of the four daughters fancy (not convinced that all four daughters were on the stage), but I am not sure if he actually married one - come to think of it, maybe he did not....Seems to be a well-known story, though I am not sure what these pictures are doing on the Georgian Parliament website - they are not from our production, anyway. Should also mention that the production was in Georgian (of course), no translation and hence I guessed or was told by my friend who had joined me.

As we now know, the Rustaveli Theatre turns everything into a farce, and often very successfully. Straight comedies, however, do not seem to work well - this is the second time I felt that the acting was well over the top; seriously into slapstick country, hamming it up, with lots of silly voices and silly walks, almost not a straight step was taken! Then again, would I have noticed linguistic subtleties? Some of the (sparse Friday night) audience loved it and were giggling all the way through. Zaza Papuashvili (Hamlet, Vladimir from 'En attendant Godot' and Malvolio) was a total 'Del Boy' in his role as Darispan, all pretence and 'fur coat and nae knickers' - all that was missing was the three wheeler car. But he did one better - his Renault with which he drove off the stage with squealing tyres had a wheel at each corner. And plenty of exhaust fumes, too - the Georgian audience has to be tough!

The music, of course, was essential, some waltzes, some Bach, a wee bit of Kancheli and some other bits and pieces which I am beginning to know well from other plays. Not sure that it was that appreciated - the applause was a bit thin....I wish, though, that the Sturua productions came to a clean end - they are a bit like a Beethoven symphony - you think they have ended, and then you get some more - in music they call that a cadence event, I believe, or 'making a meal of it'. And the applause, when it is sparse, does not need to be milked quite as much - there seemed to be an element of politeness in the audience when the actors just did not leave the stage.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Urban rustic

Fancied eating out today, what with having no veg in the house, no time to buy any, and anyway....

I'd had my eye for a long time on 'In Vino Veritas', a restaurant at No 8 Kikodze street near Freedom (Tavisupleba) Square, which belongs to my favour theatre director and actor, Robert Sturua and Zaza Papuashvili. Let me rephrase that - the name and the design belong to these two. No points on originality on the name. I wonder how this all works - do they get a cut of the takings each day, but don't need to run the restaurant?

It's in the basement of a block of flats, and made to look a bit like a cave, with exposed 'roof beams' and so on. It's not as bright as the picture on the website. On entering I found myself facing a startled waitress who could not quite deal with me....She went to get help, and after that everything was fine. It seemed that two parties were going on at the same time, so a loose customer did not quite fit into the regime.

Foodwise it seems like an average Georgian restaurant, with all the usual salads, soups, kebabs, shashliks, khatchapuris and main courses. I had the wonderful tomato and cucumber salad with walnuts (always to die for) and a beefsteak with boiled potatoes. Eastern European beefsteaks are not like a fillet steak (maybe no beefsteak is like a fillet steak?); they are usually a lump of meat beaten to within an inch of its life, often with a fried egg on top. I had the vision of the fillet steak, but the reality of the dead lump of meat. It could have been worse and covered in crumbs. The boiled potatoes were very nice, as they should be, at a price of almost a Euro each. The cappucino at the end was made from cappucino powder. As it happens, I like that but it ain't cappucino. The wine only came in bottles, and since I always have a wee glass while practicing the piano after work, I did not really need another bottle, even to take home, especially now that I have discovered how to buy wine loose.

So, the food is averagely good - I noticed that they do the shashliks straight in the restaurant, so they should be very good. The atmosphere is quite nice (perhaps better if a party does not take over almost all the tables in the room, leaving one lonesome table for other customers) and the owners are very nice as is the staff once they get over their surprise. You can probably get the same quality of food elsewhere for less - in the end it depends what you want to pay for, I suppose.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pounded to a pulp

....was the piano at tonight's recital in Tbilisi Conservatoire by Revas Tavadze (not sure of the transliteration of the surname)! Actually I thought it would be a flute recital by Rusudan Tavadze, but it seemed to be a bit of a duo evening. Rusudan may be his daughter, though she seemed more than a generation younger than the pianist (but a lot of Georgian women look much younger than they are).

An interesting programme, mixing Bach and Telemann flute pieces with a Beethoven piano sonata. I'd worked out the names of all composers on the posters, but could not think what flute piece Beethoven might have written - and indeed he had not.

Of the two, Revas, a total late Karajan lookalike, down to the black poloneck sweater, is by far the better musician. The Beethoven op 57 sonata turned into an avalanche of sound - a wall of noise; the piano was assaulted, and only just survived. I see it's the Appassionata - that figures! A massive, loud performance - subtlety and transparency was not on the menu; he seemed to stand on the pedal even in places where a bit of clarity might have been welcome. The greatest applause of the evening was certainly deserved.

As for the flute....hm, what to say. I missed the first Bach sonata, but heard enough to be rather underwhelmed. The fast movements were not all that fast, and the slow movements... oh dear. She played a sarabande and bourree of a partita for flute solo (I did not know either he had written such a thing) - the sarabande was such that I wondered whether this was an intellectual exercise. A note here, a break, a few notes there, some contemplation, a few more notes....A sarabande is a dance, girl - how are people supposed to dance to that? She might have been extremely nervous during this piece (her fingers were trembling), but all the other slow movements were the same - the notes were not played, but snatched, bitten at and spat out, nothing was connected to anything else - but all pieces were baroque music, and even the historically 'correct' interpretation does not do violence to pieces of music. Add to that a few quite unnecessary fluffs, a moment in a Bach sonata that resembled the 'Gollywog's Cake Walk' and it did not make for happy music making. And these interpretations would not even go down well in an orchestra where flautists are soloists....

In Eastern Europe there are lots of musical dynasties, but the quality of musicianship does not always get transmitted through the generations, so there are quite a few average musicians with famous fathers or grandfathers. Perhaps this is such a case. She did have a nice sound, mind.


Monday, March 19, 2007

He was meant to die

That's Sam Galbraith, the former Scottish Health Minister who I worked for (at some distance) in Scotland in the late 90s. Thanks to my friend Pat for sending me this Observer article.

Sam Galbraith is famous for a number of things - his neurosurgery skills, which, according to some stories, he developed by deciding as a teenager, growing up in Greenock, to play the violin (good choice!), his heart-lung transplant 17 or so years ago, following which he became a member of Parliament first in the UK and then in the first Scottish Parliament, and to us aficionados of the health service, as one of the few Scottish health ministers of recent times to preside over a reduction in the hospital waiting lists.

As a Greenock lad (very close to Glasgow) he has razorsharp wit. On being congratulated on his bedside manner during a hospitals visit he suggested it was due to years of practice communicating with comatose patients. A fellow MSP ventured that not all was well with Galbraith's policies but that his heart was in the right place, to which he replied 'The NHS put it there'. As a good politician, during a visit to a hospital which had recently messed up big time, he said to the media, without blinking 'This is a Firrrst Class Hospital'. Aye, right. I liked his comment in the Observer article about a fellow politician who went straight from university into politics, and 'has never done a decent day's work in his life'. Yes, Mr Galbraith, I know exactly what you mean.....

As a neurosurgeon (which he no longer does) he had a huge reputation. The story went about of him getting a call in the back of the ministerial limo where a colleague, a bit stuck with his fingers in someone's brain, called up the then health minister, who proceeded to talk him through the rest of the operation. We understand that the patient lived.

They don't make them like him anymore. He's the last of the crowd surrounding the late, much lamented Donald Dewar, a giant of a man (even if they called him Donald Dither shortly before he died in office), of the days when Scottish politicians still had intellect and culture. The problem with devolution is that it's very much the B-team that plays in Scotland - the A-team is much more into UK politics.

Galbraith also mentions how he misses climbing the Scottish hills. I was thinking about them a week ago when Mrs Annie Gloag of the Stagecoach bus company, who, having come into riches after the bus privatisations of the late 80s, had bought a castle off an impoverished Scottish family, and who now refuses rambles access to her land (which they had with the previous owners). She says it's for her safety and that of her royal visitors, amongst others. Royal visitors? Anyway, all that put me in mind of the Scottish landscape in spring - when there is some mild sunshine, and the grass begins to turn green, first on the sunny side of the valleys, then throughout the valley, then it goes higher up....and the daffodils here and there, the lambs (some of the earliest lambs in Scotland were near Maybole where we used to live), the moment when, for the first time in the year, you can leave a door or window wide open, with the sun streaming in..... And the spring lasts a while, not like in otherwise wonderful Lithuania, where it lasts an hour....

One can miss a place sometimes!


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Deaths in Venice

Me, I don't like detective novels; often there is lots of violence, terrible writing (some woman author from Ayrshire is a successful but not good writer), and not very nice detectives (eg Inspector Rebus). Also they are generally quick to read and that makes them not very good value for money for me who has to carry them around the world.

I do watch some of them on TV, however. German TV, which I get in Lithuania, has, I am sure, a higher deathrate than the German population. 'Morse' of course was always wonderful to watch.

Here's another one - Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti. I first came across this on German TV which had turned the books into films, with so far two actors playing Brunetti (Uwe Kokisch, the one in the picture is the sexier of the two!). Just noticed that it will be on TV which I can receive, just after Easter!

It should be mentioned here that Donna Leon is an American English teacher (lecturer? professor? - I don't think she teaches 'American English'; her writing language has a bit of that, eg 'parking lot', but it's not too intrusive) by trade, who has taught all over the world, though most recently, and for some time, in Venice. I believe she was thrown out of Iran (or chose to leave) when her teachings attracted disfavour. In her other life she also has a passionate interest in music, particularly baroque opera (which means that she must be serious about music; here's a CD she seems to have put together), and in German a book on her writings on different topics, including music, has come out. One of her books is about the death of the lover an opera singer, in another I found a quote from Handel's 'Messiah', and the one I am reading is prefaced by a quote from Mozart's 'Lucio Silla'. That gives her lots of brownie points!

The Commissario, like Donna Leon herself, is based in Venice. Those shots of Venice, with the commissario rushing here, there and everywhere on a little canal boat - ahhhh! Not everyone likes Venice, I understand, and I have never been there, but it's tempting.

Like Morse, Brunetti operates in a very delightful environment, and every now and again even Brunetti is stopped by the sheer beauty of the place. It would be really good to read the books (there's a series) with a map of Venice in your hand. Like Morse, Brunetti is also highly educated, reading Tacitus for pleasure of an evening. Unlike Morse, however, he is married to an English lecturer and has two children. (Italian and British family structures here?). Furthermore, Brunetti loves his food and wine, and has the opportunity to go home for lunch most days, where his wife has usually prepared a sumptious repast, unless she is engrossed in Henry James's letters. These meals and their ingredients are described in great detail in the books, including the sources of the ingredients. The books are dripping with Italian words and phrases...in a way which reminds of that scene with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Cleese in 'A Fish called Wanda'....

Anyway, the Commissario and his sidekick, Vianello, battle against the forces of evil in Italian society, always involving a murder or two, but also usually linking to the Mafia or other corrupt practices. In this they are supported by the delightful Signorina Elletra, the secretary of Brunetti's boss, who somehow, by calling favours on her very large and extended family, is able to find data on anyone and anything. Brunetti's boss (played in the films by the similarly sexy, but older, Michael Degen) is rather less helpful, being much more concerned with his status in society, and with making sure that Brunetti does not upset important people - which he inevitably does.

The books beautifully, and teasingly, describe life in Italy, including frustrations with communications systems, the people 'from the south' (Mafia), dealing with public bodies, and current social situations (eg illegal immigrants in one book, issues with transvestites in another book). The deaths are fairly tastefully described, and generally they do not give an impression of great haste or urgency, but problems are solved sedately and usually, but not always, effectively (Brunetti also sometimes comes up against the barrier of 'national security').

The book I've just read, 'Pressed for Death' has a slight logic gap in that Brunetti's mother seems to be in the severe grip of Alzheimers, when in fact a few books later she is very lively and active, but perhaps this may have been the first book (written in 1994, where Signorina Elletra pops up for the first time) when Leon had not realised that they were going to take on a life of their own.

Although these are quickly read books - the lines are well spaced and the font not too small - I see them as the icing on my cake of books to read, and keep them as a reward. Unfortunately I have probably read about half of them.....They are great for a plane journey of about 3-4 hours plus waiting time!


Boxing Day

Another Boxing Day; it's dreich and dark outside. We've eaten the first of many turkey left-over meals, walked the dog, and are now ready to settle down for 'Mary Poppins' on the box.

No, wait!! It's a bright but chilly Sunday in Tbilisi, and Mary Poppins runs in the Musical Comedy Theatre, a 45 minute hike from my home. Wow! Normally I would not take this hike, especially twice on the same day (I have learnt not to trust the local papers for starting times of performances), but for memories' sake it was worth checking it out.

I realised why the performance was sold out - this new, or very well renovated theatre does not have many seats! Not only is the stage limited, for a bit of an intimate performance, and with little stage technology, but inside the auditorium two large staircases swing their way up to the upper tier. If the stairs had been outside there would have been room for another 100 seats. I will say nothing about the loose chairs stood on terracing in the stalls area. Nor will I say anything about where I sat, having somehow got myself into a sold-out performance - but the hairs of firemen seeing this would have stood on end. Perhaps it's meant to create an club-like atmosphere.

It was not like the film. Obviously the actors were different - the little boy with the jug ears in the film must be sixty by now, and hopefully had that operation, but the story was quite different (involving two babies, for example), and the songs were from everywhere - including, I am sure, one from the Sound of Music (Do Re Mi? - it was discussed on a music list recently); the 'spoonful of sugar' song became a riding song, and other songs appeared at odd places. They were also short, mostly. Judging from the costumes and the sets, this theatre runs on a shoestring budget, and hence could not have afforded the scene shifts - though imaginative stuff could have been done. (Sue the architect!)

Mary Poppins was wonderful - she looked, and behaved, just like the character in the book and (Julie Andrews?) in the film. You would trust her with any child, and she would be able to deal with ADHD without any problem. She even went and said 'hello' (gamarjobat) to the children in the audience.... The boy (man) in this show did not have the ears, but he acted with an impressive lithp. The mother of the children seemed a bit of a vamp while her husband was the generally gormless type you'd know from the film. The domestic staff wore uniforms that might have escaped from '101 Dalmations'. There was a rather daft love story involving two dogs, stuck together at one point, but I am sure that little detail would have passed by the mainly juvenile audience.

The show lasted for about 1 1/2 hours, fastly paced, with lots of songs and dances and the children seemed to follow it very well, and enjoy it. That's good then.

Having been allowed into this sold-out performance (with paying), the theatre staff afterwards thanked me for coming. That's the friendly Georgians for you!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Being a young president...

...in a newly emerging democracy (really only 3 years in Georgia) must be hard! Not only are you a young guy, with not such great experience, running a country which, at the time, was deeply mired in corruption, deep poverty, no electricity etc, but then you find geezers, older and younger than you, ganging up and producing a satirical play called 'Soldier, Love, Bodyguard and... the President'. But what can a President do? In a democracy he cannot really be do anything unless the play is deeply offensive (which it's not, almost) but then again, one does feel for him now and again.

This is one weird play. Described as a comedy, but the first half is hard work - the programme notes are the funniest bit here. Essentially it is a play of two halves, with the first half about a soldier who returns from one of Georgia's many wars minus a leg, but who meets angels who restore the leg (though he drifts in and out of angel contact and keeps gaining and losing the leg - bit of a bravura acting job for Gagi Svanidze). Eventually he settles with the leg but loses his wife instead (she is actually a disguised angel). The second part is then set in the chancellery of 'a' president where various shenanigans go on. Funny that, considering that in Georgia the President's office is called the 'Chancellery' whereas in Lithuania, for example, it's called the 'Prezidentura'.

The programme notes state, at the start of their description of either half, that 'Act 1' (or 2) 'is not about the president'. They also helpfully provide a list of 'songs and poems and cliches' used in the performance, one of which is the 'bear', described as a symbol of 'Georgia's big northern neighbour'. And finally the tell the joke that the angel was trying, unsuccessfully, to tell the soldier, Valiko, all through the first half.

This performance is thin on dialogue, and heavy on action (the latter like most of Sturua's performances). The Ministry of funny walks has been busy again, and has developed a separate branch of funny arm movements. The second half is much better than the first half, which seems a bit pointless and very tenously connected to the second half - the applause at the end of the first half sounded bewildered. The president only appears in the second half (played wonderfully by Beso Zanguri who seems to specialise in playing men in high places); he suffers from fear of the dentist, has oral sex with his wife (missed a trick here, why not the secretary?), his wife is being accused of being a spy for a foreign country, the song (hymn?) 'America, America' keeps popping up with the whole chancellery snapping to attention, at the end everyone is dead because the president's bodyguard, who has a gay crush on him, has killed them all. You get the picture.

And the joke? A hunter bumps into a bear in the forest. The bear says to him, 'Hunter, do you prefer I kill you or I rape you?'. The hunter chooses to live. The same happens again and again. When they meet for the fourth time, the bear asks, 'Hunter, do you come here for sex or hunting?'.

Before the theatre I had been to a small concert at the conservatory of a young pianist, playing Bach, Schubert and Mozart in the face of adversity....A TV camera man wandered round with his big camera, filming the guy from all directions, almost up his nostril, and then departed in a clatter of camera, while the pianist was still playing. Not nice. He played quite well, but seemed a bit stiff in his interpretations. And the Steinway lacked warmth, I thought. But it was nice seeing someone play with relaxed hands....


Friday, March 16, 2007

Crowd scenes in the shtetl

...could be the subtitle of Israel J Singer's book 'Yoshe Kalb'. This is an old book, not only in content, written by the older brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer in the 1930s - my German version was translated straight from the Yiddish.

It's set in Galicia, the Central European one, not the Spanish one. Galicia was, at the time, in the Austro-Hungarian empire, when that empire still extended to somewhere in/near Poland/Ukraine - for example Lvov/Lviv in the Ukraine was in Galicia at that time. According to Wikipedia, at one stage its name was 'Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria with the Duchies of Auschwitz and Zator.' Hmm.

So the book, in three parts, set entirely in what seems to be very large Jewish populations, follows a young man through his life, though interesting the young man barely has a speaking part. It begins when, aged 14, he marries a girl of a similar age. Young Nachum comes from a refined rabbinical family and finds himself in another, much rougher, rabbinical family where the father (in law) is anxious to marry off his youngest daughter so he himself can take his fourth wife. Various events happen, and young Nachum runs away. He then appears in another town, does not say anything to anyone, gets a job, and in the end things go less well for him there. Finally he returns to the inlaw's house, after a long absence - and then things get even more complicated since he is now accused of being a bigamist (slight logic gap here since the book states that according to the Thora it is allowed to have more than one wife - but maybe that's a question of interpretation).

Now, I am weak on the Jewish religion and directions here, there and everywhere. But it seems that the father-in-law is of the Hassidic persuasion, which involves getting as many followers as possible since they finance his lifestyle. His many sons also try to get many followers, in effect competing for the same market. (Not entirely sure whether this is particularly Hassidic or otherwise, but I do know that the Gaon of Vilnius ran the Hassidic Jews out of town - they only returned about 10 - 15 years ago.) All events, weddings, court proceedings etc are celebrated with, it seems, a cast of thousands, from the richest to the poorest, from near and far, including many beggars who like to partake of the riches.

Singer's descriptions, especially of the crowd scenes and landscapes, are wonderful; what with these and an episode of a pestilence visiting a town the book has a bit of a biblical character. At the same time it is very funny, when for example a Jewish delegation visits the Austrian culture minister, interrupting him in a tête à tête with the heavenly dainty feet of the young ballerina Püppi Jarowitzi.

The structure of the book is a bit odd, in that the three parts seem not well connected except through our hero, who is never identified by name in the middle part (though the reader works out quite soon who he is). The book is very readable, though, and it's interesting reading about life in a shtetl. One gets the impression that life was very isolated; the book describes the shock/horror when they find that times are changing and the Russian court expects the children to attend state schools, not the yeshiva; in other places they are expected to learn German and could be given fields to work like Christian peasants. Oh no! (The book is a bit vague on country borders).

Some references are also made to Lithuania, of course, what with Vilnius being the 'Jerusalem of the North' - the Hassidim at the wedding of the 14-year-old couple see the bridegroom's parents and are heard to mutter: 'Litvaks, typical stuck-up unbelieving Lithuanian Jews'. Thanks to the Vilna Gaon, presumably.


Yawning Emptiness....

.... in the theatre tonight. Friday night is not good for getting theatre audiences. On the programmme was 'Styx'. Seen it before, but love the music by Gia Kancheli, which this play without words is based on.

It's a bit weird, now, going to the theatre after three helpings of Hamlet. You see an actor on the stage, and think - 'oh, there's Hamlet' (or Polonius, Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude, that other girl, and Hamlet's ghost). The first time I saw the show there were just a bunch of actors on the stage. More to the point you think that 'Hamlet' has all the main roles in the show, when in fact in this piece there aren't really main characters, particularly. Though 'Hamlet' did get to fry the eggs and burn his mouth eating them, before putting his head in the gas oven - gasp! Or rather not....

Also realised how much the producer, Robert Sturua, has pulled apart Kancheli's 'Styx'. Not surprising really, considering that it only probably lasts half an hour or so - the music can hardly be slowed down. So there are lots of gaps between bursts of music. It needs to be said that Kancheli's music, for all the wonderful that it is, is heavy on the eardrums - some reviewers in amazon also thought so. It has moments of extreme quiet and extreme noise. Makes it really hard to listen to it on the home stereo. In this, wordless, play that might have been a good thing - the actors are not dancers (you are not so good on synchronicity, boys - banging your feet on the floor sounds like a scatter gun, not like a single shot), and the audience needs to be shaken up every now and again. But I wondered if Sturua has not only cut up the piece, but jiggled it around a little, with the bits not being in the right order? Particularly at the end where the piece has quite a few bars of extreme quietness followed by a BIG BANG of noise. I used to listen to it whilst cycling to work in Vilnius, and could never hear the quiet bits over the traffic, so kept being shocked by the explosions ... could have sworn there are two bits of quietness followed by two bursts of sound - but the last burst never happened in this piece, so there was a bit of confusion in the audience about when the piece had finished and we should applaud.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post writes about ballet audiences and ballet orchestras here. The article starts off as a rant about noisy ballet audiences and goes on to blame this on poor ballet orchestras (who are not worth listening to?). Musicians responding to the article find themselves slighted.....

On the audience front Mr Kennicott has, I suspect, heard nothing yet. He should try out the Caucasus region, and Russia, for audience 'participation', with mobile phones ringing (after two or three reminders that they should be switched off), people chatting, very young children in the audience needing to run in and out....I hear a Russian theatre is introducing a device that silences mobile phones. Young children regularly attend concerts, though most in Eastern Europe are better behaved that one might fear. The Vilnius Filharmonija states on its tickets that children under 7 years should not attend evening concerts, but usually that's observed in the breach. I remember well taking my son, aged about 4, to a ballet or opera performance in the middle of a fifth row of an aghast Dortmund opera house. It worked, thankfully.

As for the dodgy ballet orchestras - he has a point. In Vilnius, unfortunately, the opera and ballet orchestra has its moments - not sure how it will cope with 'Valkyrie' in a couple of weeks' time, especially considering our issues with brass instrument playing. It is fine when the orchestra is one like the Vienna Philharmonic which doubles as an opera orchestra, but many opera orchestras just play tum-ti-tum a lot - and much ballet, especially the modern kind, uses seriously demanding music. Which is why people like Boris Eifman like to use taped music. A shame, really - it would be nice for opera orchestras to play some more interesting music, but if their playing isn't up to the dancing on the stage, that distracts from the show.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'Closing French letters'....

...could mean anything.....

I was chatting with my piano teacher about a young Georgian cellist who has almost shot to stardom, but could not remember his name entirely. She asked around in the conservatoire but found that no-one knew of him. Typing 'Giorgi' and 'cello' into Google soon came up with Giorgi Kharadze who seems to have one many prizes recently, including in 2006 the Grand Prix Emmanuel Feuermann. Since Kharadze seems to have lived in France for most of his life, and presumably has French citizenship the thought occurred to suggest to the French Cultural Institute to bring him to Tbilisi to give a recital or something. Hence one urgently had to look for a way of closing letters written in French.

Our singing group has been invited, it seems, to participate in a music festival in Khobi, in the west of Georgia, at the beginning of June. This means a two day trip out there, with an overnight stay. Should be very very interesting. We have a new young Georgian conductor who is very very good, very precise, and I suspect will be very demanding - but we should be able to produce something good by that time. Fantastic or what?


Monday, March 12, 2007

Whingeing and Moaning!

A beautiful spring Sunday, with bright sun shine, a huge crowd of hashers (all 41 of them), but what did your hardworking hares (who had laid the trail the day before) hear?

'I suppose you did much home baking with all the flour you had left over?'
'Bit of a muffin trail, wasn't it?'

What had happened? It seems the wildlife of Tbilisi is hungrier than that of Vilnius; then again, the trails in Tbilisi are longer and steeper, so one would not like to set a trail and run it on the same day, especially if one has to walk about 4 kms to the meeting place as well. So....most of the 4 kgs of flour we had so carefully dusted all over Tbilisi, or at least the hippodrome, had disappeared. I now understand why another one of us places it on cow pats and such like places (of which there would have been many on yesterday's trail). As a result, many people got lost....though some were also led astray...This hare not only had to guide the front runners, but also had to dash back in a sheepdog act to round up the rear guard, and then shepherd them, amongst other places, down a gully and through a hedge. Picturesque it was not, very urban indeed. With all the kids and dogs in the group I was glad that no-one seemed to step or fall on broken glass.

Funniest moment whilst setting the hash - I was heading from the race track of the hippodrome towards a gate in the fence, from whence at the same moment an elderly gent popped in. We headed towards the same tree, from opposite directions. Unfortunately it became very clear very quickly why he was heading towards that tree..... Even more unfortunately for him, when he thought I had passed him by, in fact I had to return past him again, since I was only laying a false trail towards the gate.....Men!

Very proud though of our men, and especially our star runner, who volunteered to wear a pink sparkly head band for the whole run, in honour of International Women's Day!


Sunday, March 11, 2007


Just finished Martin Amis' book 'Experience', a kind of autobiographical work, initially punctuated by his letters home from college and university, and also focusing on Lucy Partington, his teeth, and largely his relationship with his father, the writer Kingsley Amis.

Funny how I read this book almost immediately after Wackwitz 'Neue Menschen'. The two books have quite a lot in common. Both are about a young man's development (though Wackwitz' book stops earlier, somewhere in his 20's - Amis' essentially ends with his father's death in his own late forties); in both books fathers feature strongly (though Wackwitz does not write much about his relationship with his father, rather more about his father's own youth - which perhaps tells its own story), both make heavy use of quotes (their fathers and others). But there the commonality ends.

Amis is by far the more successful writer, having been able to live off writing for almost all his life, and as a result having produced book after book. The other big difference is, and this may be a cultural difference between England and Germany, that Amis' book is very amusing to read. I doubt if Wackwitz' book had a single laugh in it. Amis seems to be rather fond of his footnotes - nearly every page is littered by one, but since each one is a gem one does not like to miss them. It interrupts the reading process, constantly.....How would you like to miss the story about John Bailey, the husband of the late Iris Murdoch, where at a public dinner for the Writer of the Year award (Amis got it that time), Bailey 'would take an olive out of his deep trouser pocket and say,"Have one. They're frightfully good."'

It seems Amis has had a great relationship with his father, being able to discuss anything with him, even on points where they disagreed violently - but they always parted on good terms. The business of distinguishing between loving people for who they are, and what they believe, I guess. His father may not have been the easiest person to deal with - he could virtually never be left alone, for example - but there seems to be some good-natured tolerance accepting him as he is and just getting on with it.

Unlike the average autobiographer, and more like the novelist that he is, Amis dips backwards and forwards between different periods of his life - and driving the reader forward because they want to know how the events unfold.

Lucy Partington, who features greatly in the book, was Amis' cousin who disappeared in 1973; only in the early 90's it was discovered that she was another victim of the Wests in Gloucester (they tortured and murdered about 12 young women in total, including some of their own daughters). They only found her skull and some bones. Amis very movingly writes about her (their shared) childhood and about the memorial service held some 20 years after her presumed death.

The story of the teeth - I remember the hoo-ha when in the mid 90's the media came out with the story that he had had his mouth renovated (as they said) for 'cosmetic reasons'. The story he tells in the book (to set things straight?) is that he had been a martyr to toothache most of his life, including a tumour in the lower jaw, and as a result he had to undergo these fairly horrifying procedures. Remember also that he was born in the late 1940s, and that that generation in the UK was stricken with bad teeth, and not very wonderful dentistry. I remember seeing a sign outside my dentist's in Port Glasgow, in 1975, stating that extractions for pain relief would take place every morning at 9. At that time there was a statistic that of those aged over 16 in Scotland, half did not have their own teeth - and I remember a colleague who was told by her parents at the age of shortly over 16, that they (she?) had had enough of messing with her teeth and they should come out. And they did. Amis tells a lovely story of two twenty-year-olds discussing teeth on a London bus, before one of them flashes out his set for her to look at....

It's a great read, this book - it also reflects well the period, particularly the 60s and 70s when Amis was in what could be described as his Sturm and Drang period. Despite my dislike of the one other book of his I had read, I am glad I picked it up in the British bookshop in Vienna - there did not seem to be that much choice of books that I had not read before, or that I might not like to read. Might now try and look at some other of his books, and perhaps those of his father, too.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Georgia is not ready for this....

...the sight of white wabbit legs! Today, a fine spring day, and time for setting tomorrow's hash. Really very mild...so I decided to wear the spray-on running shorts, and only those (on my legs....the rest was covered tastefully).

It was not something, it seems, that Georgia sees much of, and perhaps they still think it is winter. We Northern Europeans, we are tough, so we are. It was mainly whilst stalking through the streets the 5 or 6 kms back to the flat from the hash venue that people had difficulties with. Both men and women, as shown by the guy who photographed me (we can all play that game!). Not sure if it was the exposure of leg in general, or the whiteness of them, or their age. Folks - you don't realise that until 6 months ago there might was a lot more white wabbit leg.....and folks, you'll need to get used to it - a long summer is ahead of us! Maybe at least the colour will change.

The hash trail gets about 2 out of 10 for beauty. It's quite a popular spot, it seems, also near major housing schemes, and there seems to be a lack of rubbish disposal facilities. But of a shame that, as I was hiking home, I passed a rather beautiful little park at the bottom of the mountain which might have been more suitable. Ah well. At least it gets an exercise rating.

The crocus, sorry, slightly out of focus, was photographed on the mountain behind my house a week ago. I noticed a big bare patch at the top of the slope behind my house (but within our property) and thought that I might plant some daffodils there for next year. And maybe something else to help keep the slope where it belongs.


Too close...

...or the most-reviewed play? Last night, Friday night, nothing to do, so popped off to see Hamlet for the third time. This time without translation but with a programme. It states that the performance uses 'excerpts of the classic translation by Ivane Machabeli'. That explains a lot....

The theatre being a bit empty, I slipped into the front row. I like being in on the action at concerts and other performances, and in Vilnius Opera and Ballet Theatre it works well. But there's a pit 'twixt the performers and me. Here the performers were sometimes no less than a metre distant from me. If they were lying on the floor I had to look round the uplighter at the edge of the stage. It was like watching TV with your nose pressed against the screen. And there were far too many sharp, pointy, swords flying around for me to be entirely relaxed in the front row!

Agonising moment and illustration of the sharpness of the swords - Hamlet was stabbing Claudius; on the second insertion the sword tip caught slightly on Claudius' coat (which Hamlet could not see) and did not 'go in' far enough - I wonder what he thought (Have I stabbed the guy??) - what to do. Eventually, seeing as the actor did not collapse, he 'extracted' the sword and shoved it in again - this time right through the folds of the coat.....


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Been a bit quiet...

....this week, what with restarting the studying, the piano and reading Martin Amis' 'Experience'. More about that as soon as I have finished it; suffice to say that I am very pleasantly surprised after hating his 'Time's Arrow'.

The piano is moving along gently; have reached my first Bach and Beethoven...ok, Beethoven wrote this particular piece aged 13, and it will be some time before it is fluent, but nevertheless, we've got past the awful children's songs. Let's hope we'll bypass 'Fuer Elise', too. Being a bit of a retiring sort, I hate using the pedal on the piano - with all that noise ringing out.... Also today found a Bach flute sonata which seems to be feasible on the flute.... with a lot more practice (gee, when? my poor neighbours); so that's all quite promising.

My friend Jessica's new book came out today, 'Alicia's Gift'. It's her second fiction book, although she has written plenty music books, such as biographies of Korngold and Faure. Come to think of it, I am sure I have read or even own a book about Korngold; not entirely sure how this came to be - I wonder if it is Jessica's? Her day job is/was writing articles on music for the Guardian (formerly) and the Independent (these days). You won't believe the people she has interviewed for her articles. And of course she has her own, highly respected blog. Her first excursion into fiction, 'Rites of Spring', was, whilst a fairly easy read, a tortuous excursion into a severe family break-up with anorexia, music (guess which piece) and post-holocaust trauma thrown in. 'Alicia's Gift', like 'Rites of Spring' also features the back of a skinny young girl on the front cover. I gather it is to do with a talented child musician and associated pressures. One can kind of imagine the scene....Not that any of my family would know about that; the only really talented person was, I hope, under not too much pressure (apart from that non-ending choir singing at prep school).

International Women's Day today - here in Georgia it is a public holiday (5 days after mother's day). On Sunday a friend and I will be setting a feminist hash trail - still trying to work out how to make flour look pink......


Sunday, March 04, 2007


So, I was at a bit of a loose end after 6 this evening....and my legs carried me to the theatre, to see if I could get into the show. Even half an hour before the start people were milling outside the theatre, but what were those tickets they had in their hands? It seems they all had invitations - so that's why there were no tickets for sale! Seems a bit pointless, advertising the show then. A lovely old lady, looking for an invitation for herself, also organised me one - to slightly bewildered looks (what, she does not speak Georgian, what is she doing going to our theatre? It seems the ladies at the entrance know me already....).

I think it was an event to celebrate teachers. At the beginning many people were on the stage, giving speeches, and a number of people were called up onto the stage and given envelopes and flowers, including some very rural looking ladies. All winners were women, one elderly lady (life-time award, that sort of thing?) and the rest were quite young.

And then they were treated to 'Waiting for Godot'. Perhaps not the kind of thing you would normally expect for such a celebration. It was also performed without a break - that's after half an hour of speeches. No wonder the audience was a bit restless. Looking at the script, I wonder though if the piece was not cut a little....or quite a bit?

It was another, typical Stuara tour de force - I've decided he's a song-and-dance man, and I like that! Opening with an excerpt of Kancheli's 'Styx' (bits of which he seems to use in all his plays, especially the wordless play 'Styx') the characters acted, sang, danced their way through the piece. It's amazing how variable my favourite Zaza Papuashvili is; here he (Estragon) and his mate David Berikashvili (Vladimir) were just like two tramps, having a great deal of time and not enough activities to fill it with, fussing with, and exaggerating, every little thing and playing it out interminably. Estragon scuffed around forever with one boot on and the other half off, driving me just a little crazy every time he walked. Pozzo came with his own signature tune, a hollywooded version of 'Oh Tannenbaum', and Lucky attached to him at a very long rope with various pairs of bloomers drying on it. (Does Lucky always have hair to the ground? and maybe he does not always sing a Chinese song....). For this play, it was probably a fairly normal production, and as always, it was fun!


To Godot or not to Godot?

The loveliest post on cats and inexperienced owners is here. I hope this cat has the deluxe cat litter tray photographed in Vienna last week. Why do I go around photographing cat litter trays? Don't ask! A musical cat called Solti has something to do with it. Yes, it might look like a swimming pool, but no self-respecting cat would look at it that way. Though perhaps those who have accidentally made contact with a pool would not care for this litter tray.

Went for a walk up the hill behind my house, to the TV tower, much the same route as the hash a week ago. The Georgians do not seem to be very good at taking their litter home, and really the whole area, a very popular area, it seems, is covered in plastic bags, broken glass and so on. It's a shame. Around the TV tower plateau much work is going on to make it a beautiful spot again, though this involves construction work rather than litter picking. It seems there is a permanent fun fair with scooters and all sorts of roundabouts; some of the buildings are being restored and it should become very nice, if only it was tidier.

Took a different turn on the way down, and oy veh, was it hairy. This was not an approved path, indeed this was not a path, more an avalanche of stones and mud, thankfully held up by trees - which also held me up! More than once I approached the side of a path only to find a vertical cliff below me....but there was evidence of footsteps (though I should have been alerted by the absence of litter) and finally I made it onto a street below. The legs stopped shaking a short while later.

Had considered going to see 'Waiting for Godot' tonight; my favourite actor is in it. We read it in French at school (in Germany), spending much time on interpreting it ('interpreting' in German means finding the meaning behind it).

The questions I was asking myself included:

  • it's in Georgian and nothing much happens. Does that matter?
  • Is the dialogue important? Read somewhere that scholars now think that it is just people playing with words. It's a likely explanation given that the author was Irish and the Irish are famous for their 'craic', meaningless but funny conversations.
  • If the dialogue is not important will the acting be enough to keep me interested? (The music, as if you had not guessed, is by lovely Gia Kancheli again).
The answer turned out to be that the show is sold out, even though it has been running since about 2001. Shame - I had found the text in the internet. Managed to get some tickets for some other performances, though, including two Georgian plays (one allegedly a comedy about the current president....). Both are supposed to be translated into English - I would not have a cat's chance in hell getting synopses for these, otherwise.

Meanwhile the opera house is advertising 'Giselle', with a prima ballerina who has just returned from Moscow. Seems that the show is not going to go ahead, but the posters are still up.


The Gospel According to Robert Sturua

The curtains open to a white stage. On the left, a man in white clothes, wearing a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), prays. On the right, a woman wearing a white nun's outfit. Another guy, an Angel dressed in white, comes down from heaven and says something to them. At the back of the stage 3 minor angels, dressed in white.

Thus opens Robert Sturua's version of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' at the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi.

The notice on the website had mentioned an English translation, but when I got to the theatre this was not to be had - everything in Georgian. Last time I had seen the play was about 35 years ago or so. And then this opening scene. Was I confused? Was I in the right play? Had someone else written a play of the same name? Eventually some reference points appeared - I heard the names of 'Olivia', 'Sebastiano' and of course 'Malvolio', he with the yellow tights.

But had Shakespeare written in the bible scenes? These must be Sturua's additions; the story line developed to include a nativity scene with a delightful donkey (pantomime version); the second act opened onto the shepherds watching at night; Herod had a fairly major scene, and when we had reached the happy end of Shakespeare's play, suddenly Christ appeared carrying his cross across the stage, hammering noises were heard off stage and a short while later he appeared at the back of the stage, fixed to the cross. Bit of a downer, that. Even more confusing, the guy who played Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, also had a role of the narrator/director of the gospel play - and sometimes the main characters of Shakespeare's play interacted with the gospel characters. Freedom of adaptation. Wonder what all that was about, though.

At first, totally lacking verbal understanding, I thought the production was a bit over the top (leaving aside the gospel part), with a fair bit of hamming it up, it seemed. But it grew on me....I'm not sure if in the original play Malvolio is the main character, but here he certainly was. Throughout the first half I was trying to decide whether he was the same actor who had played Hamlet the week before - same height, same build - but he was so different! Malvolio was a gay character, mincing around Olivia and slowly descending into madness (at the end being carted away on a peacock, wearing a straight jacket). The scene of him reading a letter purporting to be from Olivia had not a dry eye in the house! Once the makeup was off, for the bows, it turned out that he was Hamlet the week before; his name is Zaza Papuashvili, and he's undoubtedly the star of the show (tonight he's in 'Waiting for Godot' - he's really busy!).

As all of Sturua's productions (he is the artistic director of this theatre, but are there any others?) this also contains the music of Gia Kancheli, and what Brits might describe as 'the Ministry of Funny Walks' - the actors walk, dance, skip in all sorts of funny/strange/delightful ways, and like all his plays, this one contained much dance/acrobatics/people appearing from above and below - there's no two-dimensional stage for him! The audience giggled, laughed and applauded their way through the second half and hugely enjoyed it. So did I, even though I did not understand a word of it! Might go and see it again....


Saturday, March 03, 2007


Now we have two hypermarkets in Tbilisi. 'Goodwill' remains out of town (and is just developing a 'mall'); Populi is a chain of supermarkets which has now, in the town centre, opened a hypermarket. Goodwill is full of German goods, and, like today, sometimes contains the German conductor of the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra, Populi has Dutch products.

The weirdest thing is, though, that some of Populi's own-brand (??) products seem to have the same wrapping as those of the Lithuanian chain Rimi; except Populi's goods are labelled in three languages, one of which is Dutch, and Rimi's are labelled in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. Now, how do they all hang together? Having spent a fortune in Goodwill, I had gone to Populi because last week they had that nice 'Actimel' which is supposed to be good for the gut (mine always needs pampering - come, oh friendly bacteria). Being Georgia, the Actimel was pomegranate flavoured. Unfortunately it seems it was not a great seller - today there was none, and it seems, no matching space in the shelves.

I wish I had gone to Goodwill (a taxi-ride away) after I had been to the baths and weighed myself. In Goodwill I spotted the best drinking chocolate ever, Suchard Express, which I got to know in Switzerland.... but the calorie count seemed a bit high. After finding that I have lost another 3.5 kgs since Christmas I could possibly have afforded treating myself!

This photo is of the building of the Bio-Shop, another type of shop altogether. The shop used to be downstairs, at street level, but has moved into a flat upstairs. No customers, naturally. I am not sure how many families live in this building, though I suspect each of these doors houses one - downstairs I spotted a container with at least 25 electricity meters. The roof looks new and plastic - I suppose any renovation should start with the roof.


Bits and pieces

In Istanbul I had bought myself a little notebook for jotting down ideas and things; fits into my purse and also doubles as a shopping list sometimes. Not sure that it is ideal writing notes in it whilst sitting in the front row of a concert.....Found the following note of 20 January:

According to an article in the Independent, mental health is helped by birdsong. Research has shown that people who had lung operations needed less pain relief and were far more relaxed. The name of the person describing the research? Dr Bird. He is medical adviser to Natural England, a countryside agency.

An article in a German woman's magazine tells the story of Plinius the Elder and his 'Natural History'. He suggests hollowing out goat dung and fills it with vegetable seeds, before planting it - which is supposed to give them a great start in life. I can just see it... sitting in the Italian sunshine of an evening whittling away at your goat dung, with a glass of red wine by your side. Someone should tell the Rwandan farmers (though my horticultural education suggests that the poor seeds might be a bit overwhelmed by all that goodness).

Another article in the same magazine mentions a Spanish guy who travels to performances of Verdi Operas all over the world. Wow! Now I can understand people doing that for Wagner (I can't really understand that...) since there are not that many of those expensive and long performances around, but Verdi? The Vilnius Opera House alone has four of his operas in their current repertoire; everyone does Verdi! How does the guy cope?


Friday, March 02, 2007

No tunes for whistling

...leaving this concert! Tonight's event was at the Tbilisi conservatory with the German Ensemble Recherche, funded by the Goethe Institute - which does many wonderful things in Tbilisi. Ensemble Recherche is a chamber group that specialises in contemporary music, and they had spent a week's residence at the conservatory helping the students approach very contemporary music (ink still wet, kind of stuff). For some reason I had missed the first concert in which they played a piece by Hindemith for Heckelphone, viola and piano. You might wish to ask what a heckelphone is - it is not what we used at demos in 1968 (when I was but a slip of a girl). Mr Heckel invented his heckelphone at the request of Wagner, though I believe that Wagner did not actually include it in any of his operas - though it is reported to be in Strauss' 'Salome'. It is a double-reed instrument, like an oboe, but has a much, MUCH, lower pitch - even beyond the bass oboe. Interesting combination, viola, heckelphone and piano - I suppose the piano would have had to play the soprano part.

Anyway, tonight's offering was Schoenberg's 'Kammersinfonie' (Chamber symphony) for a group of 4 plus piano. Call me suspicious, but if I see a band consisting of a violin, flute, cello and clarinet I wonder whether that is not a string quartet in disguise, and we needed to find work for the wind players. This is a long piece, no let up, unrelenting, no change in pace - 23 minutes of continuous effort. The group must have been exhausted!

This was followed by Beat Furrer's 'Aer'. Anyone called Beat is a Swiss man. I thought I should mention that. Pronounced 'Bay-ut' if you look at it from the English-speaking end. I did not entirely pick up the introductory words, spoken, as ever, by the violist (violists are always those who organise and make sure everyone is all right - nothing to do with the idea that violists have to practice less...), but it seemed to be about a person sitting on a hill, maybe at the edge of the tree line, and surveying all around and below him (or her). The music was very atmospheric, to the degree that one wondered why people learn to play an instrument. The cello and clarinet just bubbled away, very quietly, just making a continuous noise - the pianist bobbed up and down on his chair, plucking the strings, and hitting the keys, now and again (the odd raindrop on top of the mountain?) He did an interesting trick at one moment where he hit a key, but all that came out of the piano, was a 'crack'. Wonder how he did that.

Finally they played Zurab Nadareishvili's 'Dialogues - Contrasts', a piece for chamber group and tape, with the chamber group consisting of viola, violin, alto flute/piccolo, cello, piano, and the tape containing various instruments, including also voice. I am not sure if some of those taped instruments were traditional Georgian instruments. The singing was certainly not the polyphonic Georgian kind. The whole thing reminded me a bit of Berio's 'Naturale' (that piece for viola, taped voice ...and maybe percussion). It was a dialogue between the tape and the live group, and quite interesting in its own way. Piccolo, though, is a bit hard on the ears.

Need to mention that the Grand Hall of the Tbilisi conservatory is absolutely stunning. It's rather a little Grand Hall, but has been recently restored to its pale green art nouveau grace, with proper and comfortable concert hall seating. Not sure though what would happen if a whole symphony orchestra were to play there. The Vilnius music academy could do with following this example. I was a bit taken aback when even the seats were numbered, but managed to find one in the front row anyway.....