Monday, December 17, 2012

Prize of Britain's oldest magazine is awarded to essay about Tbilisi

17.12.2012. (HTN - Hvino Tour News) The oldest British magazine The Spectator (established in 1828) awarded its 2012's Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize prize to article about Tbilisi. The Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize is relaunched this year and awarded annually "to the entrant best able to describe a visit to a ‘foreign’ place or people".

The 2012's winning essay is "Tbilisi: The Edge of the Real" by Tara Isabella Burton. The beginning of the article follows below:
The electricity will be on in one hour, says my landlady. She tells me that it is dark out all over town (ignoring the glittering chrome bridge over the Mtkvari River, ignoring the casino that casts neon shadows on the banks at night). She calls me ‘daughter’ and evades specifics. Won’t I come upstairs for dinner at eight, or perhaps nine? (She is so busy; she works so hard; she’ll ring when dinner is ready.) The call never comes.
 So I eat out, in restaurants, but often I cannot seem to leave my neighbourhood. Whenever I think I’ve found the way, I am turned back on myself again. A street is closed off for reconstruction, a nameless alleyway is rerouted, crumbling buildings are bulldozed to make new paths. In their absence I discover more: abandoned observatories, synagogues hidden in courtyards, balconies with wrought-iron mermaids, angels and griffins carved into stone. The streetlamps on Botanikuri Street are uprooted at least four times in a given month because the workers have made mistakes in the wiring, and so the road to the old fortress is closed off. I do what the locals do, and simply detour through the pastel apartment buildings which have now been colonised by builders, who leave behind plastic bottles stinking of moonshine when they leave.
Tbilisi has always been a fragmentary city, a carnival cosmopolis for Azeri merchants and Armenian carpet weavers, holidaying Russian painters, Silk Road traders and Syriac holy men. It remains — in the eyes of so many Georgians — a borderland between those two all-encompassing categories of Georgian and foreign. Tbilisi is not ‘the village’ — a vague Georgian term denoting homemade wine and virginal sixth cousins, evenings playing on the pandauri and toasting to the blood of enemies. Nor is it ‘the mountains’, those vertiginous and wildflower-drunk passes that nobody I meet in Tbilisi has ever visited, but which comprise the subject of at least half the folk songs I hear sung outside my window before dawn.
It is a city of neoclassical façades and Moorish opera houses, of art nouveau entrance halls guarded by pockmarked grotesques, of weathered Zoroastrian fire temples located in old people’s backyards, of subterranean strip clubs and gaudy LED-lit casinos catering to truckers and vacationing Iranians. Things make sense for a few moments — the amount of time it takes for me to make my way to an address for an interview, to get to the key-cutter’s stall, to learn the most direct route from my street to the only reliable purveyor of meat (a grime-streaked basement signposted in both Hebrew and Georgian: Kosher khortsi) — and then everything implodes again.
 The lights go out; the stray dogs snap at my heels. I try to lose myself in side streets and instead stumble into the courtyard of a Soviet tower. I find a café and christen it my local — in May, it is a Beardsley-inspired ‘opera café’, in September a Silk Road-themed basement. Then it shuts down without warning. I start walking down Rustaveli Avenue, the city’s main boulevard and end up, 20 minutes later, at a film premiere, photographed by paparazzi on the arm of a Georgian actor. A self-avowed ‘monarchist’, who feeds the caged peacocks by Meidan Restaurant and takes great pains to show me, through a crumpled series of photographs, the resemblance to Prince Charles that substantiates his claims at lineage, invites me to his painting studio on Tchaikovsky Street. Sometimes I am served tea; sometimes we never meet again. My Georgian friend tells me she’ll meet me on the train platform so we can go to the seaside. Hours later, the lights at the station go out, and I am left standing there, alone with the drunkards, mistaken — only once — for a prostitute.
For the full text, please visit the The SpectatorThe Spectator is considered as a conservative magazine for cultural elite. It ignores popular culture, while opera, fine art, books, poetry and classical music all receive extensive coverage.

© HTN (Hvino Tour News)

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