There was no doubt about, Yemen was falling apart. In the days and weeks after Mohamed Bouazizi
doused himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze in Tunis, Yemen would succumb
to the rage that dominated the Arab world throughout 2010 and 2011. Leaving just seemed like a good idea.
Christopher and I had applied for and received a transfer to
another school, in the Republic of Georgia.
We began the long, tedious and very painful process of packing our
traveling circus of belongings and saying goodbye to all of our friends and
students. Tanya tried to put a bright
face on the fact that nearly everyone at the school was leaving, while she
alone would be staying in Yemen. She was
sure we would find good music teachers, and in fact, the music teacher at our
new school in Georgia assured me this was the case. The only issue was, it would be far better
for me if I spoke Russian. Once upon a
time, back when there was a Soviet Union, I did actually study Russian and
could carry on a basic conversation.
However, as my old mom likes to say, I have slept a little since
then. Whatever memory cells I have of
the 1980’s died out with the stupid haircuts and Duran Duran. In her flowing Russian cursive, Tanya wrote a two page letter to my unknown teacher,
explaining who I was, who she was, how long I had played and some other stuff I couldn't read very well. She put it in
an envelope and passed it me, saying in her no-nonsense way, “Marianne, study
hard. They have very good musicians in
Georgia.” Feeling a little like Ilsa
Lund with the precious letters of transit, I hugged Tanya tightly and said
If you've never been, The Republic of Georgia is a
fascinating place; sandwiched between the Caucuses mountains and both the Black
and Caspian seas, Georgia has enough ecological diversity to keep nature freaks
happy for an eternity However, Georgia’s spectacular
geography has definitely been a double-edged sword: the land bridge between the two seas was
incredibly valuable to the Silk Road traders and hence every other marauding empire
hell bent on plunder and pillage. Spending
the last two hundred years on the border of an increasingly expansionist
Russian empire, Georgia has been invaded, re-invaded, and conquered seemingly
without interruption- rather like
Poland, only with better food. In the
mother load of cruel historical ironies, Joseph Stalin, himself a native
Georgian, should have provided some relief to the endless cycle of invasion and
destruction, but alas no. Stalin didn't spare his Georgian comrades any comfort at all; in fact, Stalinism was
especially brutal in Georgia. Tbilisi,
the capitol, has been invaded more times than probably anyone can count, most
recently in 2008, when Russian tanks came rolling down the coastal highway and
got within 15km of the city.
So it probably isn't really surprising that I found
Georgians to be a little suspicious of outsiders at first. It was almost as if they were thinking, Good God, who the hell are you and what are
you going to burn down this time?
However, once I got to know them, Georgians reminded me a lot of Scots:
hard drinking, brawling, tough as nails, clannish, and with a
terrifically dark sense of humor.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of living in Georgia (aside from their
delicious and nearly unpronounceable cuisine) was the music. Georgian music was unlike anything I had ever
heard before; vocal polyphony with sharply dissonant harmonies. And yes, I had to look that up on Wikipedia,
because sadly, my vocabulary is woefully inadequate to describe Georgian folk music; usually sung
a capella, frequently sung a capella by slightly drunken men in Georgian
restaurants. (Although I will say in all
the time I spent in Georgian restaurants and watched whole bottles of vodka
disappear, the music never suffered.)
Our apartment was situated on a hill behind Mama-Daviti Orthodox church,
and on Saturday mornings, we could hear the male choir practicing. In late fall, when the leaves would change,
and a pronounced chill hung in the air I would listen to the wild vocals coming
from the Church, and couldn't help thinking Bram Stoker really missed the
boat: he should have set Dracula in Georgia, where the fierce music
and people would have made a far more exotic background than Transylvania.
Best of all, we lived just a short walk down the hill to the
Tbilisi State Conservatory, the beating heart of the classical music scene in
Tbilisi. Since I haven’t spent all that
much time hanging around music schools or even performance halls for that
matter, visiting the Conservatory was like landing on Mars. I grew up in Los Angeles and never set foot in
the Hollywood Bowl. I spent 6 years in
Manhattan, and not once did I attend a performance at Lincoln Center. I am not even sure where Julliard is. And now, suddenly, I live 6 blocks from the
most important music school in the Caucuses.
The building itself was spectacular, but the goings on inside even more
so. Many of the practice rooms faced
Griboedov Street, and on warm summer evenings, the musicians would leave the
windows open. Music poured out of the
windows and into the streets in the most amazing cacophony. If I walked the length of the street, I could
hear everything from the thunder of piano cords, sopranos rising through the
scales, violins, cellos, horns of all sort: an entire discordant street symphony. I loved to walk down Griboedov Street; in fact, loitering around the music school
was how I finally, finally found someone to teach me how to play my cello.
Marianne Ide is an international schoolteacher and amateur cellist currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When not playing her Artist cello, she teaches government and economics. You can reach her at email@example.com.