VISITING TBILISI, THE CAPITAL OF GEORGIA
(P1) Few countries EMBRACE their national STEREOTYPES as WHOLEHEARTEDLY as Georgia. Ask the average Georgian about the traditions of this former Soviet nation in the CAUCASUS and you’ll get a RHAPSODY about 12-hour FEASTS, wine GULPED from HOLLOWED-OUT RAMS’ horns, LOQUACIOUS TOASTS to the Virgin Mary and Saint George, and KALASHNIKOV–TOTING mountain SHEPHERDS who drink MOONSHINE out of HAND GRENADES. SOUVENIR stands in the capital, Tbilisi, sell traditional FELT hats and DAGGERS, and the city’s restaurant menus are full largely of khachapuri bread and khinkali DUMPLINGS in the RUSTIC mountain style. Until now.
(P2) I’ve lived OFF AND ON in Tbilisi for five years now, and I’ve seen its historic center transform. UNPAVED alleys populated by stray dogs are now BOULEVARDS leading to SPEAKEASY-style cafes. OLD GUARD restaurants are GIVING WAY to more ECLECTIC places CATERING to middle-class Georgians, rather than wealthy foreigners.
(P3) Chef Tekuna Gachechiladze is at the FOREFRONT of a cultural revolution: a generation of young, often foreign-educated artists and entrepreneurs who long to revive Tbilisi’s 19th-century status as a cultural COSMOPOLIS.
(P4) “Georgian people don’t like change,” he says. “Georgian people don’t like me.”
(P5) Gachechiladze has two OUTPOSTS – Culinarium, a restaurant and cookery school, and Café Littera, newly opened in the old Soviet Writers’ House – from which she challenges what she sees as her country’s STAGNANT cuisine.
(P6) “Look at any 19th-century Georgian cookbook,” she says. “Before the RESTRICTIONS of the Soviet Union, we were using béchamel sauce, and all sorts of European recipes. Look at Café Littera’s architecture – all the ART NOUVEAU. We were importing ideas from France, from all Europe.”
(P7) Gachechiladze is not alone in her ambitions. In the BACKSTREETS of the city’s old town, new galleries and bars appeal to Georgian artists and ACTIVISTS seeking an ALTERNATIVE to traditional ways.
(P8) This is often done with an edge of NOSTALGIA. O Moda Moda is EQUAL PARTS bar and VINTAGE clothes BOUTIQUE. It serves traditional, syrupy, TARRAGON–INFUSED lemonades from the sort of glass COUNTERTOPS popular at THE TURN OF THE 20TH CENTURY. Café Gabriadze, which is operated by the director of the ADJACENT puppet theatre, has images of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE woven into its LACE curtains. Cafe Gallery is one of the first gay-friendly VENUES in this NOTORIOUSLY conservative city and hosts regular TANGO evenings. Last week, the city’s first biker bar, Cross Riders, opened near the opera house.
(P9) REINVENTION has also made its way to the HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY. Last year, the Rooms Hotel opened in the offices of a former Soviet publishing company. Preserved FRESCOES are still visible on its conference room ceilings, and the desks all have RETRO ROTARY-DIAL telephones. In A NOD TO the building’s literary past, the OVERFLOWING shelves of the LOBBY hold what may be the largest collection of English-language books in Georgia.
(P10) Oto Berishvili, the hotel’s marketing manager, sees Rooms as the EMBODIMENT of the “new” Georgia: one making a DEFINITIVE break with its past. “If a person has previous hotel experience,” he says, “we don’t hire them.” They would, he believes, be “BRAINWASHED” by the famously SURLY Soviet style of CUSTOMER SERVICE. “We hire musicians, and people from the drama school.” He likes the idea that his staff will finish their shift in the hotel, then go and perform in a play or DJ at a local club.
(P13) But nowhere EXEMPLIFIES Tbilisi’s AMBIGUOUS relationship with its past like the Fantastic Dougan Restaurant, which we find hidden behind a HAND-SCRAWLED sign in the garden of the city’s Literature Museum. Among MISMATCHED antiques and PLUSH leather chairs, I SPY one of Georgia’s leading activists alongside a famous contemporary writer. Women with blue hair and piercings sit next to expats giving English lessons.
(P14) But rather than ordering anything INNOVATIVE, my companion URGES me to try the traditional khinkali dumplings “They brought an old woman down from Khevsureti [the mountain province associated with the best dumplings] and she does nothing but make khinkali all day.” And so, according to locals, the Douqan has the best khinkali in all of Georgia.
(P16) After centuries of invasion, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Greeks and Russians have all left their mark. Even khinkali, as Gachechiladze points out, aren’t originally Georgian. “The Mongols brought the dumplings first.”
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- When you go to a restaurant, bar, or café, do you usually choose one that looks more traditional, or that looks more modern?
- Do you remember any times when you have received RUDE customer service?
- Have you ever eaten at a restaurant that serves any kind of fusion cuisine?
- You’ll notice that this article is extremely rich in vocabulary and offers a great example of fine British literary style. Is there a sharp difference in your native language between literary style and popular style?
EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:
What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.
- Off and on
- Old guard
- Give way
- Equal parts
- The turn of the century
- Hospitality industry
- A nod to
- Customer service
- Flea market
- Fusion cuisine