Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting from A to B in Tbilisi

Morris E. Gatsby, Esq.
Oxford-life has been rather hectic. Between directing a play, attempting to produce postgraduate research (on Kazantzakis's theatre and the novels of Dostoevsky and Victor Hugo), trying to plan out next year while still waiting for a whole host of responses (current options on the table include drama schools in Paris or London; am still waiting to hear on DPhil funding in Oxford and Cambridge), and carting miniature giraffes around Oxford (see right), there's been little time to plan March's upcoming sojourn back to Tbilisi. Which is a shame, as a number of trips (Vardzia! Mtskheta! Kazbegi!) loom on the horizon.

Today, however, I wish to blog about a subject of great importance. Namely, my attempt to get from my home (near the baths) to the phenomenal, Beardsley-themed art nouveau Near Opera cafe off Rustaveli Avenue, my favorite place for Uzbek pilaf and slightly warm iced coffee. Back in the very beginnings of my time in Tbilisi, I lived at 1 Rustaveli Avenue, making my sojourn reasonably simple (continue down avenue, do not trip over makeshift boardwalk, avoid the surprisingly strong clutches of the resident child-beggar, do not get mistaken for a prostitute.) Now, however, due to the labyrinthine nature of the Old Town, my options are more varied, and infinitely more interesting.

Note: map in no way resembles actual route.
View Larger Map

Option One: Via Betlemi
If it's a bright, sunny, and otherwise lovely day, I may decide to take the ostensible "shortcut" through the renovated hillsides of Betlemi, where I will suffer through exhausting ascents in order to end up in one of the loveliest hidden gardens near the Betelmi church. It's a paradise of a hidden garden; however, I have a 50% chance of getting lost and ending up either at the foot of a Zoroastrian Fire Temple located conveniently in someone's backyard or, alternatively, at the top of the Narikala Fortress. From the stairs near the Lower Betelmi Church one can descend into Asatiani Street and continue to Freedom Square via the controversial Gudiashvili Square. At this point I'll get distracted by the pretty Ottoman-inspired architecture and end up going to Pur Pur instead.

Option Two: Via the Old Town
Renovations are, however,
still in process.
This seems like the most direct route - ever since the in-renovations Erekle II square was re-opened to pedestrians it is possible to cross from the KGB Cafe to the Patriarchate without going down by the river. In practice, however, one of the streets near the patriarchate is inevitably closed off, leading to a circuitous labyrinth through Sololaki's vintage clothing shops and mini-markets that invariably drops me off right at the door of the Puppet Theatre and its adjacent restaurant, a restaurant designed and run by said puppeteer. This is too excellent to pass up, and so I will probably give up and go to said Cafe Gabriadze instead. I can also attempt to take the "direct path" via Lesiledze Street, but this easily adds ten to fifteen minutes to the journey time.

Option Three: Along the River
Less scenic (although there are a few excellent sculptures to be found!), this at least gets me from my house to the Baratashvili Bridge in one piece. However, I am highly likely to go out of my way to avoid the Highly Sketchy Underpass (where my mother got groped) near the bridge and hence head all the way to the "market" underpass (with underground bakery!) At this point, I will be near Purseladze Street, making it infinitely easier to give up and go to "East-meets-West"-themed Caravan instead.

However, Caravan is often inexplicably closed and/or without electricity (around 50% of the time, including most of the summer and winter, and including on the days in which they are set to "reopen"), which means that I may be inspired to head all the way to Rustaveli Avenue and walk down to the opera house.

And thus, approximately one in every six times I attempt an outing to Near Opera for wonderful khachapuri and/or mojitos, I actually succeed. Given the various circuitous twists and turns, the 2.5 kilometre walk takes me about an hour from the baths.


Let this be a lesson unto you, O readers. There is no direct way to get from point A to Point B in Tbilisi.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

48 Hours in Batumi. Step One: Leave.

Sarpi

Much of the advertising I've seen for Batumi extolls the virtues of a "sub-tropical fin de siecle paradise", a city of faded grandeur and elegant boulevards, scented with jasmines and exotic flowers, overlooking azure waters - a playground for restless Romanovs. In other words Trieste-meets-Tbilisi; alternatively - Hav.

This city in no way resembles Batumi. Batumi, I regret to say, is a pile of rubble rebuilt by Donald Trump after experiencing hallucinations on the streets of Brighton Beach. As much as I love Tbilisi, the Adjaran Coast, and Georgia as a whole, Batumi itself is (alas) thoroughly uninteresting as a city. Whereas - as the cliche guidebooks inside - Tbilisi "blends old and new, East and West" (and any other dichotomous pairs you might care to name) in such a way as to preserve the best of each, Batumi manages to combine hypermodern gaudiness with post-Soviet seediness.

Hence, if you have a weekend in Batumi (ie, arriving and leaving on the night train to Tbilisi, an adventure in itself), the first thing you should do is get out of Batumi. The Adjaran coast is absolutely fantastic, and the small towns and hamlets near the Turkish border are well worth a visit. After a number of visits with the Very English Boyfriend, therefore, I have compiled for those poor unfortunate souls forced to stop in Batumi a guide to what to do - and not do - during a weekend in Batumi.


Batumi
8:00 am: Arrive at the train station in  Makhinjauri. Argue with a taxi-driver who gets you quite lost near seedy casinos a good few miles from Batumi proper.
8:15 am: Check in at the surprisingly pleasant Dzveli Batumi Hotel on Kostava Street. The bathtub in the room will prove highly useful when you return to your room, shivering and soaked, when rain  decides to intrude upon your beach holiday (which it will). Unlike in other hotels I could mention, your boyfriend will not be taken for a would-be john and fondled by a strange woman in hotel reception when you leave for the loo. Sleep off the night-train blues.
11 am: Get the hell of out Batumi. The marshrutkas at the terrifyingly chaotic Tbilisi Square head both north (to the Botanical Gardens) and south (to Gonio and Sarpi). Any of these places is vastly preferable to Batumi proper. Sarpi, on the Turkish/Georgian border, has the dubious distinction of being the nicest military-checkpoint-cum-beach (just don't swim over the border!) I've ever been to. Gonio - apparently swarming with Vakebi in the summertime - was gorgeously deserted in September.
2 pm: Dine in Gonio. Eschew Batumi's "trendy" eateries and instead head to dilapidated Turkish restaurant right by the road to the beach near the Gonio marshrutka stop (by the fortress). After several failed attempts at communication in both Georgian and English - the proprietors will serve you "some food" (of the salad and mtsvade variety), you will pay "some money", and all will be gloriously well. Gonio is also home to an abandoned Roman fortress with a surprisingly well-signposted (in English) museum, as well as a number of cows.
Gonio
6 pm: Return to Batumi. Unfortunately, you will no longer be able to dine at the fantastically tacky and otherwise atrocious San Remo restaurant, where waiters will refuse to bring you any dish that is not coffee, refuse to bring you milk with your coffee, and get quite annoyed that you have spent insufficient sums of money on items that are not coffee, as it is under new management and quite decent now. Instead, get blinis at the Russian seaside-kitsch Russian seaside-kitsch Privet iz Batuma near the main square and then head to the excellent chain  Cafe Literaturuli nearby, where you can get lobiani in a croissant crust (!) and delicious coffee.
10 pm: Return to hotel. Do not accidentally solicit a prostitute.
11 am: Brunch at Literaturuli
Noon: Get the hell out of Batumi, redux. This time, head north
Botanical Gardens
to the: the Batumi Botanical Gardens - wanderable miles of greenery and tropical plants overlooking the cape. My Georgian friend tells me a secret beach is accessible from the gardens, but we haven't verified it just yet. There are, however, palm trees, gazebos, bizarre hidden houses, refreshment stands, maps, and ever-increasing labyrinthine layers of beauty. These gardens are absolutely the most important thing to see in the Batumi area - VEB and I missed them the first time around, and regretted it for a year!
5 pm: Wander around the promenade area until you spy a charmingly miserable glass conservatory restaurant (on the "inside" part of the walkway). This is the most marvelously depressing restaurant in the world, and an excellent place to feast on Adjarian khachapuri while wishing that Georgia had viably charming "seaside fishing villages" (we get mountains, ski resorts, deserts, jungles, plains, and valleys - there's only so much one country can have!)
10 pm: Get the hell out of Batumi. Return to Tbilisi, which has wonderful restaurants and beautiful buildings and in which you will not be automatically assumed to be looking for a prostitute (usually).

Alas, Batumi - for all its seedy charm and marvelously depressing atmosphere - ain't got nothing on Tbilisi, Kakheti, or anywhere else in Georgia. If you're insistent on the seaside, Pegasus is now flying cheap(ish) flights from Tbilisi to the far-lovelier Mediterranean coast at Antalya in the summer (2 hour flight each way; 100-150 quid return), which allows for trips to Olympos, Kas, and Antalya and is otherwise vastly preferable.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Flaneur in Search: Georgian Food in London

When, by virtue of my undying love for my Very English Boyfriend, I am forced to spend the weekend in the Worst Place in the World (for the uninitiated - London), I attempt to cling to what few scraps of dignity and beauty I can snatch from the cruel jaws of that feral fox I once saw munching on an abandoned styrofoam kebab container near Battersea Power Station (yes, London is full of roaming feral foxes and abandoned grease-puddles of kebab and vomit). While I spend most of my time in London complaining vociferously about the London Tube (it doesn't work), the food, the crowds, and the feral foxes that prowl the streets in search of their prey, there are (despite my moans) a few things that are not completely awful in London. These include free admission to the National Gallery, the Globe, eating takeaway paella along the South Bank, Gordon's Wine Bar near Charing Cross, falafel in Golder's Green, the book stalls by the National, the Battersea "Power Station" coffee shop, and the majority of Clapham.

Luckily, on Valentine's day, the Very English Boyfriend and I were able to add another Not-Entirely-Awful London-based Thing to Do to our "Weekend Projects" list. For the past year, I have been attempting to try the Georgian food at Hackey eatery Little Georgia, a project that is in fact harder than it sounds: they're a regular "sandwich shop" by day (with the Georgian fare served only for dinner) and it's impossible to dine there without reservations. (as I discovered after a three-hour journey there last term).

But - after several disappointing outings to the other Georgian restaurants in London (slick, flavorless "Georgian" food) - we decided that we were going to get our hands on lobiani at all costs, and booked months in advance to spend our Valentine's Day at Little Georgia.

Two words, readers. Two words. Andouilette Lobiani.
Yes, that is correct. Little Georgia serves - in addition to proper tkemali, plenty of pkhali, and tender tabaka - lobiani with smoked bacon AND lobio stew with sausage (yes, readers, I had both!). And I am happy to confirm that this is essentially the best thing ever. (A close second is the "ajapsandali and mozarella" panini, which is available for lunch)
photo linked from
http://notdrinkingpoison.blogspot.com
/2011/01/ndp-in-london-little-georgia-hackney.html

The decor was a refreshing change from "Totally Not Owned by the Russian Mob Chic" (which characterizes most of the other Georgian restaurants I've been to out of Georgia) and actually looked like the sort of place I'd eat in in Tbilisi - lots of antique maps, abandoned gramophones, and bizarre kitsch scattered about here. The place is absolutely tiny, making booking all but necessary, but it's romantically intimate rather than cramped. The service is friendly enough, although I regret to say that I did not build up the courage to introduce myself in Georgian and start raiding the staff's cha cha (the restaurant has a BYOB policy).

Overall ratings:
Food: 9. Andouilette lobio! (yes, there's also a vegetarian option)
Price: 6. Everything costs in pounds what it would cost in lari at a reasonably expensive Old Tbilisi restaurant. I'm not sure what's more depressing - the fact that the food is thrice as expensive as in Georgia, or the fact that it's actually extraordinarily affordable by London standards.
Atmosphere: 8. Intimate, romantic, and with an aged hostess speaking minimal English. Perfect!
Authenticity: 7 I can't speak to the fusion-authenticity of andouilette lobio or ajapsandali panini - but the individual ingredients taste as they're supposed to, and the bizarre fusions do in fact work extraordinarily well. Extra points for tkemali.


Little Georgia
A, 87 Goldsmith's Row
London E2 8QR
United Kingdom
Tube: Haggerston
Tel: +44 20 7739 8154 ‎
Map

Friday, February 10, 2012

The New Apartment: photo-post

Renovations are in progress and should be completed by the summer. Come one, come all, to visit


The tentative plan is to remain resident in the apartment we're currently renting and to rent this one out when it's completed; however, my mother (who is currently subletting my apartment when I'm in Oxford) may move into part of it and leave me on my lonesome in the beloved rented flat.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Occam's Hooker: Or "How Can I Tell if I'm Living Next Door to a Brothel"

disclaimer: I have no idea whether the "Hotel Femme" is, in fact, a brothel. For the sake of its continued business let us assume it is merely "Baroque."
Dear Fleur Flaneur,
I live in a beautiful district in Old Tbilisi. The buildings are historic; the weather glorious. I wake up overjoyed every morning when I see the Narikala Fortress from my window. I only have one question. I live next door to a pink hotel called "Hotel Femme."* It's often closed - we can't see into the front room - but lots of men always seem to turn up and park their cars outside. Scantily-clad women make an appearance in the streets every now and then. I did some googling and found photographs of the interiors of the rooms. They're awfully....pink and lush, and there's plenty of paintings naked ladies (and one imitation Mona Lisa) on the walls. They also offer "massage treatments" on their list of facilities. They're next door to the baths, so the "massages" might be legit - but then again, I'm aware that ladies of the evening operate in those baths. Fleur, I'm starting to get worried. Do I live next to a brothel? Or am I being judgmental? I don't want to be mistaken for a prostitute if I live next door!
-Nosey Near Narikala

Dear "Nosey,"
Now, in Tbilisi, often things are not what they seem. "KGB's Cafe" is not actually run by the KGB. "Davitashvili St" and "Perovskaya" streets will show up on the map as "Amagleba" and "Akhvlediani" streets. "Open at 10" means "You might get a coffee at eleven if you're lucky." "The electricity will be on in five minutes" means "break out the candles, baby, because you're going to have one dark night." So there is no particular reason to assume that just because a pink hotel is called "Hotel Femme" and is decorated like Belle Watling's establishment. and located in a city where solicitation of services is a necessary part of performing masculine identity, it is necessarily a "specialized hotel and a telephone service which provides gentlemen with the company of a young lady, for a short while." 
         So, have no fear! "Hotel Femme" may be a more than comfortable place to put down roots for a night. But if you'd like to avoid being taken for a prostitute next time you loiter on your own street corner, ask yourself the following questions.


"Am I blonde?"
"Am I visibly non-Georgian?"
"Am I without the protective company of a male?"
"Am I female?"


 If you answer "yes" to one or more of these questions, you are probably a prostitute, and hence men are well within their rights to touch you inappropriately, solicit you for sex, or kiss you forcibly in the street. You see, men here (as in many places the world over) are using the law of "Occam's Hooker."* The simplest explanation for your being female and otherwise unprotected is, naturally, that you are looking for sex with any man who wants it. What could be simpler? Don't we know that, after all, all women want nothing more than to engage in risky sex with disrespectful strangers?
So judge away guilt-free, Nosey in Narikala! After all, they're judging you right back.


Occam's Hooker: The notion that "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Hence, if a woman is sexually appealing to me, this must be because she wants to have sex with me." Not to be confused with Schrodinger's Harlot, the notion that, until proven otherwise, a woman both does want to have sex with me (because I am so sexually appealing) and does not (because all good women are chaste virgins).

Good luck with tricks!,
Fleur Flaneur


ETA: Yes, I totally do live next to "Hotel Femme." And it took me a whole year to realize - at the suggestion of my landlady, no less - that it was a potential house of ill-fame.
*Note - name has been mildly altered to protect the identity of a possibly-totally-legit hotel. 



Fleur Flaneur's Quest: Grocery Shopping in Tbilisi

Life in Abanotubani has several interesting quirks. If my hot water goes out, I can head across the street to any one of a number of bathhouses and book a private room and/or massage for an hour for a tenner or so. I have made the acquaintance of the adorably googly-eyed "Brothel Cat," so named for the rather insalubrious building where he usually resides (when he's not roaming the streets). I frequently have to take a circuitous room home when Misha goes to drink at the trendy L'Accent Francaise wine bar and all of Abanos St. is closed off by secret agents. I get my wallet stolen by the group of gypsies who, since the renovation of Median Square, have relocated from the no-longer-trendy end of Rustaveli Avenue.


And, despite having five grocery stores on my street, I cannot find fresh fruits or vegetables in any one of them.

Grocery shopping in Tbilisi is something of an art form. Each of the five barely-lit front rooms on my street contains a different set of supplies - I can find eggs in one but cheese in the other, bread in one but milk in the other, potatoes in one and sausages in the other. But I can never - ever - find fresh fruits or vegetables. Thus, the quest for Healthy Eating is an arduous one (unless I give up and decide to snack on spinach and eggplant or Georgian salad at local cheap-eatery Machakhela). Over the past eighteen months in Abanotubani, I have discovered a wide variety of options:
Zabar's, it ain't.

The Bazroba - Teeming, seething, and creeping with all manner of life, the Official Bazaar across the river is probably the cheapest place to purchase produce. Haggling is taken as a given; spinach is sold by the kilo. Many Tbilisebi seem to swear by the place. It's certainly the "go-to" locale for dried spices and exciting cakes. However, it's bloody far by public transportation, 5 lari by taxi, and is somewhat depressing overall: think "muddy piles and steaming offal" rather than "shiny trinkets and carpets". In practice, therefore, it's not really an acceptable alternative to just grabbing salad at Machakhela.
Verdict: Two out of five severed cow's heads

Populi: The closest thing Georgia has to a chain grocery store (except for the vastly overpriced diplomat-baiting Goodwill in Vake). The produce is always good if rarely great, but their "takeout counters" are a thing of true beauty. Carrot salad, badrijiani, and roast chicken all in earth-destroying plastic containers. However, I unfortunately live at a Populi Nexus - exactly fifteen minutes from three different Populi in three different directions - if I want to over-pay to support chain businesses, they'd better be for convenience's sake, damn it.
Verdict: Three out of five severed cow's heads.
World's saddest bazaar.

The Chicken Place: At the bottom of my street, an otherwise unremarkable grocery store sells deliciously greasy, spiced rotisserie chickens for 8 lari (3 pounds) apiece. While rotisserie chicken in no way resembles a vegetable, it nevertheless is worth mentioning.
Verdict: Four out of five severed cow's heads.

The "Patriarchal Monks' Shop": Yes, you read that correctly. There's a monk-staffed grocery shop right next to Sioni Cathedral, only about five minutes' walk from my house. It sells somewhat depressive vegetables (often of the root/scrub-worthy) variety, obscure medicines, and - most excitingly - monastery-made honeys, cheeses, and other preserves. It's the closest produce-seller in the area, although ultimately more of a "let's go see the monks!" adventure than a daily grocery endeavor.
Verdict: Four out of five severed cow's heads.

After shopping, you can eat khachapuri
in a streetcar cafe.
The Orbeliani Park Market: And here, my friends, is where we hit the jackpot. Somewhat closer (a bit under 15 minutes) to my house than Populi, the underground market coming out of the Baratashvili Street underpass manages to combine the freshness and quality of the "bazroba" with convenience and - dare I say it? - charm. Spices, herbs, fruits, and vegetables are all mildy more expensive than across the river, but sackfuls of figs are still in the 1-2 quid range. Empty-coke-bottle ajika. In the summers - following my one horrid (but minor) experience with sexual assault in the streets (a man grabbed me and forced a kiss onto my bared shoulder, but luckily knew enough English to respond to "FUCK OFF", albeit with a smug and shit-eating grin) - I've taken to carrying around a bag of just-over-ripe figs with which to beat any potential "suitors" over the head should they attempt to grab me again.
Verdict: Five out of five severed cow's heads

The Random Grocery Store Near Populi: Head to the Orbeliani St "big populi." Stand in front of its doors, then turn 180 degrees. On the far left corner of the square stands an unassuming building - a large, unlit front room behind an art nouveau facade. In that room, I have discovered, is a kind of collective "mini-market" - six "bazroba"-type sellers (fresh produce, minimal English) specializing in different products (cheese, spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and meats), selling their products separately but sharing the space: all the charm and chaos of a bazaar with the convenience of a single room.
Verdict: Five out of five severed cows' heads.

While the quest to find produce within a half-mile of my house is still ongoing - Orbeliani St is a good twelve minutes' walk away - at least I now know what to do when would-be rapists assault me in the middle of the street.

Hit them with rotten figs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fleur Flaneur's Quest: Breakfast in Tbilisi

Tartine - with real cafe au lait!
Like many a native New Yorker, I cannot function properly without my morning coffee. This is not merely  - as my Very English Boyfriend is wont to believe - some filtered brown liquid emerging from a purpose-built pot, but rather a very elaborate ritual: the coffee must be procured from some external source (ideally, a greasy-spoon diner), accompanied by pleasant banter between myself and said proprietor of external source, and eaten alongside an elaborate foodstuff of some description (ideally, an "everything bagel with nothing on it," which apparently confuses the hell out of Oxford's baristas). Coffee absolutely cannot be made at home (and - are you listening, Very English Boyfriend? - certainly cannot be accompanied by a bowl of cold cereal eaten while standing in the kitchen!) It is acceptable to go outside, get some coffee (and breakfast sandwiches) "to go", and return home, as long as the experience constitutes suitably respectful awareness of the Morning Breakfast Ritual, which must last at least an hour.

The only viable rival to an everything
 bagel with nothing on it.
And while I love many things about Tbilisi - there is one facet of the city that I simply cannot abide. The culture of "breakfast out" simply does not exist. Most cafes (including my go-to locals, Konka and Literaturuli) don't open until eleven at the earliest, leaving me with scant breakfasting options in my vicinity (Abanotubani). Yet nearly eighteen months' worth of Abanotubani-dwelling has given me a sensible run-down of the available options - ones that I hope will prove invaluable to other transplanted New Yorkers (and Parisians) for whom cold cereal simply will not do.


Breakfast Options Near Meidan


Tartine, Meidan
This recently-opened French bistro is indicative of Meidan's slow descent into boho gentrification: its main branch is in Vake. Yet hipster snobbery aside, Tartine does have extraordinary food (!), even if it's too pricey as a regular lunch place. Breakfast around 10 lari.
Pros: Cafe au lait that comes in enormous porcelain bowls, fresh croissants, opens at 9, laptop plugs
Cons: Expensive, slightly staid. No lobiani.

Machakhela, Meidan
Sure, it isn't breakfast food proper, but what could be more delectable than lobiani at seven in the morning?
Pros: Cheap, enormous portions, open 24/7, the closest thing to a greasy-spoon feel in Tbilisi. MORNING LOBIANI.
Cons: They don't seem to have milk for coffee (or cappuccinos/etc available), who can eat an entire lobiani on one's own?

Luca Polare, Leselidze Street
Technically an ice-cream parlour, they also do takeaway coffees and a variety of pastries
Pros: Cheap, open early, ice cream or fruit smoothies (or muffins), opens at 8
Cons: Getting on to a ten-minute walk from my house, minimal indoor seating. No lobiani.

The Hidden Bakery Beneath the Seminary
The bakery is located in the basement.
Only in Tbilisi would the best bakery in town be located underneath the seminary opposite to Sioni Cathedral. A single sign leads the way to the aromatic depths of paradise and carbohydrates.
Pros: Insanely cheap selection of lobiani, khachapuri, and "potato khachapuri" (or as we say in New York, knishes), baked before your very eyes.
Cons: No coffee. Takeaway only. One possibly takes the bread to a confusing icon-filled canteen right around the corner (where coffee seems to be available), but the one time I tried to order a coffee there I was ignored for about twenty minutes before I got confused and wandered off...I may have possibly crashed the seminarians' refectory?

Why, God, why can I not find a place in which both lobiani and coffee-with-milk are freely available?
Other, of course, than my grocery store.




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fleur Flaneur Goes Couture: High Fashion in Upper Sololaki


A particularly fetching corset.
Turquoise shirt - 100 lari
Tbilisi is a place for acquiring musty things. Soviet-style leather jackets, jewelry from Dagestan, art nouveau photobooks from Karslbad - all of these things can be freely found in abundance in Tbilisi! However, when one is inclined to attend a Very Formal Function (and/or a Roxy Music concert), one may prefer to keep the shiny-baubley-jewelry and curtain-skirts to a minimum, and instead procure the services of one of Tbilisi's finest dressmakers.

I first became acquainted with Lily Kay Atelier in Sololaki when I spied a particularly fetching corset in the window. The corset proved too expensive a folly (either 200 or 270 lari - I can't recall), but their dresses, shirts, and jackets all wormed their glittery, elegant way into my bargain-hunting heart.

Fox fur dress, 120 lari
The true beauty of the clothes, however, lies in the fit; I purchased three pieces from Lily Kay, and in each case they tailored/altered the clothes to fit me exactly - alterations were included in the original price. Skirts were shortened, shoulders taken in - and thus did I purchase three of the most-used items in my wardrobe as a birthday gift to myself.
"Glam rock" jacket, 100 lari. Wig not included.

Prices were high by Tbilisi standards - but for the quality (and durability) and free alterations/tailoring, I think they were a welcome addition to my "special occasion" collection.

Lily Kay Atelier is located on the corner of G. Tabdize St (behind Freedom Square) and L. Asatiani St in Sololaki.
Prices: High when compared to my ordinary vintage-hunts, extraordinarily reasonable for "tailored to fit exactly, lined with fox fur". I still can't bring myself to spend over 70 quid on a corset, however. 100-200 lari for most off-the-rack pieces. They also make dresses from scratch.
The Look: For when you wish to sigh over a coffee at Pur Pur and sigh "darling, I've got to run. I've got a fitting with my dressmaker at eleven." Ridiculous peacock-feather-boas optional.
Best Accompanied By: A walk up Asatiani Street, pretending to be ridiculously wealthy and living in the pseudo-Ottoman palazzos.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Advice Corner: Finding Vintage Clothing in Tbilisi

Despite my love-hate relationship with England, one area in which I can genuinely admit that England excels is the realm of the charity shop. Each town, neighborhood high street, or village is lined with at least 3-4 Oxfams, Cancer Research UKs, Barnardo's, and/or Save the Childrens devoted to selling donors' castoffs at bargain-basement prices in order to raise money for a worthwhile cause. While I fully intend to elaborate on my intricate anthropological findings based on charity-shop-donor evidence (Oxford's full of feminist Virago modern classics and used ball gowns; Chester has surprisingly good books and surprisingly nondescript clothing; everybody seems to throw away DH Lawrence and Thomas Hardy books, shoes from "Your Feet Look Gorgeous" appear in nearly every charity shop in the UK), for now suffice to say that any town where one can scoop up a genuine Brooks Brothers raincoat for 12 pounds is well worth living in.
Agmashenebeli St

How, then, to continue my passion for scavenging in Tbilisi? For bric-a-brac, the Dry Bridge market is unbeatable, but often the clothing is on the shabby end of the shabby-chic continuum. Yet throughout Sololaki, Avlabari, and Vera, there are hundreds of unmarked clothing stores (often a single front room without organization, price tags, or electric lighting), run by women with minimal English and a strong disinclination towards order.

How, then, to scoop up treasures? Do not despair - gentle reader - in my infinite mercy, I have personally scoured these rooms in the Old Town and discovered a wide variety of finds.

Fitted designer leather jacket - 50 lari.
Necklace about 20 lari from Dry Bridge.
Cotton blazer, 25 lari.
Scarf 10 lari.
The most "accessible" vintage clothing store is on the Atoneli St Market between Orbeliani and 9 April Parks (behind Rustaveli avenue towards the river). It's near the flower market, on the Rustaveli side of the street, under the arcade. The clothing proper is a bit on the "naff" side (although they do have a quite fetching/dapper selection of Old School felt hats), but they have a makeshift changing room, some English, and a genuine/good quality selection of Nike trainers (50 lari for a gorgeous, like-new, high-quality pair). The prices are far from the lowest in Tbilisi, but the hats are well worth trying on. The area of Sololaki closest to Baratashvili bridge also have a few promising-looking places.

For quality, however, the absolute best vintage clothing stores I've found are clustered on the Saarbrucken Square side of David Agmashenebeli Ave (cross the Dry Bridge bridge, turn left across the square, walk five minutes). There are about 5-6 shops - all unmarked and otherwise contrary - that have a phenomenal selection of women's blazers, scarfs, and leather: It takes a fair bit of digging, but in a single afternoon I went home with the two pictured blazers and scarf, a black Sisley blazer (!) for 25 lari, an additional "military"-inspired knit+leather zip-up jacket, and an additional matching black scarf, all for prices comparable to a mid-range Oxford charity shop.

Please let me know if you've found any others in the comments - and happy hunting!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Recommencing

Our new place - 19th-century photo.
I've failed utterly. I had big dreams of starting an Enormously Useful Tbilisi Blog, filled with detailed insider information (where to buy vintage clothing in Tbilisi! A lobiani-comparison across neighborhoods) and charming-yet-relatable anecdotes about my eccentrically fabulous life.

Instead, I've left this blog dormant for far too long. I've been commuting back-and-forth between Tbilisi and Oxford (although I have, admittedly, left my original calling, and swapped out Byzantinism and patristics for nineteenth century theology and literature). My mother's moved back to Tbilisi, and we're in the process of renovating a recently purchased flat in Abanotubani. We're still living in the old (rented) place - and will likely continue to live there indefinitely, renting out the new place.

However, my transcultural experiences have in recent months been confined to Dealing With Oxford, which is highly pleasant and involves a great deal of charity-shop-scouring, indie-cafe-sitting, and theatrical productions, and Dealing With London, which involves trying not to get eaten by feral foxes nibbling abandoned styrofoam kebab boxes in Battersea (true story!).

Next month, however, I'll be heading back to Georgia with some serious excursions in mind: Vardzia, Kazbegi, Kakheti, and a jaunt to Armenia with my belly-dancing friend.

Hence, a slight refocusing of this blog - from now on I'll be covering vintage-clothes-buying, indie-cafe-sitting, culture-vulturing, and Bohemian Excursions in both Tbilisi and Oxford/London (and a few other countries, too). So, whether you're in the mountains of Svaneti or in the barbarous depths of Central London, you too can reap the benefits of my vintage-books-and-clothing-scouting, messiness-accruing, coffee-guzzling, lobiani-eating expeditionary research!

Upcoming Posts Include:
  • Bizarrely Good-Value Vintage Clothing in Tbilisi
  • How to Get Yourself a Tailored Glam-Rock Spikey-Shouldered Jacket in Tbilisi for 30 Pounds.
  • "Ajapsandali Panini!" - Or How to Find Georgian Food in London
  • How to Have a Not-Rubbish Weekend in Horrible London
  • How to Attend a White-Tie Function in Clothing Found Exclusively in Oxford Charity and Vintage Shops (Hunt Ball Edition)
  • Fleur Flaneur Attempts the Impossible: Getting Breakfast Out in Tbilisi