Saturday, 20 September 2014

Today I drank Water from the Well

Cool, cool garden.

Dappled sunlight

Gives refuge to

Lush hanging green

Red grapes,

Kiwi, hard and bitter on the vine.


Plump, star flower topped fill

My mouth, seek corners with her nectar


that flows inside

Connects me to this land.


Nana fills,

With glistening life,

My cupped hands.


I drink.


Her kind eyes crinkle and this garden



This beautiful peaceful garden belonged to a family of academic women in Zugdidi. Their house was full of white cool spaces, dark elegant furniture and floors so wide and polished I wanted to lie down and press my cheek to their soft wisdom. Artists, others, social misfits and the persecuted had always been welcome in this house, a tradition started by their father, who invited any ragamuffin, Georgian or otherwise, to stay. They were fed, cared for and gave space to create, heal and grow.  This generous practice continued under the caretaking eye of his wife and was upheld by his daughters who were all professional women in their own right.  A teacher, a musicologist, a lawyer, none of them married or marred by child-birth, burdened by constant compromise, or confused by their purpose in life.  I was struck by their grace.

When we arrived, the heat of the day softened by gentle breezes caught in  vines that that swirled over trellises already full of passion fruit and grapes, red and green, disappeared and we crept into the back parlour where a dark haired child slept under a sheet.


Instinctively we whispered, and I felt lulled by the soft plosives the Georgian language leaves behind in the silence of a darkened room and wished only to rest, close my eyes and soak up the soft sounds these women made.


Listening to their  talk, catching their eyes and with  no shared language between us, only a woman's understanding, I sensed that they knew my story already. Some- how it didn’t matter. There was a union here. A trust, a connection and I felt my eyes prick with tears. The relief I felt surged through my body, and for the first time in a long time I wished I spoke Georgian. I really wanted to hear their stories.


I realised that the woman moving around the kitchen was their mother. Nana.  Her hands were knarled and  deft as she stirred the  Pelamushi, the  sweet sharp smell of red grape juice mingled with the green breezes from outside as she  turned the stove top concoction into a solid pink blancmange- like dessert for later. I could see her watching me from the corner of her eyes and they crinkled with patient curiosity, or heat, or both, and I wished for a time when we could see one another squarely.


There was a meal, not intended to be a supra until it was made into one by the arrival of M.r Polikarpe Khubulava, a 91 year old Chongouri player famous for, amongst other things, the scandal of having had not one, but three wives, two of which were still alive and who is known in many circles as a ‘real lover of women’. He was also a folklore expert and had taught many choirs (all male) through generations of oppression by various invaders to Georgia, many songs now nearly lost lived in his memory and tripped from his tongue quite unexpectedly.  I  learnt of his distress and pain that evening as he told us of how he had not qualified for a certificate of validation from  the  head of the Folk Lore Centre in Tbilisi.  Apparently the songs his choirs sang, whilst worthy of study and reference, were not worthy of official recognition. This is something that is happening all over Georgia to provincial choirs and has a terrible knock on effect on the salaries people such as him receive. It also prevents opportunities for choirs to travel abroad and teach the songs that have sustained the spirit of Georgia over many centuries.


Pulikarpe Khubulava


He drove himself

91 years old

To this house.


Sat, thin legs

Broad shouldered still. Wept, drank sweet red wine.



Sang the notes,

Missing for generations, whilst Nino

Pen poised, toes curled, ears pricked


Asked hard questions.

Unifying romantic notion unravelled.

'Who will sing my final song? he asked right back at her.
'Three egoists took my funeral lament with them when they died
Refused to teach me those precious notes'

'How will my soul rest now?'


Throughout the evening’s meal, smattered amongst conversations about the enormous original paintings on their walls and songs sometimes accompanied by the Chonguri, sometimes not, I saw the dark haired child watch his mysterious aunts. The old man soon had him tending to his every need, slipping chicken and bread, salad, wine, water, dark meat, this, that, the other onto his plate conducted by an eyebrow or flick of the finger.  

The jug of wine dwarfed the child but he, with great precision, love, and some finesse poured the crimson cordial ever-so-carefully into grandfather's crystal glass, the only sound a  soft chink of crystal on crystal and the  slight inward breath of one of his aunts. Smiling the boy-child in a house full of incredible women sat,  gazing with utter adoration, at the one man in the room.


My Mysterious Aunts


My mysterious aunts

Always have guests when I am there.


They arrive quite late

On hot summer nights

And ask for a


Bring their own blue and white cups

Huge and delicate.

Dig deep into  over- sized bags

Root for ‘sweetandhers’

Say 'No thank you' to our black bitter chai.


My mysterious aunts sit,

Drink petal soft

Scented wine for

Hours with grandfathers who ask

Me to pour

Crimson cordial into

Tall, crystal, glasses.


My mysterious aunts

Sing me lullabies in

Ancient tongues of my (Megrilian)


That soothe and ease my eyes

Tired from picking

The red- sour berries
Now turned to jam.


My mysterious aunts

Move without sound towards the dawn, and

When their voices drop to whispers

I can hear the Nightingales


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