Eliso had been up all night making the most beautiful cakes. Moist sponge soaked in peach juice and topped with kiwi slices shaped like crescent moons filled her kitchen. Cherries suspended in jelly, whipped cream adorning heavenly chocolate-layered pieces sat on top of refrigerators and cupboard tops and could rival any professional catering company. She had been collecting china teacups for weeks. Bric-a-brac market stalls had been raided, wedding sets donated, gifts from friends collected and family members had been scouring antique shops since I first suggested the event. It is difficult to find English tea sets in Georgia but she had gathered, washed and stored 80 cups and saucers for the occasion.
I was nervous. Not just because the Tea-Party was being covered by the Public TV station, and not because I felt he was watching me, but because the people I had invited to speak for 5 minutes over tea and cake were an eclectic mix and included some who were seen, by their own people, to be the enemy within. The idea was to mix up English and Georgian cultures and to celebrate a long and positive relationship. The UK government had changed the visa laws earlier in the year so a five-year practice of bringing Georgian artists to the UK to share their music, food, song and crafts had come to an abrupt end. I wanted to host something in Tbilisi to acknowledge all the hard work so many people had put into the English- Georgian cultural relationship. Usually all the accolades go to business people. I also wanted to give people an opportunity to have a voice, to be heard and to be acknowledged. By inviting Natia, a politically active and vociferous LGBT representative I was taking a real risk. I had decided to follow my conscience. How could I be selective and not invite a whole group of people so important to the positive changes Georgia was trying to make, just in case it was uncomfortable? I couldn’t. I had to do what was right.
The people I invited were mostly artists, musicians, alternative types. There was also the Archbishop of the Georgian Baptist Church, an English Georgian Baptist Bishop and several academics from the UK, all of whom with a vested interest in encouraging Georgia to be a more open and tolerant society. There were representatives from both of the main Georgian political parties, two extremely well known traditional Georgian choirs, ex-pats, journalists, and quite possibly, a spy or two. I had also invited a member of the Georgian Orthodox church who had declined, as had a representative from the British Embassy.
People arrived on time, and the men were wearing trousers. This may not seem noteworthy to anyone outside of Georgia but it was a small triumph for me. Georgians are notoriously late. For everything. In fact, in our choir, Samzeo, we joked about working to ‘Georgian time’. Musicians are often known to be cavalier with things like this but add Georgian time into the mix and you have got a whole new frustrating cultural challenge. Often, any protests about this are met with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘What can I do?’ Georgian men also always wear jeans a lot. Anniversary? Wear jeans. Important meal out? Wear jeans. Trip to the theatre? Wear jeans. Meet the Mayor? Wear jeans. You get the picture. The invitation had specified (both in English and Georgian) that the dress code was smart casual. NO JEANS.
So far so good, no one had come in jeans. As usual, the women had made a huge effort and looked beautiful. The central table was exquisitely decorated and laden with layers of cakes and teacups, ornate and colourful teapots and soft scented flowers. It was very English. The audience sat in a circle around the table, the speakers strategically placed within the circular space. There was no front and no back. Everything was designed to be circular, to encourage movement and to break down barriers. This may have been a mistake. The audience were looking for barriers even and they needed to feel secure in their place. That was clear. People needed to know where the ‘front’ was. It confused them that the tea table was in the centre. Where were they to look? At the cakes? In the end, the practicality of some presentations needing a large screen and a laptop meant that a particular ‘space’ became the’ stage.’ That stage had become the ‘front’.
The programme had been planned down to the minute and things were going quite well. What became quickly apparent however was that some people were leaving immediately after they had given their own presentation. The first tea break came and went with lots of mingling and chatting. It felt as though stereotypes were being broken down and I was pleased. Once people sat down again it became clear that several more people had left. Perhaps they had only just read the programme and decided to leave so that they would not have to listen to one of the most marginalised and dis-empowered sections of their own society. Women and the LGBT community.
The Programme for the evening was sent out to everyone who was invited and was available in both English and Georgian, 4 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks and 2 days before the event.
About 45 minutes in, behind
The pleasant clink
Chink of porcelain
Flowers, Rhubarb and Cream
Tea, ‘Fall in love with me’
Chocolate squares, I heard
The chime of
The death knell.
Tilting slightly I watched as
My marionette life
Tumbled elegantly, pivoted was
Re-defined by plotted
I watched the sky