I was in a neighbouring country to Georgia when I decided to journey to Georgia. Railway tickets were only on sale a fortnight in advance. This is due to a regulation by Boratistan’s most important government agency – the Minister of Pointless Rules, Officiousness and High Handed Arrogance. Of course I had to bring my passport in order to be allowed to purchase my ticket. I was to be traveling with my Slovak chum named Angelica. There was a special booth for us to purchase our tickets from. The sign said, ”tickets can be bought by English foreigners.” Neither of us were English but we chanced our arm that the railway authorities intended to say, ”English-speaking foreigners.” In typical Borati style the old woman at the Anglophone ticket booth did not speak English so we had to conduct the transaction in my neonate’s Russian.
The day came for taking the train to Georgia and off we went to Independence Station. Angelica and I had purchased provisions for the 15 hour train journey. It was a blazing May evening. We found the platform without difficulty. Despite this being the main station in the land it has only half a dozen platforms. I have been there a few times and seen not a single train. I do not mean none arrived or departed – there were none to be seen even parked. A Canadian friend explained to me that the choo choos tend to arrive and leave either early in the morn or in the evening. In office hours the station is strangely quiet. We boarded the train. Its green and blue livery was alluring but could have done with being touched up. The povodnitsas stood sentinel beside the train. A povodnitsa is a woman (masculine: povodnik) who is the equivalent of a guard cum ticket inspector in the Anglophone world. These burly women gruffly inspected our tickets and directed us to our places. I had worried that we would not be able to get tickets when we bought them a week in advance. I needn’t have been so anxious. The train was half empty. I looked out the window across the railway platforms. A few others iron horses were in the stables waiting to race off to other parts of the republic. The station was groomed – possibly the cleanest place in Bigton but that is not saying much. Then I made eye contact with a female of menopausal grade toddling down the platform. It was Danuta. My Polish colleague was there. This affable woman and I chatted through the window. She and her husband were headed off to some small town in the hills. Danuta left Poland in her youth and married a Britisher. As well as impeccable English she speaks Russian. Her beau also speaks Russian. As their son is 30 and their daughter is thereabouts in age I estimate that this couple have hit the three score years. There was a mangy white tea coloured carpet on the floor of the aisle. Over it there was a grey cloth – I cannot bring myself to call it a carpet. I saw an Oriental board train and sit in a compartment further along the corridor. I heard him speaking English to two young men who looked like locals. The povodnitsas were all well over 50 in age – and centimetres girth. These burly old women are there to serve the passengers and maintain order. They wear uniforms. There is one or two to each wagon. The train began with a jolt. It was bang on time. Slowly the train gathered speed and we slid out of the station. We passed many shanty towns. There was a chicken coop right beside the railway line. Some poor people have their doors opening directly onto the railway line. There is no attempt to keep people off the track. The trains are powered by overhead wires and as there is no third rail it is not dangerous to step on the track. Of course being hit by a train can be injurious to one’s health but one will not be electrocuted – that is my point. A pleasing breeze wafted through the otherwise stifling wagon. The windows of the compartment itself did not open. The windows on the corridor do open. These Soviet trains in winter are overheated. I remember when I first boarded such a train in the Ukraine several years back I was astonished to see that there was a wood stove by the door. It was so old-fashioned. I found it vaguely exciting and quaint. I am also minded to say that it must be a tad dangerous what with the risk of a fire starting. There was also a samovar. For the uninitiated, a samovar is a Russian giant kettle. One heats up water and all day long one has water for tea, coffee and scalding political dissenters.
The train passed under a red foot bridge. I have walked onto this footbridge because it affords a decent view over the arse end of the city centre. The country lavishes hundreds of millions of pounds on prestige projects yet neglects things that would raise the quality of life of ordinary people. This foot bridge is a case in point. The said bridge has some steps missing and some gaps in it. It stands at good 6 m above the ground. Someone could fall off it possibly to their death. The country has strict legislation mandating Ill-Health and Unsafety at Work.
We passed beside the President’s Avenue. I got a thrill when the train rumbled over the main road and past this country’s answer to spaghetti junction. We passed by the huge shell-shaped shining white museum that is being built to honour the founder president. This conch is the last thing the country needs. It has images of the man all over the shop. Ere long we passed by some of the scruffiest parts of town. From planks of wood, corrugated iron, plyboard boxes and so on these rude dwellings were jerry built. Sometimes their doors were only a couple of metres from the railroad. This is the real country. The side of life that the government does not emblazon across its glossy magazines. The land was dry. Yellowing tufts of grass and parched bushes liberally coated in dust were here and there. The occasional tree broke the monotony. The landscape was even. The crenelated fields were scattered with rocks. One sometimes saw a herd of goats being tended by a morose looking boy.
I saw the Oriental dude in the corridor. I greeted him merrily, ”Nihonji Desaka?” ”I am not Japanese. I am from Korea”, he replied, smiling. He could have been mortally offended so he has taken my faux pas well. Many Koreans have told me how they hate Japan’s guts. This bloke was inclining to 40. He was slight and had short tidy hair – you will never guess which colour! His small moon glasses sat tidily on his modest-sized nose. I soon met his companions. Both were Azeris named Javad. The smaller Javad was especially swarthy and was a Canadian citizen. His English was superb North American.
I settled down to a good book. I had my nose in ”Status Anxiety.” I had that phrase in my vocabulary for a few years. I did not know how it entered the public consciousness. Then I came to learn my it had entered the lexicon – because of that book so entitled by Alain de Boton. I remember reading piece about de Boton. The writer said of de Boton, ”I cannot take seriously someone who lectures us on the stupidity of hankering after wealth while he sits on a pot of some three hundreds of millions.” Status anxiety – fuck that! The trouble is that I suffer from it. Am I successful enough? People do not respect the line of work that I am in. Should I care? Probably not but the trouble is that it does affect me. I should be unconcerned with realising other peoples dream and living up to the expectations of others. I should do what I want to do – no compromise. Am I rich enough? It is like Gore Vidal said – when a friend succeeds a little piece of me dies. It is still worse when someone I think is a total cunt succeeds. Now that kills me! The one thing about being posh is that I am not socially awkward. I do not worry about not being posh enough. I used to be uneasy about this when rubbing shoulders with the exceedingly posh. I am content with having very plebeian tastes in food and wine. To an extent I like slumming it. I still feel a drive to achieve and up to a point that is a good thing. Tapping out this inane blog is something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. I reckon that status anxiety is worst for adolescent – especially girls. Am I good-looking enough? AM I smart enough/ Am I grown up enough? Am I well dressed enough? Am I promiscuous enough? Am I too promiscuous? Am I popular enough? I am I daring enough? Will I pass my exams? What job will I get? Is my family posh enough? Am I good enough at sport? This crisis of confidence is very hard to take. I experimented with different attitudes. Unsurprisingly I was influenced by those around me. I became rather snobby. When I reached university I sloughed off some of these condescending attitudes towards the working class. I could not afford to be choosy about who I seduced. I just wanted as much of it as possible and I was not going to pass up the opportunity to ”debrief” a girl of below stairs class. My snobbery has largely gone – largely. I agree with the main point of de Boton on materialism immateriality. I would happily reside in one room. I think of having a life uncluttered. Just concentrate on the things that make me happy. I sometimes reflect that I was a naif in thinking that I could be happy without much money. I could have gone into a well-paid career a dozen years ago when there were jobs aplenty. What a damn fool I was to turn down the chance. I am envious of de Boton quite apart from his riches. He has had so many acclaimed books published and the first one came out when he was very young. This balding Londoner has done very well for himself. His prose is very easy to read without being trite or insubstantial. So many public intellectual affect an opaque style. His choice of words assists the understanding. Other writers try to obstruct understanding presumably on the grounds that this makes them come across as brainier. He does use quite a few quotations in foreign languages and then renders them into English. Why would he do this? Is he wearing his erudition on his sleeve. Is he trying to show off? If he thinks his readers will recognise the quotation even in another language – why translate it? On the other hand if he assumes that it needs translating why then have it in the original language first? Okay I do that too. _________________________________________________________________
The shades of night fell down. Occasionally the lights would go out. I discovered that the povodnitsas has a switch that could throw the whole car into darkness. This overrode the small switches in each compartment. The compartments by the way were generous for space. The bed come sofa on each was comfortable and long but not too wide. The bed-clothes were very clean. We were happy there. The whole thing was very decently priced at only 40 pounds for the journey of a few hundred miles. To go to the loo at the beginning one had to ask for a key. In the stations it is locked. The system is not very sophisticated – step on pedal and open the hole to the track whizzing by beneath. It was not foul as I feared twould be. The uncanny thing about this train is that it did not rock side to ride – it wobbled up and down. The suspension must have been wonky. I preferred it this way. I had no trouble balancing. I lay down. There was not quite enough space for my broad shoulders. I resorted to putting on back behind my head. This grew uncomfortable and I had to swap position frequently.
I was awoken by the sunshine through the flimsy white curtains. I turned on my face and dozed on a bit. I got up quite early for a weekend – about 8 bells. I emptied by bladder, you were dying to hear that. We had enough bread, fruit and what not to stave off hunger. The khaki countryside had greened. There were uneven fields of purple corn flower. There were meadows, hills and woods. The verdure was welcome. We stopped in the middle of nowhere unaccountable. About Ok – cut to the chase why don’t you? Over 2000 words on the journey alone.
We stopped at the last station inside Boratistan. Some soldiers and police filed aboard. One has a long pole with a mirror so he could see into the crevices of the compartment. No sniffer dogs were present though. Out of the window I could see quotations from the Maximum leader on the wall. His all-seeing countenance gazed down on us. The police wore this aqua marine uniform. None of them were policewomen. Normally the border police include a few females. One border policeman leafed through the passports. He looked at Angelica’s. He noticed as discrepancy =. Hers was to run from 3 April to 3 July but then said 30 days. Angelica strenuously argued that the consular officer had patently intended to say 90 days. This mere slip of the pen should not redound to ill-effect for her. Justice and logic are alien concepts in these parts. The passports were taken away – the walkie talkie crackled excitedly with officious talk. Soon the polcist returned. My passport was stamped and it was official – Angelica could go no further. She was an illegal alien. She must go. She would not be allowed out of the country until this was sorted out. Angelica cursed that man in the embassy who had screwed up – ”fuckwit” being a word I taught her. Not the sort of English one learns at school. She fantasised about going back to the embassy and punching that midget who had issued her the wrong visa. I say he is a midget not because any opprobrium attaches thereto but the fact is that he is small. Javad the Canadian tried to interceded for us – to no avail. He told us tales of woe. The police in Russia tried to take his passport and extort money from him. He stood up to the bullies. I was surprised. I thought that this was the wrong course of action. Maybe it was the right one. On the other hand he may have been talking tough – he was a very small man. They worked out a way for her to get back to Bigtown without waiting 12 hours till the next steel steed passed through this station. A taxi to Midtown and then a bus to Bigton. 35 nicker all in. The police would escort her. She was not under arrest but she was an illegal immigrant and they wanted to keep an eye on her. Angelica went off the train and to her taxi. _______________________________________________
It came to pass that we finally crossed the border into Georgia after sitting just shy of the frontier for a good hour – well a bad hour. The grey uniformed Georgian police were much more reasonable and efficient. They wore baseball caps as a signal of the Occidental orientation. The loo was locked so I got out at the first station in Georgia to tell Johnnie a riddle. The lavatory announced itself from a distance by its noisome stench. It was a dark gray cube. It being summer the smell carried all the further. I braved the pungent odours and in I went. I tried to avert my eyes from the actual lavatory. I noticed that it was generously caked in shit. It was a scene unworthy of a Zimbabwean prison. Quite a welcome to Georgia! I preferred my welcome to Austria. We passed unremarkable small towns. Every ratty building seemed to be a bungalow. Undersized brown cows wandered the fields. There were hills at least. The countryside was pretty which cannot be said for much of Boratland. ____________________________________________________________________
Tblisi’s buildings – even at the outskirts – were not so down at heel and low-rise as those of the nameless country towns we passed through. Gradually the edifices became sturdier. Still, the place was in need of a whole lot of repairs. We pulled into the station at 11 in the morning. It was very bright. I alighted on the platform and saw several platforms on either side. There were some rusting old trains not far away. There was an uncovered staircase up to the building. Birds tweeted as I swagged my grey knapsack. Javad and Javad soon disappeared from view with the Korean in tow. The station building was a pleasant surpsrise – inside. The white floor shone and the wells-stocked shops were even clean. A television monitor gave the details of arrivals and departures – more than one sees in Bigtown. The concourse was spacious and cool. It was not bad for such a flea-bitten region. I wended my way down many steps and out onto the street. I had a guidebook in hand and tried to navigate my way around this sizable city. There were many taxis outside. The cabbies were oddly lethargic. They did not badger me to take a spin in their car which was refreshing. Normally exiting a station or airport as an obvious tourist one runs the gauntlet of these touts. I bore right towards a large car park with dozens of matroshka. A matroshka is like a maxi taxi. It is a minibus that heads off to a pre-arranged destination when the minibus is full. There is no scheduled departure time. I bypassed the minibuses and turned left down the hill. The buildings were raffish and a few storeys high. The city was liberal – in litter. The gutters were choked with junk but the pavements were not as cratered as in Bigtown. There were large trees springing up beside the road. There was writing in Georgian and Russian. I was a little surprised by the Russian writing bearing in mind their border dispute with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I thought they would reject the Russian language.
I followed the slope of the hill down to a main street and then turned left. Soon enough I found myself on the main shopping street. There were many upmarket boutiques and smart restaurants. I consulted my map frequently. This street was less showy than the downtown of Bigtown but it was more evenly cared for.
I tried to find my way using the map – to no avail. I saw some Indians speaking in their language on the street. I knew that these sons of the Commonwealth would be conversant in the British tongue. I asked them for directions and they helped me.
I got to a main square. It was not that big. The place looked good and had a high stage on it with a sound system ready for a concert. There was a McDonald’s to my right. I avoid the golden arches of Ronald McDonald like the plague.
To my left I saw two clean-cut boys in shirts of purest white and dark trousers. They were wearing ties on a Saturday. I saw dark badges on their breasts. They had to be Mormon Missionaries. I approached this duo of youths. I spoke to them in English and my presupposition was instantly confirmed. As they gave me directions I read the badges ”elder so and so”. They pulled out their map and I was guided. They also told me that this was independence day. I had no idea – I had happened to arrive on the anniversary of Georgia declaring independence in 1918.
I headed on through the square and on to the adjoining street. The buildings suddenly became rackety. There was a dilapadated hospital to my right and a church to my left.
I found the street I was looking for. I climbed the slight hill. I asked some wizened old men if I was going the right way. I spoke to them in Russian. I would bet my bottom farthing that they did not speak English. They replied in Russian and asked if I was Latvian. I answered them nay, Irish.
The buildings were mostly three storeys high. The odd graymalkin tread across the street or mewed lazily in the doorway of a derelict house. The street bore to the right and was bisected by a couple of others. I was bursting for a piss.
I tried one guesthouse on Ninoshvili Street. Booked up – shite and onions! That is why dear old pater used to say. I had no notion of the provenance of that memorable phrase till as an adolescent I cast an eye over the oeuvre of James Joyce and came across that expression.
On to the next building. It looked in a sorry state. A mudbath stood outside the front door. There were two little lion statues by the steps up to the door. These statues had largely been knocked away. They were not recognisable as lions. I only realised they were supposed to be leo panterae because my guidebook said so. Surely this dive could not be open to guests else they would not have allowed the place to look so singularly uninviting what with the mud there and all that. But as I say my bladder was fit to explode so I gave it a chance. Up the stair stepped eye.
Once inside the place was not quite so muddy. I got to the second floor and there was reception. The room was only half -lit. Some lethargic backpackers lay about on sofas and the telly was on a Georgian channel.
A corpulent oldish woman sat behind the desk sucking gladly on a cigarette.