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Archive for the ‘Tbilisi’ Category

Break-Up Letter

Here is an open letter a Georgian friend of mine posted on facebook following the May 17 homophobia riot in Tbilisi, expressing his desire to finally “break up” with the unrepentant Orthodox Church:

“dear georgian orthodox church,

this is a long overdue break-up notice. i know it’s a cliche, but it is really me, not you. from the early days, i’ve been unfaithful to you. I ventured into science and started learning things that you just recently started to accept as possible and permissible.

i have been socializing with people of other creeds – people of different religion, ethnicity, color, people of different social status, and even people of different sexual orientation, and you are right, they have effect on a person. they influence you, they change you. they dull your ability to see the wrong in them, you start to accept them. i know you disapprove of that, but unfortunately i have been turned.

it is me, and not you because i am unable to follow your guidelines. i am unable to chase a bus with a few women-folk in it to lynch them in the name of christ almighty. things are so bad, that i am even having hard times remembering a verse where christ asked for that.

part of the problem is the timing, had this been 1000 or even 500 years ago, i am sure this relationship would work, but we missed our chance.

i know that i am privileged to have been born into religion that’s truest of the thousand or so religions out there. i know that of 7 billion or so people living these days, 4 million of us are the only ones who know what god likes and what he hates, but i have disappointed you.

i am sure my departure (we never were very familiar anyway) from your ranks will be painful, but i am sure it will go unnoticed. from what i see, you have enough dedicated young men and old women armed with nettle to defend you against twenty-odd rebellious sinners. you can certainly defeat anyone armed with nettle. why didn’t we think of that when persians, arabs, mongols, ottomans, russians, germans were invading!

by the way, how’s god? he seems to be ignoring me, do you think it’s because i started ignoring him? i think he has his number blocked, so maybe it was all those anonymous calls i’ve been rejecting. I’ve been hearing about his doings from the press, you know earthquake here, tsunami there. is he acting out again?

unfaithfully (formerly) yours…”

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one of these on every corner

one of these on every corner

1 lari lunch

1 lari lunch

brickwork badassery

brickwork badassery

dumpster thrift shops

dumpster thrift shops

grapevine decor

grapevine decor

Kurcha, my ubani's mascot

Kurcha, my ubani’s mascot

paying all my bills on one of these bad boys

paying all my bills on one of these bad boys

these matches. safety my ass.

these matches. safety my ass.

doors like this

doors like this

the discount menu at Cafe Gallery (and accompanying illiterate disco/house/pop)

the discount menu at Cafe Gallery (and accompanying illiterate disco/house/pop)

family-style restaurant ordering. how am I going to go back to picking just one thing off a menu in the US?

family-style restaurant ordering. how am I going to go back to picking just one thing off a menu in the US?

bebias who got my back when I'm being creeped on in the market. I put your coffin in the ground, bicho!

bebias who got my back when I’m being creeped on in the market. I put your coffin in the ground, bicho!

navigating by this

navigating by this

not needing a car

not needing a car

the Georgian internet

the Georgian internet

creative ways to avoid the cardinal sin of throwing stale bread in the trash

creative ways to avoid the cardinal sin of throwing stale bread in the trash

welcome

welcome

these dance posters applied to almost every surface downtown

these dance posters applied to almost every surface downtown

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Capitalism 1, Progress 0

You may have noticed that the streets of Tbilisi have recently become inundated with Malibu Barbie taxis. I was initially excited by the pop of color, but alas my joy was deflated when I discovered their true purpose: a cab service “only for ladies”–i.e. ladies who fear the sexual harassment or assault that can occur in one of Tbilisi’s many unregistered “gypsy cabs” (a personal car with a removable taxi light, often driven by a local man as a secondary or even tertiary source of income).

Georgia is not the first country in which this service was deemed necessary–for example, women of Beirut, Delhi, and even London have adopted “pink cabs,” seeking exemption from discriminatory business laws in the interest of protecting vulnerable women. A statement from Maggie Hennessy of London Lady Chauffeurs alludes to the fear-based appeal of such a service: “A lot of our business comes from husbands who want to make sure their wives are OK, especially in the evenings.”

IMG-20130502-00462

Two major issues here:

1.) In the other countries mentioned above, pink cabs are designed “by women, for women.” Delhi’s No. 1 Women’s cab firm, in particular, made it a major part of their business model to empower local women by employing only female drivers, a job usually off-limits to women. As you can see in the photo above, this is not the case in Tbilisi. Every pink cab I’ve seen has been driven by a middle-aged man–the same demographic driving the gypsy cabs. So what exactly do Tbilisi’s pink cabs have to offer if they are charging a premium for clients’ safety? What, have these particular drivers just “given their word” that they won’t harass passengers?

I also think that Tbilisi’s pink cab business is ignoring the opportunity to truly help women by offering jobs in a male-dominated field and in a country with high unemployment. Some Tbilisi women desperately in need of income have already taken this risk on their own, and it’s sad to see a local business failing to recognize a need (perhaps because this need isn’t as profitable as exploiting rape fear).

2.) While pink cabs are a great example of how capitalism can rise to meet a niche market, I find them a massive failure on the part of human rights. Privately-organized pink cabs are essentially a band-aid for rape culture, much like privately-organized schools are essentially a band-aid for America’s failing public education system: they do not fix the actual problem, they only make life easier for those who can afford the services.

In my opinion, pink cabs are just another expression of how rape culture is condoned by society. Few people (if any) would ever actually voice the opinion that sexual violence is acceptable. But when victim-blaming is pervasive, police are apathetic towards the issue (I was instructed to take any assault cases to the embassy, as local law enforcement does not generally enforce sexual abuse laws), and when men are taught (however subtly) that female bodies are for their pleasure, it isn’t much of a stretch to see how some men would find sexual harassment acceptable.

As University of Oregon professor Elaine Replogle reasons, “When you then consider how few men ever are convicted of rape, you realize that there’s a subtle message: It’s not that bad. If it were, wouldn’t we try harder to prosecute the perpetrators? The psychology of gang rape is aided by numbers, by underlying aggression, anger, and misogyny, by what Gloria Steinem terms a ‘cult of masculinity‘ and by a culture that does too little to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Barbie-pink cars are not the solution to sexual assault by cab drivers, and in fact I find that they trivialize the issue by making it cute and feminine (because, as usual, it’s entirely the woman’s responsibility to ensure her own safety). Framing sexual violence as a “women’s issue” makes it problematic for men (and even women) to recognize their role in propagating it. It’s “our problem”–so what investment is there for men, who are both the concerned protective husbands and the aggressive cab drivers? Frankly, a lot. Men are the friends, relatives, and partners of these victims—the nearly 1 in 5 women who have been raped in their lifetime.

In an overtly patriarchal society like Georgia, these men have an indispensable role in ensuring that the women they care about are safe and empowered, which means they have an investment in all women. Sexual violence should not just be a “women’s issue” wrapped up in a Disney Princess color scheme–it is an issue of shared humanity. As such it cannot be solved by capitalism, but only by an educated, active public and a responsive government willing to actually enforce the social equality codified in its laws, and regulate an industry that endangers 50% of the population.

Sources

Chemaly, Soraya. “Five Ways That ‘Staying Safe’ Costs Women.” Salon.com, 12 August 2013.

Replogle, Elaine. “The Psychology of Gang Rape,” Role/Reboot, 15 January 2013.

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some romantic places to go and things to do in Tbilisi, “the city that loves you”

Activities:

  • Sulfur baths (Abanotubani district). Book a private suite; things are steamy enough as it is, but it’s a good place to relax sans clothes.
  • Historic district walks (Sololaki, Ortachala, Mtatsminda, or Vera districts). Walk the quieter side-streets of Old Tbilisi–Odzelashvili, Chonkadzi, Barnovi, Vertskhli, or Asatiani. Neighborhoods like those around Gudiashvili Square and Betlemi Church in Sololaki are both quiet and architecturally interesting.
  • Try the wines at one of several “vinotheques” along Leselidze Street–tastings are usually affordable (under 20 GEL) but generous
  • Go shopping at Dry Bridge flea market, where you can find everything from antiques and the requisite Soviet kitsch to used books and pirated software.

Restaurants and Cafes:

  • Shavi Lomi (The Black Lion). 23 Amaglebi St., Sololaki district. Georgian, dinner.
  • Tartine. 22 Abashidze St. (Maidan Square), Sololaki district. French, lunch and/or drinks.
  • garden and terrace at O Moda Moda

    garden and terrace at O Moda Moda

    Il Garage. 26 Mosashvili St., Vake district. Italian, dinner.

  • Mandari. 11 Mosashvili St., Vake district. Georgian fusion, dinner.
  • O Moda Moda. 64 Barnovi St., Vere/Vake border. Georgian cafe, any meal.
  • Moulin Electrique. 28 Leselidze St., Sololaki district. Georgian cafe, lunch and/or drinks.
  • Gruzbek. Corner of Erekle II St. and Ivereli Lane, Sololaki district. Uzbek dinner.
  • Chaikhana. 14 Grisashvili St., Abanotubani district. Azerbaijani cafe, tea and snacks.
  • Luca Polare. Leselidze Street (Sololaki district), Pekini Street (Vake-Saburtalo district), Mrgvali Baghi Square (Vake district). Gelato/hot drinks, pastries.
  • Puris Sakhli. 7 Gorgasali St (Sololaki-Abanotubani district). Georgian, dinner.

Makeout spots:

The following scenic locations make nice settings in which to flout Tbilisi’s completely ineffective crackdown on PDA:

  • Metekhi platform (across the river, next to the statue of Vakhtang Gorgasali overlooking Maidan Square)
  • Betlemi platform garden (next to the churches directly below the Kartlis Deda statue)
  • Tbilisi Botanical gardens (up behind Asatiani Street and Narikala fortress), or the hills behind them (up Grisashvili and right on Mirza Shapi)
  • Narikala fortress (medieval fortification overlooking Sololaki district)
  • Kartlis Deda (Mother Georgia) platform (accessible as of summer 2012 by gondola, which runs fairly late)
  • 9 April Park and Aleksandrovi gardens (behind the National Gallery on Rustaveli)
anti-makeout sign on Metekhi platform. yeah, whatever

anti-makeout sign on Metekhi platform. yeah, whatever

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