We met a year ago in a smoky bar. To be honest, all bars in Tbilisi are smoky, but this was a special smoky bar, since it served as my third place, my home away from home. Antique dining and sitting chairs, all on the verge of collapse, lined Soviet sewing tables, which were artfully painted and had famous quotes written all over them, filling up the small two rooms of the place. On the wall were any number of movie posters or paintings by the owner of the place - the paintings looked like they were drawn by a 12 year old using substantial amounts of LSD, they were scrawlings with possibly clever meanings, or paintings with meanings too abstract for the non-acid fried mind. There was an old Soviet bed in one room, where when you sat you sank nearly to the floor, as the springs held up like a hammock. My favorite thing about the place was the toilet, where there were cut out pictures of different movie scenes that featured toilets, and of course, this one:
The lid of the toilet tank had been removed, revealing three rubber duckies making their rounds up and down. The place was, in a word, eclectic, and even the concept was eclectic. The owner could never figure out what he wanted to do with it. Did he want it to be a cafe? A coffee shop? A bar? He kept transitioning through these ideas like a wind transitioning through mountainous landscapes. It would be the eventual death knell of the place - that and the underground layer becoming ridiculously hot and stuffy during the summer months. Now, without help from the landlord, it stands empty, even a year later, with only the remnants of the bar that was.
I used to play accordion there, nearly every week. I had started there on Thursday nights, but then moved to Friday or Saturday nights. I didn't play for money, just for beer and whiskey, the two things I'd be spending most of my money on on weekends anyway. It was great. Some people would regularly come to see me and occasionally there were some new faces, but as the place was small I rarely had over ten people in there. It was intimate, casual, and it didn't matter that I wasn't really good at playing accordion or singing - I could fine tune my skills and get used to playing in front of people. And at least, for one night out of the week, I could feel special, I could leave behind my sorrows, my thoughts of what I really was - a wannabe writer, an English teacher, a traveling vagabond, that is, anything but a success. But one night a week, one night every two, I could abandon that wreck of a being which I had become and pretend to be something else. I could pretend to be this cool underground artist, that only the lucky few knew about, playing and singing like Dionysius, and for cheap, able to extend my alcohol infused trip into the unknown states of mind in this far off land.
Back when I was in Peace Corps, I met this girl named Salome, who I later became friends with. She found me out from my rantings on this very blog and learned that I was trying to get Internet access set up at the youth center, so the local youth could have a free place to go and use the Internet - I never told her that, instead of using it for educational purposes, they mainly just sat there flipping through pictures on odnoklassniki, like a Russian Facebook, but since everyone does that here, I assume she knew - she helped me get some funding to set it all up, and a couple of months of cash to keep the service going through a while. The only other Internet access in the village was at an Internet cafe on the other side, or from USB dongles that only the wealthy could afford. Salome and I maintained contact through the years, and she became a somewhat regular at my shows.
Then one show, Salome was quite late, and non of my other usual crowd were there on-time, and that's when I saw a girl I had never seen before. She was wearing a flowery scarf - April always has unexpected weather here anyway, so that was nothing strange - and her majestic cheekbones stood like the Temple of Artemis - those cheekbones were the first details of her face I fell in love with, even before I spoke to her. At first she was in the back room, and I only gave her a few glances, always newly shy around beautiful women I didn't know. I looked at her from the corner of my eye each time I went up to get a beer, and when she moved to the main room after I started to perform, I asked her her name. "Teo," she said. She even had a name that meant "goddess"! And then I found out she was a friend of Salome's, waiting for the latecomer, though usually Salome was a punctual person. But it was good that she was late this time, since I got to talk to Teo. As the night progressed, after Salome and others arrived, I took all my breaks at their table, attempting to learn a little more and a little more about her with each rest. Indeed, being near her was a relief - a relief from everything, from the great energy it takes playing accordion, from that ever growing darkness of the reality of my existence. Yes, she was a goddess all right, with the power of only her voice, her whisper, to soothe my aching soul.
The night ended with my usual habit of drinking too much free booze and talking in drunken rants about Dostoevsky and existentialism - habits that typically work pretty fast in scaring off the exceptionally beautiful girls. But not this one. She sat at my side all night, as we traversed Tbilisi, and as I kept on about the darkness, about the decadence of modern society, about people preferring to buy iPhones rather than toilets, and Mercedes rather than beds. It wasn't just her love for Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen that immediately drew me, but also her profession of an equally undying love for the ramblings of Dostoevsky. And then, that night, and forever after, I was hers. We've had our troubles, of course, like any couple, but I never have real focus or light except when I'm near her.