Concertina: A Concert for Tina

The week I returned from Paris was a rough one.  I had very little sleep and a good deal of Jetlag upon return, but tried my best to tackle it in the first few days.  I think I did a pretty good job!  I only missed one day’s worth of school!  Whoops!

That Wednesday, Tina asked me if I wanted to come to a concert with her.  It sounded like a good plan to me.  She didn’t tell me exactly what it was, only that everyone was going and she had an extra ticket for me since Ilia would be away and Tata was taking care of poor sick Niccolo.  It was a Wednesday–my busiest day, and so I was undernourished and exhausted by the time 4 rolled around and we hopped in a cab to the Sports Hall.  Like the main one that hosts the national basketball team.

I wasn’t sure what exactly what we were on our way to, so I was a bit surprised when Tina dashed off to a side entrance to the sports hall leaving me, Manana, and Luka to our own devices.

Our devices were working quite well.

As we waited in the packed stadium for the event to begin, I questioned Manana about what kind of event we were at, anyway.  She told me that all of the schools had had all sorts of cultural competitions.  What’s more, my school, School #175 in Mukhiani, had won in three of the four categories!  We were in the finals for first prize!  I saw Tina sitting across the stadium from us in a special section with the directors from all the most prominent schools in Tbilisi (School #53, School #1, etc.).

That's Tina sitting right under the light. Those are the other finalist directors sitting to either side of her.

The whole stadium was lit up and arranged nicely to accommodate a concert, rather than a basketball game.  There was an enormous stage and bright lights and a giant banner for USAID–part of the reason for the concert was to promote AIDS awareness.

Tada! Sponsored by USAID!

There was a suspicious throne in the middle of the audience and I wasn’t sure who it was.  I had my fingers crossed for Saakashvili, but it wasn’t meant to be.  No, instead the Patriarch himself showed up!  Depending on who you ask, that’s even better!!!

He had this nice red carpet laid out for him to walk along to get to his throne. Poor old man was shaking pretty terribly, but he gave a very nice speech. Wish I knew it was about!

Once the Patriarch had taken his seat, we were ready to begin the festivities.  Apparently what was going to happen was that song, dance, and poetry-reading groups from the finalist schools would demonstrate their excellence on stage in front of the Patriarch and on national television.  At the end of the performances the winning school would be named and awarded with a prize.  The first group was a Georgian boys’ choir.

The understandable pressure of singing on TV in front of the Georgian Pope was too much for one boy who fell unconscious a short way in to the performance. On the big screen you could see his legs retract as he was quietly dragged away by stage hands.

After the opening song/medical emergency, the American Ambassador took the stage to give a nice speech about the necessity to increase sexual education and awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  He had a nice capstone line about “Hopefully I can come back in twenty years and we can host the biggest, best suphra ever celebrating the end of HIV/AIDS as a major threat to Georgian public health.”  I hope he’s right.  This would suggest he might be on to something.

John R. Bass is the Ambassador to Georgia and although he sneakily avoided spending time with us when we were actually at the Embassy, the sneak!

The performances continued after Mr. Bass’s speech and kicked into a higher gear with a very energetic drum performance.  The drummers kept passing their drums around, tossing them to the central drummer (The King of the Drummers!) and twirling them on their knees as they kept a steady, fast, tempo.  It was quite impressive.  They sure beat the hell out of my efforts to impress during Martvili Thanksgiving!

I really got in to this performance. As a (mediocre) percussionist I could appreciate the skill of these guys maybe better than the average audience member. Who knows, though, maybe the Patriarch was the star drummer of his high-school band as well!

After the drummers, some Georgian dancing happened!  We’d now had the trifecta of Georgian singing, drumming, and dancing!  I was already very well satisfied!

These dancers were good. Later we saw some phenomenal ones though. Tragically, our view was constantly obstructed by the supports of the stage as our seats were really un-optimum.

The traditional dresses of the Georgian folk dances was really something to behold.  You can see the boys above wearing a fashionable waistcoat (whose name I forget) adorned with a large kinzhal (the big dagger) and pouches along their chests for shells.  Not like Mario Kart shells, like shotgun shells.  The Caucasus has lots of warlike traditions birthed in a history of necessity.  When you’re on the fringe of every major empire in history, you learn how to defend yourself pretty damn well.

The ladies' garb was a bit less aggressive. No knives or shotgun shells for the women, just bangles and gold embroidery! I thought it looked quite nice and swishy, hence the difficulty of capturing it on film!

After the above multi-media-format presentation (Singing and dancing!), I finally got to see some students from my own school perform!  Alas, none of them were kids I recognize or teach, but it was good to know that they belonged to my 175 Clan!

Yeah, we deserve to win.

Finally, after about an hour and a half of performances, the directors were called to the stage for the announcing of the prizes.  As Tina stood on stage with the other directors, my heart was racing.  I realized that I had a lot invested in my school.  I had a lot of school pride for a place where I’d only been for four months.  I really, really wanted her to win.  It was a strange feeling to find myself so involved and caring so much.  I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose–it has been a rather intense four months.  Either way, being unable to understand what the MC was saying only made me more nervous!

They announced second place prize first and handed most of the directors big bags with some sort of consolation prize in it. Probably a gift certificate to Applebee's.

I noticed that Tina didn’t get anything while every other director received some sort of bag.  At first that worried me, but then I realized I should have been thrilled already!

That's right, folks. It's official. Tbilisi School #175 is the best in the country. The rest of you can go home now.
Tina got to make an acceptance speech in front of the Patriach of Georgia and on national television! It was a really proud moment for her. I mean, I felt proud, so I can't even imagine how she must've felt!

Following Tina’s speech, the performances resumed, but now they generally included a lot of famous Georgian celebrities and pop stars from GeoStar.  I didn’t recognize any of them (as I don’t watch TV here, The Office aside), but Manana and Luka got more and more excited with each subsequent star who graced the stage.  Maybe some Georgians or in-tune foreigners who read this blog can clue me in as to who these people are?

This lady was very pretty and sung very well. Other than that, I can't tell you who she is. I would if I could. It's not like CIA "I can't tell you." More like Ignorance "I can't tell you."
This man sang a nice song with an entire choir of girls! It was pretty cute. I thought I recognized a few of my students in the choir. I was wrong. Alas!
To be honest, I wasn't crazy about her.

Finally, the grand finale (yes, that was intentional) arrived in the form of the best Georgian dancing I have ever seen.  Those are not italicizations of sarcasm, but rather of extreme emphasis.  They were doing moves that I could barely comprehend!  They were whirling and twisting in inhuman ways all while in beautiful traditional dress and hats.  It was really a sight to behold.  Here’s a photo that foreshadows their performance:

More like back-shadowing! Zing!
This photo really captures the motion and fluidity of the dance. Also, can I just point out the central dancer's feet? Look at how he is standing. This isn't even the best part of what they all were doing!

I was really starving and had to pee like a racehorse by this point.  It had been all day since I had eaten (Read: I hadn’t eaten all day) and I was pumped we had won because that meant we were going to a restaurant!  My family is probably pretty well-off.  My three host moms work hard and hold down multiple jobs.  Tina’s clearly the best director in the country, Manana has two jobs, and Tata works at the Presidential Palace.

She's some sort of typist. FYI, this photo was taken in March and Jay Troop's similar photo was force deleted by the security guards. (Yes, the security guards are Jedi.)

So we do pretty well for ourselves.  That said, we have never gone out to eat.  But it’s not every day that your mom wins first prize in a city-wide scholastic cultural competition, is it?

Vika on the far right is the assistant principal--or at least that's how I see her. These are all Tina's buddies at school and we all celebrated together with vodka and FIFTY KHINKALI!!!! It was a good night. Check out that Trophy!!
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