A flight over the cuckoo’s nest and back

Part One
Biography of  a Writer
“What do you want from me?” - I murmured and recalled that we had been given sky-blue shirts and brown ties at the Dean’s office. Later, the money for this outfit was deducted from our stipend...”
“General Rodionov and Black Sam from Portobello”

“I kept inventing things all the time. Both my grandmother and my mother called me a liar. I was not a liar though. It just came out prettier like that. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t give it up. You invent something and it lasts for years. I have two books of this kind, you can’t even count the number of pages but,  I still cannot stop inventing”...

After graduating from school, he entered the History Department at Tbilisi University and then stayed on to work at the Faculty of Georgian History. He has been working at the University for 17 years.

Concurrently, he began to work for the press. “I went there for the money. It was a difficult period. It was then that the “Resonance” was founded. The founder lives in my district, I met him in the street and he told me how things were”.

Thus, Gio Akhvlediani became a reporter. In his reporting he covered the Parliamentary sessions. “Now I realise that I was a very bad reporter, I did not have a clue of what was going on... I did not take interviews, I just listened. But I met some good guys, the journalists but I am not sure whether I actually managed to create anything memorable on this front”...

This was the very time that Aka Morchiladze had appeared in the press - he wrote about Parliament. There were some other journalists who wrote exactly like Aka in “Resonance” but nobody paid much attention  to them.       “ I used to have many pseudonyms. They were ordinary names like Dato Kandelaki, Ika Japaridze, Aka Morchiladze...  I made sure that the names were not distinguished ones - like Longinoz Bagrationi, etc ...”

Unexpectedly, an important and serious Parliamentary reporter exhibited interest in the tabloid press and, became  the chief of the newspaper “Chocolate”. “How could I be an editor, I knew nothing about the trade but by the time I learned about it, the newspaper closed down. It was issued once every month and a half. It was the time of coupons and people were busy exchanging these coupons right, left and centre. I met with several distributors. I recall one of them was an Armenian, the second - an Azeri, a city dweller with a moustache.

“We published silly things, some photographs. The idea was that an erotic photograph would get the newspaper sold... However, this did not make us rich. Personally I am a very bad proof-reader and some awful things ran in that newspaper. Nothing could have made me read those stupid articles and two thousand mistakes went out in every edition...”

It was a paradoxical time. There was shooting in the streets, misery everywhere... and a newspaper  called “Chocolate” was launched...

An island

“That night I came home and made up
my mind to write something by any means”...
 “A Flight Over the Madatov and Back”
In short, a newspaper called “Chocolate” went into print, while in “Resonance” one Aka Morchiladze and several other very similar “ones” continued to devotedly highlight the Parliamentary news...

All of a sudden... “The Trip to Karabakh” appeared in the city.

All of a sudden... Aka Morchiladze became a person who many claimed was their good friend , this included those who were not yet aware who Gio Akhvlediani was.

“It was a time of dead money. For example my friend had a firm of some kind. He went to Turkey and brought a batch of footwear there and then took it to Siberia ... At the end of the day, he was left with 35,000 coupons. It was dead money unless you managed to revive it some way or the other... and we gave it to the printing house I think. I don’t even remember, I think it was a printing house that belonged to the psychiatric clinic of Gldani... This is how “The Trip to Karabakh” was published.

It had been a long time since anyone had managed to surprise this city with anything - good or bad...

Debates and arguments arose, acceptance - non-acceptance, liking-disliking... That was what work was like... Who do you find arguing about books nowadays...
And so, all of a sudden, unnoticed and unexpected, an island came into being...

“I did not feel any kind of popularity, maybe this was because the times were such... On Saturdays I would still write silly stories, lies, and truth in the “Resonance”, filling just a page”...

As I have already mentioned and as evidenced by his childhood friends, he had been writing and writing since early childhood.

“I took pleasure in it. It was good entertainment. I kept struggling with lengthy  topics and could not manage to bring them to an end. The Karabakh actually appeared quite easily and rapidly. I wrote at night-time, in Tskneti. By the time I had finished it, the Abkhazian war had broken out. I sat in the kitchen and typed. My wife switched the TV on and we found out that the war had begun. It was the 14th of August.

Had I written it six months later, it would have probably been about Abkhazia. Some say, it is an impudent book, you know. I want to tell you that at that time it did have some sense in it... It did not appeal to me a year later but there was nowhere to escape from it. It was as if “It’s me all alone”. When you are little, you view everything from a different angle... Anyway, the readers understood everything very simply: “This one is shown as a bad guy, that one - as a good guy.” “Why are they quarrelling, using bad language?” - someone asked. Well, these Caucasians have gone and slaughtered each other and aren’t  they even allowed to swear?
Shortly, I was through - I finished it. It did not go to print for quite a while and then it was published. Having been printed, it remained in the editorial office for a long time. I distributed some of the copies in the streets and we took it to some bookstores. Then as they started doing some repair work at  “Resonance” and I threw many away...”

“Threw away?”

“Yes, we threw the books away. I only took twenty copies home...”

This man will definitely take this city by surprise ...

First it will be a little island in the heart of the city, then the whole city and then the country. And then...

“Cool!” - the guys in my district said.

“Oh, dear, it drove us crazy”, the student girls said at the University.

“This boy has something to say”,  my father, a man with different taste said.

Part Two
A special appendix

“And off we went!”...He was telling this for a girl to hear - how they roamed up and down. We needed a whole ascent for this tale - the tale of our adventures. He got me mixed up in very noble affairs. But it was obvious that the girl would still not trust me...”
“Souls and Calves”

Then came “The Dogs of Paliashvili Street” followed by some small, some large publications in the Georgian press. There was “A Flight Over the Madatov” and of course there was “The XX Century”.

“Lately I write more in long hand, but I have also used the computer. I used to have a small, old lap top. I’ve since given it to my son as a gift since he studies the computer. My best written story happened to be typed on a computer. It is a sort of fun - you go up, then come down, you fly around... It’s good but the power problem, among other things makes it difficult... In short, I gave it to the child and realised that in winter writing by hand by the light of a kerosene lamp  was the best way for me. Thus, I wrote “Madatov” in two weeks. I would sit down beside a Turkish kerosene lamp - the one with a mirror. I finished this particular work by its light”.

Two weeks and a whole life...

How easy it is: pour the wine and drink it...

“Madatov” is a Georgian bestseller, they say... It is true that many people have read it. The others keep it on the table or at their bed-side intending to do so... Some even believe that they have already read it...This is good. Gio has been “accepted”. In his writings and personality everyone  has found something of their own.
He also became popular.

A writer’s popularity in contemporary Georgia, that of a writer like Aka Morchiladze, should mean something very good and hopeful...

“I am very grateful, but how can I make use of this popularity... It is good at an emotional level, it makes the family happy but I feel awkward. For me it is discomfort and generally it is just funny to speak about it. It’s not to be spoken about.

It is impossible for a man to live by it. It will probably be like that for a while. This is not a writer’s life that I live. It is an amateur’s preoccupation that takes up spare time... I feel best in the “Sarbieli” - with the fantastic guys there.”

There are virtually no topics left that Aka Morchiladze has not covered at some point: parliamentary sessions, every day life, a lot about sports and football. It was from journalism that Aka Morchiladze started writing, exactly like... no, I won’t say like who. Otherwise he will be accused of having compared himself to them. I hardly know anyone more balanced and humble than him. “It is also a pose”, someone else will say. Otherwise, how can he explain a thing like this in the environment of the general fight for “survival”?

Let it be a pose. This pose greatly appeals to me, personally. This is when others speak more and at greater length about the writer than he does about himself.

Part Three
A number of chronicles

“Did Balzac or Alfred de Vini indulge in philosophical debates?”
“A Flight Over the Madatov and Back”

He hardly ever agrees to give an interview. He never appears on TV and is never a part of the polemics. For some reason he does not want the label of a public figure to be attached to his name as a writer.

"Lately I can feel more attention being paid towards me. It is difficult, you know. I have a life of my own, my history and I dislike the interference of these public elements. Every now and then they would start telling me something that is of no interest to me. If I find something interesting, I'll say it at home, in the kitchen. I do not deem that since I'm writing, some people should come and ask my clever advice. If I had brains, I would have been different - like someone who is fit for this country. Social life was not invented for me and, moreover, not in the form that it is in our country. It is impossible for a man to be simply a writer who just wants to stay by himself and if you do want to ask him something, let it be about a book and not what he thinks about  a water pipeline or an oil pipeline, whether they are good or bad. I am free and sincere only when I write or recall something. There is church for sincerity. You know, I have made mistakes in my life and, therefore, I cannot give myself the right to approve or disapprove something for other people.

I cannot give an assessment of King Erekle. When he was undressed, an 80-year-old man had 90 wounds on his body... Should I speak of the fact that I have never had any wounds? "He was a bad man", "He was a good man", "He united us with the Russians"... Do you have to have at least one wound to have the right to speak? Have you sat at a table in Ganja, sick with consumption; have you ever had such an experience?..."

Comments and explanations of major events

First Explanation
“He studies folklore here... and collects stories about the ancient kings. And at the same time he is fond of travelling.
Have you been to the US?”
 “A Flight Over the Madatov and Back”

“To go and live there?

It’ s too late for me. My children might go... It would’ve been good to have enough money to go and stay there for a year or two, to see the country and come to know what the writers in the West are doing...

But you are a Georgian writer...

Regarding translating? I don’t know, I’ve never thought of that; it needs a different person or two people to do it. And I don’t think it is possible to gain access there with your own topics and your capabilities.

The only chance is to go to the post-Soviet area. I did have a number of options but I failed to follow them up. I can’t travel to Moscow in search of a better fate. Firstly, because I have a beard and I will shave neither for the Russian version of my book nor for 5,000 dollars...”

Second Explanation

One time Zviad Ratiani said that in Aka Morchiladze’s writings you never feel that he is lecturing or preaching to anybody...
Indeed, right he was.

At that time neither he nor myself knew that the reason for this could have probably been King Erekle’s 90 wounds or the reflection about the poet that passed away from tuberculosis in Ganja... and there are still many more other things that Gio Akhvlediani wants to know, that he already knows and that do not give him the right to judge anyone.

He lives by himself writing novels but there is an exception ...

“The XX Century” does not have a corporate structural form, there are no clans either, the time passes so that we are even unable to see each other. No one is attempting to impress his ideas on your mind. I’m a  member of the Pen Center,  but it is a different thing - it’s an international organization and has many members. “The XX Century” is merely a club where it is always pleasant to meet people.

Third Explanation

Something strange is going on. Gio Akhvlediani always writes in a different manner and uses different language. Naturally, sometimes he relates football events in a newspaper column, sometimes - the problems of the young men who smoke too much, at other times - the story of a folk poet who remained in old Tbilisi, or the biography of a Khato painter who found shelter on the Madatov.

And still, one is always able to recognize Aka Morchiladze... That is why, I want to write abot how he manages that and yet, I’ll hold back from doing so. It would be better if the people who are more suited write about them - be what they write good or bad. Myself, I’ll read and it will make me happy because it has been quite a while since I’ve read anything about his works.

“I have two books with so many pages that you won’t be able to count them, but I could not manage to stop inventing. I began one of them in 1993, there were about 200 typed pages in it. Then, when I read it, I didn’t like it. My dream is to write a book that I still like long after I have written it. If I manage to write it as I want to, perhaps I will not do anything else afterwards.

It resembled a humorous novel initially, then it was over... Then there were some kind of adventurous reminiscences, then I read Evelyn Veau and ... then I wrote the Madatov island, then I read the Acroid books and now I regret having written; this is how things usually happen. World literature races along without looking back, moving forward so fast that you cannot catch up with it. Literature is common to everybody notwithstanding the language it is in. Why should I need to publish a book today that was already published in 1929? That no-one wanted in 30s and became funny in the 50s? Everything changes... It is true that you’ve given me the things that I’ve been deprived of by your reason but what do I need 120 thousand copies of Henry Miller for when you don’t publish 5 thousand of today’s works?
When you read, everything changes...

Just try to say today that Kamo and Bachua Kuprashvili were courageous men. In the best case you are a hopeless romantic and in the worst case - an agent. But who knows, perhaps I have read and studied something about it. It is impossible to say “I like or dislike it” - you must know for sure.

Marx is not to be made fun of by provincial publicists. I am saying this not because I am a communist. For seven generations his family were rabbis. He used to write in such incredible German that I wish today we could manage to write in Georgian similar to his German ... Personally, if I were capable of writing in such language, I would be very happy. It should not be allowed to say that Marx was a fool and swear about him... Let them open the books and read what is written about Marx. He is somewhere too far away... The TV is very close and there is credit and debit there but to follow this way of living will do us no good at all... We need  specialists. Don’t they say that it is human resources that decide everything? There are problems everywhere, for instance, finding a person who is knowledgeable of something or someone who is even half knowledgeable of it.

One story that clarifies Tbilisi colours

“The street is dangerous, you come across your forgotten life in it. You are not looking for it but you will bump into it, on Rustaveli Avenue, somebody who is carrying your forgotten life, and all of a sudden the  bygone minutes preserved somewhere will come back to you. Lift up your collar, bud! Cross the street hastily, cross Rustavelis, watch the shop-windows.

But what can you do when he is tapping you on the shoulder.”

“Souls and Calves”

Dato Turashvili’s article about Gio Akhvlediani was published in “Studio” magazine. “Cholera” was its title. Now I cannot even recall why it was called so, they said this was the nickname he was given as a child. The article ends as follows: “Cholera”, the same as Aka Morchiladze and in reality - Gio Akhvlediani. Despite his terrible modesty, one of the newspapers did manage to get his consent for the interview in which “Cholera” frankly said that he had detested fighting since childhood and hadn’t ever hit anyone. I did not like fighting either but sometimes we had to and Gio really has never hit anyone - because, like in everything, he was strange in fighting as well and hit only with his legs...”

“Nonsense” , Baiard’s words caught up with him.
“There are more important  things
happening in the world.”
“Leave me alone”, Korghanov slammed the door,
“Why don’t you leave me alone?”

Aka Morchiladze “A Flight Over the Madatov and Back”

Marina Vashakmadze