Lost Identity

Georgian Nightlife Had Begun to Look a Lot Like One of Those Low Budget TV Series I see on Cable

News | Mariam Shalikashvili | November 2007

As I reached the boarding lounge at the Vienna Schwechat Airport, I overheard a very familiar Georgian conversation: Shopping in Vienna was not as good as in Paris, a Georgian woman was complaining to a friend, who nodded, but preferred Moscow. Then followed a list of fancy boutiques and an exchange of advice on were to go and what to buy.

They were a sight to behold, dressed from top to toe in designer outfits, teetering on spike heels, faces veiled in large sunglasses. I remembered something I had read:  "Put even the plainest woman in a beautiful dress and unconsciously, she will try to live up to it," turn-of-the-century fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon had written. I wondered whom they were trying to impress at the airport at 5 o’clock in the morning. But I knew the answer: whoever was meeting them at the airport back home.

"That’s it. Now we are almost home," I whispered to my companion, who was watching the woman with stacks of bags in her hands desperately trying to squeeze into the waiting line, as if getting on first would bring her home sooner.

Summer had just begun when we arrived in Tbilisi, and the streets, cafés and restaurants were full to overflowing. The next day I started my round of visits to all the hot new spots in the town. I kept hearing up-beat reports on the city, from the people I was in touch with over "My Space" and "Skype;" how it was getting more and more beautiful, clean, and how life in general was improving. So my expectations were high.

The reality was disappointing. Georgian night life had begun to look like one of the low budget TV-series I watch in Vienna on my Georgian cable TV, thinking it was a parody. I felt myself sliding into a vast abyss somewhere between reality and staged performances. What is happening to my country? I thought, puzzled and disappointed. My motherland was becoming westernized, losing all its traditions, it’s uniqueness, everything that had made it the country I loved.  For one thing, nobody seemed to be eating dinner at home anymore. "Let’s go out to eat somewhere," was all I heard.

Was everyone hungry all the time? No, they just wanted to dress nicely and show themselves off in those fancy places where fancy people were gathering. Anyway, how could they be hungry when the leading topics in most of the conversations were the latest diets from celebrities and new solariums and spa centers which promised to change your looks after a few massages and peeling sessions – the more expensive, the better. How can anyone spend four hours in the hairdressers twice, or even three times a week.

I saw people selling off the works of art and porcelain they had inherited to afford the celebrity life they’d seen in media and longed for so desperately. Were they trying to fool people around them, pretending everything was perfect in their lives, that the only thing that bothered them was the artificial nail that got broken while they were looking for the Gucci wallet in their bag? Or had they just got so used to their celebrity roles that they started believing it themselves?

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Andy Warhol wrote in 1968. Forty years later, this must be the future, and these people want to make sure to be ready when their moment comes.

I think everyone has imitated someone at some point in their lives. When I was a little girl, I loved trying on my mom’s high heels and her red lipstick. I walked back and forth, barely able to stand on my feet, trying hard to look like my mother, imitating her gestures and walking like a model on the cat-walk. In school I imitated my teachers, even dreaming about becoming like them. We have role models in childhood whom we try to look and act like. It’s important to be around the right people or watch the right movies or programs on TV.

When we are young, we have our parents to control that. After we grow up, it becomes our own choice whether we want to remain heroes of  the fairy tales our grandparents once read us and the cartoons that always seemed to have a happy ending, or whether we want to face reality and live our lives as they are, without dramatizing them.

I remember once telling a friend about Ingmar Bergman’s "Cries and Whispers." Listening to the plot, she looked at me with her eyes wide.

"Don’t you have your own problems in life?" she asked. "I’d rather watch something based on the book by Danielle Steel and imagine it’s happening to me, rather than depress myself thinking about those kinds of questions." It felt like ‘déjà vu;’ I’d heard her say things like that so many times. Arguing, I knew, was pointless.

People seem so eager to oversimplify their lives by turning into fashion robots and following a style of living by stealing the lives of prominent people, lives directed by spin doctors who are keeping close eye on the trends. Shakespeare was right: All the world is still a stage, and all of us merely players. We have our exits and entrances, and the show goes on.

Once, my cousin told me that life in Georgia reminds him of the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray finds himself living the same day over and over again.

Cultural and social life is so limited in Georgia that people get depressed by the daily routine. Maybe all this is just an attempt to add some adventure to their monotonous lives, by creating personas and bringing them to life. Perhaps their endless imitation of others who they believe live more interesting lives is not snobbery at all, but a cry of despair.

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