I woke up this morning in Southern California to news of the Russian invasion of Georgia and the sounds of El Pito began to ring in my ears. (If you like Afro-Cuban music, play it. It’s great.) It also threw me back to the late Eighties, “glasnost days,” when I did go to Tblisi, Georgia as a stop on a cultural exchange with a group of American screenwriters visiting the then Soviet Union. I remember four things:
1. The beauty of the city – it was the one stop on our tour where most of the city had not been despoiled by the monstrosity of Soviet architecture, although, ironically, Stalin was a Georgian, his presence always ineffably in the air. Tblisi still looked almost Mediterranean.
2. The food – it was the best we ate anywhere. Even the wine was good.
3. The oldest of our group of traveling screenwriters – Julius Epstein – being introduced on stage to an audience of local film buffs and getting the biggest round of applause because he had written the only movie they had then heard of among our group of younger writers – Casablanca. (Others had written films like Indiana Jones, then unknown to them.)
4. Me, grandstanding and getting an equal round of applause plus a bouquet of roses from a local beauty, when I turned to that same audience and said that when I came back to their wonderful city “I hope I will be returning to a free and independent Georgia!”
So it goes.