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Tags: #Prose

Bitches Brew

I had met Zaza only a number of times. Three of them are especially memorable to me. Once was at PurPur, when I saw him for the first time with Salome, and two other times at our place. After that, when I look from my balcony at a priest's bolted windows in front of our block of flats, Zaza's remark always pops up in my head: “Why did he put those grills on, is he scared of the devil flying in?”

A golden Georgian symbol of the sun glitters on the black cover of A Tourist Breakfast. There is only one pure being in this book – the 2-year-old Alissa Tihiro – who collects dead birds that are lying around in the squares of Berlin in a plastic bucket. The entire book is like a dream, its main characters bearing the masks of realistic people are casts created through Zaza's visions.

A Tourist Breakfast – this is a hypertext that has an effective beginning and a horrifying conclusion. But it has so many ways out in parallel realities, that it makes no sort of difference as to where you begin reading. In any case, one good psychedelic trip awaits you.

You as a person must have some kind of manhood to confess that Zaza Burchuladze and his book are really great. Both of them are difficult to grasp for simple assessments; they always slip from your hands. In precisely that moment when you hit upon something significant and valuable, you are reminded that Zaza has his fingers crossed behind his back.


“When I grow up, I want to be a little boy.”

Joseph Heller, Catch 22

 Nino: When you begin reading A Tourist Breakfast, it becomes clear from the very start that the book quite strongly resembles to Zaza Burchuladze's autobiography. Yet, on the other hand, the text is written in such a way that you may never be able to realize if the recounted stories were invented or are real. So, tell me, what kind of stories are told in this book – fabricated or facts that have really taken place?

Zaza: Anything that has been recounted is already a lie. As Nietzsche says: “There are no facts, there are only interpretations.” Thus, of course, it has been fabricated. Each person has his own truth and this book is my truth. How can something exist apart from my emotions, my experience? However I would say that A Tourist Breakfast is not my biography, it is more of an identity card - useless piece of information for someone else, no good to others, but a collection of fragments and details very dear and important to me. This book is my personal act of taking care of these fragments, nurturing the episodes that I cherish.

Nino: For example, how did the passage of stealing the Swiss “cherry” wallet from a T.K. Maxx in Charlottenburg end up in the text? Did you really steal it or do you want to say that Zaza Burchuladze is able to do it?

Zaza: You can ask the same thing of any passage: “Yes, but was this real?” For me it was. Of course it was. Everything was. Even more, that which didn't end up in the text had also been. I went through this, I dreamed of all this. This is my reality in which I live.

Nino: This is the first book you have written in Germany after departing from Georgia. What stayed with you after concluding the book, what did A Tourist Breakfast leave for you?

Zaza: If they hadn't driven Dante out of Florence, would we have had The Divine Comedy? I don't think so. I had to be broken off from everything that I love in order to write a genuine text about it. Some distance is necessary. I think I just wouldn't be able to do this in Tbilisi.

For Tbilisi the song "Here comes the Sun"
by The Beatles is more suitable, whereas
Berlin's best soundtrack is the song "Ain't
no Sunshine" by Bill Withers.
A Tourist Breakfast
An excerpt from the book

Nino: However cynical this book must be, it is a declaration of love for Georgia. In one glance, this text is archetypically a deconstruction of something dear and at the same time, your very simple, clear identification with being a Georgian. Did you always know that you really loved Georgia, Tbilisi, or did you discover this in Berlin?

Zaza: Do we need time to realize who or what we love or we are aware of the love extant within us from the very beginning? I don't know. I can't say that Berlin in particular helped me in any case to figure this. It's just distancing that turned out to be beneficial. Tbilisi is like a phantom pain for me – like an amputated limb. You might not have a finger, but it still itches. Tbilisi is like my nervous endings. This way or that way, I realized in Berlin that I'm a Georgian.

Nino: At almost the beginning of the book you write: “However long I live in Berlin, which is always open to everybody like a 24-hour emergency pharmacy, I still have a feeling that I'm in Tbilisi. The more time passes, the more intensely I feel that there is not a drop of non-Georgian blood in me.” So, for you, what is it to be Georgian?

Zaza: One of the main identifying features is our proclivity towards misfortune. In America's Declaration of Independence, life, freedom, and a desire for happiness have been cited as a human being's supreme values, which is obviously a contracted version of John Locke's theory. Yet we, Georgians have a completely different approach to these values. We can still argue about the first two - about life and freedom, but the third one - desire for happiness - is completely indisputable – instead of happiness, we have a proclivity towards misfortune. This is our supreme value. But for me personally, language is the main identifying feature. For me, being a Georgian is the Georgian language. I love this language, I'm in this language. I am this language.

Nino: Does the concept “I am tormented, consequently I exist”, which you develop in your text and say that Georgians find happiness through torment and within torment, personally apply to you as well, as a Georgian?

Zaza: If I'm not being tormented, I have some discomfort. Even more, I doubt that I exist, and if I exist, why and for what? This question always circles around me just as much, but if I'm not being tormented, then life becomes useless, unconvincing to me. I am a person born in the Soviet Union, I know what it means to invent problems and then heroically endure them. I love creating an elephant from a fly. This is what Miles Davis says in Autobiography:

“I would look into the mirror and see a whole fucking movie, a horror movie.”

Nino: A Tourist Breakfast is a very ironic text, you can't clearly say if you are telling something in a serious manner or if you are jesting around. You mock everyone and everything, beginning with Humboldthain's squirrels and ending with yourself. I get the sense that self-irony is a tool for you, a tool of remaining unpunished.

Zaza: Probably. This is my instinct, like some inherited reflex to cross my fingers behind my back. And fingers crossed in a timely manner can be sharp as a sword.

But this entire text is some kind of depressing carnival also. If someone comes into this carnival and participates in it, puts on a mask, and entertains himself, I'll be happy.

Nino: I usually think that your books are personally created for Georgians, as if they come with a note: “I'm sending it to this or that address, and please, hand it to the addressee personally.” How dooes the Georgian news reach you in Berlin?

Zaza: Salome is my courier of news, but I tell her to give me maximally filtered information. And if something extraordinary does not happen, the news can't reach me. At the last moment, I had taken one of the most important stories, a real masterpiece out of my text, which really broke my heart, but I consciously took it out because this story is so grand that it destroyed the entire text. So the story that the Georgian public broadcaster ran, broke out in a true manner of Stephen King novel: “This is Chiko – the parrot, that speaks and can you imagine, even recites prayers...” This is really a genuine colossus! Anyway, some Father Akaki had this bird in a cage, which had once been left open and Chiko flew away. The bird finally flew in through the window of one Tbilisi family. Once in the room, he began reciting the prayers. The story ended with many people in that block of flats converting. Imagine that when a parrot makes you convert, how strong your faith is... This is a real madness!

Nino: Despite that your entire Berlin life is imbued with a feeling of nausea and a taste of iron in the mouth, both literally and I think, in a figurative sense, you still don't complain. You write in A Tourist Breakfast: “There's a slow-acting bomb sitting in my gut and not just a liver. This is already all of Sahidic poetry, if you desire, mujaheddin blues”. What helps you in even turning the torment caused by being treated for hepatitis C into text?

Zaza: I'm a consumer and a perfectionist. I was an artist studying at the Art Academy, but one day I realized that it wasn't for me. Then I somehow began writing. Yet there is not a large contrast between these things. It's just... I replaced paints with words; I dedicated myself to being a writer. And in a certain sense, it worked out well. Yet to be dedicated to something implies to saying no to many things, and I have the sense that I've been unable to live a complete and colorful life. Otherwise, in my texts, I give off the impression of someone far more carefree than I am in reality. Many think that I'm quite an adventerous person, who always  hangs out at night clubs. This is a compliment then. If others consider me as such person, it means the text is convincing. In reality however, I'm a liar, the Great Pretender, an actor who takes on a thousand roles for himself. My life is a comedy – on the one hand, it is Mein Kampf, and on the other hand, it is my personalised version of 8½ and City of Women combined. As for perfectionism, I'm always looking for the right words, because I constantly remember Mark Twain's statement: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Nino: What is it that evokes a desire to share things with others in you? What passion is it to write about your own weaknesses and instead of burning the text, take it to Bakur Sulakauri Publishing and print it with the largest print-run possible?

Zaza: In the beginning, I thought of not printing it as a book, but instead placing it online for free, and anyone desiring to do so could read the text. But then I waited a little, and decided not to do so,  because I got scared that no one will be interested in something that is free. If a product is not packaged appropriately, it will be unable to make it to the addressee. Books are no longer being bound in covers studded with precious stones like The Knight in the Panther Skin so they can be sent off with a woman as a dowry. Today we really don't know what we want. Until we see a Coca-Cola ad, we can't even tell that we're apparently thirsty.

Nino: You're saying that packaging something correctly in an attractive manner is important. In other words, the way you look is also important, right? How do you construct your outer image?

Zaza: I think that even the content is changed by the outer aspect, it makes us read the filler in a different way. When the style becomes almost uniform, or everyone is dressed almost the same way, even a slight divergence from this homogeneity creates an illusion for you that you stand higher than what you escaped from. This however, is accompanied by attacks of giddiness. In Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, Sharikov begins to demonstrate power over his own people when he gets dressed, or when he stands higher than those of his kind. Generally, I'm a show-off kind of guy. There is such a good American writer Tom Wolfe, who constantly wears a white suit. Why? Because he wants to be prominent.

As for the desire to share, John Coltrane said, I want to make people feel how I understand them. I understand their pain and want to lighten it for them. I'm not motivated by such lofty goals. I don't know, you probably know what it is. Human sadness hung out in the cosmos, when you realize you're nothing, generally nothing. Everything is fleeting and you want to have enough time and scratch on a wall that Vano, Gurami, Nana… I don't know – that someone was here... That look, I was also here. This is probably a fear of vanishing. “The battle of this forsaken soul still won't go down badly, will it.” As Hölderlin says: “We are nothing, that we search for is everything.”

Nino: Have you thought what kind of death you would want?

Zaza: I would want to commit suicide, if I had the inner power, I want to control my death.

Nino: How? Would you fire a gun into your temple?

Zaza: I don't think so, I'm an aesthete. I don't think blowing your brains would be pretty. This is the special moment - an encounter of life and death, and not another Lynch film, really. In any case, neither am I drawn to hanging. I don't want to encounter death having shat my pants. I've shat out in life and it is enough for me. At one time I was enchanted by the idea of slitting my wrist in a hot bath, but you wouldn't do this wearing clothes, it isn't pretty. I'm however scared of being naked. Thus probably an overdose. Yet even gas is good… gas! The Japanese are great in this respect.

Nino: This fragment suddenly came to my mind from the book: “I greatly wanted to return to Father's zhiguli, there where I felt completely unprotected and helpless. Who knows, maybe because that any kind of past seems all the more comfortable to you as time goes on, since all the stories exist there in a ready form and there is no longer the danger of ending them in a worse manner.” And in the meanwhile you discuss the idea of suicide as such as if you aren't even afraid of death.

Zaza: I'm a cowardly person, of course. I have some sense, and accordingly, I confess to myself that I am weak. I can in no way get rid of the fear that my daughter, Alissa Tihiro will hurt or damage herself. If it was on me, I would place her in the kind of protected room where they put aggressive madmen not to hurt themselves. In my opinion, a padded room would be ideal for Tihiro, where no sharp object could be found.

All of this is my self-defense, my shield. These glasses are my shield too, I can get my vision corrected and take off the glasses, but I like glasses, they protect me. They act as a curtain, a border, or partition between myself and others, between me and the outer world. Shaving one's head and beard too, everything is a shield. I will recite some Galaktion: “I see some dreams not of your fellow man” you can't grab a hold of me, “I'm an inhabitant of different spaces.”

In reality, I'm a small man and I crawl on the ground. I'm not a god sitting in an armchair, laughing loudly in Homeric fashion. I am Gregor Zamza – a man who crawls about and leaves a radiant trace. The most horrifying main character in world literature is a man who dies not knowing that he has wings and can fly away.

Nino: You can see yourself from the side, can't you? Well then, can you explain to me what you say that others aren't saying, what makes you a distinguished writer?

Zaza: It seems to me that I understand the writers I read. I stress this because comprehension, in Mamardashvili's words, is a complex act. This means to adopt something heard, or as you wish, something read into your own experience. Clearly, it isn't always like this. This act sometimes takes place, sometimes it doesn't, but something certainly settles on you. John Coltrane was a genius musician, he was a seeker and improviser, but he died as such that he was unable to create something revolutionarily large, which would have changed the course of music. Coltrane was under some influences all throughout his life. From Sonny Rollings to Ornette Coleman, endlessly. I'm also always under some influences, thus I try to mix these influences into my own style. Let's say I write one sentence or an entire paragraph in a way that I’ll be thinking of Seneca or Rabelais, but write in the language of Hunter Thompson or Burroughs, or vice-versa. Similar mixes usually give birth to really strange, beautiful worlds.

This is why I light a cigarette from the candle pictured on the Sonic Youth album (see the photo on p. 39). I sustain myself through these influences. There is not only Sonic Youth and me in the photo. Gerhard Richter is also here, the one that painted this candle. But this conversation is taking us far away.

A Tourist Breakfast was an attempt at this. When you brew-up such a whorish thing, you must try for your voice to be heard somewhere. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis is one of those albums that changed the current of music. As such, Miles Davis has a hell of a lot of masterpieces, but Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew are two impregnable peaks. In regard to the latter, jazz and rock meet each other here, a little bit of punk too. This is fusion. Fusion is also my entire literature. I would say this is between Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew.

Nino: Giorgi Nakashidze said something kind of like this, “When I finished A Tourist Breakfast, the finale itself brought up the inscription 'coming soon' within my mind.” What will the next book be about? Will it be about Georgia? About yourself?

Zaza: I never know specifically what I will write about. If you have a spine of concepts before writing, it's already good. You gradually add things to the spine and if the heart starts beating in the organism and the lungs start breathing, then you try to save this new life, and let it go public. Yet, sometimes your child comes out ugly and you even love this ugly thing as a parent. You let that thing go out into the world and send a helping hand. But it's frequently like an ectopic pregnancy, more precisely, you miscarry, unable to breathe life into it.

Nino: Do you require some kind of artificial alteration of the consciousness at some stage during your work? Are hallucinogens a means for you to “play” with consciousness or not?

Zaza: I don't need any drugs. I'm a narcissist in love with myself. But at the same time, I have the illusion that I'm holding the reins of power. I'm scared that these reins will slip out of my hands and this is why it brings me no pleasure. I can receive an almost identical alcohol pleasure or drug high with a sober mind, too.

I'm always working. My workday and work night resemble each other. If I'm in the process of writing, then my brain sucks-up everything like blotting paper. We Georgians really are consumers. I'm also a consumer of the phantoms surrounding me, trying to grab hold of them, put them through my filter and turn them into a text.

Nino: Why are you so intensely gripped by control?

Zaza: I don't know, probably the traumas I received during childhood intensified and returned to me like a boomerang. We, cultured people, come from our own traumas and look, I, this cultured person, want to be more handsome and attractive than I am, to sell myself at a higher price than what I'm worth... Otherwise, I'm not even worth it.

Nino: You are never reluctant to stress that you love animals more than humans. Why? Do you hate humans?

Zaza: I don't hate them. We're also animals. The only difference is that we have the ability to think abstractly. We are the greatest predators. Eating meat is not a necessity for a person's life, but he still eats it. He is not at all stirred by the fate of animals. While I was in Tbilisi, I went to the zoo every morning, where my heart was filled up with the animals' sadness. I'm against any kind of zoo, the imprisonment of animals. It is no longer necessary to show our children animals in a cage in order to demonstrate that we were victorious over them. But we stubbornly want to have a zoo. We've oppressed the world of animals so much that I have a sense that a great crime has been born to me. From here – an intensified love and respect for them. Humans are guilty before animals.

The most caring and kind voice I've heard in my life belonged to Nikolai Drozdov, the host of “In the World of Animals”, a Soviet TV program. This was an almost impossible man. He spoke about even a rat as if he held a butterfly. Gombrowicz writes at one point in his diaries: “A person on a horse has the same sort of obtuseness for nature as a monkey on an elephant.” We've placed the entire world under our crotches, smeared everyone and everything on our asses.

Nino: Is there something which you especially value in a person?

Zaza: Self-sacrifice, the ability to dedicate. I've dedicated myself to my profession and became seized by something. A researcher, an artist, a sportsman... If they aren't tenacious, they will be unable to achieve anything. You as a person must frequently repeat it like Galaktion: I will break up the country and create it anew.”

Nino: Details become important in your books and important stories become hollow and empty. Do any moments from your life come to mind that have radically changed your fate, perception, or fundamentally changed you in some way?

Zaza: The first thing that comes to my mind is Joy Adamson's Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds. The observation of animals and an interest in their fate began from here.

There is also one scene from Fellini's Amarcord when Titta is telling her confession to Don Balosa the priest in a church. The priest at times listens to her, and at times sniffs his own fingers and you realize that he had these fingers in some bad place up until then. I then realized it is important to observe details. Through details, you can find the cause in the result.

And of course my cold grandmother who died in her sleep. We lay in one bed. My grandfather woke up in the morning, I was roused by his shout. I felt with my feet that the dead person had retained some warmth under the blanket, otherwise her face had already turned blue. As soon as they took off the blanket, the heat also dissipated like a dream of the night.