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Letter from Tbilisi: George W Bush St, the DOD and 19th century meals

Gavin Cooney moves on to Geneva having been charmed by the Georgian capital, if not the football.

Alan Keane from Castleknock before the game.
Alan Keane from Castleknock before the game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SURVIVE THE FIRST couple kilometres down the half-built motorway linking Tbilisi with its airport and you’ll see a sign for George W. Bush Street.

Naming a street after Bush was a diplomatic gesture on the Georgians part, after Bush turned up in their country in 2005 to address tens of thousands of people from Freedom Square.

The purpose of the visit was to mark the 60th anniversary of World War II’s end but also, it was understood, for the U.S. to give the Georgians a bit of a leg-up in reclaiming territory in Russian hands.

That hasn’t exactly worked out for Georgia since, and in 2010 there were protests calling for the street to be renamed.

(If you’re about to scoff at Georgia naming a road after Bush then don’t — we are responsible Barack Obama Plaza, the only global monument to African-American emancipation to include a Papa John’s Pizza and a diesel forecourt.)

Surviving is the operative word for driving around Tbilisi. Road markings have generally been deemed inessential, while the use of indicators are a rare extravagance and fully subservient to the last-second blaring of someone else’s horn.

Still, some American references in Tbilisi have dated a bit better than Bush Street — travel another couple of kilometres from the airport and you’ll pass a bowling alley called Lebowski Bowl.

Ireland v Georgia abides, this being the squad’s third game in Tbilisi since 2003.

(It might have been the fourth, but the 2008 game between the sides was moved to Mainz as the conflict with Russia kicked off – thanks for that, Bush.)

A measure of Ireland’s familiarity with the place was seen in the fact that a few of the travelling journalists’ laptops automatically connected to the stadium WiFi from memory.

Georgian manager Vladimir Weiss is even more familiar with Ireland than you might expect a Georgia manager to be, given he twice faced us when he was in charge of Slovakia.

Evidently jaded by having to again praise Ireland’s fighting spirit ahead of the game, Weiss decided to workshop some new material during his pre-game press conference and compared the mad, frantic energy supposedly found in Ireland’s play to Michael Flatley’s dancing.

Flatley isn’t the only Irish name to travel to Georgia – the first thing that popped up when I put on the TV was a dubbed version of A Film with Me in It, featuring Dylan Moran and David O’Doherty.

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Tbilisi is a poor city by Eurpean standards, and so is extremely cheap for the Irish football visitor. A really good meal shouldn’t cost you more than €15, and pints are little over a euro each.

That the booze is so cheap led to the kind of wild, apocalyptic scenes among some Irish fans late on Thursday night that our old friend Michael Flatley might call Sodom and Begorrah.

It’s a strange, alienating experience to wander around Tbilisi on a sports journalists’ salary and feel like something approaching the monied elite, but that feeling will be easily exorcised by a few minutes’ stroll around Geneva, a city in which you need a Credit Union loan to order lunch.

The best meal I had was in a small restaurant on Baku Street called
Barbarestan, which opened four years ago when the chef stumbled across an 19th-century cookbook by Barbare Jorjadze, a late Georgian princess and women’s rights activist.

The restaurant was opened specifically to cook the meals in the book, and it was brought to my table while I was waiting for food, encased in a wooden box and touched only by those wearing protective gloves like a kind of gastro Book of Kells.

Tbilisi is a deeply charming place – what a pity Ireland were again compelled to befoul it with their football.

- Originally published at 08.17

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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