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A fine, understated, evocation of the connections between the manual, the communal, the intellectual and the spiritual - accompanied by one of the greatest pieces of music ever penned on this planet: and by a man who, I sense, understood all this: Max Reger (1973-1916). This music, however, is not at all understated...!Here is the start of the Latin: it makes you long for more - much more! -Quid faciat laetas segetes, quo sidere terramuertere, Maecenas, ulmisque adiungere uitisconueniat, quae cura boum, qui cultus habendosit pecori, apibus quanta experientia parcis,hinc canere incipiam

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9

Georgian DoIt Yourself The View from the Balcony MUSIC

What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what starMaecenas, it is meet to turn the sodOr marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proofOf patient trial serves for thrifty bees;Such are my themes. VIRGIL The Georgics

It is often said that the way to test relationships is to work with people. I remember a tall, willowy Belgian pianist lady, ideal had she been available (and in duets when she was appareled with just the score and an adjacent, treble, long summer cotton dress, she was well - interesting) but who had a distinct aversion to brown cardboard boxes; so nul points. Life is all about moving on; and moving on always involves brown cardboard boxes; and lots of manual work; and maybe, like Virgil inThe Georgics, we can rejoice in manual work even non-agricultural work (!) and especially that manual work which is dona ferentes or bearing gifts: and the first thing that happens when you sign up a few neighbours for some so-called casual but, in the end, deeply serious renovation work is that they bring your almost immediately many wonderful gifts: gifts which are not worth at least twice the modest sum you decide to pay them; but gifts of memory and recognition.gifts which in the famous words of a Hebrew painter I once knew make you feel more human. Gifts which help make your day and help to define your collaborators as a nation and yourself as a person. Tariel,Toko,Alina,Nika,Khvicha,GiaNinas balcony has long been in need of renovation Nina is my Armenian landlady, a friend. I pay rent, rather than buy: above all for the relationship.Only in Georgia could people enjoy work exactly as above depicted. Nina has no idea how amazingly we are improving her mothers property!*

This collaborative phase in my life began, innocently and maybe appropriately enough, less than a month ago, with the need to visit the Georgian-Armenian border. My taxi friend Shota delivered admirably enough - waiting, in the searing heat, for an hour and three quarters for me to return from (what must have been) the Azerbaijani border. On the way home we bought some of the most sumptuous strawberries I have ever tasted. So a few days later I included Shota in the task of helping me in the disposing of 700 sheets of old A4 written notes; and later, helping me extract the essential information from a noticeboardbecause although I am easily inspired by complex tasks, I have a huge amount of trouble in starting mundane ones (He was more than happy to oblige)

Next, I commandeered Alina, a neighbour, in the production of notebooks full of ruled lines, and then the watercolour painting of symbolic squares. Success!Thus encouraged, I asked Alina and her husband to assist me in reconstructing the balcony and renovating the paintwork in the house.First, the water bottles essential in times of administrative draught need to have been filled. For the rare days when something goes wrong, one needs water stored in advance maybe 50 liters. Gia admirably helped me reposition this, but was astonished at my demandingness and inability to suffer gladly any lapse from perfection. With a great effort, rubbish was dislodged from around an old oil tank; and things which had fallen down the crack retrieved. Difficult poking movements with long sticks. The ensemble was then washed down, and all the water bottles stored precisely on the ancient, rusty surface.

Wildlife, in the form of grasses which had sprung up in and around the balcony had to be uprooted and two old carpets and a small babys bath relocated in Alinas cellar storage area. The bath contained a wasps nest, which accounted for the preponderance of these creatures around the balcony area as we started work.

The only bad moment of the day came when my ex-student and adventurous youth Toko momentarily imprisoned me in this dungeon. In a second I relived the Gulag, and it was a bit like the moment in Kes when, in the shop, and to get a bit of counter-play, Billy deliberately crashes in to newsagent Mr Porters step-ladder: I fair felt me eart go then!, says the recently stranded and perspiring Northerner, when rescued

The decision to remove all the fallen stones from the reticulated metal roof separating my balcony from that of the doctor below was a bold one. This required Gia to venture out on the pack-ice, as it were, and throw down all the irregular chunks of concrete which had fallen down over the years from the decaying balcony two floors above; and then sweep out all the debris of stones, earth, broken washing-line pegs, and so on, from the metallic crevices, with a selection of brushes. I worried much for his safety during this operation, at one time thinking of tying him in with a piece of old electrical wire, or at least getting his wife to cling on to him as he worked. But he proceeded with sang-froid and no fear; but the noisy, percussive operation provoked friendly or concerned visits and shouts from both the black-clad doctors sister below; and the headmistress who lives above. The first just arrived and barged in: Georgians have no sense of this is somebodys dwelling maybe I should knock; while Lia above called down various comments from her own balcony (itself infested with bindweed and miscellaneous ancient pieces of string, some blown there by the wind) but soon saw the virtues of my campaign; and as I pointed out to her, she could benefit from our developing expertise and already marshaled assault team. Ocha, Martin she said; which in Georgian roughly translates as, You are doing a great job here.

The metal roof when cleared

To everyones advantage, another restoration effort was going on in the flat above hers. I knew this as a few days back, the restorers had begun irrationally with painting the balcony rails in the kind of red you would have seen on the Great Western Railway in the days of Brunel, not sparing, with a few stray drops, some of my washing which was drying below. This as how I knew that they were in possession of the crease. But here an entire paved balcony floor was being abandoned and there would be rich pickings in the form of replacement tiles for those of mine which had become dislodged, or had simply been gratuitously kicked to touch over the years. At my urgings, their own balcony now sported a bright blue tarpaulin, apparently in an effort to protect the North Ossetia and Abhkazia of my own and Lias dwellings from further carnage. And in this flat, which in a topsy-turvy Jabberwocky fashion they were busy restoring, there was some sensational original Soviet-era wallpaper in mint condition; which I urged them to preserve at all costs. Here, Khvicha greying and tall like an ancient sea-god and the deft nimble Nika were the chief protagonists. Nika was to help me later

With a weather eye to my teaching plans, I took an overnight decision not to get too carried away by the prospects of restoring the Soviet-era woodwork just yet. It would be a task I could carry out myself alongside others in the months and years ahead And around 2 a.m. , still surfing on the energy of a great day of collaboration, I realized that I had not even noticed that I had not had any supper. Rebatets wonderful lines came back to me, something like, the long, long day at last drew to a close. He is writing about Michels final conquest of Anne-Marie (after 800 pages) and before things begin to turn sour (Michels jealousy, Anne-Maries insanity, Rgis lifelong enmity and hauteur). In spite of all, here was a writer who understood the great rhythms of life, which are all around us and which return like a motif in Parsifal, Siegfried or Gotterdmmerungand which - of course - are like that because they want to show us the great rhythms of life)And I had re-connected with the craft side of my skills, dormant for almost two decades, those skills I needed so painfully to excavate from the chaos of my psyche, in that almost remote past now vague to me, which it turned out were essential in giving me what balance, tact and individuation I may now possess.

Rare Soviet wallpaper in the flat upstairs The virtues of sanding (below) and plastic wood - not generally obtainable in Georgia

And as Huysmans wrote somewhere, God opened up the shuttered lodging of my soul, and light and air streamed in