Live Long, Prospero’s

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It was quite a surprise, having visited Georgia from Baku in the summer of 1999, to move here on December 1 and find an English language bookshop waiting for me in a courtyard at 34 Rustaveli Avenue. Delightful! It had been my Saturday habit while living in St Petersburg, Russia, to visit bookshops there and scrounge for what suited me and what I could afford in English. Most of those 700-odd books I had to leave behind; although I did manage to fly out with 105 kg of check-in luggage, most of which was literature, and pay a mere $150 for the excess. Now I could start collecting again!

It has been my lifelong habit to read from as soon as I could, as well as to write. Not having had a TV in the house until I was 10, my Rhodesian childhood until then was filled with the printed page. I was insatiable. Yes, from 10 onwards in Canada there were Saturday morning cartoons, and after-school sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island and Happy Days; M.A.S.H. or Little House on the Prairie with the family at suppertime. But books? They were always way more fun. In them my mind MADE worlds.

Prospero’s Books has had a birthday party every October, but this is the first time (I think) I’ve ever been to one, its 20th. No more wall of rental VCR movie tapes; free Wi-Fi, though. The space has more than doubled, and the café is doing great as well. The place is booming,

I met Tako Johnson and her husband, Steve, early on, of course, but only got acquainted with Peter Nasmyth, the bookshop’s other owner, some years after moving here, plucking up my courage to walk over and introduce myself as he sat reading in the shop’s yard. He and I share many interests, including Georgia as a whole, Svaneti, and photography, and we’ve had some great adventures together, from David Gareji at one end of Georgia to Mestia at the other. Plenty from which to cement a firm friendship. We now host him about every time he visits Svaneti, and have stayed with him at his London place too.

There’s no better place in Georgia than Prospero’s to find books in English, mostly new but also second-hand, with an especially great section on local and regional interests. They also roast and grind their own marvelous coffee fresh weekly, and the menu offers much more besides, in teas, other hot and cold drinks, and delectable edibles too.

I know that all of this has not been easy to start, set up, run and expand. Importing, transportation, business laws and a clientele mostly of people in transit all make for a very challenging work environment. But, Tako and Peter, you’ve done an awesome job of it. I’m both proud of you and very grateful. You have really made my stay in Georgia that much better, knowing that I can come here and browse, always find something new, learn more, and also return what I no longer need for credit against future purchases.

My Caucasus library has grown to what it is chiefly because of Prospero’s, and these are books which I’ll never get rid of. They’re too useful, for me and others, also being usually quite expensive as a niche in the market. History, folklore, languages, cuisines, ethnography and so much more, worth discovering in this ancient corner of the world, birthplace of both Stalin and wine.

Just… Thank you, for being here, for becoming my friends, and for helping me (and countless others) in this relentless pursuit of knowledge related to where I have lived longest in my life. To you, Prospero’s Books, gagimarjos (cheers)!!!

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

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