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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Postman Blues

In our neighborhood of Zemo Vera the postman never rings twice, he just waltzes into our crib and says “dobry dien, dobry dien.” Most often than not I am either rinsing the suds off my body at the time or privately philosophizing in the porcelain isolation chamber. His timing is impeccable. His kisses (yes, kisses) reek of garlic and/or vodka and although I always offer my cheek as tradition stipulates, it's my lips he's after.

The truth is, we're lucky he barges in to kiss me at all. It used to be that, intimidated by the hill and our next door neighbors' seven-headed beasts, he would leave our mail with a lower dwelling neighbor instead.

One scorching summer day, while I was outside watching our rock garden sweat, a little fireplug of a man wearing an Azeri pancake cap appeared out of the blue, huffing and wheezing with a handful of mail.

“Is this you?” he asked.

He showed me a large envelope postmarked in French to the embassy a couple hundred meters below.

“No, not me. It's for the embassy. See, there's the address.”

He swore, rolled his eyes heavenward and waited for his breath to return. I offered him water. We talked about the weather, although there wasn't much to say except it was bloody hot. Mahmet mentioned he had been delivering mail in Vera for over 30 years and that he made something like three lari a day; about a buck-75.

The next time Mahmet came huffing up the hill he was clutching a worthless KLM frequent-flier notice, but he got our address right. We tipped him a lari. He no longer left our mail with a neighbor at the bottom of the hill after that, although it didn't quite help him remember our names too well as he would sometimes show up with anything addressed in western script, regardless of the street name. For this, Mahmet would not get a tip.

I gotta mention that I never get mail. Nobody sends me anything. My girl gets all the postal attention although I did receive a Xmas card at the end of March one year, to which Mahmet received 3 lari, as I was suddenly overwhelmed with a belated holiday spirit. Otherwise, I am still waiting for a package of harmonicas my brother sent from California 5 years ago.

“I love your view,” he once said between gasps of breath. “But what you need right over there is a fountain.”

“Fountain?”

“Yes, fountains are beautiful.”

I tried to picture the type of fountain he had in mind, but came up blank every time. But never fail, every time he showed up with our mail, or some other foreigner's, he'd remind us how lovely a fountain would be.

Lip kisses and body odor aside, I like Mahmet. Yet one must wonder if he tries delivering other people's mail to us, what is he delivering them? I don't blame him for being confused as much as I blame the institution he works for. A visit to a Georgian post office is a trip back in time, only things worked better then. The windows at the main post office looked as if they were last washed in the Kruschev era, which was about the last time the employees there smiled.

One day Mahmet showed up in a new uniform. This was about the time Gigi Ugulava became mayor and started his project on reinventing Tbilisi. Mahmet no longer wore his pancake, but was sporting a blue baseball cap instead, along with a white shirt, red tie and blue trousers with a red stripe.

“You like my new costume?” he asked abasedly. “...I feel like a (Soviet) Pioneer.”

Uniforms are supposed to help improve a civil servant's dignity, but in Mahmet's case, it was demeaning. He looked like somebody tried dressing him up like a Cub Scout for laughs.

Fortunately for Mahmet, the uniform regulation was short-lived, but he still comes barging in from time to time with his pancake hat on his head and three-day growth of beard prompted to sand the skin of my cheek as I avoid his moistened lips and give him a mercy hug instead.

"Is this you?" he asks, and sometimes it is.

4 comments:

Emmanuel said...

So what's the address ?

paul rimple said...

Too complicated to explain.

Emmanuel said...

No wonder you receive no mail ! I was ready to send you a postcard rightaway from St-Petersburg...

paul rimple said...

scan it and then send it - but only if you write "wish you were here!"