The Theatrics of Bread

27 Jan 2022

Tbilisi, 27 of January 2022

While in Tehran, one of the most eye capturing scenes I stopped to observe was the bread making process: the dialectic of the bread as banal as it might seen it is in fact, perhaps, the oldest performance in existence today.

And ode to Peace.

Was a winter night, an old man with his comfortable pajama like clothes was preparing the levitated dough, cutting it, baking in, baking out, selling the bread, working on the new dough, restarting the circle: every step with extreme delicacy was an invitation to be patient: his bakery was not envelop by walls but by a big glass, next to a smaller door also made out of glass.

The smell of the hot bread was enough to forget about the cold, enough to feel at peace with my surroundings.

As the English word suggests, bread is a derivative onomatopoeia of proto-german origins that remind us of the effervescence, to a boiling sound and image; it has also been thought that bread recalls the idea of breaking to pieces which with a bit of poetical interpretation is not far away to the effervescence image of a liquid breaking free.

In Tbilisi, bakeries, or Tonebi in Georgian, are not different from the ones of Tehran, or Yerevan, or Baku: the performance is essentially the same what does change is the space in which this performance is taking place and, of course, the kind of bread being produced.

In spite of the different names, and typologies, what seems to be fascinating is the homogeneity of the spaces: small or big, few elements are omnipresent in each and every single bakery around Georgia.

An old small tv, which transmit anything with distorted audio and colors, one or more chairs: archaeological remains from soviet times, a working table, a bread rack, a counter, and of course the brick oven: a big tunnel on the floor fueled either by gas or wood, in which the raw dough is stick to the walls and later stick off by the baker who dives in and out with dexterity and uses his hands or the aid of a hook.

This scene can be particular hypnotizing like the one performed by a couple of ladies in their sololaki bakery: an open space to the street so people can wait and watch.

They take turns to go inside of the oven: their junoesque bodies are tightly wrapped in colorful leggings, their movements are smooth, their actions, their silence: they are not only baking, but dancing: they enter the tunnel, sticking our their legs, their bums, they get out with bread in their hands, they wobble, they don’t have any facial expressions.

Some other times the baking process is a representation of the relation of power between the owner of the bakery and his employee who bake the bread. The owner supervises, and sells the bread while the baker fulfill the baking process with mechanical precision.

It's possible to witness the owner screaming at the baker because of small distractions.

It is not a healthy relationship: when the owner is not around, the baker, in his relief, opens himself to the buyers: he is a ghost covered in flour.

\ It happens that the bakery is run by a solitary woman or man: they spend a monastic like work life in which not many words are spoken, their gestures are minimal, they work in reduced spaces, in this case the observation happens from outside a smaller window, and it feels like some sort of voyeuristic attraction specially when they work the dough: they submerge their arms into the raw dough, it requires strength, it looks like they are fighting an original elements and if they do not pay attention they might end up eaten and absorbed. It is best not to interrupt them when they are in this stage: it’s like breaking a spell for the sake of a piece of cold bread on the rack.

When they are done baking they sit, they pay little to no attention to the tv, or their phones: they stand still: they wait, they sell, they bake.

\ The quality of the bread in Tbilisi can drastically change between bakeries: its crunchiness, the saltiness, the softness of the core, the size, the wrapping!

The wrapping of the bread could be a strip of paper, or a page from an old book, or an old document printed in series in the past, can be a brown paper bag, and in sad cases a hideous plastic bag.

The hands who handle the bread are blanketed.

From 8 am to 8 pm: every day.

\ In any case, bakers around the city, at least, seem to follow a strict behavioral code that feels like a stereotype: they do not speak very much, neither they seem particular adamant to communicate more than necessary to the point to appear somehow rude and annoyed - oppose to fruit and vegetable sellers who often enjoy engaging in conversation and who often manage to sell more than one is in need of – bakers are committed to their craft religiously: sometimes they feel like slaves trapped by their own old venture or by the despotism of their boss, some other times they seem to have found their way to enlightenment in the dogma of bread making: in fact is difficult to find more than just one kind of bread in a bakery, in some cases lobianis and khachapuris, even crouton, the occasional dark bread, but not much more.

Options are limited and knowing this limits create a distance between the one who buys the bread and the ones who makes it: there is not much to ask, not much to explain.

Bread in. Bread out. How many? Thanks. Good bye.

#Tbilisi  #Bread  #Bakery