Friday, December 29, 2006

I now know enough georgian to be dangerous.

Case in point: I was out buying groceries today, and decided to pick up some yogurt. You can buy the store-brand variety, with fancy labels and such, or you can purchase home-made yogurt, which is better and cheaper, and comes in glass jars which you have to return. There's a small shop around the way with delicious homemade yogurt, where I've bought a couple jars, but of course, the kind woman there speaks no English, and so I am usually spoken to slowly and patiently, (and loudly) which I actually appreciate.

So I came in today, and she said something to the effect of "You still owe me two empty jars from when you last bought yogurt." Which wasn't true -- I'd returned the cups, but it was when someone else was working there. So I said "No, I am coming cup two week ago!" Then I pointed to the jar, and pointed over my shoulder -- which, thinking about it now, could have indicated either the past, the front door, or the woman behind me.
An awkward pause, and the owner said something too fast for me to catch. So I said: "yes!" And she said "Ah! Okay then! Would you like anything else?"

So either everything is all right, or she's going to be put out when I only return one jar next week. I should study the past and future forms of "to give" before going next time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Punks and Little Bastards

Outside the house right now there are periodic pops and cracks, that sound like gunshots -- m80s or cherry bombs of some kind that a little gang of punks has been blowing off pretty much since we got here. Sometimes they blow up cans, sometimes they throw them into the air. They are loud in our little narrow street. In fact, one just blew off and set off a car alarm, which is currently getting all hysterical.

Little kids, and even men here can be remarkably bold punks. I'm kind of amazed. Walking by a crowd of the little bastards is always a tossup -- are they going to say "hello" in English? or taunt you in Georgian?

This afternoon I was at the grocery store, and a couple kids, maybe fourteen or fifteen tried to cut in line ahead of me. Lines in Georgia are nebulous things, as most people tend to just crowd around the escalator or booth or doorway. Still, this was one of the rare instances where there was a legitimate line. Not only did they cut in, but then they started mocking me... since I'm obviously a foreigner. ARGH. so I yelled at them in my limited Georgian, which caused more mocking. "Hey, boy! I'm standing here?" "What, I didn't hear you?" "I said, I'm standing here!" "Georgian, georgian georgian, laughing, laughing, Georgian." I stood my ground and stared them down... and they eventually went over to another line, which was shorter, and paid for their stuff and left. At which point the people on either side of me to start bemoaning "where are their families" and "it's the school's faults" and such -- at least as much as I could catch. When I left the store, they were hanging around outside. Before they could say much of anything, I took off.

And when I came home and told K. about it, we went out onto our porch to drink some tea and relax and enjoy the weirdly good weather -- and watched a man with a gas can and some hose wander down the street casually checking cars for unlocked gas tanks.

But what bothered me most is that he was doing it while smoking a cigarette.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Little Mood Music, Please

Tower at Night Three (click to make it big)

The view from our back porch -- all lit up at night, and now finally properly photographed. I like the crazy old, falling-apart stairs and apartments obviously built on top of each other in the foreground, contrasted with the ridiculously overbuilt "hey we're not falling apart" ode-to-electricity sitting up on the hill for all to see.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being in a foreign country is a lot like becoming a child again, only you get to do it right this time. At first, you feel embarassingly helpless -- unable to talk, you wildly gesticulate whenever you need anything badly enough (to eat, to pee). Everything is curious and interesting -- you find yourself staring, wide-eyed around you, in curious wonder.

As you begin to learn a few words -- "I want" "I like" "please" "yes" etc. -- some things settle into place. People beam brightly and (at least here) congratulate you whenever you use your few words. A lot of things are still scary, but you have a limited amount of comfort, and from there, can make a few, tenative forays into the unknown. It's like (to make a metaphor for the metaphor) climbing under the covers in a cold room in the winter -- after the small space where you are is warm, you start stretching your feet out to the cold spots, making more and more of the bed comfortable.

Maybe you find yourself eating one particular food -- that you know you like -- all the time. You eat it and you eat it. But then, hopefully, you try something new. And you keep trying things, until you have a small range of things that you know you like to eat, here in this strange place. And you learn the names of these things, so you can ask for them.

Soon, you begin wondering "why?" It's a question that is on your mind constantly. Why are there so many street kids? Why do the women wear these crazy boots? Why is that house falling apart, while that house is brand new? Why do Georgians drive so crazily? Why? Why? Why?

This is the stage that we're at now. I still speak poorly enough that I'm complimented incessantly every time I open my mouth. But I've learned enough to be, like a five year old, pretty constant with my questions. Only I'm old enough to keep them to myself. Or to just write them on my blog. Which is awesome.

Plus, I can eat snacks whenever I want. Second childhoods are awesome.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Economics of Freshness

So. At yet another supra. I'm sure this will become something of a recurring theme -- in fact, it already has. I'm slowly mastering the art of being able to drink toasts for seven hours and remain sober. I'm not exaggerating about either of those things. We started our supra at five p.m. this evening, and it's now a quarter till one. And the trick is to only wet your lips three out of every four toasts. There will come the toast where you're expected to drink from the drinking horn. The horn is big, and you can't set it down without drinking the whole thing. But this comes early in the evening, and if you only wet your lips for the next five toasts, you will be fine.

Okay. Enough of that.

One thing I noticed, this evening, is that the fresh food tastes great. My father always used to say (he still does, actually) that if you don't like X (here, X might be spinach, or green beans, or apples, or anything else that's food, really) it's because you haven't had really fresh X. And if you had, you wouldn't dislike it. I'm still not convinced this is true about beets. But about 3/4 of the way through the supra (totally stone-cold sober) someone cut up an apple and handed me a slice. These are your traditional, red-hued apples. They look like anything you'd buy at a grocery store. Except this one was delicious. And not just by name. It tasted like you'd think an apple should taste.

And this isn't just with apples. Tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce -- they all taste far, far more incredible here. I'm not making this up. Mostly it has to do with the fact that nothing is shipped from California. It's all locally grown, and locally sold. This is also part of what makes the peasant wine so fantastic. It's also what makes it nearly impossible to export. The bottled wine that they make here is good, don't get me wrong. But the peasant wine is out of this world good. I've had glasses of wine that tasted like fireworks. But it's also highly inconsistent -- and impossible to mass-produce at the same level of quality. Just like tomatoes. So, when we go to a supra, and someone has gone out and picked the best of the lot from a local farmer, what we get are amazing, amazing tomatoes. Same with wine. But the downside is that you can't ever get them at a grocery store.

Ah well. You will all just have to come visit. *sigh*. The things we have to do in life. Well, let me know when you're coming, we'll make sure there are fresh sheets on the guest beds.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I have Shame of the Faces

So, I'm on the phone with my mom and she says "Your blog is really good. How come you never responded to your uncle's posts?" what? It turns out you all have been commenting and commenting, and here I had the little thing that sends me an email when I get a comment turned off. I never really read the site, aside from checking to see that the post got up, and never noticed that lots of people have been posting comments. Ach.

Deepest, deepest apologies. I'm going to comb through the archives and post/email responses to questions and such now. Oh...sorry.

In the meantime: tomorrow we go back to Sighnaghi for a birthday party! I'm sure more adventures will ensue.

Friday, December 01, 2006

History and Such

So today Karen and I decided, after language lessons, to go to the museum. The museum is a huge, imposing looking building (set among a number of huge, imposing looking buildings) on Rustaveli Ave, the main drag in Tbilisi.

We walked up the huge steps, and went to buy tickets to get in. The woman behind the glass, who seemed to be doing something unrelated to selling tickets, impatiently waved us off. So we stood, for a few minutes, looking confused, and deciding what to do, when another person, who also seemed to be coming to the museum for a visit, stopped, and asked us what we were doing. I mentioned that the museum appeared to be closed -- figuring he didn't know either. He looked at the woman behind the glass, and then opened the gianormous front door, and ushered us inside.

Whereupon he proceeded to take us downstairs, past several guards, and through what looked to be firmly closed doors, to one of the most amazing exhibits of ancient gold jewelry I've ever seen. And then he gave us an hour long guided tour. In Georgian and French. I understood enough to be amazed. A piece like this is fairly tame, detail-wise. All of the jewelry dated from between the 7th and the 2nd century before christ and included necklaces with thirty or forty detailed little bird (or corn, or ram) charms, intricately detailed, and about the size of your five-year-old cousin's pinky nail. There were delicate little earrings made from gold leaf, and details so fine that they had to be viewed with magnifying glasses. Keep in mind that this was done when Northern Europe was still figuring out Bronze.

Our guide kept ushering us around to different exhibits, explaining the blending of pagan and christian ritual, the small details of necklace, or bracelet, or wine goblet that showed sun worship, or wine worship. He re-explained the history of Jason and the golden fleece. (You see, Jason went to Colchis, which was Western Georgia, to get the golden fleece, and in the ancient times the Colchisians would gather gold from the rivers by sifting water through sheep pelts, so there's some historical accuracy to the myth). He pointed out the odd presence of swastikas on jewels and rings. And then, just like that, he took a phone call on his cell and ran off. I still have no idea who he was -- maybe a curator. Maybe the janitor.

What stood out to me was not only how beautiful it was, but how wearable it all was. There were belt buckles, and rings that I would be proud to have. Most museum stuff to me either looks half-rusted and destroyed, or so godawfully opulent that I'd be embarassed to actually see it on anyone. But this was... elegant. Beautiful. Simple. Intricate, but not too much. It was neat.

I wish I could find more pictures to link to, but if you want, you can download a powerpoint presentation, which has fuzzy pictures of some of the really beautiful pieces.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Haircut Pictures

Okay, so here's before:

and here's after:

Sigh. Well.. at least it's short now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It just needs a little time

so. I got my hair cut. uch.

Right around the corner from our house, there's a little collection of salons (or sometimes, if it's written in English, "saloons") that cater to both men and women. I picked one and, armed with my two phrases ("I want a hair cut" and "how much?") steeled my resolve, and entered the shop.

I was immediately welcomed, my coat was taken, I was spoken to almost entirely in Russian, despite saying several times that I only speak Georgian and English. ("you only speak Georgian?" "Yes, Georgian and English. And French." "And French? Oh, dearie. Russian Russian Russian.")

Then, using a complicated series of gestures and simple words ("big, little. no. yes. okay.") I explained what I wanted -- short on the sides, a little longer on top. Then I took off my glasses, offered a short prayer, and closed my eyes.

Now, for many of you, you might be able to say something if you see the barber beginning to go awry. But, with my glasses off I'm nearly blind. When I look in the big mirror in front of me, I see a large, bib-colored splotch with a smaller head-colored splotch on top of it, with a large multi-colored splotch moving around the whole thing, and scissor noises.

So haircuts are a matter of trust, even when everyone speaks English. Still. she did a good job. I'll put up a picture soon.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bigger Things

Last Thursday night was Thanksgiving. On Wednesday we packed up a few things and left Tbilisi for Sighnaghi. Back in the States, after K. and I discovered that we were going to be living here, P -- K.'s mom, decided to extend her stay a couple extra weeks, and celebrate Thanksgiving with us.

About two weeks ago, our painter-friend J., who also lives in Sighnaghi discovered that the day was going to be considerably bigger for him. After the Russian ban on Georgian Wine (which is primarily from this area), there's been a big push to find new markets. The Georgian gov't had put together a press tour for a handful of freelancers and journalists from big-time european and american media (bbc, washington post) and was bringing them through the region. On Thursday, they wanted to have a big supra, and wanted J. to host it. All the food and wine would be brought in -- J. just needed to provide atmosphere, and Tamada duties. So we were invited, by J., as guests. Whoo!

This would be much more exciting than a traditional thanksgiving dinner, plus it would have all the same trappings -- too much food, lots of conversation, family (not all of them, unfortunately), and news. Although, instead of just having people talk about current events, we got to have journalists.

I haven't seen the articles -- I'll link to them if I see them. But the day was...surreal.

Although everything was supposed to start at 10:30 sharp and end by 1:00 pm (the junket was on a tight schedule) they didn't actually arrive until a quarter to noon (nothing is on a tight schedule in Georgia) and didn't leave until three or four o'clock. The supra was going to be held in J.'s basement -- a huge, stone room with a fireplace that had been roaring for two days straight to get it warm enough, and a long table that filled the whole room. An outer room, with stairs that led up to the street, was outfitted with a traditional trough for a grape-pressing demonstration. The press arrived, and a couple people jumped into the grapes and started pressing, with a couple journalists eventually joining them. As this was clearly a photo-op, lots of pictures were taken. Then the press drank some "professional" wine -- bottled by a local company. Afterwards, we retired to the room with the big table for the meal, accompanied by copious amounts of "peasant" (traditionally made) wine.

It started off fun enough. By now, I'm used to the traditional fare at Georgian supras. There's always fresh tomatoes and onions, shish-kebab, hot cheese-bread, these little pickled greens, which I love, called jonjoli, and strips of fried chinese eggplant rolled up with a walnut sauce and pomegranate pips. This stuff is so good, I could eat it for hours. In fact, I have.

And the company was nice. I enjoyed talking with the lone american (wash. post) and a couple of the brits (bbc, guardian) and made encouraging gestures at the spanish/italian/german press that was present. One guy from the bbc got drunk and made kind of a fool of himself, in a very endearing way. The rest of the reporters, who had not yet filed their stories, stayed sober, as they were working. But our host got drunk in a less pleasant way. And, after the journalists left, when the local and regional governmental officials returned, we had another supra, this time with a much more visibly sloppy host. But then, they made their excuses, and left.

and there was another supra, with just a small amount of friends. And a very, very sloppy host. Who stumbled and fell. Who kept drinking. Even after we left.

To be honest, this was the first time I'd seen this kind of behavior from anyone here. Georgians drink a lot -- but you rarely see a Georgian, even in the city, so publicly drunk that he's unable to walk or stand. Typically, people get expansively drunk, celebrating life, and friends. You never see anyone drinking alone.

It was a big day. Sighnaghi -- a tiny little town of maybe 8,000 people on a hill, with a great view, is getting a reputation as one of the cultural centers of Georgia. Millions of dollars are now going to be pouring into the city for renovations, and soon it will be restored and rebuilt, and made ready for tourists interested in woodcarving, and winemaking, and rugweaving, as well as painting, dance, music, and (hopefully) poetry. A lot of this has to do with P. and with J. and their work. It's heady getting to see all this. But it was also kind of a weird day. I don't know if J. is under more stress than usual, or if this is a side of him I just haven't seen before. But I found it oddly incongruous amidst all the positive signs.

Or maybe it was just more of Thanksgiving, shining through.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ballet Part Two, -- Of Things Unfamiliar

Well, so Saturday night was a night of several unfamiliar things.

First: the ballet. This was a thing to behold. There are, apparently, two competing major Georgian dance troupes. We saw the one called "Sukhishvili" -- also known as the Georgian National Ballet (although so is the competition). How to describe this...

Imagine a crowd of about seventy dancers dressed in stylized versions of various Eastern European folk costumes, dancing highly complex broadway-style numbers involving acrobatics, leaps into the air that would make Spud Webb weep with shame, spark-inducing sword fights, people spinning like tops across stage on their knees and flinging dagger after dagger (after dagger) into the ground.

This is ballet on crack.

To be honest, there's some history here that needs to be acknowledged. Yes, it's derived from old folk dances, and yes, those dances are far from accurately represented. Same with the costumes. So, among the purists, it's far from "Georgian." -- I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to be that the development of the Georgian National Ballet had much more to do with the USSR wanting to promote "culture" and to impress the world ("look what the Communists produce!") and that's fine. It's not anything like an accurate representation of history. Fine. But what a show! We sat in the third row, and sweat from the dancers (which shot off them because they were spinning like tops) sailed over our heads, missing us completely. That's how good a show it was.

You know how, in regular ballet, you occasionally see a ballerina pop up on one toe, and maybe do a pirouette, or dance across the stage? Well, in this show, men were sword-fighting, and tossing daggers in the ground while leaping around en pointe.

Things unfamiliar indeed. Their website is currently down, but if it ever comes back up you should look at it.

oh yeah: second unfamiliar thing. After getting back from the theater Saturday night I promptly got ridiculously sick, and started throwing up everything but those little bones in the bottom of my feet. I'd only ever been this sick once before, and it ended up with me in the hospital. The puking ended (thankfully) early Sunday morning, but all day Sunday I bumped around in a headachy, weak-stomached daze. It was awful. Felt like the worst hangover I've ever had, only I hadn't drunk a drop.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ballet Part One -- Of Things Familiar

So today was the first part of a ballet-filled weekend. Tomorrow we're going to see the Sukhishvili Dance Company -- traditional Georgian folk dancing taken to crazy extremes. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

But tonight we went to the Georgian State Ballet company's production of three of George Balanchine's pieces. This was very modern, very familiar. Balanchine, as you probably don't know, was the founder of the New York Ballet Company -- he was a choreographer and collaborator with Igor Stravinsky, and basically founded the American Ballet scene. What you also probably don't know is that he was Georgian: his original last name was Balanchivadze. Weird.

So. Aside from occasional clips of the Nutcracker on stage, I've never seen a true ballet. But I'm a fan of outmoded, dying esoteric art forms that masquerade as cultural acquisition projects for the very rich (I'm a poet, right?) so I thought I'd give it a shot. Plus, at just over $10.00 for floor-level seats, it seemed worth the price.

Ballet is... Pretty. Very pretty. It's not pyrotechnics. The dancers jump high, lift each other way into the air, and twirl for long periods of time, which looks (and must be) incredibly difficult... but I've seen more traditionally amazing feats of derring-do at the circus, and besides in this age of seen-it-all, matrix-style special effects, it's hard to be impressed by anything live. But the grace and beauty of the dancers is really worth watching.

And they really manage to tell a story. The first piece we saw, Serenade was beautiful and sad, with dancers circling each other and leaping, shrinking, collapsing on the ground, leaning on each other... The dancers were traditionally dressed, and there was no official "story" (the program simply said it was based on Balanchine's 'memories of St. Petersburg').

The second was a telling of how the muses brought their gifts to Apollo. It told that story effectively, and was also quite graceful and beautiful.

The last piece was a western. Men dressed as cowboys and women dressed as dance-hall ladies (*cough euphemism, cough*) sashayed and two-stepped, ballet style across the stage. Weird. I loved it. The wonderful orchestra built in all these old country folk songs.

Okay. But what made it great and strange was that it was all so familiar. Like a number of things in Georgia -- strange little vignettes, sitting on the bus, watching people cross the street, or children playing, or just wandering with K. back in the narrow streets near our little apartment, if you take out the strange letters and fonts, you could be in any European or American city. Some parts of Georgia are so familiar.

I'm sure the strangeness will present itself during tomorrow's dance performance.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I have an article up!

It's at a website in New York, called -- in their Wanderlust section.

Go and read! or, if you're visiting from the site, welcome! send me a note.

Monday, November 13, 2006

There is Currently A Man Destroying our Upstairs Bathroom

...he's taking a hammer and breaking away the tile and concrete that surround the piping. Then, he's destroying the piping, and after that, I assume, he'll determine whether the pipes are broken. I can only guess that he'll conclude they are, but who knows.

When we first got here, everything was very new, and very weird, and very fresh, and I felt like I was bursting at the seams to write about all the strange things I encountered. As I'm sure usually happens, we've begun to acclimate to our surroundings a bit, and there is less and less that I find specifically worth writing about... I'm not sure that makes sense.

On the one hand, our living situation is very romantic, and very much what you might expect from a poet and a journalist living together in Eastern Europe... the buildings are very turn-of-the-century, and partly run-down.. one of us walks to the corner most mornings for fresh-baked bread, to eat with our little thimbles of coffee... crazy young men dressed in black squat on every street corner, smoking. There's even a piano teacher across the street, and so we walk out of our little apartment building to the sounds of Stravinski and Rachmaninoff.

On the other hand, living is living: 90% daily drudge. We run out of peanut butter. We watch the first season of "24" and contemplate buying the second season from iTunes. The goddamn toilet breaks. I'm tired from staying up late last night, and I have to study my Georgian homework, and there's this guy loudly destroying the upstairs bathroom, hopefully to find and fix the leak that made our kitchen ceiling shit concrete last week, and as soon as he's done and it's all fixed, we're going to do two weeks worth of laundry, which, because of airline luggage limits, is practically all our laundry. In these moments, it doesn't feel any different than living in Marshfield, or Burlington, or Oxford, or Columbus, or anywhere else.

But then you look out the window, and see a sixteen hundred year old fortress and think oh, yeah. That's why I'm here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Out Back

Opening the door to our balcony (a medium-sized wooden structure off the livingroom, where we mostly go to hang out wet clothes) and going out onto it at night is the nicest thing. From our vantage point, one can see up two streets -- ahead leads further into the neighborhood, and to the right leads back out to the main road. At night, both directions afford fantastic views -- one of a tv tower and church, lit up and glowing, and the other of an old fortress at the top of a hill.

But what's more fascinating is the local space. There's another building directly across the street. On the second floor, piano music constantly floats out an open window. On the third floor, which is directly across from us, our neighbor Nana occasionally comes out on to the porch to hang her own laundry. Off to the right, a man and a woman trade places, sitting and smoking out an open window.

And across the street to our left, a building is being renovated. While the rest of the facades in our neighborhood consist of chipped brick showing through broken plaster, the new building's front is whole, and freshly painted. The windows, which are vinyl, are still covered in dirt from the workers, and peering in them I can see that the whole place has been gutted and is being rebuilt, almost from scratch. When it's done, it's going to look georgeous. This is happening all over the place.

I'm looking forward to seeing how much this place changes over our ten months here.

On the other hand, our upstairs toilet pipes broke, causing our kitchen ceiling to crack and start falling over the floor, and I've no idea if it will be replaced, repaired, or simply shut off so it doesn't get worse. PVC piping is hard to come by. So everything isn't rushing headlong toward greatness. But there are signs.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Like driving in the dark

Living in a foreign city, I'm suddenly hyper aware of certain, mundane, everyday situations. This is really curious for me. I suddenly have a good idea of what it's like to be illiterate. Most products in the grocery store come from one of three places: Germany, Russia, or Turkey. Which means that the most familiar looking words are in German -- a language I speak not at all. For products from the other countries, I can't even pronounce the text. If it's in Georgian (which it only sometimes is) I might be able to suss it out. But, essentially, boxes without clear pictures on them are out of my reach. A box with a picture of a scoop with a bunch of white powder could be salt, or sugar, or maybe baking powder, or flour (or cocaine. Hell, I don't know). A box with a happy looking kid sitting on a swing could be anything.

And outside the grocery store, even the smallest task, if I haven't done it before, is incredibly daunting. I'm thinking I need to get my hair cut soon. There's a barber shop around the corner, and I've seen men there. But figuring out how to tell a barber what I want my hair to look like in English is hard enough. In Georgian? I'm toying with the idea of just letting it grow until I get home, just to avoid the hassle.

So. This morning the upstairs toilet backed up, and then started leaking. Instead of good PVC piping out the back, there's an accordion-style plastic tube. One end is cemented into the floor. The water level in the bowl wasn't sinking, and a small amount of sewage was leaking from the back somewhere, and the whole apartment started to stink. We needed bleach and a plunger. Bleach and a plunger! I found myself wishing that wal-mart had taken over here. Where do you even go for that? In the six weeks we've been here we haven't even been able to find nail clippers. There's a huge outdoor builder's market about half an hour north of town, but we can't go that far, and I don't think they're even open until the weekend.

K. and I ventured out, and began poking around various shopfronts. Eventually we found this little makeshift closet-sized store in one of the many underground passageways that join various sides of impassably traffic-heavy streets around here. It was a hardware shop. We'd looked up the word for plunger before we left, but K didn't have the piece of paper where we'd written it. So I said "toilet" and began making plunger motions until the very kind gentleman produced the correct product. Then we poked around other shops until we got to one that seemed to sell laundry detergent. I couldn't find the word for bleach in my dictionary, but said "liquid whitens" a couple times, and the guy behind the counter pointed to a small bottle near the detergent. It had no pictures, but looked vaguely bleach like. We bought it, and opened it. Success!

Back at the house, Karen remembered seeing a can of polyurethane foam in one of the closets. Thankfully, it had directions in English on the back. We found the leak (a crack in the concrete!) and cleaned, and foamed it up. Hooray! Problem mostly solved! But it was like making our way in the dark. Now we know where to go if the plumbing acts up again, but what if the vacuum breaks?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Picture Pages

All of these pictures are from the Sighnaghi Wine Festival -- I'm going to keep these small. If you click on them, they will get larger.


Here's an old lady making fresh bread. Inside the concrete tube (called a tone, pron. "tone-ay") there's a fire. She sticks her hands in there and applies dough to the sides of the tone. when it's ready, she scrapes it off with that tool.


Fresh Mtsvadi. I can't tell you how good this is.


Even fresher Mtsvadi. Well.. it's gotta come from somewhere...


Our friend Shmagi (in the traditional dress) playing impromptu with the flute maker. Those rods across his chest -- not bullets, wooden sticks. That was how Georgian fighters protected themselves from swords. Not as strong as chain mail, but not as heavy either.


A traditional grape-stomping trough for wine. Our friend Shergil carved this out of 200 year old wood. As he put it "That wood was really...hard."

Carved trough

Carving up close


Stomping up close


Little boy at a still making moonshine (cha cha).


Cha cha still

Apologies and etceteras

hey Family and Friends:

For those of you who might have been checking in frantically over the last week to see where the next four installments of the Khevsureti trip went, I apologize.

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth. Humble household-building matters intervened, along with work and other sundries. Plus, now, other events keep building up, and I don't know if I'll ever get to all of it.

That said, we went to Sighnaghi for a wine festival this weekend, and it was fantastic. Sighnaghians were out in full force displaying evidence of traditional culture, from wine to food, to dancing and grape stomping, and more. There was the playing of musical instruments. There was the dressing in traditional garb. There was the dead goat, splayed and hanging from a tree. There was the playing of traditional instruments, dressed in traditional garb, in front of the dead goat. And I got pictures. I'll share soon.

In the meantime, I'd like to call your attention to this strange fact of existence that currently has my attention: at this very moment, it is 11:40 in the a.m. on Halloween day, in Tbilisi, and all over Georgia. Due north, in Russia, it is 10:40 a.m. Due south, in Turkey, it is 9:40 a.m. Further south, in Iraq, it is 10:40 again, but in Iran, parts of which are also due south, it is 11:10. In fact, the only country which shares our time zone is Oman -- roughly five hundred miles to the south and east. This would be like, if Ohio was in a different time zones than Tennesse, Kentucky, West Virginia and Michigan. (Indiana, in this scenario, would be a big pool of water). Strange, neh? For a visual, go here scroll down and click on "western asia" -- you'll get a map which shows current time in each area.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Notes from the Land Without Irony, Pt. 1

good afternoon kidlings,

being that I had five adventure-packed days away from you all, instead of trying to put everything together into one huge blog-post, I thought I'd do five smaller ones, making this a little more bite-sized.

First though-- a mini -post before the post. Patty just left for Sighnaghi again, taking a small coterie of the remaining village harmony campers (those here for six weeks of language, now) with her, and we're now in our apartment, alone, for the first time. I'm coming down off of that amazing high that one gets when on a big adventure, and I'm feeling a little down now that things are more-or-less quiet and comfortable. Tomorrow I'm going to go pay for internet and hopefully will be able to post this, and then for the most part, I'll be getting into the swing of daily life in Tbilisi. Which isn't all that different from daily life in any city, I suspect. You pass a lot of people each day, there's a lot of good things to eat everywhere, people beg, people pass you in expensive cars, there are parks and punks and old women, and men standing around smoking. Most people are busy minding their own business, and you watch out for the few who are trying to mind yours. Yesterday, though, I saw one of those little things that remind me that I'm in a foreign country, and how differently people view things. On our way to find dinner ("our" being k. and her mom, and two VH campers, and myself) we passed one of many Chinese shops -- dark red sign, words in Chinese and English, little red lantern hung out in front, etc. So I stopped and did a little window shopping. Except that this wasn't what we think of as a chinese shop. This was a shop selling things made in china. Stop and picture that for a moment: fake adidas shoes, crappy plastic wind-up toys, ash trays, cheap ceramic cups, fake wonder-bras and chintzy tchotchkes of all shapes and sizes crowded into a little store called "The China Shop." I mean, it's true, I suppose. But unexpected.

Okay, and now on to the adventures:

So, day one was a long one. Twenty foreigners (sixteen Americans and four Brits) -- We drove up from Tbilisi to Barisakho (pron: bah-rees-ah-kho) where our translator, John, dropped off his nice car, and we all climbed out of the marshutka and into an old army-style people-mover, and then took the really bad roads up to Rosta.

Rosta. As opposed to a village, Rosta was more like nine houses clinging to the side of a mountain. The streets were serious-looking, Deadwood-style mud paths. And it was coooold. This was a town that was as unaffected by the last hundred years as any I've ever seen. Cowherds walked by with two dozen cows, occasionally thwacking one with a stick. A man pulled a box from one house to another on a little sled with wooden runners -- I'm assuming because wheels don't work well in the mud. There were cars -- a few of them. But they would be useless for anything other than driving several hours back into the city. That night we froze and had a small supra at the one house with a large enough porch. It was pitch black, and after a few minutes, someone started a loud generator which lit up three dim bulbs -- light, but still no heat. So we drank (a nasty vodka-like moonshine called "spirits") to stay warm, and the Village Harmonies inevitably started up their singing.

Remember about three posts ago when I wrote about the doors that open when you've got Americans that sing traditional music? Scratch that. At least for the mountains. In the mountains, if anyone has died in the past three months to a year, sometimes the street, sometimes the whole town observes a code of "no public expressions of joy." It's an honor thing. So about halfway into the third song and out of the darkness comes a crazed voice shouting and weeping and shouting some more. Later, I learned that it was a string of particularly vicious insults. We quieted. She left. We shivered and drank. In the morning we took a few hours to wander around up and out of the town, up the hillside, before leaving on our next adventure.

Wow. this was a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The lower Caucausus mountains are currently in full-bloom autumn, with all attendant color and glory. It felt amazingly good to kick my way through some leaves, and sniff the wet mulch smell of the air, and look at those familiar dark-russet, gold, fire-red and orange leaves stretching up the hillsides. And then, above it -- snow capped mountain peaks that looked utterly alien and strange and wonderful. Not only were they bigger than anything in the American East, but they fold and buckle in ways that do not look natural to my eyes. These are not the Rockies, that we grow up seeing printed on posters and coins. These monsters look like they are alive and might move at any moment. And they wouldn't so much as notice you if they did. Mountains have a way of reminding one how very small and unimpressive a human being is. Especially when, after thousands of years of habitation, the only village around looked like it could be wiped off the face of the earth by a mountain's careless hand. Anyway, the sun was glinting off of them, and the fog was rolling in and out, and on the hill nearest me, where the village's haystacks rose as far as they clearly could before things got too steep, I noticed that just above the field there was one fire-red tree, and its shedding leaves looked like a shadow of bright red falling down the slope. This tree was so red that it looked, literally, like it was on fire. Like a burning bush. And I wondered if that's what the prophets saw when they wrote of it in the bible, because it certainly felt like God might speak. Anyway, more on that later.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Quotidian Pleasures

I'm double-posting this for all of you who read this site, but not my other one, and because I think it neatly fits into both categories.

One of the weirdest things about being whisked off to a magical place is how unmagical most of it ends up being. For instance, today I spent the whole day reading the archives of Something Positive, listening to my ipod, and watching the odd episode of 24. --- not particularly different than many Sundays back in Boxford. It's grey out, today, and a little cold, and I was up late last night doing nothing really special.

Don't get me wrong. I love being in a country where, not two hours away from the front door there are caves with monks in them. I like struggling to learn a language that looks like it was invented by the flying spaghetti monster, and I do enjoy wowing friends and family with (hopefully what will be) a multitude of strange adventures -- beginning with the five day horseback trek into the mountains of the Upper Caucasus which starts tomorrow. But 90% of my time is still centered on doing all the things I used to do -- looking for good restaurants, reading, writing, running out of and refilling the toilet paper dispenser.

And, frankly, that's a nice thing too.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hey Kids, It's Picture Time!

Tbilis Metro

This is a view into one of Tbilisi's many cavernous metro stations. To give a sense of the depth, it's a two minute ride on the escalator (time that) and the escalators are not slow.

View of Tbilisi

Tbilisi as seen from Mtasminda -- makes you think the city's downright green, doesn't it? You can see about four cathedrals (pointy towers) and that huge white statue is "Mother Georgia."

People Live Here

This is not an unusual building for Tbilisi. Some parts of the city are being worked on, but the civil war in 1991 and the earthquake not long after have left some serious damage. If you notice, there's no roof on the third floor, but on the second floor, there are curtains. People are living there.


Georgian Bath houses, in the old part of the city. "Tbilisi" means "hot water."

'nother view of Tbilis

Another view of the city. Those cliffs in the foreground lead to the river which divides the city. That huge church is "Sameba" -- Trinity church.

Dancers in Sighnaghi

This is in Sighnaghi -- an old gymnasium where the Village Harmony campers are taking dance lessons.

Pancho Villa

And this is Pancho Villa, the mexican restaurant (!) in Sighnaghi, run by my former Georgian tutor, and inveterate fan of the American West, Shalva Mindorishvili (pictured).

Pancho's Margarita

Shavla's place serves Margaritas that will drive you batshit, and won't stop for the tolls. I don't know where he gets his Tequila, but it kicks ass.

Davit Gareji

This is a view from Davit Gareji. Or is it Middle Earth? I keep getting them confused... Monks have lived in caves out here since the sixteenth century.

Davit Gareji again

And these are the caves where some of the monks live. Caves. Monks. Caves.

Head Holders at Davit Gareji

This is where the monks used to eat. You see, they'd put their heads in those holes so they wouldn't get all uppity about how little they were living off of compared to the next guy. Ponder that the next time you're feeling hard core about something.

John Teaching

Over the years the monks painted quite a few frescoes on the walls of their caves...


...some quite stunning.

Tamar's Castle

this is from a trip we took a few days later, to the ruins of a castle built in the 1100's. Yeah. You're jealous.

If you want to see any of these in greater detail, you can always check out our flickr account, here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Is that a monk in that cave?

One of the many advantages of being out in Sighnaghi while Village Harmony is running a music camp is that I'm able to plug myself in to this stream of "cultural experiences" that have been lined up for the singer/tourists. Unlike the "cultural experience" that I participated in with the American Embassy folks (see earlier post) Village Harmony trips have several advantages. First, the group is legitimately interested in what they are being shown. They've worked hard, taken time out of their lives, and paid lots of money to be here. They aren't just trying to kill a weekend. Second, they're singers, and they have some knowlege of local folk songs. I can't stress how far this takes you in Georgia. Georgians are a hospitable people by custom, and given their experience with Soviet attempts at russification, many people show surprise if you speak even a couple words of Georgian. But when a crowd of Americans break into a rendition of "Mravaljamier" or another traditional Georgian folk song, people start to cry. It can be an intense and amazing experience.

Yesterday we went to a place called David Gareji. It's south and a little east of Tbilisi, right on the border of Azerbaijan. It's a desert, with giant rock faces (think Red Rock out in Colorado) with all these natural caves worn into it. Several hundred years ago, a monk named David Gareji walked out here and made his home in one of the caves. It's been a holy spot ever since. There are monks, in fact, still living in caves out there.

K. visited this place just before I got to Georgia a few years back -- so I hadn't had a chance to see it before. It's stunning. My first thought on visiting was that I wanted to take my father to see it. Orthodoxy is, in many ways, much the same as Catholicism, and there's something that I find both peaceful and reassuring about the art, the rituals, the smells of the monasteries and churches here. The landscape has been rightly described as "out of Lord of the Rings." I wandered around, looking at 15th and 16th century lookout towers (Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, so there are religious as well as political borders here), tiny little caves with georgeous religious frescoes, (mostly destroyed by Soviet Army target practice, graffiti, and simple wind and rain) and current rebuilding efforts by the newly reinstalled monks.

I'm also disturbed. Our host/guide, an American painter who converted to Orthodoxy (and lives in Sighnaghi) named John is an intense ambassador for the Orthodox faith. He is constantly promoting the humility of its leaders, the faith of its adherents, the beauty of its rituals. And he is constantly bemoaning the "lukewarm heart" of modern life. And how do I argue with him? I love my lukewarm heart. "..And the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are full of passionate intensity."

What makes one man, much less thousands, give up their easy lives to live on rice and water in a desert cave? Aside from the Glory of God --whom I doubt needs or cares what men do -- what purpose does it serve? The frescoes are beautiful, even with the destruction (and when I have a faster internet connection, I'll post pictures) and it's not like I would rather there was a golf course there... but it is a world whose boundaries and laws I cannot comprehend.

Afterwards, we drove to a restaurant halfway between David Gareji and Sighnaghi and had a short, 2 1/2 hour supra (scroll to the bottom for the definition). Aside from the Embassy trip, this was my first supra. There was singing -- real, honest singing. There was food -- more than we could eat. There was an awful lot of wine, and a Tamada who spoke from the heart. People toasted the way they should--with an eloquence inspired by each other, and a tongue greased by the wine, and we all fell in love with each other. This, I understood.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

an apartment, temporary relocations, pending adventures, plus internet troubles and "the way things are done" in Georgia.

In Vermont there is a brand of coffee, which shall not be named, that has a slogan: "Relax, You're on Green Mountain Time." Here in Georgia, we're on Caucausus Mountain Time, and it's often a source of much grousing by your typical American, Canadian, European or Other business person/embassy official/tourist/innocent bystander who so petulantly wants things to either a) work, or b) get fixed. What they don't get, of course, is that they are silly people for wanting such things, and why can't they just make do with what they have?

Still, we persist. Which is why, despite the fact that the phones (and thus, the internets) cut out entirely two days ago, here I am, posting as always. Only, instead of doing it from our ever kind and generous host's house in Tbilisi, where there is wireless access to dsl speeds, I'm doing it from the cosy, yet slightly more rustic environs of Sighnaghi -- which has intermittent dialup access (as well as intermittent electricity, no heat [all the wood for the stoves are gone] and also no smog, no street traffic, and no insane barking guard dog next door). This may be a long post. What with the internets out, I've been saving them up.

First: the apartment. After a week + of staying with our ever-generous American hosts, (the husband, the wife, the ten year old girl) and feeling like, despite their protestations to the contrary, we weren't finding a place fast enough, we finally found a place. It was the first place we looked at. There will be pictures. I'll go into it in more detail later, but after looking at a couple places shown to us by americans, and then looking at a place shown to us by my professor, then scouring the internet and all the english-language papers to no avail, then seeking advice from everyone we could meet, we decided to hire a woman (friend of a friend--she's an awesome person named Nino) who actually spoke Georgian to look for places for us. After a week of looking she showed us four apartments. One had no hot water. One had hot water but no heat. The nicest one looked like a hobbit hole, and kept bumping my 5'7" self into various door jambs and ceilings. So we asked Nino to call the landlord of the first place we saw, and she did, and she made an offer, and now we have a three bedroom two bathroom two-story apartment with hardwood floors and a balcony. Hooray us! And on October fifteenth it will be ready. Hoo--ah. Well, some things are worth the wait.

Which brings us to the temporary relocations. What better way to await your fancy new digs in the city than by retiring to the country? So, as the lords and ladies of yesteryear did, now so do we. Plus, seeing as how K.'s mom Patty is out in Sighnaghi for the moment, and seeing as I can do the bulk of my work from anywhere, really (not always, but for the moment. Please don't send me home for that comment, kind Fulbright people) it seemed silly to keep staying with our incredibly nice hosts in Tbilisi, when we have family so close by. So here we are. For those of you readers who remember missives from my last visit here, I have to say that the house has gotten much more cosy and comfy, aided by the advent of near-constant electricity and a lot more furniture, as well as several more years of renovations. I mean, sure, we're on Caucausus Mountain Time... but after several years of renovations, things have to be at least a little better. -- there's a new ceiling in the kitchen, and the downstairs has been repainted.

Westerners are always in such a hurry.

Unfortunately we won't be moving into the apartment until the 21st. It's true, some renovations do need to be made -- fixing some plumbing and a broken shower floor -- but that should be ready by the 15th (At least, our landlady has assured us this will be the case, and since she's not getting rent until we move in, I'm hoping she keeps her word). What's keeping us for the final six days is that we're going on a trip. I don't know much about what it'll be like, but I'm looking forward to the prospects of both horseback riding and fencing, and I'm nervous about singing and dancing. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the quiet of the country, and look forward to relaxing, and writing some poetry.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Couple Days Late -- First Meetings

So, on monday I met with my contact at the Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature, Irakli. He is, as I have been told several times, the foremost leading authority on Galaktion Tabidze -- the poet I'm here to translate. He's also a member of the Georgian Parliment (quick note: Georgia is about to have their first set of local elections since the revolution in 2003. They're on Oct. 4th, so anyone working for / with the gov't is very busy right now). I'd had several emails with Irakli before arriving, but we hadn't actually talked. I didn't know how much English he knew, or how well we were going to be able to communicate (what little Georgian I have is coming back very slowly, and I don't have a tutor yet).

So, when I called him yesterday morning, I figured we would set up a brief meeting later this week, and hopefully I'd get a quick tour around the offices of the Institute (hoping beyond hope that I might even have a desk or space to work somewhere) and then we would make plans to start working more seriously after the elections. How wrong I was. What follows is, as best as I can describe, what happened. It didn't realy make sense then, and little of it makes sense now.

I called Irakli around 11:00 a.m., and he immediately asked me to meet him in front of the Parliment building at noon. I said "sure" and he immediately hung up. I got to the Parliment building (a huge monolith of pink marble columns, arching fountains, and no -- absolutely no -- signs announcing what it is) at ten to noon. A few minutes after noon a tiny gray-haired man in jeans, a white button-down shirt and gray sports-coat came running up, shook my hand, and with little more introduction began dragging me by the elbow around to the back of the Parliment building, and inside. On the way he turned and said "Why did you call me?" -- I stuttered some explanation unsure if he was asking why I'd waited so long, why I'd called him now, or who the hell I was. Apparently he knew who I was, because when I mentioned "Fulbright" he nodded vigorously. Then he said something in a long string of Georgian I didn't catch. Then he said "To learn Georgian, you must forget English." I agreed with that.

We entered the Parliment building, he took my passport, and began to have a long talk with two levels of security guards. While in line, he introduced me to another man, a professor (I think) named Giorgi, who is a six-foot tall octogenarian with smoker's-breath. During the introduction, I hear my name, and Giorgi goes "Ahh!" and begins to lecture me in Georgian. I catch that he's talking about Galaktion Tabidze, Stalin, and the words "why, why, why?" and "difficult. Painful." I'm not sure if he noticed that my conversational Georgian is terribly meager, so as he talked, I managed a couple of "ah, yes." and "hm.." and otherwise tried not to look like a deer in headlights.

Giorgi held my elbow and spoke, his face about six inches from mine, as we swept through security, up to the fifth floor of the building, and down a long hallway to a tiny room, where both Irakli and Giorgi suddenly started intensely pacing and smoking and staring at me without saying a word to me or each other. Very slowly and deliberately Giorgi removed an academic journal from his satchel, and opened it to a poorly translated summary of an article he wrote about Freud, Bakhtin and the nature of the word. Then, without any other indication of what he was doing, Irakli walked over to the phone, called several people, and informed me that he'd found an apartment (can you pay $200? I think it's too much), and that I could see it in one hour.

Then he grilled me on Tabidze, my knowlege of Georgian history, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. I told him what I knew of Tabidze, what I was interested in, and some of the connections I saw between him and Frost. He said things like: "When Eliot wrote, he had a whole philosophy behind him. But there are many Tabidzes." and "When Stevens wrote the word 'tintinabulations' it had no specific meaning. Tabidze uses words similarly." I did my best to be clear. We talked like that for a while. Then Giorgi, who had been chain-smoking and staring silently at a computer screen the entire time without touching either mouse or keyboard, left.

I called Karen and went went with a third person (also named Giorgi, much younger) to look at the apartment. As soon as we left the Parliment building, Irakli disappeard, only saying that he would make "line by line translations" of a poem or two, and that I should call him. Thus ended my first meeting.

The apartment was no good, but Giorgi was incredibly nice, and we had some good conversations. Irakli has the energy of ten intense men, but I think we're on the same page philosophically. I absolutely need to start studying Georgian immediately. I go to pick up the "line by line" translations in about half an hour. We'll see what those are like.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Wonder and Frustration of Georgian Tourism

Pictures are up! I've got both a few pictures from Vienna as well as what will probably become an ever-expanding set of photos from Georgia.

These first pics from Georgia are from a trip we took this weekend to Telavi. Our host-dad, D. told us about the embassy trip and we signed up at the last minute to go. We dragged our sorry still-jet-lagged butts up at six a.m. and got to the center of Tbilisi by 6:45, and drove two hours east to pick grapes, check out a winery, do a little tasting, go to a supra, watch (and help) make traditional bread (puri) and candy (churchkella -- a string of walnuts dipped in thickened grape juice. Like the original fruit rollups). Then the next day we toured the ancient wine cellar and museum of a famous Georgian poet and nobleman, Alexander Chavchavadze, and had lunch at this really nice little restaurant. All in all a packed, but fun weekend.

..but. Most of the rest of the fifteen or so people were either from the U.S. Embassy, or another organization that works heavily with the Embassy. In many ways, I felt very isolated from them -- they're not Georgiophiles, some of them aren't even particularly interested in Georgia. They are here because they speak Russian, and/or they didn't get their first choice of assignments from the Foreign Service office, or they're on their way through doing a two year stint here, and will soon be in Moldova, or Yemen, or Nigeria. They seemed to be, for the most part, isolated, and uninterested. Not all of them, and not any of them all the time, but I was surprised, because until now I hadn't run into anyone who wasn't trying real hard to get here. So, maybe not the best group to go with.

The trip itself was lots of fun. We learned a fantastic lot about wine -- for instance, Georgian red wine is made from a particular type of grape -- the Saperavi -- which is different (darker, and I think more tart) than either Cabernet or Merlot grapes. Also, traditional Georgian white wines are made with their skins (like red wines) and thus have lots of tanins, and also keep longer than european white wines. So Georgian whites will "age" like red wine. Doesn't that kick ass? It sounds even better when you've got a taster's glass in your hand.

A lot of the weekend felt very familiar. Telavi is only about half an hour from Sighnaghi -- where K. and I stayed when we were here last, and the scenery is just the same. The vast plains shoot out away from you for what seem like miles, until they are cut off by receding stacks of mountains, each layer a different color. Crazy looking little old ladies bake bread, sticking their arms into insanely hot open-air ovens (called tone's -- pronounced "toh-nay" -- the possessive form of tone would be tonis, and I got confused when I first got here because I kept seeing signs that said "tonis pizza" and I was thinking, "why do they have Tony's Pizza everywhere?"). Anyway, look at the rest of the pictures. It's beautiful. The people are beautiful. The food is beautiful. The backdrop is quite nice as well. Even the church that wouldn't let us in because we weren't Orthodox, was beautiful.

It's also all so run down. I forgot, before I came back here, how sad it makes me. The buildings are more mortar than stone, and what few holes are filled in are filled in with whatever materials are handy. Even when things are new, there's a run-down look to them, and I can't tell if it's because of Soviet mis-education, or the exodus of everyone with a trade skill after the fall of communism, or what, but it makes me sad. There are no electrician's unions, no carpenter's unions, no plumber's unions, and it's incredibly noticable when those things are missing. People do the best they can, and they cut corners whenever they think it won't matter, all to disasterous results.

I've been here for just about four days now, and already my heart is overflowing with pride, and my heart is broken. I haven't even started working on the poetry.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Morning again

So it's our second morning in Tbilisi, and we're preparing (again) to head out and get (another) SIM card for my phone, as the first one didn't take. I'll be trying to argue, in Georgian, with the shopkeeper who sold me my first SIM card, that it was the card that didn't work, not my phone. Then apartment hunting.

We are planning, after a suggestion from our hosts, to take an Embassy-coordinated trip to Kakheti (pron. with a little flem between the k and h) to see a grape harvest, drink some fresh wine, have a supra, and meet some other embassy peops. It looks to be a good re-introduction to the culture. With any luck, we'll have an apartment to come back to when we leave tomorrow morning at six forty five a.m. Do I think that's even remotely likely to happen? Not at all! But I do hope that we've at least looked at a couple places before then.

and maybe I'll even have a working phone. Let's not ask for too much...

Oh! I do have a phone number now, however, it's for my Skype account. If you feel like giving me a call to see how I'm doing, send an email and I'll let you know what it is and when I'm most likely to be on line. It's an (802) area code, so for those of you in Vermont, surreally, it may even be a local call. Hooray internets.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

aaand we're in!

So, if any of you are wondering about whether air travel security in (and to) other countries is as "secure" as it is for us Americans, here's a little anecdote: After landing in Vienna, K. and I couldn't take it anymore and bought a little tube of toothpaste, and enjoyed several hours of minty-fresh breath again. When we went through security again for our flight to Tbilisi (a tiny little gate with its own security checkpoint) the bag with the forgotten toothpaste was scanned twice, and then after a little pointing and some shrugging, was handed to me, no questions asked. While at the gate waiting to get on the plane, the stewardess decided it would be easier to just come around and check all of our tickets one by one, aparently so we didn't have to do that part while waiting in line. Then, when we arrived in Tbilisi, I became vaguely worried because neither K. nor I filled out one of those forms that declare "I am not bringing fresh vegetables, live chickens, obscene amounts of money, or virulent space-diseases in to destroy any local flora, fauna, economic system or strains of bacteria." However, it turned out that instead of filling out one of those papers and/or going through and declaring any of the food/alcohol/money/space diseases you were bringing in, they simply had a seventy year old woman checking to make sure you were actually taking your own bags away. She was taking those little white tags you get when you check your luggage, and making sure they matched your bags. Hooray Georgia!

We're in safe and sound. I'm still dead tired. Stupid Jet Lag. We're also 88% of the way toward having cell phones, and due to start appartment hunting tomorrow. There will be stories! And Pictures!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tired Beyond Belief

I'm writing this in the Vienna Airport. K. and I are at the tail end of a 14 hour layover -- this after getting less than two hours of sleep on the flight from D.C. It's currently 8:15 p.m. local time (we arrived at 8:30 a.m.) and our flight doesn't take off until 10:30. Ugh.

On the plus side, we've had a whole day to wander and play in Vienna (pictures will come soon). Vienna, or "Wien" is amazing... wide, open streets, lots of very pretty, very old architecture, some of those huge churches you see everywhere these days, and lots of delicious coffee and sweets. It also happens to be the 250th anniversary of Mozart's something-or-other (birth? first performance? I don't speak enough german to figure it out), so there are probably about as many people wandering around in white powdered wigs and fancy gold coats as there were in 1756.

Oddly, this is the second time I've been through Vienna, and each time I seem to get an extended layover, and a chance to tour around the city. Also, I seem to be more tired than seems possible. The last time I was here it was with my father and stepmother, and a good friend, and we were coming in from an overnight stay in the New Dehli Airport. Both times I've been amazed at just how open and safe this city seems, and how a.) organized, and b.) convenient the Viennese seem to make things. If you get a chance to travel via Austrian Airlines (and take a long stopover in Vienna) I recommend it. Aside from some issues with there not being enough seats, this is one of the nicest airports.

On a side note, just before I left, I bought and devoured this great book by Bob Harris-- "Prisoner of Trebekistan." Ostensibly it's all about his life and times becoming a Jeopardy! champion. I've watched Jeopardy! (exclamation mandatory) a couple times, but not for years, and I'm not really much of a fan. I heard about this book from a website I like to read, and figured it would make a decent airplane book. I was right. The book was not only fun, but also really useful -- all sorts of good tips on memorization, which will help me a great deal as I continue to beat my head against the Georgian language, as well as some funny and inspiring (and sad) moments that make you happy that people like this exist. It ends up being an extended love-letter to the pursuit of both lifelong learning and extensive travel -- two things that you know I love. Plus, for whatever reason, he looks an awful lot like Wash from Firefly. I'm not saying it's a perfect book, but I am saying that you all must go out and read it right this minute. My website will wait.

..see, wasn't that worth it? Anyway, we're still in transit, and I'm writing this on a laptop with a quickly fading battery, so more will come after we arrive, find an apartment, get some internet, access to a power supply, get thirty seven hours of sleep, etc. etc. I see (quickly) that lots of you wrote me (whee!) and I promise that I'll write just as soon as I have time and get settled.

Until then, wish us a safe flight into Tbilisi.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

First Post: Less Than 48 Hours to Liftoff

I'm at my mom's house in Columbus, OH right now, and I'm nearly ready to be off.. Tomorrow we pack, (the upstairs looks like a clothes grenade went off) and then as of 2:00 p.m. EST, we will be en route to... DC. But then, after only several hours, we'll be taking a redeye flight to... Vienna. Where we will spend all of Wednesday. BUT Wednesday evening we'll be catching another redeye, and this one will take us to Tbilisi! Yes! And at 3:50 a.m. when we land, a man named Guja will be waiting to take us back to the house of a friend of a friend who will let us stay for a few days until we find that absolutely perfect apartment that I just know is waiting for us.

More to come! Think good thoughts!