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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"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."

I also have found myself hanging out with a few people who are not at all into the culture. They are impressed by my desire to speak Vietnamese, eat Vietnamese food, possibly get a motorbike, etc. And I'm just thinkin', well, why the hell come here if you're not going to be here?

Hope I did that html right.