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?"

...my 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.