Sunday, May 09, 2004

What I Did on My Spring Vacation

As a true believer in censorship when it comes to my own public humiliation, I have now finished scouring my Georgia photos and have picked a handful suitable for public consumption. I generally try to keep real-live human beings out of the photos I publish on the internet, so the following is mostly a bunch of scenery.


Panoramic of the city - Tbilisi is more or less a valley ringed by a series of hills, crowned with churches and fortresses, and statues.

I'm only including this next shot as it is the only photo I took with some artistic merit. Plus it makes Tbilisi look kind of like Havana - sultry and decaying in a sexy kind of way.

Exhibit A: Why You Should Not Wear Heels in Tbilisi. Completely destroyed the pair I brought. Serves me right. And let's not talk about the lack of shock absorbers on all the cars. Driving around on these roads gives you what someone quaintly termed a "kidney massage."

Here's a typical Tbilisi dwelling, complete with the requisite hanging laundry and vigilant babushka peering out.

In the early 90s, among other conflicts, Georgia went through a civil war with the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz drove ethnic Georgians out of the region, and ever since then, these people have been living as refugees or Internally Displaced Persons inside Georgia. The Hotel Iveria used to be the major Soviet hotel in the heart of downtown, and when the capital was flooded with Abkhaz refugees, it was the logical place to house them. Now, the hotel is a de facto refugee camp, and as you can see, the refugees finish off the balconies with plywood or whatever material is handy to create extra space. The result is the monstrosity pictured below; a fascinating reminder of ethnic conflict right in the heart of downtown Tbilisi.

The ancient Narikala fortress, on a hill overlooking Old Tbilisi:

Jvari Monastery

I loved this monastery so much, it gets its own subsection. This church was built in the 5th-6th century, and it sits on a high hill overlooking the ancient capital of Mtskheta (about 15 minutes outside Tbilisi). My colleague who took me to view the monastery had been trained as an architect and had worked to restore many of the ancient churches in the area, so I got an earful of fascinating history dating from the time St. Nina brought Christianity to Georgia. Like many of these churches and monasteries, Jvari is still a working place of worship, and you can drive up the hill to go attend church here on a Sunday. There's a near complete serenity to this spot, and I couldn't help but picture what it will be like one day, with the growls of tour buses and loud-mouthed visitors polluting the atmosphere. Go now if you can.

Looking over to the Caucasus mountains from Jvari:

Oh, hell, why not one more:

From Jvari, you can look down to the town of Mtskheta, the "old" capital of Georgia. Tbilisi, the shiny new capital, was annointed as such in like the 4th century or something absurd like that. Here, you can see the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. The difference in color is stunning, and the place where they join is a holy baptismal site.

Parties and Peaks

I was able to leave Tbilisi for a few days and make it up to Gudauri, a ski resort in the mountains. The drive out is a famous scenic route that includes views such as this, of the fortress and church Ananuri. Kriston says it looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, and I think he's right:

Oh, I'm sorry, are you the view from my balcony in Gudauri? I thought so. Jesus Christ, this place will be a tourist mecca when they get their act together, and I am simultaneously depressed and pleased about that:

Have I mentioned that the Georgians know how to have a good time? After five hours of stuffing ourselves silly, they're still able to jump up and cut loose with that particular Georgian dance - arms spread wide, wrists flicking in the air:

You've heard me mention the mountains of food. This is halfway through a supra, or dinner party. There were still like 7 more meat courses to come, and check out that table! Wine, anybody?

At some point, all sense of moderation is lost amidst the shower of toasts. The wine glass is abandoned, and the bowl is taken up. The tamada, or toastmaster, fills it to the brim with wine and begins his toast to friendship, say. He then chugs the contents, refills the bowl, and passes it on to a guest who adds his/her own toast and continues the passing. As a woman and a guest, I was not expected to down a bowl (though I'm sure I could have summoned the spirit of my college days and represented America well), but my Australian colleague pictured below was not so lucky...


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