Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Digs

I know that you were all rather fond of my apartment. You thought we were good together. But you didn't really know my apartment. We never quite connected as we should. There was always another woman coming between us. Also, my apartment was trying to kill me. One day, as I looked over the barren vines hanging brittle over my balcony, I realized that we had only been staying together for the grapes. And now that they've grown up and gone away, there's nothing to keep us together.

Then there's all the fighting. The landlady has proven far short of honest and our arguments are more frequent and bitter. And then there's this. I was wandering through my neighborhood, which is, as far as I can tell, the Georgetown of Tbilisi if you're from DC. The Highland Park, if you're from Dallas. The Lincoln Park of Chicago? I forget. Regardless, there on the corner I saw a crowd of people in front of a storefront I didn't recognize. I looked up, and what to my wondering eyes should appear? But a sign, in the Latin alphabet, saying "DOLLAR STORE." I peered inside the windows and saw giddy Americans with manic grins on their faces, throwing things into baskets. I went in and stopped a woman, clearly American: "What's this all about?" She looked back at me, nearly bursting with the glad tidings, "It's new. Just look around. Stock up!"

I looked around. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. For a dollar. I mean, really, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at all. But for a dollar, to boot? Pancake mix! Brownie mix! I mean: mix!!!! Campbells, I tell you, Campbells ever-loving soup! Granted, only two varieties, and by now I've become rather partial to my own homemade soups (turns out this isn't too hard to make), but still! Woolite! Butterfingers!! Vanilla pudding! In no time I had joined the corps of giddy Americans gleefully tossing crap into baskets and fairly skipping through the aisles.

But buyer's remorse sets in fast. I got home and stared accusingly at my paltry finds. Was that really me? I don't actually even like Kraft Mac'n'Cheese very much. I know how to make pancake mix from scratch. I never make brownies. It all felt a bit whore-ish and dirty. Making such a spectacle of yourself. In the Dollar Store. That's it, Sue. Time to leave the neighborhood.

I found an apartment in the heart of the Old Town, behind the synagogue and below the fortress, where the streets are narrow and twist whimsically this way and that. A part of town I love to wander through, trying to decide if it's beautiful in spite of itself, or precisely because of the dilapidated, decaying grace. No Nike or Dollar stores here; the last time this was an area of bustling commerce was when Tbilisi was still a stop on the Great Silk Road and the caravans would stop in the square just steps away, and they say you would hear vendors shouting in Persian, Arabic, Armenian, Russian. Now it is quiet there.

My apartment is up one flight of cartoonish, tilting stairs. There's a bright open balcony and from my windows I can see up into the circling hills. The floor is comically uneven, the amenities are bare, and a non-decorative wood-burning stove still squats in the middle of the large room. When I tell Georgians where I'm moving, they all acknowledge what a lovely location, but then act as though I am moving into a cave. "Have you seen the place?" they'll ask skeptically. "The buildings there are so old. There may not be water or light," they warn. But there is, my friends, safe and properly ventilated heating (aside from the stove) and just so much charm I can't bear it.

Pictures will follow when my Christmas present from Kriston arrives! (A camera, can you believe it? I remember when he couldn't afford to eat!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Missing Links

Dato claims to hate Americans, so I pepper my conversations with him, as much as possible, with as many "like"s and "omigod"s that I can manage. I aim to annoy. After a long discussion last evening about evolutionary psychology, I flipped my hair back, rolled my eyes and said, "I mean, whatever. I don't believe that evolution stuff anyway."

Dato composed his face into a neutral expression. "Huh. Really?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, god, there's so many gaps in the theory, it's totally unbelievable. But nobody wants to pay attention to the one theory that has no gaps. It's all there in the bible, you know."

"Really?" he said out loud, struggling for polite. Ignorant Americans, he was thinking.

"No, not really. Christ, Dato, I'm an educated woman. Of course I believe in evolution."

Then he told me this story.

On a flight back to Georgia he was sitting next to two gentleman, one American, and one Georgian. The American was explaining to the Georgian why evolution should not be taught in schools, in favor of intelligent design or creationism. Apparently, according to Dato, this debate is currently taking place within Georgia as well, as a result of the growing influence of the Orthodox Church on the state.

But the Georgian was very polite. He listened carefully to the arguments, nodded his head thoughtfully, and offered "I understand what you're saying. And in Georgia it is particularly difficult to find teachers who can present the material in the sophisticated manner that it deserves. But I still think that it's probably important to keep evolution taught in the schools." The American would fire back arguments, and the Georgian would calmly acknowledge his points, but politely, inoffensively, demure from signing on to the crazy train.

Dato did not think anything more of the conversation until he was reading an article in the Economist a few days later on evolution, and saw a photo of the Georgian on the plane. It was this man, who had discovered the skull fossils at Dmanisi in Georgia; the oldest human fossils outside of Africa. That man, he has a restraint I will never know.

Forgot to mention that towards the end of this conversation on teaching evolution in schools, I very nearly attempted to explain to my Georgian friend the story of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, until I saw into the future five minutes, recoiled from the look he was giving me, and kept my mouth shut.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas in Georgia

Well, that kind of blew.

But, there was snow!

(Updates to come, I'm sure, when I'm good and ready. I'm still working on leftover Christmas, um, tacos and the filling effects are dulling my mind.)

Happy etc. to you and yours!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Noted in Passing

Quoth the Washington Post:
Bush allowed domestic spying in 2002 order.
President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night.

Quoth Oliver Willis:
There are going to be some folks who say “no big deal”, because in their world it would be okay for the entire CIA to go inside someone’s rectum because the president waved his hands around and said “terrah”. It’s so hard to care anymore.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Blame Russia

It simply wouldn't do for a Georgian winter to announce itself gracefully. No whisper of sudden frost or early flakes to herald the coming season. Oh no no no. Here? It's a light bulb exploding in your face. Good morning, folks!

Winter is the season of electrical mishaps, which is a big improvement from the days of yore when every season was the season of electrical mishaps. So even though I live in a neighborhood known for reliable electricity, you still get the winter power surges. Thus, I awoke this morning to the smell, for the second time this year, of burning something. It was just the electrical space heater. My space heater is a perfectly nice appliance that was unfairly subjected to some Georgian engineering. Somebody soldered an extension cord onto the original cord with electrical tape, resulting in a certain shabby chic, fire hazard-y appeal.

Well fine, so the electrical tape was burning through and sparking and smoking. I turn the thing off, stre-e-e-tch and yawn, flip on my bedside lamp and POW with the lightbulb in the face. Not the most delightful of mornings.

At my office, where there was neither water nor electricity today, (and thus much more eating and drinking), I told my colleague Lasha about the lightbulb. "It was," I told him proudly, "my very first lightbulb-in-the-face."

"Your first?" Lasha looked at me as if I'd just told him that I eat babies and started counting off, on his fingers, the televisions, refrigerators, and mobile phone chargers that have all blown up in his face. O, the appliances I have known.

Well, down one warmth-giving appliance, so now we have to rely on the unventilated gas space heater that the internet assures me will kill me in no time. Mmmmm carbon monoxide. I used to wish that I had brought my electric blanket with me, but now thinking better of it, what with the sparking and the explosions and the whole Robert Fulghum bit.

I share this for the slapstick appeal, but I don't want to make it seem like I'm really roughing it here. I've got high speed internet in my apartment and a frigging Benetton on the corner. Going out to the regions, where I spent last week, puts some perspective on things. Sure we didn't have water in the office today, but out in this village past where the roads end, they're still getting water the old-fashioned way, every day.