Sunday, January 01, 2006

Gilotsavt akhal tsels!

Three hours to midnight on New Year's Eve, I started to contemplate the bizarre twists of life that had conspired to wash me up on these shores for 2006. I was thinking in this vein, you see, because the power went out again, and when you're left sitting quietly in a room lit by candles and the burning orange of your murderous furnace on the brink of the big calendar turn, you've no choice but to squint your eyes and think philosophically about things like that.

Half a decade ago, it was Bourbon Street for New Year's. Like New Orleans, New Year's here features vodka and the shooting of things into the air, though friends assure me it's nothing like the terrible times of the early 90s when the Mkhedrioni, the paramilitary group that ruled the shot-up streets during the civil war, would shoot automatic weapons in the air because even guerillas want to celebrate the New Year.

But here, as throughout the former Soviet Union, New Year's is a family holiday. You must be at home with the family to meet the New Year and then you set out immediately after to see friends and celebrate from place to place until you cannot go any further. My old Russian colleague would damn near cry whenever she remembered aloud New Year's in St. Petersburg, crunching through the snow after midnight, arm-in-arm with friends, going visiting and eating mandarins. And of course, there is great pressure if you happen to be the first guest to enter somebody's house in the New Year. The whole balance of good and ill that befalls that family in the coming year will be laid upon your head. They say there is a funny movie set in the west of Georgia where a dog is the first guest in a family's home, and after a year of blessings, the dog is in great demand for the next year.

It seems nice. Not quite enough daiquiris, boobs, and public pissing for my taste, but I am nothing if not culturally tolerant.

Speaking of New Orleans, the French Quarter, it cheers me to see, somewhat like Tbilisi, has rebounded from destruction and mayhem just enough to become a place where, at least on this night, in this neighborhood, people can forget about the losses and the nightmares and give in to hedonism as defiance, as remembering rather than forgetting. Have a hurricane for me, my friends. Have two.


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