Sunday, July 02, 2006


The plowman mentioned the smoke pall when I was talking with him in the afternoon, and I asked if he knew where the fire was.
“Canada,” he replied.
“What part of Canada?” I asked.
“The whole of it,” he said. “They tell me the whole of Canada is ablaze.”
“That’s a big fire then,” I answered. “Canada is a large place, larger than the United States even.”
The plowman considered this distasteful pronouncement a moment.
“Well then,” he said, “it is a big fire.” But he added cheerfully, “Anyways, it’ll have to cross a pile of water ‘fore it gits to us.”
I nodded in perfect agreement, for this seemed a spiritual rather than a geographical discussion, and I felt instructed and renewed.
--E.B. White; from "My Day"

I had only lived in Georgia about five weeks when I returned to Dallas, Texas last fall for a wedding. At the rehearsal dinner, the dollishly petite, impeccably shod blonde fiancée of the bride’s cousin summoned all her best debutante breeding and courageously hazarded a conversation with me. “I hear…” she started hesitantly, “that you are living on…the island of... Georgia?” A pause. Sensing her miss, she surrendered charmingly. “I’m sorry. I just don’t really know where that is.” It was so dear, her earnest trying, her genuine attempt to throw wide the borders of her general concern for the sake of polite conversation, that it seemed petty to be pedantic about such things. So I just said, “Yes, that’s right.” And why not? When I told the story back in Tbilisi, a Georgian friend concurred readily, if sarcastically. “We are an island! And island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism!”

* * *

Oh Moscow? The republics are getting uppity.

At the Tbilisi airport, checking my guest's luggage at the counter for her flight back to the states, via Moscow. We watched as they affixed to her suitcase handles the bright pink tags announcing SHORT CONNECTION.

“It’s five-and-a-half hours,” she laughed. “That’s short?”

“We have to do that for Moscow,” chimed in a Georigan airport employee in the high clipped English that belied British tutelage. He raised his brows condescendingly, flicked his forefinger against his neck in the old Soviet sign for drinking, and said something rather funny coming from a Georgian. “They’re always a little drunk there.”

* * *

I have a different explanation. They say that time bends as it approaches the event horizon of a black hole, stretches out until one minute, one second refuses to end and make way for the next. This is what happens to time at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, which also sucks away all light and all hope, and sucked in too the hapless traveler K.

K was traveling to Georgia for the first time, to Tbilisi via Moscow. The connection in Moscow was tight, but she made it to her next flight with time to spare. The plane for Tbilisi sat on the tarmac in clear sight, but between K and her seat stood the Russians with arms folded, telling her the flight was full. "You will go tomorrow," they told her.

Guards escorted K and the other stranded passengers and paired them up in bare rooms to pass the night. If they stuck their heads into the corridor outside of their rooms, they saw the guards holding vigil, lest passengers en route to Madrid and Tbilisi flout the rules and escape running into the Moscow night, disappearing into the city's underworld, and without a transit visa! No phones, so K could not call Tbilisi to tell them that she was detained, and when she'd arrive.

K and I hadn't met, but she'd found my blog in anticipation of her upcoming Georgia trip and we'd corresponded a time or two about practicalities. I'd passed along my number, told her to give me a ring when she arrived. K arrived at midnight in the Tbilisi airport, a day late, with nobody to meet her at the airport, no idea where to go, and no way to communicate. A taxi driver loaned her his phone, she called me, and I directed the driver to my apartment.

When they arrived, I was still crippled and couldn't hop out to the taxi to negotiate the fare. K called out how much the driver wanted. I yelled out to him "It's too much!" Giorgi the drunken sentinel who lives on my stoop and Keto from the market next door wanted to know how much this driver was asking. "He wants thirty!" I said. "No!" they shouted and soon half the neighborhood was negotiating the taxi fare, at midnight on a sweltering Tbilisi night, me hopping sock-footed, the driver roaring back that it was his business, not theirs, and poor K standing in the middle wanting nothing more than a pillow under her head and a roof over it, and what's five lari here or there?

Welcome to Tbilisi, K. Hope things are looking up.


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