Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Goodbye to all that

It turns out I'm no good at this at all. What does it all mean? What did I learn? What do I take with me? How have I changed, how I have I not? The end of my time in Georgia calls for such a wrap-up, a dreamy montage with a world-weary and wised-up voiceover. But I think I numbed my mind and bubble-wrapped it tight to prepare for the move, and it's not yet shaken loose from all the batting. Reflection is, I'm afraid, too much to ask and so I'll simply recount my return without further elaboration.

One week and one day ago, it was my last day in Georgia. I spent it in the most perfectly Georgian way possible—neglecting the untended heaps of belongings loitering around my suitcases at home and instead accompanying my favorite Orthodox monk to visit his vineyards in eastern Georgia. Not the most responsible of tactics, but I can tell you that anyone who has spent time in Georgia and hasn't adopted "it'll all work out" as a personal motto, is probably nursing ulcers and anyway missing out on all the fun.

It was a perfect summer day, and before stopping at the vineyards to check on the progress of this year's grape crop, we went to Father Theodore's wine cellar to unseal the final kvevri of last year's vintage. The kvevri is a giant clay pot, buried up to its lips in the earth, and as Georgians have done it for over a thousand years, it is where the wine ages, protected from the vagaries of temperature and weather by the constancy of earth, until the seal is broken and the wine is ladled out. So we opened the last kvevri, and sampled the heady, tangy wine, honey-colored and clear.

Wine Watching

I've brought back three liters and promised that I would not dare squirrel them away for a special occasion.

It was an idyllic afternoon, but too soon I was again in Tbilisi and back to the grim business of suitcase-stuffing and separating the necessities (plum sauce, wine horns) from the expendable (shoes, bathrobes, towels). Funny to see your shifting priorities in such material form, cluttering up your living room floor.

I had a five am flight to look forward to. Three in the morning is a lonely hour to arrive at an airport in any circumstances, and unbearably so when it's a final leave-taking. Somehow, though, I lucked into the most extraordinary of friends—ones who (on a work night) would stay up with me drinking champagne until it was time to leave for the airport, and then wait with me in the terminal from three am until four forty-five when I finally finally cleared passport control, clowning all over so that I would be laughing and never alone.

And that was it, really. It's not so strange to be back. I lived here for 26 years, and what's one away compared to all that? A few impressions stand out. How casually Americans dress. How strange it is to communicate so easily in English. How annoying it is the way we divide up checks so clinically and scrupulously. How I have to stop myself from shouting my wishes to waitstaff across the room. How grocery stores with ten bays of milk varieties can make me laugh out loud. And the water pressure in showers! Now that is fine living.

Perhaps numbness explains how easily I moved from crawling about ancient mountain monasteries to attentively noting the attributes of the microplane grater at a Pampered Chef party in suburban Dallas. But somehow Georgia doesn't feel so very far away, or dream-like, so I don't feel too acutely the separation.

I am at a bit of a loss as to what I'll write about next, however. The muse may be a bit withered up, and if that's the case, I may call things quits around here. Graduate school looms, classes will start soon, and I'm not sure I am willing to turn this into a forum for pedestrain plaints about finals or worse yet, an outlet for all the "this one time? in Georgia?" stories that I will restrain from (for the sake of my friends) in everyday conversation.

But whatever happens, thanks for coming along for the ride.

Father Teo's Vineyard


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