Sunday, March 26, 2006

Turn Around, Bright Eyes

Of all the fab Spring Breaks I've had over the years, this year's might just top them all. Or at least, is the most likely to result in bridal kidnapping.

Figure A: Svaneti

Quoth the Lonely Planet: "Svaneti: Impossibly beautiful, wild and mysterious, Svaneti is an ancient land locked in the Great Caucasus, so remote that despite being ethnically Georgian, modern Svans speak a language (Svan) that broke away from Georgian some four millennia ago [!!!] and is now unintelligible to Georgians elsewhere. This land of deep tradition violent justice and banditry is the ultimate destination for any traveller to Georgia. ...Banditry is rife and the only protection comes through blood ties and local honor codes."

Figure B: Outer Space
"On Wednesday, 2006 March 29, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor which traverses half the Earth. The path of the Moon's umbral shadow begins in Brazil and extends across the Atlantic, northern Africa, and central Asia where it ends at sunset in western Mongolia."

Figure C: The shadow! (courtesy of NASA)

Yes sir, we're going to give it a shot, up to the impassable mountains of Svaneti: the holy grail of Georgia travel, to see the lights go out. And we don't even have an iPod car stereo transmitter, so it's really Lewis-and-Clark the whole way up. I knew one Svan, once. He ate glass and tried to drink wine from my shoe. So, you know, it's sort of like touring Arkansas at a much higher altitude.

Oh, take your Cancun and your South Padre and your rohypnol. Svaneti '06!

(8 days of silence = mayday, people)


I've been in Georgia long enough to believe that every incriminating thing I hear about Russia must be true. This strikes me as a bigg-ish deal. Aren't people talking about it?

2) Matty informs me that I am one of 3 or 4 people in our NCAA hoops bracket with a shot at winning it all. This is the awesomest thing I've learned about myself since finding out I was a natural boxer. UCLA v. UConn is my call. (Apparently)

UPDATE: Oh hell, George Mason seriously?? Pfffft.

Humorous things that are funny

According to Wikipedia,

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines tautology as "the saying of the same thing twice over in different words."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bed Bath and Bazaar

Bazroba, as we call the metastasizing tumor of a market squaloring all over the area by the central train station in Tbilisi, is no place to dip your toe in and test the water. This is a full-on, no-holds, plug-your-nose and squint-your-eyes and cannonball off the high-dive kind of a joint.

See, in Georgia, there’s a real getting-things problem. Not many goods are manufactured here, and sophisticated importing and retailing operations have not taken root. So it’s a bit ad-hoc, a bit mish-mash, it’s individuals who have a lead on plastic tubs from Turkey, or electronics from Dubai. As a rule, the retailing model is not so much corner hardware store or WalMart, it's just Bazroba, for everything. And what Bazroba is, is acres upon lost acres of tables piled up with miscellaneous crap, under tarpaulin.

If you're a claustrophobic, if sensory overload makes you batty, if you find peace and succour in antiseptic shopping malls with piped, hidden music, price tags, and a language you speak, it's not really going to be your scene. And until recently, it's definitely not been mine.

But now I've got friends.

Fruit Lady - Silhouette

After promptly exploding the power supply to my brand-new wireless router, I seized the chance to test just how native I've gone. I mean, going to bazroba for a light bulb or a kettle is one thing, but a somewhat specialized piece of electronic equipment was ambition of an entirely higher order. Could I, or could I not, plunge into bazroba, pantomime my way into an operational power converter, and make it out intact? I was feeling confident.

Inside the market, I skated past the women shuffling along the dirt floor selling hot cheese pastries, the village men pushing wheelbarrows full of beer cans, I ducked and weaved through the tangles of pans and blankets and scarves and basketballs, utterly lost but looking purposeful.

Eventually, after Hansel-and-Greteling my way into the heart of the place, I paused at a table that seemed to offer a variety of electronic goods: light sockets and bulbs, electrical switches, fuse-looking thingies. The merchant approached me, and I took out of my bag the non-operational power plug.

"This," I said in Russian. "Does not work. I need a new one. Do you have something?"
"Yes, I am sure we will find something! Let's see!" He took it and checked the size and the voltage and started rummaging through his piles. While he pulled out various half-damaged models and examined them, he started asking me questions.
"Where are you from?"
"I am from the USA."
"The USA?" He dropped whatever he had been holding and turned his attention to me. "The USA?! Really? Where in the USA?"
"I'm from Texas."
I think I could hardly have uttered anything that would cause more joy. He threw his hands in the air, shouted "Texas!", and then pantomimed holding a rifle. "Pow, Pow! Texas! Pow!" he shouted.
"Yes, that's it exactly," I confirmed.
I have a theory that Georgia and Texas would get along really well if they met at a party. Both proud of being friendly, both fond of their guns, and both perfectly happy to chuck one for the other at a moment's notice.
"Dallas?" he asked hesitantly.
"I am from Dallas," I said. "My family still lives there."
He shook his head sadly and clucked his tongue. "Kennedy..."
"Ah yes. We're all very sorry about that."

By now he'd found me a suitable model and thought I should give it a try. "If it doesn't work, just bring it back," he said. "I never say that, but..." he clasped his hands in the air and shook them above his head. "United States! Texas!!"

Well, sorry to say, it didn't work. But I think it was worth every tetri. I had to go back to Bazroba today with a friend, and as we rounded a corner in that messy maze, what should I hear but a voice calling out "Suzie!" There was my pal, and he told me that any friend of mine would get a discount on any of his products. So listen up, any of ya'll have cause for some lamps or power cords or switchy-things, I'm all hooked up in Bazroba. Yeeha!
Radio Shack - Tbilisi Style

Friday, March 17, 2006


With gunshots and love, what they say is, you’ll just know.

I was in security training for my old job, and we were learning pointlessly cool stuff like how to get safely out of a minefield, how to spot two-way mirrors, that kind of thing. One of the trainers, a former cop, was in the middle of explaining evasive maneuvers during gunfire, when he paused and asked us all if we’d ever heard the sound of gunfire. Could we tell it from a car backfiring? I could not. I’d been rattled awake a time or two in DC and wondered, “maybe?” but no, I didn’t know. How can you tell when it’s a gun, and not a car after all? When it’s the real thing, he told me, you just know.

For a Texas girl, I’m sure no great shakes with the guns. My uncles, and even both aunts, are licensed concealed handgun owners. I remember happy childhood afternoons sitting cross-legged on the carpet, dizzying myself from the acrid, oily fumes of the cleaner my dad used to regularly swab down rifle parts. Reaching 14, my brother got a rifle of his own, and a membership to the NRA, a hearty backslapping welcome into the fraternity of Texas men.

But me, I have neither held nor shot a firearm, nor been in the vicinity of any sharpshooters. Against guns, I say, and against them for all the proper and responsible reasons. But I’m not, not really. I am afraid, a little bit, that I would like them very much. Remembering the unexpected power high I got from a few boxing lessons, I can foresee that a little cold steel in my grip might not scare me as much as it ought to. Might feel kind of nice.

Well, anyway, they’re right about the gunshots.

My busy street is host to all sorts of shouts and rumbles and bangs and barks, but when I heard this shot, so loud I vibrated, it just as they tell you: I knew. By the time I got to my window, the neighbors were already coming out of doors, leaning out windows, angling for a peek. A young man was hobbling, gripping his leg, and screaming something that started with “your mother” and surely didn’t end politely. A girl next to him was on her phone, voice frantic and shaking, looking very scared. He was hobbling and cursing and trying to hide himself from view. Somehow he was bundled into a car and I saw him in the passenger seat giving into pain with a look of luxurious abandon that resembled relief, as if having to act brave and stoic on the street had been the worst part.

And I never know what’s happening in this country. I can’t join the neighborly post-shooting conference on this boy, and the undoubtedly well-documented theories as to how he brought this on himself and his poor mother. I can only sit in my window and marvel at how unperturbed they all seem. I have seen neighbors back home get more hysterical over electricity outages.

I’m back to feeling uncomfortable about guns. And Mother comes to visit in three weeks. Georgia! Listen up! Put a comb in your hair, put a mint in your mouth, and for the love of God, lock up the firearms!

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Little Heartbreaker

Just when I thought my baby-snatching urges were over, little buddy here starts singing out "Helloooooooo" to me as I pass his roost. Lucky for him he was behind those bars.

The Revolution Starts Now

So, supposin' that over here in Tbilisi, threes, nay fours of lonely democrats have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. We've gone from bitching about the Bush administration to our computer screens, to bitching about Bush over beers, to incorporating ourselves into a highly disciplined attack force keen on tilting the balance of the '06 midterm elections from overseas. Just what plays well in Peoria, we know.

Well, the idea is to adopt a race, and I'm looking for some input. Our numbers our few, our abilities are paltry, but we could probably do some moderate fundraising and letter-writing campaigns. So we're looking for a race that fits the following criteria: small state (so that our modest fundraising could actually be of some use), tight race, a decent D candidate if at all possible. Whether it's an incumbent that's in danger or a promising challenger makes no difference, I think. House or Senate is fine; obviously chances of flipping the House leadership are pretty slim but changing the balance is still worthwhile. If there's anything at all fitting this description in the state of Georgia, that would be marvelous, but I rather think not.

Yglesias gave me the inside scoop about the hot senate campaigns, but we don't necessarily have to go high-profile. Also! We seek clever t-shirt ideas that relate democrats and u.s. politics and the nation of Georgia. I'm drawing on the old Pub Quiz team naming skills but still coming up short. I'm sure there's a play on words somewhere with Caucus and Caucasus but I'm not quite getting it. (But it *does* remind me of the apex of our Pub Quiz team-naming days when we won Best Name, just after the Democratic convention, with Erik's brilliant suggestion of "Reporting for Booty." Don't make me explain it people, it wasn't so long ago.)

So my politically minded brethren, any ideas?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Just Grant Me This One

But what you really wanted to know, I'm sure, is the fate of dear little Erekle, whose uncertain disposition troubled my thoughts more than a few times while I traveled. "Here I am enjoying delectable baklava," I'd think to myself, "when Erekle at this very moment, may be frantically trying to loose himself from a trap."

Back at the apartment, I found that a few magazine pages smothered in glue are strewn about the place. I found them, to be honest, because in a stroke of poetic (yet insufficient) justice, I got stuck on one myself. Erekle, naturally, is far too clever to be snowed by such an obvious ruse. But no sign of him.

Today my landlady, Nino, gave me a ring and said, in an endearing fit of pathos, "Your little mouse friend said to tell you goodbye."

I think it's clear what happened.

Offended by the paper-and-glue treatment, he simply showed himself the door and found a house more to his suiting. In the country. On a farm. Where there's lots of room for him to run and be happy.

Alternative interpretations of the foregoing events are emphatically not welcome and would be considered in very poor taste.

Wish You Were Here

Blue Mosque at Night

Well there's nothing more tiring than an overly detailed account of a delightful vacation in exotic locales that you weren't on, so I'll make it snappy.

I have to take a moment to tip my hat to Emporer Justinian. The heart-flopping moments where your chest drops to your toes for sheer awe and mouth-gaping wonder are few and far in this life, but stepping through the inner narthex to catch your first glimpse inside the Hagia Sophia (or the Aya Sofia as we're calling it these days) is surely one of them. Lives up to the billing, ladies and gentleman, lives up to the billing.

So that's a heckuva start. Then the finest baklava you've ever had (and you've had, let's be clear, quite a lot), days and days chasing glimpses of glorious Ottoman remnants, if not the best then definitely one of the top five dinners you've ever had, lazy afternoons boating up the Bosphorus, lunchtime in a small fishing village where the fresh catch is brought nearly still flopping, strolling down clean and easy streets between the carpet-selling barkers arm-in-arm with the best of company, and let's just chalk it up to a fine time all around.

Ten kabillion fairly standard tourist-style photos await uploading to my Flickr account.

[post edited to remove annoying conversational tics upon my noting that every bloomin' paragraph started with "Well,".]