Friday, June 30, 2006

Hungry Like the Wolf

As I recline, pondering my swollen ankle, I realize that I have stumbled (ha ha) upon a surefire two-step weight-loss plan. Call it the Bikini Season Panic Ankle-Twisting Two-Step

Step 1: Fall

Step 2: Recline far away from where the food's at

Oh, and ladies! A bonus tip: if you don't elevate the injured portion or apply ice, you'll get skinnier faster!

Hubris is...

...thinking that you can, just like the local girls (sure-footed as mountain goats), navigate streets like this:

in shoes like this:

Well, ouch. Now that my ankle's the size of my neck, I'm going to be contemplating my ceiling for a while. But don't pity me yet. What it means for you is a long overdue update or two on the goings-on here in the land of Georgia. It's like a long-distance air-strike from my adoring reader(s?). Alright, already, I'm writing, I'm writing!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Okay, okay, I get it

Hey, I just noticed that the Dallas Mavericks are in the NBA finals. Normally I would absolutely be cheering for them, seeing as how I spent the plurality of my life there (see how neatly I avoid calling myself from Dallas? neat, huh?), but I feel that this Susan-is-gone party that America seems to have been throwing all year has gone on long enough.

Let's recap. I leave the country and what happens?
1) University of Texas wins the NCAA Football Championship
2) The Republicans slide nigh-on comically into some kind of perpetual-motion scandal generator (I mean, hookers? Come on karma, you're overplaying this just a touch.)
3) Dallas Mavericks play in the NBA Finals

If it all goes too well for the Mavs, I fear that my welcome wagon will involve pitchforks and torches and a return flight to anywhere-but-here, courtesy of the DNC, remote-control wielding Texans, and/or the bulk of my friends and family.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Special Delivery

I have a terrible inkling that the last dear old woman who asked me to mail her a photograph went and died before I ever got around to it. (The horrendously overdue package made it to Ukraine but was sent back). So in this woman's request for the photo of her and her granddaughter to be mailed, I find a chance of redemption. It should not take the fathomless wheels of karma to teach me to mail old ladies who endured the Great Patriotic War and the mother-loving purges a photograph to make them happy before they die, but I am not what you call a real woman of the people.


Paradox of Choice

Tonight, I'm going to Mtskheta for khinkali. The former being a town 20 minutes outside of Tbilisi and the ancient capital of Georgia (Tbilisi is the johnny-come-lately capital, popping up in the 5th century); the latter a delicious meat-dumpling type concoction that has the curious property of becoming increasingly addictive the more you eat of it, such that Georgians of my acquaintance have been known to non-ironically equate the khinkali dumpling to life itself. Last Sunday my friend took me with her to her mother's house and we all rolled our sleeves up and slapped on our aprons and the ladies taught me how to make a proper khinkali, so watch out America!

There's khinkali in Tbilisi, of course, but it's better in Mtskheta, although not as good as up in Pasanauri. Something about the water, they say. The lobio, the beans, are really primo in Mtskheta, but if you want smoked pork you will simply have to spend the 8 hours to get yourself up to Racha. And if you crave the sweet, challah-like nazuki bread, then I suppose you could grab a pale imitation at the roadside stand before Gori, but you really should stop at the town just north of Khashuri where the road is just thick with old ladies flapping nazuki in the air at your passing car, as if hailing a fleet of cabs with steaming bread.

Some enterprising entrepreneur will one day start a real distribution business and then you'll be able to get fresh nazuki and smoked pork and the best khinkali without leaving the capital. But meantime, food is an excuse for traveling, and one of the few, along with wedding parties and funerals, that will really get the Georgians off their duffs.

America is simply too big for this kind of nonsense. You can't force us all to drive to Manhattan for a bagel or to Texas for a fajita (although certainly the best stuff is still worth the trip). In the civic religion of America, the idea that unavailability can be pleasurable is very near apostasy. Sure it's pretty nice to have, at any point in the year, raspberries and avocadoes and grapes and squash whenever you need them. But I never before knew the joy of rounding a corner and seeing, for the first time of the season, the sidewalk fruit and veg stands just blushing with strawberries. Strawberries! And cherries, now, too. Just wait for the peaches, they tell me. You'll simply die. Instead of staring down groaning cornucopias of vegetables bins and trying to snatch from the million recipes floating my head and just ordering a pizza in despair, in a complicated world it is some small relief to look down and say, "Snap peas are looking fresh. Stir fry!"

The meat situation, is decidedly less idyllic, although I've thus far avoided patronizing the shopkeeps what hoist the carcasses on a stick on the roadside. Buying bread out of the trunk of a parked Niva is about as roughing it as I care to get, grocery-shopping-wise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Thumbs not Bombs

In the spirit of the 1971 visit by the U.S. Table Tennis team to China, we here in Tbilisi are commited, within our humble means, to trailblazing peaceful and creative avenues of international diplomacy. Or, we're wargaming the coming apocalypse, depending on your take.

It was a quiet Monday night, an unseasonable chill in the air, a mood too lighthearted to portend the world-historical event that would unfold within mere minutes at the charming little pseudo-Moroccan sidewalk cafe in the heart of Tbilisi. Two great enemies faced off across a table, but for one brief and shining moment, all talk of nuclear weapons and evil axes and satans great and small was abandoned and our patriotic fervor was pinned instead to the dextrous digits of our national champions in the first-ever America v. Iran Thumb War.

As you can see, the conduct of our offensive
suffered from insufficient pre-war planning: specifically U.S. troop levels were limited to the size of one (1) waifish little stick of a girl lacking the proper thumb armor to combat the burly and great-thumbed Perisan enemy.

The mission was not, as they say, accomplished. But for what it's worth, our team was awfully cute. Go USA!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Dog Days

May 26 was Georgian Independence Day, which I celebrated, while the entire Georgian army paraded down Rustaveli Avenue, by inviting three Georgian friends over for enchiladas and pecan pie and George Strait wailing about Amarillo behind it all. The enchiladas went over pretty well, but the PEEkinpie, as it was dubbed, was the real star of the show. And no small coup for me, seeing how there aren't pie pans and I'm all thumbs with crust-making and actually, don't own an oven. But what's Georgian independence day without pecan pie? Great lengths were called for.

* * *

The city is wearing me down, and I haven't slept properly for weeks. It's getting so hot at nights, and opening the window admits some air but also the roar of my busy street and that of the drunk sentinels that keep their nightly vigil on my stoop.

Saturday, after another sleepless night and a morning too bright and loud for snoozing, I finally reached my limit. I hadn't slept for eons, and I was behaving badly. Snapping at people, glaring at strangers, adding droppersful of anxiety to the growing pit of unease at my core. It seemed a bit of a cliche to escape the city as a solution; I've never really believed in the old-fashioned idea of traveling somewhere for your health, taking the waters, though I find it a convenient sort of fallacy to buy into.

Nevertheless, I cinematically packed my bags and fled to the lot on the edge of town where you can catch a minivan east. Sighnaghi, that hilltop town towering over the Alazani valley with its grapevines that have spidered across the land for millenia, seemed a worthy endpoint. And anyway, my friend John lives there and if I could find him, I could stay in his house.

It was a golden afternoon ride and as the marshrutka climbed up the hill to reach Sighnaghi, the air was cooler and fresher and the skin of grime I'd been sporting around Tbilisi was finally airing off. We rounded the bend and the high Caucasus came into view and, cliche or no, I clinically noted a definite and measurable relaxation in my muscles; starting with my jaw and ending with the slow unraveling of that knot of unease coiling in my gut.

Well, tough luck for me, my unwitting host had just left for Tbilisi an hour before my arrival, and I was a little homeless for the evening. The old Soviet Intourist hotel unattractively crowning the top of a little rise, and watched over by two old souls who haunt the place like characters in a curse (eternal life is theirs until that day when they pass through the doorways of the old concrete husk and into the outside world)—anyway, the hotel wasn't an option as schoolbus loads of kids were hoarding the anyway unappealing rooms.

Feeling absolutely no anxiety about this turn of events, I sat on a bench, kicking around a rock, waiting for something to happen. Metaphorically, this is more-or-less my battle plan in life and I guess it's worked out for me pretty well so far. So I wasn't surprised when, a few minutes into my meditation, I spotted Shalva, a friend of John's who I had met on prior sojourns to Sighnaghi. I flagged him down, bounded over, and explained my circumstances. And within 30 minutes, I was happily ensconced in the hillside home of an absent American, whose house is watched over by Shalva. Like all good Georgian homes, it's more of a treehouse than a proper structure meant to guard against the elements, and there's no clear line dividing inside from out. There was a long, bright veranda ending with a swinging chair and wide windows revealing the mountains. It was hot enough to wear skimpy shorts and read while the freshest little breezes curled through, and the loudest sounds were the rhythmic squeaking of the swinging chair and bird calls. Somehow I'd stumbled into a vacation brochure fantasy of a peaceful getaway, and I just curled my toes with the pure pleasure of it all.

It's what I did all day on Sunday: happily squeaking and reading and listening to roosters. But Saturday night I went to a Sighnaghi wedding party of an ethnic Kurdish Georgian who had just returned from fighting with coalition forces in Iraq. In the fine tradition of homecoming heroes he'd got right down to business: married his love of many years and readied himself for the business of making a houseful of babies. I don't know what he thought of the war or Georgia's involvement or the prospects for a stable peace in Iraq. I don't know if he identified strongly enough with his Kurdish heritage to feel a special stake in the hostilities, or if he fought against his better judgment. But I know that the money from his service allowed him to buy a house for his pretty young Georgian bride and for himself, and there's room for little ones if they can get the money for some basic repairs, and there's a fig tree and a quince tree and space for a garden besides.

Here's to wringing out what goodness we can from this old world.