Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Very Educated Mother...

...Just Served Us Nine...what???

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

But the Tex-Mex is Really Top-notch

Being in Texas is sort of like being in a foreign country.

A foreign country where, at your local dive bar/pool hall, the band in the corner tucks into a rendition of the National Anthem.

A foreign country where big-necked Bubbas, upon hearing the Anthem through the din of bar noise and smacking billiards, will turn to your friend who is (oblivious to the music) scouting a tricky bank shot, and say to him:

"Boy, that's the National Anthem playin'. You better turn aroun' and put yer hand on yer heart or I have ev'ry right to go git my gun and shoot you in the head."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What I meant to say...

Fellow Fulbrighter Stephan Clark is just back from his stint in Ukraine, and in fine writerly style, is perfectly content to set aside the What-Does-It-All-Mean burden that was dogging my consciousness two posts ago, and lay out a few simple weirdnesses of re-entry. Show, don't tell, etc.

I agree with him emphatically, especially about the bread. I do miss sticking half my torso into the small bakery window off the street, feeling the blast of hot, yeasty air, squinting into the subterannean pit where stocky men tend the round beehive oven below me, and emerging with long flat loaves of fresh bread for abot 35 cents a pop.

(Incidentally, Stephan's blog is well worth a read in entirety. He's a fiction writer who spent the year investigating Ukraine's bustling mail-order bride indstry, and perhaps all the talk of nuptials went to his head because he came out of the deal with his own blushing bride. [Not an agency perk, an actual girlfriend of some lengthy courtship.] Best of all, in the quest for an immigrant visa for his Russian wife, is his discovery of an Embassy job I never would have fathomed. The person inhabiting this position is no petty government bureaucrat but a sage, an oracle, for he is tasked by mandate of the U.S. Government with divining from a sheaf of dog-eared photographs and stacks of evidentiary emails whether love is true.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

In the red

It was at the welcome-home barbecue thrown by mom at my childhood home in Dallas that long-time neighbor Joe sidled up to me in the kitchen, leaned in, and whispered, "I've got a question for you, and I won't tell your parents."

Oh dear.

"Just tell me," he continued sotto voce, "are you democrat or republican?"

It is a time for snap judgments. For I am in red Texas. Where it is perfectly acceptable to sit in a Mexican restaurant and publicly proclaim how the illegal Mexican immigrants are destroying our American Values even as they fry our chimichangas a stone's throw away. Where the W stickers on cars outnumber valid registration stickers and the wrong bumper sticker can rend the fibers of your family values.

I, a sometimes student of Soviet history, eyed neighbor Joe quickly: informer or fellow traveler? I gambled.

"The first one," I whispered, unwilling to risk voicing the d-word in the crowded kitchen.

A wide smile greets my answer. "I thought you might be! I just had a feeling. You're one of us. One of the few."

"What, do you have a secret society going or something?"

"Yes, basically. You have to keep it quiet around here. But we're there, we're around."

He stepped back and appraised me critically.

"Look, you can run for something here. I'll manage your campaign! And you," his smile so wide it nearly splits his face, "will lose spectacularly."

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

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beating the Clock

The elegant farewell-to-Georgia post that was fermenting in my brain is just going to have to wait until I reach Amsterdam airport and its sweet, sweet, wireless internet connection. I have to go return my DSL modem to the internet company and then do something about all this junk lying around my house instead of inside my overstuffed, overweight suitcases.

Among the items I shall attempt to bring into America:
  • 3 liters of Georgian wine made by a monk and only this morning ladled out of the clay pot where it was aging
  • Smoked cheese made by monks
  • Fresh, homemade sunflower oil
  • Tkemali - that special tangy-sweet plum sauce that goes great with pork
  • The spicy Megrelian tomato sauce my Georgian teacher's mother made for me
  • Churchkhela - the tasty but weird-looking grape-and-nuts on a string contraption
Let's see what the FDA has to say about all that! 12 hours until take off. I have a lot to do.