Friday, July 25, 2014

Day trip

 As part of my research this summer, I'm taking a bunch of guided tours and taking copious notes. And pictures! The highlight of yesterday's trip west was the ancient cave town of Uplistsikhe, which dates from the first millenium BC. Although the temperature hovered around 95 degrees, the wind was blowing at the top of the hill, making it nearly bearable.
 Mercifully, our guide was also willing to scuttle plans to visit the third church of the day in favor of a hike at the Armaziskheri archaeological site, from 3000-2000 BC (hard to fathom) and known as the cradle of paganism in Georgia. Fun times!
More sobering was our stop at the Stalin museum, made more disturbing by the reverent, almost religious attitude of our guide. Reluctantly, she showed us the rooms under the staircase devoted to the estimated 4 million victims of his brutal political repression. She "spoke" English (more like, kind of memorized the guide script) but not enough to answer questions and not nearly enough to be suitably impressed when I told her that I hail from the same place of one of the dignitaries whose photograph is on display. Why hello, Harry Truman! Fancy meeting you in Gori.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carbon copy

Making 100 more copies of my survey turned out to be no simple task. First was the difficulty of conveying the notion of photocopying to Larissa. Although stores all over the place advertise "Xerox," the way Georgians pronounce the word bears no relation to the way I say it. I still haven't learned that whole squeeze the back of your throat sound.

One we got the task figured out, we spent another lifetime with the very pleasant lady at the shop. This involved her handing us the cord to plug in the machine, and of course there is no such thing as automatic double-sided. And I have gotten a LOT more practice stapling. And ten random people came in at various points needing things copied so of course she had to help them too. It was all quite entertaining and almost worth the shocking amount of money it cost.

And she is a sport to pose for a picture with her machine, isn't she?

Almost every day

Sometimes, not sure why, I think of Trevor. (He would be shocked and appalled by the platters stacked up flat--it warps them---and would no doubt stage a vinyl intervention.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


If I had better internet, I might look up some articles I've read about the physical-activity-related benefits of using public transportation, but you'll just have to believe me. Naturally, I don't have a car here, not that I would ever want to drive in the bedlam that is Tbilisi traffic. Instead, I have been building a deeper appreciation for big-city public transportation. Tbilisi has an efficient network of metro trains, minibuses, regular buses and of course gazillions of taxis. Taxis are the reason I have finally learned how to (more or less) pronounce the word for "four," since drivers inevitably want to gouge me by charging five lari. Finally, I can counter offer.

My favorite is the metro, since with only two lines it is impossible to get lost. I have managed to board the train going in the wrong direction, though this is scarcely a disaster, considering that we are one stop from the end of the line, at which point the train simply goes back in the right way.

The minibuses, known here as mrshrukas, are plentiful and cheap (50 tetri a ride, less than 30 cents), though the routes seem impossibly complicated to me and even Larissa has to ask, though to be fair, this is because she normally just drives her car and is only taking the bus to humor me.

Still, given enough time, my favorite method of travel here is plain old walking. This mode allows for slowing down to watch old men playing backgammon on the sidewalk using bottle lids for pieces, popping into secondhand shops to paw through sparkly dresses, or investigating the "American House" shop, which turned out to be where expired CVS handcream and returned bedspreads (with department store receipts still taped on) get another shot at being sold.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thomas says hello

Actually, it looks more like he's saying, "What are you looking at?" But whatever.

The other market

After our visit to the big, touristy market the other day, Larissa was anxious to take me back to the other market, which is a lot more gritty and where everything is much cheaper.
 This is the kind of place that is never listed in a guide book. In fact, even Larissa's daughter Tamta has never been there. Some advantages of traveling with locals: they know about places off the beaten path, and they are often thrilled to have an excuse to play tour guide to spots they rarely visit themselves.
 This market has a little of everything. I scored some vintage Soviet school maps for Trevor (5 lari each--less than $3, whereas they wanted something like 50 at the other market), lentils and a giant bag of soy pieces. It'll be interesting to see how that cultural exchange goes over.
As always, the best part is the fleeting friendships. Larissa quizzed this shop owner about her products (they come from Armenia and Turkey, mostly), and she quizzed Larissa about me before giving us each a piece of candy as we parted ways.