It’s about time to get this old thing back up and running. Guess what? I kept a journal in Georgia and never got around to typing it up. So here we are, wildly out of order, and with few pictures for now because my camera is hiding somewhere.

First impressions of Georgia:

  • absolute apathy in matters of traffic safety. People walk down the middle of the street even when a sidewalk is available. Sometimes the wall of a building abuts the street, and you’re forced to walk in the road towards oncoming traffic, and if a driver doesn’t see you, you’re just dead–nowhere to jump out of the way. There are paintings on the ground that look like crosswalks, but I have seen no evidence of them being used as such. You just wait for a break in the cars and then dash across.
  • When I first arrived, it felt like being back in Spain. By the end of the (hour-long) bus ride to the center from the airport, I had realized that this was easily explained by the fact that the weather is milder than in Russia, and people organize their lives accordingly. You dry your clothes outside on a line, and men (who have dark beards, black jackets, and jeans 100% of the time) gather on the sparse grass of the yards to chat. And play backgammon. Because stereotypes.
  • Georgia is way poorer than I was expecting. I’ve got this bad habit of thinking of former Eastern Bloc states as miniature Russias, and I forget that Russia has really lucked out in terms of natural resources (however mismanaged they may be): ALL the natural gas, ALL the diamonds, ALL the trees. What does Georgia have? Some wine, which doesn’t get exported, and a feeble tourist industry that only attracts citizens from bordering countries, which suffer from the same economic hardship (oh, and also a war). So off of the main tourist drag, Rustaveli Avenue, the place is literally crumbling. Gaping holes in the sidewalk, steps that have fallen off of their staircases, holes in walls and floors of homes. This seems to be the attitude: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if it is broke, so are you, so just learn to live with it.

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  • Although there is an air of hopelessness here, the city doesn’t seem to languish in despair the way it does in Russia. Russians seem to enjoy the thought of having been  dealt an unfair lot in life; Georgians, less so. That doesn’t stop them from trying to marry you if you have a Western passport, though. I got asked on more dates in 2 weeks in Georgia than in my entire life combined. And I did not enjoy it.
  • Given Russia’s frustrating habit of not respecting Georgia’s sovereignty, I had expected that people would be reluctant to speak Russian. That’s been a huge problem in the Baltic states, where the large Russian-speaking minority is systematically disenfranchised for nationalistic reasons. But in Georgia, people take a more pragmatic view: they acknowledge that their language is (a) unique, and (b) really really hard, so they’re happy to use Russian as a lingua franca. If you express surprise at this, they will patiently explain to you that Georgia used to be in the Soviet Union, the capital of which was in Russia. Apparently they think Americans are idiots.
  • On a similar note, white people are automatically assumed to be Russians. I had this exchange at least three times a day in Tbilisi:
    • GeorgianDevushka! Russkaya krasavitsa! [Young lady! Russian beauty!]
    • Me: Good day! Do you have any *ware*/Do you know where *place* is?
    • Georgian: *helpful answer* Would you like any *wares*?
    • Me: Perhaps. Let me look.
    • Georgian: Where are you from?
    • Me: America.
    • Georgian: America? You mean Russia?
    • Me: No, I mean America.
    • Georgian: But your parents are Russian?
    • Me: No, no one’s Russian. Except the Russians, that is.
    • Georgian: Where are you from in America?
    • Me: The state of Georgia.
    • Georgian: Ha-ha, you are in Georgia now!
    • Me: Ha-ha! Yes, I traveled all this way and didn’t go anywhere at all, ha-ha!
    • Georgian: You are from Georgia, and I am from Georgia! We are brothers!
    • Me: Sure, whatever!
    • Georgian: Why do you speak Russian?
    • Me: I’ve spent time there.
    • Georgian: But why?
    • Me: Because it’s a beautiful country!
    • Georgian: And what about our country?
    • Me: Your country is also very beautiful!

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      It’s true.

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