Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday in Gurjaani: Putting Up Plums

When I awoke Sunday morning, the sister hostesses were gone. Soon after, however they walked through the courtyard door carrying buckets of wild plums, a small fruit the size of cherries.

The water also came forth through the faucets now, so the women were busy refilling the water barrels and large basins to last them for a few days.

With wild plums and flowing water, it was a day to put up fruit for the winter.

  1. The ladies placed the just-picked plums in basins of water, and the women, the granddaughters, and I sorted through the plums, setting aside bad ones and stems and foliage. 
  2. Then we sorted the plums according to their red or yellow color. 
  3. The women soaked the sorted plums through two or three changes of water. 
  4. They were ready for processing. 
  5. Some would go into jars for compote. Others would be cooked down into plum sauce. 

Sorting wild plums in cold water was a pleasant way to pass a hot day.

I also took a look at the "cold" room within the house. Cold being relative, you understand.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday in Gurjaani

Breakfast al fresco in Maia's courtyard. We were: My hostess, Nino; her sisters Mzia and Maia; her sisters' granddaughters Nino, Nely, and Mariami. Breakfast included delicious leftovers from the previous night's feast: mackerel, fried chicken, fresh tomatoes, watermelon, peaches, cheese, bread.

Note: One menu item I forgot to mention from Friday night was a sort of thick, room-temperature, oatish porridge. Hopefully, those terms sound neutral. I tasted it. I can now check it off my list, along with its similarly-textured and -tasting companion item. It appears to be a favorite of little Mariami.

Even in the country, the heat was oppressive. It drained the energy from everyone. Many of us took frequent, short naps like dogs and cats. The heat pushed the odor of the outhouse into full bloom, and it wafted throughout the courtyard.

When one looks at photos of Tuscany -- the pretty scenery, the tables groaning with fruits, cheese, baguettes, and wines, the convivial gathering of smiling people, the grape arbors sheltering all beneath ... you don't think of the prosaic realities that accompany such beauty - flies that crash the party, fruit that over-ripens before your eyes, the aroma of super-heated humanity, the rationed water that means bathing is not a daily or every-other-day event.

Life isn't a photo, and Georgia is, perhaps, the next Tuscany that will capture the attention of the trendorati. (However, Georgians would say that Tuscany is the Georgia of Europe.)

I've already imagined what one of these glorious Gurjaani houses might be like fitted with air 'conditioning! Soon there will be cookbooks and decorating books and HGTV shows that revolve around Georgian cuisine, kitchen design, and lifestyle.

Little Nely was stung by two bees in the morning; her grandmother and great-aunt pressed the blades of two knives above and below the injuries, presumably to draw out the venom. 

Neighbors stopped by throughout the day, usually bringing a tidbit of something, then we all shared it, and then the neighbors moved on for awhile. Little Nino's parents brought by ice cream treats, which gave frozen respites from the heat. In late afternoon, Maia and some young neighbors played bunco.

Through the course of the day, I met other neighbors and visited their compounds. The neighbors are really delightful people, very engaged with each other, and proud of the fruits of their gardens.







 In the evening, several of the young'ns escorted me to the "sleeping volcano." Ok, listen up: I did not heed my instincts before we departed, and suffered for it. I did have the wits enough to ask how long this outing was going to take and what it included other than a visit to the sleeping volcano. So I knew it would be about a three-hour activity. I considered drinking some gulps of water before we left, but the concern over toilet facilities over-ruled thirst, so I chose not to drink anything. What I should have done was take with me a bottle of water, despite the fact I didn't know the etiquette or dearness of rationed water in plastic water bottles - I fell into the insecurity of the not-wanting-to-impose trap that would bite me later.

So off we went, and I did ask how long will it take us to walk to our destination. When told it'd be half an hour, I kicked myself about the water. But I asked about access to water, and was assured there'd be water at our destination. After we passed a couple of small markets that had water, which I had money with me to buy aplenty (but also knew there'd be a tussle about me paying for it), I asked again about the water accessibility at our destination. Oh yes, plenty of water, And cold, too! So we trudged on in the miserable heat. We finally arrived at the park where the sleeping volcano lies, passing two little cafes with water, and I indicated that before I could even look at the darn thing, I needed water. .... Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The water was spring water coming out of a rusty pipe. Shit. For all I know, this water could have been safer than bottled Perrier, but I couldn't take the risk of getting sick for several days so early in the game, certainly not by blithely slurping down a substance surrounded by red flags. So despite the fact I'm sure I came off looking stupid, I declined the water. .... It all worked out OK; a couple of the young ones helped me get some bottled water at one of the multitudinous places we'd passed, but lesson learned: When going somewhere in hot weather, take your own water supply. If I had done so, there'd have been no problem to emerge.

"Sleeping volcano," Gurjaani, Georgia

"Sleeping volcano," Gurjaani, Georgia

Moving past  the water business: The "sleeping volcano" interesting - we saw a pool of hot sludgy water that bubbled throatily. Dry, gray lava flow remnants evident. We moved on to Grandfather's Park, a shady, pleasant space filled with young parents and their babies and toddlers, along with romantic couples, and teens on skates.

Roasted sunflower seeds are wildly popular in Georgia, and black husks cover the pavement in front of park benches.

The mosquitoes arrived in the dawn.

Friday, July 29, 2011

To Gurjaani: A Weekend in the Country

Today, I took a marshrutka from Rustavi to Gurjaani, with the assistance of my host Giorgi.I'd spend the weekend there with his mother, Nino, and her sisters and other relatives. But first, today's Building Behind Me:

Building Behind Me 072911

It was good to get out of Rustavi and to see actual countyside again. The breeze coming through the window felt good. I noticed that the Georgians are a quiet bunch in the minibus. No thank yous to the bus driver when paying their money and getting off. And the bus driver feels no compunction about stopping on a spot in the road that forces a disembarkee to step into weeds.

At any rate, presently we arrived in Gurjaani and soon enough I saw Nino and several young'ns anxiously looking out for my arrival. Nino felt very relieved when I came. We walked down a gravel-y road between strong, two-story, stone-and-brick houses, all in the same style.

Gurjaani residential street

Gurjaani house

We didn't walk far before getting to Nino's parent's homestead, where Nino's sister, Maia, lives. Forty days ago, their mother had died, and this get-together was a customary gathering that occurs 40 days after the loved one's death. It marks an end to a period of mourning. (I seem to recall Ayano, of the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia, telling me of a similar process. Once the 40-day mark occurs, the next and final note of the mourning is the first year's anniversary of the loved one's death. I wonder if the same happens in Georgia.)  

Entering the family compound, I see beautiful flowers, a table under a grape arbor, at which several men sat amidst food and drink, and women and girls coming toward me. We went inside the house, where the women soon filled a table with breads, fruits, fish, meats, cheeses, and other things I can't remember. With the dusk light coming in, it was all very Rembrandt-ish.

Served with dinner was a very nice local wine. Many beautiful toasts wishing me, my family, my country, and then everyone's family and country well.

I loved the mackerel, lightly battered. Very meaty. Hostesses were Maia and sisters Nino (my hostess), Mzia, and Nely. Maia was their mother's primary caretaker before she died. She'd been blind for some years. Also present were Nely's and Mzia's granddaughters, Little Nely, Nino, and Mariami. Neighbors also stopped by, including Nika, her sister Vika, brother Martin, another neighbor Giorgi, Ketel, Manana #1 and Manana #2, and Manana #2's daughter, Tina.

There were numerous beds in the  house's lower level. Mzia, I discovered later, slept on a bed outside in the courtyard.

.... umm, did I mention the squat toilet in the brickhouse outside? Yeah.

The family and neighbors --- very pleasant and hospitable.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rustavi: In Mary's Garden

Today, Mary gave me a tour of her garden.

She has gardens 1, 2, and 3. She and her husband began creating them 15 years ago. They are in places by "my" building that would likely otherwise be naked, baked soil. An empty lot.

But in Mary's garden, she has plum trees (at least three kinds), nut trees, pear trees, apple trees, a fig tree, a quince tree, maize, tomato plants, strawberries, a banana tree, and grape vines. There are also pepper plants and some flowers. In garden 2 are the chickens and a rabbit.

It may be reflective of Rustavi as a whole that if you just glance at Mary's garden, the first impression is of scrubby, scrabbly brush. It's not until you are led through the paths and have pointed out to you the abundance of its fruits and nuts and other delectables that you appreciate the richness of her garden.

And here's today's Building Behind Me photo:

Building Behind Me  072811

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rustavi: Heat

It's hot here.

The apartments have no air conditioning. In the evenings, people sit outside, talk, try to catch a breeze.

I am lucky on teaching days, as there is a/c in the two police stations where I work.

The refrigerator in the apartment is not operational, but fortunately the tap water is fairly cold, and usually, once a day, my hostess brings forth a partially frozen bottle of water that she has pulled from an unknown source in the building.

I have learned that if I lie very still on my bed beneath the window, I will be rewarded with sporadic breezes which, compared to the dead heat surrounding me, are cooling.

Sometimes, I stick my head out my bedroom window and see the building across the way. I see other people's heads doing the same, facing my building. Shirtless men, women in tank tops. They seek cooling breezes and check out the goings-on of neighbors below and across. I see laundry hanging outside their windows. Today, I begin a pictorial study of the Building Behind Me.

Building Behind Me 072711

I don't really know what my interest is in this. Maybe I'm trying to find beauty in a place that is decidedly not beautiful. Or to document evidence of thriving life in man-made structures that appear designed solely to warehouse humans. (Which, indeed, they were. These "new" Rustavi buildings were constructed about 50 years ago to house workers employed at nearby factories.)