Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tbilisi: Erekle II Street

On Saturday, I had the best Americano - so far - that I've had in Georgia. At the Kala Cafe on Erekle II Street, a tiny little artists' lane.

Loved the name of this place -- "KGB Still Watching You"

"KGB Still Watching You" interior

My Americano and an English-language Georgian paper, Kala Cafe

Love the bucket sink! What a great idea! Kala Cafe.

The colors of this little gallery caught me:

Update: Photo additions a couple of weeks later. This from a hidden residential complex behind large metal doors along Erekle Street. 

Having now visited Cafe Kala twice, my original swoon was tempered by not-very-good (but very expensive) omelettes had by me and a colleague, and an outrageously-priced pot of tea for her. Too many other places to go in Tbilisi to mess about with that nonsense.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tbilisi: A Movie on the Bridge

.... or maybe a soap opera or a deodorant commercial.

On my Mtkvari River walk, I saw this on the Friendship Bridge:

I've shown the actor and actress to several Georgians. No recognition.

The official movie chai guy gave me a cup of chai, too. Maybe he thought I was an extra. It was good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rustavi: The Patriarch Comes

A business man had a new church built in Rustavi. The workmen used only the old ways of building the stone church. I used to think it was an old church, being restored, but no, it's new. I'm thinking it's taken 10 years to build it, but I don't really know ...

On Saturday, the church (and its compound) was officially completed, and the Patriarch of the Georgian Christian Orthodox Church came to bless it.

I think it's possible Nino and I saw the hint of the Patriarch's white head piece within the black car he rode in, but that's all. Here's a slide show:

As we awaited the Patriarch's arrival, Nino and I started out on the ground with the masses. But she looked out over the horizon and saw a few people standing on prime balcony real estate. She instructed me, "Modi, modi, modi," which means, "come, come, come!" Nino grabbed my hand and we crossed the street (a common occurrence between a Georgian host and his/her English-speaking charge). Nino looked for a way up to the balcony, and finding none, called up to the inhabitants, using me as her leverage. The best I could gather, it went something like this: "I've got this American here. She teaches English to the police. And then she's going to teach English to our children in the public school! Did I say she's teaching English to the police? No? Well, she's teaching English to the police! And now she's taking photos of the Patriarch. Let us up, please!" And, by God, they did.

I found myself walking right through these strangers' new flat (a damn fine flat, it was, too) and onto their wrap-around balcony. A great view!

We waited and waited and waited for the Patriarch until finally we saw a short caravan of black cars come down the street. It wended its way into the church compound, the bells rang, and I suppose the Patriarch emerged from his vehicle and went into the church. Interestingly, much of the waiting crowd seemed to lose interest as soon as the Patriarch arrived, and the numbers dwindled pretty rapidly.

At some point, the Patriarch left, and Nino and I went into the flat. We had coffee and watermelon inside, tendered by our gracious hosts, strangers until just a half-hour or so earlier. We discovered that some of the other people on their balcony were also strangers to them - the owners just invited them up to share the view.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tbilisi: A Walk Along the River Mtkvari

In Tbilisi, there is a beautiful walkway along the River Mtkvari.

(I used to struggle with the pronunciation of this river's name, but now that I've been in Georgia awhile, I've embraced the Georgians' use of "w" in lieu of "v" in my pronunciations, so it's easy to say: Mut-kwah-dee ... I think I could even get away with saying: Muh-kwa-dee. By the way, Georgians don't even have the "w" sound in their alphabet, and I think many would disavow the existence of the "w" sound in their pronunciation, but it's there all the same.)

Today was the day for me to enjoy the walk. Slide show below:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Me Ver Gavige -- I Don't Understand

I know how to say "I don't understand" in Georgian: Me ver gavige. I say it often.

My hostess speaks hardly any English; I speak hardly any Georgian. (The burden is on me to learn Georgian, so I ain't complainin', I'm just sayin.') 

Sometimes my hostess, "Nino," goes into a long, animated soliloquy in Georgian, telling me, probably in very basic Georgian, something that would be of great interest to me. Or not. The profound and the banal are equally unintelligible.

Externally, I make direct eye contact with Nino as she speaks, nod my head in empathy, and occasionally emit noncomittal noises, such as "uh huh," "hmmm," or "huh," to indicate interest. 

Internally, here is what I'm likely thinking:

"I have no idea what you're saying. I hope it stops soon so I can drop this farce of understanding, and I can sink back into the blissful oblivion accorded a piece of furniture, from which no understanding is required."

"Please don't ask me if I understand, please don't ask me if I understand, please don't ask me if I understand."

The most minute issues sometimes require the most excruciatingly painful, lengthy (and sometimes a phone call to someone with even the slightest bilingual ability, which generally offers nothing to the situation) linguistic efforts, with pathetic returns on the herculean investments of time and brain energy of at least two people. These do not bring out my noble side. No, they tend to bring out my inner, cranky toddler.

For example, I am thinking of the possibility of renting my own flat in Rustavi. I asked Nino's dear friend, "Mariami," what rent goes for in her building. Twenty minutes later, after much frustration on everyone's part - "everyone" by then including Nino, Mariami, Mariami's three children, an in-law, and me - we had made no progress except for my petulant thought, "Holy shit, how hard can this question be?!" (And it was clear from the expressions of the others that they were thinking, "Holy shit, how dense can this American be?!") I mean, really, it made no sense that someone pays rent to the flat owner at the beginning of a two- or three-year period and that at the end of that time, the renter gets all of her money back from the owner! What the hell?! Why can't I get a simple answer to a simple question?

After leaving Mariami's flat, we went to the flat belonging to a relative of Nino's. The woman here actually lives in the U.S. now, and was visiting Rustavi for a vacation. Her English is impeccable. Nino explained our language impasse to the relative, who then explained it all to me: Yes, it sometimes happens in Georgia that, in exchange for a large lump-sum payment, a property owner will let the "renter" live in the property for an agreed-upon amount of time, and at the end of that time, the property owner either repays the "renter" the lump-sum payment or the "renter" gets to keep the property. It is a risky form of borrowing/lending, but it is attractive to the desperate. Well, damn.

So here's a language lesson: Sometimes what you think you understand is correct, even if it doesn't make sense to you.

Here's another example: I was taking my customary bucket bath this morning, enjoying the pleasure of hot water. I turned on the water, wetted my washcloth, turned off the tap, did my thing, then turned on the tap to soap up the cloth, turned off the tap ... etc. Presently Nino starts talking to me outside the bathroom. It was kind of early in the morning, which meant my brain wasn't completely engaged anyway. Nino seemed to require some sort of response from me. I said, "Me ver gavige. (I don't understand)" More talk. I said, "Budishi (I'm sorry), me ver gavige." Nino said more, adding a sound that was similar to a hoarse dog barking. And I'm thinking, "I don't understand what you're saying or what you want. And I'm naked here, OK? Why are you making me talk to you while I'm standing naked in a wash basin with three inches of water in it? What do you want me to do in this moment?" But I say, "Budishi, me ver gavige. I don't understand." Eventually, my brain plucks out the word "gasi" from Nino's statements, which it puts together with the hoarse-dog-barking sound effect, and I realize Nino is talking about the gas water heater, which evidently she wants me to stop engaging when I use the hot water for my bath. So I switch to cold water only, feeling very grumpy indeed.

Once I'm out of the bathroom and getting dressed, we revisit this issue, and I come to understand that Nino didn't want me to turn the water on/off, as it kicked on the gas pilot each time, which might wake up Giorgi. Instead, I can just leave the water run. OK, now I've got it.

Language lesson learned: Sometimes a hoarse-dog-barking sound means gas, and sometimes, as it did a week or so ago, it means the sound of a hoarse dog barking, which kept Nino awake one night. It's all in the context.  

Thank God Nino doesn't seem to hold a grudge.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rustavi: My Commute to Work

I take a bus or marshrutka to work.

Here is the ride:

Music selections courtesy of the marshrutka driver.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rustavi: Appliances and a Miniature Church

I’m going to do an article on the Georgian laundering and household water management system in the future, but for now, I’m just going to talk about appliances and their costs.

The appliance issue first came to my attention as a result of a refrigerator issue in my hosts’ flat. In the worst of the heat upon my arrival, we had no operating refrigerator. That’s now been rectified, but it raised the question of expenses related to appliances.

Yesterday, I went to a supermarket/department store on Megobroba Street. I saw refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines for sale.

Washing machines

Ah, washing machines .... 

Washing machine @ 379 lari or 232 US

Washing machine @ 1029 lari or 630 US


 In the U.S., we have a good aftermarket for used fridges. You can get a decent, used, refurbished fridge for couple of hundred bucks. The guy who came to fix my hosts' fridge said a new one in Georgia costs about 1000 lari (about $600 USD). There didn't seem to be any wiggle room in his estimation, and I didn't get the impression there was a market for used fridges.  

Refrigerator @ 519 lari (about 319 US)

Refrigerator @ 1019 lari (about 623 US)


Stove @ 354 lari (about 217 US)

Stove @ 489 lari (about 299 US)
Stove @ 889 lari (about 544 US)

On my walk yesterday, I came across a miniature church - much smaller than this one.  It is on Megobroba Street. An adult could go into the church, but it would require crouching and scrunching.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rustavi: Nino Makes Borshi

Rustavi: Watermelon

Watermelon on the Landing

When I left for work yesterday morning, I saw this discarded watermelon on the 3rd floor landing in front of the lift ("leeftee").

Of all days, I'd left my camera in the flat.

When I returned home it was still there. More decayed.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Rustavi: Mother Bread

At Levan's Farm, we saw an old, traditional Georgian bread oven - a "tone" (toh-nay) - used to make "deda puri," or "mother's bread."

"Tone" oven at Levan's farm

(The tone oven also serves well for roasting meat.)

Deda puri. Credit: Georgian Cuisine

Today, I walked down to the church next to the marshurtka station. I looked into the window of a building at the edge of the church compound, and I saw bread being made in a very large tone oven.

The bread being made in this large tone is mesxuri puri. ("Puri" is bread.)

When I expressed interest in the bread, the baker gave me a round. It was still hot.

Fresh mesxuri bread

In the church compound was an empty, tiled pool.

On my way back home, I took this photo of my building address:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rustavi: Hardware

Rustavi hardware 1

Rustavi hardware 2

Rustavi hardware 3

Rustavi hardware proprietor