Sunday, October 2, 2011

Racha, Part 3: Resorts, Cousin's House, and the Best-Designed Turkish Toilet in Georgia

Mariami had told us we'd leave for the mountain pass at 10:00 a.m. Saturday.  We'd be accompanied by border police.

Plenty of time, yes? Uh, oh. By the time we got downstairs to the kitchen for warmth and coffee, then eating and talking over a farmer's breakfast, we suddenly ran out of minutes. At precisely 10:00, the police arrived. Such punctuality is decidedly un-Georgian, so I can only imagine what Mariami must have said for this to happen.

Mariami gave us 10 minutes to get our shit together and be in the vehicles. I asked her if these were 10 Georgian minutes (which would translate to about 20 clock minutes), and she replied very firmly, "No! Ten minutes!"

 (Mariami and I were already on delicate ground after a .... vivacious .... discussion at dinner the day before regarding the sale of souvenir items in the guesthouse and in town. She argued .... passionately .... that it was not the right time for souvenirs and that rural tourists were not interested in items such as home-made jams or traditional crafts, while I argued ..... ardently .... that tourists were almost always susceptible to impulse buys and that the guesthouse, for instance, could easily have wares sitting passively on shelves to catch the eyes of tourists.)  

Somehow we 15 or so people crashed down to the waiting police vehicles. The marshrutka was not up to our intended route, so one group of us crowded into an enclosed truck onto wooden benches and stools, while another group of us had the luxury of being in an SUV.  I was in the latter group.  Mariami was one of my seatmates.

Our first stop was at a resort, now defunct, but once very popular with tourists seeking the healing properties of Racha's mineral waters, in addition to beautiful scenery. Mariami comes from Racha, and she has a vision of Racha's restoration as a booming tourist destination. If anyone can make this happen, I think Mariami can.

Below are photos of Mariami and Tengo, our marshrutka driver. The white building is an old resort lodge. The gorgeous gigantic tree, the white statue, the stone building with bells - these are all at the defunct resort. The blue outbuildings are places to get spring water. The house and rainy street are in the village of Oni. 

Affixed to the lodge, we noticed a loudspeaker, which we learned used to issue a morning wake-up call to guests, to prepare them for the day of healthful activities.

Mariami gathered us cats and herded us back into the police vehicles. Our next stop: Mariami's cousin's house, where we'd pick up some ham that Mariami had asked her cousin to prepare in traditional Racha-style for our lunch later in the day.

At first the plan was for us SUV passengers to just wait in the vehicle while Mariami ran in to get the ham, but another seatmate (Taylor) felt a little under the weather, and Mariami offered her some mineral water; then offered me and Marie, our other seatmate, bathroom facilities .... and I'd learned one never turns down an opportunity to go to the bathroom, so I piled out along with Taylor, then Marie joined us later.

Mariami's cousin's farm was an agricultural gem -  giant splashes of color from farm-garden flowers; autumn squashes; a pretty path from house to outhouse; tidy outbuildings - set amidst forested mountains. I entered the traditional Georgian farm house through the enclosed, window-walled front porch, directly into a large living room-kitchen with a big wood-burning stove.

Taylor had in her hands a two-liter, brown plastic beer bottle filled with mineral water to soothe her complaining innards. Mariami looked into a plastic bag filled with specially-prepared ham goodness, provided by her cousin. She and her cousin then contemplated a large ham bone with some affection. 

I walked down the pretty path to the outhouse. A Turkish toilet. But, oh, what a beautiful design! Instead of requiring the squatter to face toward or against the door, which irrationally pisses me off every time because it forces a woman into an attitude of submission for even the most trivial of purposes while a man can stand and do his business, this toilet was set up so the squatter's side faces the door. Such an aspect is more dignified than the usual orientation.

And --> The sideways orientation allowed for a bar to be placed on the wall in front of the user! Listen. If all you're going to do is take a leak, then it's no big deal to crouch down and then get up. But if you're going to be there for awhile, contemplating the universe or whatever, sometimes it's awkward to rise again. Gracefully, anyway. A bar - such a simple and humane touch. The toilet paper sat prettily on a little shelf built for the purpose.

Variously replenished and relieved, we left Mariami's cousin's house and headed up to the mountain pass.

Next: Racha, Part 4: The Mountain Border

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