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Georgia


Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR - June 1990

Vicky Blitz


Leaving the airport outside of Tbilisi we encountered the first evidence of a different culture, a  beautiful plastered wall of sculptured flags from countries around the world.  The U.S. Flag can be seen on the left of the picture [notice a person walking below the wall on the right]. One of the charming art expressions in this country is their unique style of bas relief sculpture. In my opinion, it was a bit on the whimsical side and made me smile. You would find it in court yard walls, at bus stops behind the benches, at restaurant entrances, etc. and I have never seen it anywhere else in the world, neither before nor since my trip there.  [Note:  Picture #2 is a wall next to a bus stop outside of the city of Tbilisi, Georgia.

When my tour group visited, Georgia was still a part of the Soviet Union and was crying out for independence, which finally came the following year, when the wall came down in Berlin. In the meantime, we would pass students demonstrating, others asking for signatures showing support, and in our hotel, I even purchased a T-shirt with the flag of Georgia and a statement declaring the desire for an independence from the USSR.

Tbilisi is a lovely, little, old city and our hotel was situated on a circle on one end of what seemed to be the main street, and from my room I had a wonderful view of the city and the surrounding hills and mountains. As I stood in my window, surveying the city and the traffic below, starlings were swooping back and forth in outside of my window, sometimes so close I could almost reach out and touch them, has I been quick enough. The room was beautiful although a bit old and shabby but comfortable. However, the walls are paper-thin and the drivers of the cars below just love honking their horns.

The food was very good but only four stars, not five. We were told not to drink the water here and that means we have to buy bottled water to drink and we were advised to even brush our teeth with it. Now, they only sell fizzy water and no plain and that presents an amusing problem for some who don't like fizzy water and won't be able to purchase plain water for another eight days. Ah, the problems one encounters when one travels.

Our city tour guide made no bones about how the Georgians felt about Communism and Russia and how they called Lenin an evil man and had torn down all his statues in the city except one very large one. Later, our lovely little Russian guide who was with us for the entire trip, pointed out that one hundred years ago, Georgia had requested coming under the protection of the USSR because the Turks kept invading. Furthermore, she said, with independence, they would have no more free health care, nor old age benefits, either.

During our city tour she pointed out the "hanging houses", a row of quaint houses perched on cliffs over-looking the city's river. The cliffs were only perhaps 40- 50 feet above the river, which made them a photographer's delight.

We have two teenage sisters with their parents in our tour group and a lovelier family I have never seen. The girls are beautiful, nice and real little ladies. It is a pleasure to watch them. But a very frightening thing happened during our first night in Tbilisi. Someone entered the girl's room after they were asleep. The one girl woke up and realized it wasn't her sister in the bathroom and was quite scared but didn't move and pretended she was asleep. The robber took a watch and a couple smaller items. The girls were certain their door had been locked but locked or not the incident was upsetting to everyone.

In addition to the robbery, another strange thing had happened. A young man had come up to one of the girls yesterday, asked for her name and without thinking, she gave it to him. Then he wanted to get together for a date and she said "no" and he said "I will find you". After dinner when everyone was getting ready for bed, several of our group received phone calls from a young man asking to speak to her but he never hit her number and, of course, no one could have given it to him because no one knew her room number.

They took us to an interesting outdoor museum where we could explore a nineteenth century home and how they lived. Funny how all around the world, people have figured out simple inventions and ways to do things and yet there is always that creative style that is just a little different from another country or group. Especially, this is seen in the different gift shops around the world. In this part of the world, surprisingly they do lovely bead-work, but unlike the bead-work of American Indians, the theme is often little simple flowers. Very pretty. I purchased five beaded wrist-bands for about $20.00 which I thought a reasonable price.

After lunch we visited the Catholic Church, the Jewish Synagogue and saw a mosque. We went to a children's art museum which was a fun experience.  [The picture shown is of charming life-sized dancing statues outside the children's art museum.] Walking through the old part of the city we saw a bath house, and watched them making bread in those wonderful bee-hive ovens. They prepare the bread like they were making a pizza crust then they slap the bread onto the inside of the bee-hive which contains very hot coals at the bottom. After it is baked, they remove the bread with a hook.

During our walking tour, I got this wonderful picture of these two Georgian men taking their lunch break together. They represent the two ethnic groups that live in this country. A year later Georgia was having a bit of a civil war or something and I wondered how it affected these two men. Were they still friends?

The following day was spent driving out to the ancient Georgian capitol of Mtskheta, via lovely countryside and the Caucasus. Our first stop was at the Jevri Church (Cross Church) high on a hill overlooking a salt lake. Originally, it was the site of a pagan church, which was torn down and in it's place was built a large wooden cross. The cross was eventually burned down by invaders, and in the fifth century they erected the Cross Church in the same spot. Leaving the hill we passed a tree with ribbons tied on it. This, we were told, was the "wishing tree". It was the custom to make a wish, tie a ribbon on a branch, repeat the magic words, as you walk around the tree three times. They believed any wish you made under these conditions would come true.  The ribbons on the tree in this picture don't show up very well due to the light angle but, believe me, it was loaded with ribbons...perhaps a couple hundred.  We asked how people know a tree was a "wishing tree" in the first place and, of course, the obvious answer was "well, I guess someone tried it, their wish came true and they told everyone and from then on everyone tied ribbons on it and made their wishes."  That works for me.

The Life Giving Church is in the center of Mtskheta. We had the good fortune to be there at the same time as the dancers of the Monte Carlo Ballet were there on tour, and one of our group recognized them, and they agreed to let us take pictures of some of them.

The legend of the Life Giving Church goes something like this: In the first century, following the death of Christ, someone brought to this area the shirt of Christ and when a woman, named Sedona touched it, she died of ecstasy and was buried on the spot where the church is today. A tree eventually grew over her grave but in the fourth century they cut it down to make way for the church and part of the tree floated in the air over the spot where it had grown. A woman named Nino, who converted Georgians to Christianity, sat by the floating piece of tree and prayed all night. The next morning, the piece of tree had returned to rest on the ground, but when sick people touched it, they were healed. So, when the church was built it was named the Life Giving Church.

While at the Ananuri Castle, we went through the church there which had been built in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, in an attempt to eliminate all religion in Russia, they white washed over the beautiful and precious frescos in all the churches. Now they are making an attempt to restore those frescos and we were able to get pictures of what has not been seen in a very long time. The tour guide was duly proud of them.

This area suffered a tragedy in 1988 when the river flooded over it's banks and 100 people whose homes were near the river lost their lives. The government is building new homes for them on higher ground but they love the old site near Ananuri and keep coming back.

Further up the valley, we stopped for lunch and I got pictures of the beautiful tile art work on the wall by the front door of the restaurant. There was a gathering of several men drinking beer and having a grand old time, occasionally breaking into song. I was able to get pictures of several of the locals, including this happy group of gentlemen (see picture).

As one might recall, both Stalin and Khrushchev were from this area. You remember Khrushchev? He was the one who, at the United Nations, became angry, took off his shoe and banged it on his table as he declared he would burry us (the USA). So when I make the observation that the man in Georgia are passionate and volatile, it apparently goes all the way to the top. In the two days here we have observed two men fighting at a family gathering.. .pushing, shoving and then beginning to use their fists. We have seen several couples of men greet each other at our hotel, hugging and kissing each other on the lips. We have become accustomed to seeing men walking down the street holding bands. Interestingly, we haven't seen very many woman walking down the streets alone.

Leaving the restaurant on our last night in Thilisi, our lovely blond tour guide was walking up the steps to go out (I was behind her) and at the landing she turned to continue up the stairs and a man, coming down the ball that entered the landing, had his hands out to grab her behind when he saw me and quickly put his bands in his pockets. When I told her what bad happened she said she did not like the men in Georgia. I can certainly see why.

But all that said, I enjoyed Georgia and am so glad we had these couple of days here.  This country may be a country of "good old boys" but they are a lively group with an obvious love of life and an appreciation of the arts.

                                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                                        

THINK GLOBALLY - ACT LOCALLY - PRAY FOR WORLD PEACE