In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins, “it’s a dangerous thing stepping out of your front door, because you never know where you’ll end up” — or something like that. On Friday I was invited to Abastumani, a mountain resort that’s about a 40 minute drive from Adigeni. ც, the girl I was staying with said that she had an aunt near there, and could get a ride with a policeman who worked there sometimes, so Friday after class I grabbed some stuff and went. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite caught onto communicating with Georgian children, even if they know English. Abastumani is perhaps a half hour drive from Adigeni. If I were in Tucson and someone invited me to go to the Desert Museum, I would suppose them to mean that we would go for a few hours, and then come back. Perhaps we would also go for a hike and eat lunch. Even if they said: let’s go to, say Mount Lemon, I would suppose something similar unless they said something about where we were going to stay, how we were going to eat, and so on. They might ask if I had a sleeping bag, or how much it would cost to stay at the campsite or lodge, or something like that. Some people are more communicative about that kind of thing than others, and I once accidentally stayed overnight at a monastery as a result, but in general if someone in America invites someone else over to stay the night, they are fairly explicit about what time to get there, when to expect to leave, and so on. At least most of the people I know. Here, not so much. People tend to kind of make things up as they go along, on the hypothesis that there’s a relative around who will let them stay. Anyway, I left Friday at about 2, and came back Monday at 10, to teach a class starting at… 10.
On Saturday I took a marshutka to Alxastixe, where I met some other TLG volunteers in the region, and another Canadian TLG-er to visit Vardzia, which is about a 45 minute drive from Alxasixe towards Akalkalake (where I went at the end of last month). In Alxasexe I also bought a new shirt, because I had failed to bring clothing, not having planned to stay the night.
Vardzia is a very large partly ruined monastery carved into the side of a mountain. It is impressive and interesting, and would be more so if I had enough background to see in it more than a number of old cave-like rooms and a great many stairs. There are still monks living in part of it, which is off-limits to tourists, and there’s a domed church carved in the rock as well, with old frescos.
Vardzia was built under the reign of Queen (or King, as they like to say around here; I can’t quite bring myself to write that without putting quotes around it, though) Tamara near the end of the 12th century. This is considered the golden age of Georgia, and everyone loves Queen Tamar very much. There are a lot of icons of her, and women named Tamara, and nearly everywhere I go there’s some story about something great that happened during her reign. Their national epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, was also written during her reign, and is dedicated to her (apparently the poet, Shots Rustaveli, was in love with her). She ruled most of the trans-caucus; what is not Georgia, Azerbajan, Armenia, and part of Turkey, and was, I think, allied with Byzantium against the Persians. I really ought to try to find a good book on 12th and 13th century Georgia and write an essay about it, because it comes up so much. Georgians love Queen Tamara perhaps as Israel loves King David. There are icons of her not only in the churches, but in nearly all the homes, the police office, the school, and so on, with St George, the Virgin Mary, and Christ.
We also visited a ruined castle that is very picturesque, but about which I know nothing at all. There’s currently a castle living in the only enclosed room I saw, and what appears to be a small chapel near the top of it, with a new wood door and a padlock. I took the marshutka back to the village near Abastumani at 5, which worked out very well, except for the rain, which was storming rather heavily by then.
On Sunday I went to church in a charming little stone village church, then visited Resort Abastumani with ც, her aunt, and two friends, staying in the village for summer holiday. ნ is a graphic designer from Tbilisi who understands quite a lot of English and is very animated, so I enjoyed meeting her very much. In Abastumani there are some houses, domas (summer homes), lovely trees and mountains, a stream, a nice park, and a cable lift up the mountain to the observatory. There are several smaller observatories and a rather large one that are used for research and also open to tourists. We didn’t go inside, though — I suppose because it was daylight out, and there wasn’t anything very interesting to look at. I was a little disappointed, but not much; I did live two years in Flagstaff without every trying to visit the observatory there — I don’t even visit the planetarium in Tucson which is a mile and a half from where I was living last year. Instead we walked about in forest paths a bit, looked around, picked some mushrooms, and went back town to the park for lobioni, which is a kind of hajapuri with beans instead of cheese — somewhere between a tostada and a pizza. As the Karveilebi say, Abastumani has beautiful nature. We came back in the afternoon, whence I hung about, stared out at the yard, and ate dinner. I got a ride back with the police Monday morning, and showed up just in time for class (which they attended as well).
G’s family is back from their vacation by the sea, so I moved back in with them late this morning, after meeting a grandmother or sister or some other kind of relative, and saying hello to the aunt from Abastumani and her son, who were visiting for the day. I was sitting in my room in the back quietly writing blog posts, when G, who I hadn’t seen in two weeks, came in with his brother’s Russian wife, who knows neither English nor Georgian; their teenage daughter has been staying in the village for the summer, and now they’re here visiting from Russia with their other college aged daughter. After coffee and a piece of cake another family I have never met before came over, and brought their parakeet. I have no idea why. Some of them understand some English, which was nice. I consider myself to be a fairly flexible person, but I’m finding that I also appreciate a certain kind of stability that is fairly rare here — knowing at least some of what I’m doing more than a few minutes in advance.