Georgia on my mind – Tbilisi, 2006 – #4
Tbilisi, Georgia – October 16, 2016 – continued…
We were supposed to have a ride pick us up at the hotel at noon, but it didn’t come, so I decided to go back to my room and not join the other Americans for the pickup, but rather to stay here to rest and write everything down.
This morning at breakfast, I was served uncooked bacon on a plate. It looked EXACTLY like uncooked bacon rolled up decoratively – four slices in four rolls. The presentation was so nice, I wondered, “Could it really be uncooked bacon?” So, I took a bite. Yes, it was. Cured in the same way, raw, greasy, cold. I wondered if maybe the cook had been to a grocery store in America, saw a package of bacon, and assumed Americans serve it straight out of the package. Wow. Bacon tartar. One bite was enough for me. Not that it tasted terrible. Just the idea of it . . .
The same over-easy eggs as yesterday, yogurt, a different kind of bread. The same cheese and preserves. This time two huge slabs of butter on the plate with the cheese. I think I hit the jackpot with breakfast yesterday. Didn’t eat too much this morning. I was still full from our 1am multiple course dinner last night.
I had read in the travel guide book that Georgians are not easily insulted. There’s almost nothing you can do to insult your host except not to accept his wine. The big white statue of Mother Georgia on the hill in Tbilisi overlooking the city portrays a woman holding a goblet of wine in her left hand a sword in her right. The wine is for guests that come in peace. The sword is for those who come with ill intent.
Since I don’t drink wine, I strategized about how I would handle this. I imagined how, if offered wine, I would graciously accept it, and leave it on the table in front of me, then marvel over the food. If asked why I hadn’t tasted the wine, I would hold it up dramatically, bring it to my lips, then return to marveling over the food. This scenario has not yet presented itself. There’s been plenty of bottled water offered with every meal. No one has batted an eye about my drinking that instead of wine.
On Saturday when Ylena, Nina and I walked through the narrow streets with shops and restaurants, I noticed grape vines draped over awnings which hung over tables and chairs in front of a restaurant. The grapes were ripe and I commented how fantastic it was to see grapes hanging from a vine in the middle of the city. “I have grapes in my yard,” said Ylena, slightly blasé. I asked if Georgia had much in common with Turkey, their adjacent neighbor. Very emphatically Ylena said, “Georgia is NOTHING like Turkey. No grapes in Turkey. They’re forbidden.”
“Yes, the first rule of the Muslim religion is NO WINE.” When we went into the Georgian souvenir shop, she proudly pointed out the Georgian wines for sale. I nodded in impressive recognition, then moved on to the traditional woolen shepherd’s shoes.
When Ylena took the other Americans and me around the city Sunday, one announced she would like to visit a Synagogue because she’s Jewish. I held my breath for a moment, unsure of how this news would affect Ylena. Ylena responded, “Georgian people are very close to Jewish people. I’ve been to Tel Aviv before.”
I asked her if Georgian people felt closer to Jewish people than to Muslim people. “Of course!” she said. “But we have Muslim populations here, too.” I got a flavor of how hospitality overrules prejudice.
Ylena took us to the Tbilisi synagogue, and said “I don’t know if we can go in. I don’t know the Jewish customs. We may not be welcome inside.”
“Jews embrace everyone as much as any other group of people, if not more. I promise it will be fine to go inside,” said the other American. There was a man standing outside – a kind of gate keeper, or maintenance person. He told Ylena in Georgian that there are only 6,000 Jews left in Georgia. Most have left for Tel Aviv, America or Austria. (Austria?). He invited us to enter, and turned on the lights. The temple was very beautiful – crystal chandeliers, lots of gold leaf designs painted on the walls. I asked permission to take photos.
This is getting very long! So, I will have to write more in the next installment. There’s so much more to say about yesterday.
Here’s a fascinating story a British theatre director told us last night about her first visit to Tbilisi in the early 90s. She was directing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Georgian at the theatre where I will perform. She said there’s no faster way of learning Georgian than to be looking at Shakespeare’s texts every day translated into Georgian. In the middle of rehearsals, civil war broke out. Tanks were riding through the streets. She contemplated leaving the country, and asked the actors if they wanted to continue rehearsing. They said they wanted to come to rehearsal now more than ever, so she stayed. The actors rehearsed by day and at night they would climb to the rooftop of the television station with rifles to defend the station from being taken over since it was the only free media left.
She said the revolution occurred during the term of the first Georgian president elected democratically. He’d been elected because of his nationalistic platform. Once he got into office, he became totalitarian and dictatorial, and the intelligentsia protested, which prompted civil war. He ended up fleeing to Chechnya.
Until the next installment…