Saturday September 13
I arrive at
Sunday September 14
Today, I have the day free so I ask, Dea, the proprietor of the guesthouse, if she can arrange for a car and driver to go for an excursion outside the city and see some of the countryside. Brunhilda, a nice German lady who is also staying at the guesthouse, agrees to come along too. About we are collected by Jimmy and Nana, a charming couple who both speak English and we set out to visit David-Gareja. This is a Georgian Orthodox Monastery in a dry, hilly and desolate region in the very south of the country. The monastery was established by St. David, in the sixth century A.D. and the guide book says: You are now standing in the easternmost outpost of Christendom. Its probably true, because from the top of the hill you can look down into Moslem Azerbaijan, about four km. away.
monastery is carved into the sandstone cliffs. The
monks lived, in fact, still live, in extremely ascetic conditions, (although on our way
back we meet a priest driving towards us in a Mercedes-Benz, so maybe the denial of
worldly pleasures isnt as extreme as it was in the sixth century). We see little caves where the monks
lived and a tiny chapel carved out of the rock. A
guide leads us on a steep climb up to the top of the cliffs and down over the other side
It is an extremely interesting place to visit and fascinating to see the Georgian countryside. The infrastructure of the country is in an incredible state of decay. The roads have not been maintained since 1988. In places the potholes are so large that it is nearly impossible to get through in our small car. It has been raining so there is a great deal of mud. There are no road signs at all and even our guide has a lot of trouble finding his way and he has been to David-Gareja before. We stop numerous times to ask directions and it seems like a minor Orthodox miracle when we actually arrive.
The trip home is even more exciting. We are driving slowly along a road that once had been concrete but now consists mainly of cracks and chunks of broken cement. As we pick our way around the Mother of all Potholes, without any warning at all, a three-ton truck is right behind us, going very fast. He swerves to the right to try and get by us, missing us by inches. His right front wheel goes over the lip of the deep ditch. He tries to pull the truck back on the road, but it keeps going into the ditch and rolls over on its side, literally right in front of our car. We jump out to see if anyone is hurt and help the driver to climb out. This takes some doing, as the driver is so blind drunk that he can hardly stand. Fortunately, neither the driver nor the truck seems to be the worse for the experience, nor the ten-year old boy, who is also in the cab. None of us are able to say the same for our nerves, but we get back in the car and carry on, albeit shakily.
Eventually, we arrive back at our guesthouse and Jimmy and Nana join us for dinner. We find out that Jimmy is Deas cousin. Deas brother, Niko, and two of her friends, Nino and Constantine, also join us. Dinner begins with Georgian champagne and continues through a number of courses accompanied by a local rose wine and a variety of toasts. The food is unusual but very tasty and most interesting. The wine is, well, different! I propose to delay making a final decision about Georgian wine until I have conducted a great deal more scientific research, but so far I would describe it as most unusual. Fortunately for me, because I have heard about the perils of participating in the series of toasts, which inevitably accompanies any Georgian banquet, there is no vodka involved. These particular people seem to be very modest drinkers and it isnt the Georgians who sit at the table after the meal is cleared away and finish off the wine (I said it was unusual, not undrinkable!).
The people, in general, are very friendly and welcoming, and most charming. Jimmy and I spent the entire trip to David-Gareja discussing politics, economics and pretty near any topic we could think of. I asked him about a hundred questions and he made a valiant attempt to answer them all.
Some of you (who know me well) may be wondering if I have noticed the Georgian women yet and whether I have formed any sort of opinion about them. Well, as a matter of fact, I have: Georgians are a handsome people in general and the ladies are very striking. Dea's friend Nino (left) is a fine example. They have very black hair, large dark eyes and attractive features. Most are tall and very slim. Their faces are heart-shaped with high cheekbones and narrow chins. They just miss being classically beautiful due to strong noses. They dress very nicely, in the latest styles and lean toward dark-coloured, especially black, clothing. A Georgian girl, wearing black slacks and bright red blouse, with her black hair and eyes, can be very attractive indeed!
Monday September 15
Today I go to Training Centre TRANSMANAGER and meet the workshop participants for the first time. Mostly we spend the time introducing ourselves to each other and talking about what our various expectations are for these sessions. I describe my background and experience in some detail and there are a couple of questions to the effect of: Since you dont seem to be an engineer, or any kind of an expert, how will you be able to tell us anything? As I have asked myself the same question many times, I have a variety of answers ready and they seem content to sit back and see how I do.
I brought a lot of pictures of
our trucks along and they are quite fascinated by them.
I also show them pictures of our winter road operation and try to explain what it
involves. They are very interested and it
isnt totally foreign because there is winter road freight in parts of
After the session, I walk for
many blocks along
the way back, I stop in a bookstore to look for a map of
It would be more helpful if I knew the Georgian words for the animals. Some of them are fine: L is for Lion and ZH is for Zhiraffe, but some others are a bit cryptic: O is for Spider and I is for Duck. Then it gets even worse: TSH is for Ladybug and DZ is for Cow. There are 33 letters in the Georgian alphabet and every Georgian is delighted to try to explain to you the difference between the sound of the letter: KH and the sound of the letter: KH, or the difference between the letter: TSH and the letter: TSH. It is very challenging!