Visitors to this site well know my enthusiasm for all things Georgian--not the Southern state, but the the small republic nestled on the south slopes of the Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia. In my meager postings during the last sixth months or so, at least five or six concern Georgia.
An initial 2006 visit was something of a fluke--tacked-on to a more extensive exploration of Turkey. I returned in 2007 for a closer look around. After that, I felt I should see other countries, though Georgia was never far from my imaginings. For the last three years, business and financial concerns, coupled with an assortment of medical problems have kept me on these shores. I am feeling better these days, and the wolf has now backed away from the door, his attention directed elsewhere, it seems. That meant, of course, that it was time to return to Georgia. The fact that my only child now lives in the country cinched the matter.
I have also come to an important truth about travel. For many, traveling seems little more than a game, in which one checks-off as many destinations as possible. In a week at a Tbilisi hostel, my son was thrown together with a number of rootless (mostly European) travelers. From his perspective, their journeys appeared unfocused, a mere tagging of obscure destinations--two to three days in Tbilisi, so it must be time to move on to Uzbekistan, etc.
I suggest, however, that travel reveals the places that stir our souls--or as a Georgian would say, that sits on your heart. Once found, we should return there again and again, as often as possible. I fully appreciate the fact that discovering your touchstone on the other side of the world is a decidedly modern luxury (and perhaps a temporary one at that.) I do have other such locales a bit closer to home. But as health and finances permit, I will be returning to Georgia whenever possible.
I have just spent eleven days in Georgia, still a bit overwhelmed by it all. I travelled with John Graham's annual "Monastery Tour," as I did in 2007. The group topped out at sixteen--six from New York City, six from New Jersey, a North Carolinian, one from Michigan, one from Illinois, and an outlier from Texas (me.) We formed a diverse but congenial group, ranging in age from four years old to the mid-70s, consisting of academics, successful entrepreneurs, small business-people, craftsmen and artisans--as well as two of the best-behaved children I have ever encountered. Eight of us were Orthodox, the others Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and the non-croyant. The group proved to be an intrepid lot, up for anything and everything, with nary a complaint to be heard.
John is an outstanding guide, completely at home in his Georgian skin as he is his American, and wisely choosing Shergil Pirtskhelani and Soso Kopaleishvili to assist him on the tour. All three are accomplished vocalists, musicians and musicologists, key players in the renaissance of traditional Georgian folk singing and chant.
Georgia's history is often tragic and desperate, sometimes grand and glorious, and occasionally rambunctious and fractious. Georgians themselves are perhaps the most generous people on earth. The thing that Georgia and Georgians are not, however, is dull. I find them endlessly fascinating. Over the following days and weeks I hope to submit a number of topical posts, in no particular order of importance. I hope you enjoy these ruminations on Georgia.
[I will add that it will be a great pleasure to write for those who at least know where the country is located. I must live in one of the most parochial and geographically illiterate regions of the U.S. When I answer the question put to me of where I have been, the typical response is "Where's that?" The easy answer is to reference the Black Sea, but then that would presuppose that they knew where they Black Sea is located, which they do not. Some are vaguely aware of the demonstrations in Istanbul and the mass protests in Egypt, and usually ask "Weren't you afraid to be over there?" I kid you not. Apparently, over there is all the same. I was enlightened to hear from one person, however, that Georgia started off as a penal colony. Yes. When you cannot distinguish between an ancient Eurasian kingdom on the Black Sea and the establishment of the British North American colony of Georgia in 1734, then perhaps all hope is indeed lost.]