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Edik, Taxi driver in Tbilisi

September 13th, 2009 peretz No comments

Below is a short post about our experiences with Edik, our taxi driver who took us to various interesting places while we stayed in Tbilisi. Taxi drivers are a wealth of information regardless of whether you’re wanting to go play bingo or looking for somewhere to have a fantastic meal, and Edik certainly served us well in this regard. He was quite a character, and if you read on you should come to the same conclusion.

We parked our car and took a day off from driving. Our taxi driver Edik, Armenian 71, family from the Artvin area of present day northeast Turkey – obsessively sought out the shade when he looked for parking. He’d rather park further, walk longer, if the car was a little shadier.

He wiped his brow and talked about shade obsessively, as he did about many other things. When we would get out at one destination or another, and then we’d look for him, we’d have to look around for places of shade, where he might likely be.

Edik had a theory about where and how to honk. When we were driving against traffic on a one way street, he let out a long one. “This is because he is not staying on his side of the road.”"You have to reserve some honks for the ladies also, just to let them know,” and as we drive past, “oops, she’s not so good from in front, I regret that honk.”"I like it when girls wear black. Black is a color of elegance.”

I asked him about the signs advertising apartments with the adjective “Euroremodel”.

“Da, eto u nas tak seichas delayut” = “Yes, this is how it is done nowdays.”"Eto kak?” = “This being what exactly?”"Eto znachet vse kak nado, vse kharosho.” = “This means it’s done how it is supposed to be, all good.”

The appartment we were staying in was definately not a euroremodel. (Though we stayed in one soon after.)

He advertised himself further, “You got to go where the cabbies go to eat.” No one knows the city like the cabbies. And he did take us to a good place, “where the intellectuals eat” and we had delicious soup dumplings called Khingali, (the leftovers of which we packed up for Edik’s mother in law.) After endearing us most of the day, visting old town, syngagogue, hill top park where Stalin’s mom is burried, to embassies and banks, he extracted too much from us playing the sympathy card, and we let on, being vulnerable to that.

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Photo Studio, Batumi, Georgia

September 13th, 2009 peretz No comments

I popped into a Photo studio for some visa pictures. The three guys who ran the shop were Armenian and eagerly recounted the histry of their families, which lived in what is now northeastern Turkey (where we had just come from) before the “Armenian Genocide” (something I have to learn more about having heard so many conflicting accounts. They sat around, solved crosswords, drank coffee, brewed us a tasty batch, and when they got wind of our journey, pulled out an old Soviet Atlas, pointed at things and recounted stories of their service in the Soviet Army that took them places where we were going to go. A sailor came in and introduced himself as a “semen” (seaman) and when I took a picture of him, suggested I not post it since he travels to the US frequently, and doesn’t want to be listed in the rolodex of the CIA (to which I was presumably contributing.) We encountered this kind of Soviet relic paranoia in several instances, particularly Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan so far.

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Mini Abortion, Georgia

September 13th, 2009 peretz 1 comment

I saw peculiar sign in Russian, advetising “Mini Abortion”:

"MINI ABORTION"

There was an older couple vending ice creams beside the sign and I figured, I’d ask them for clarifications and also learn something from the charecter of their response. While handing me some old Soviet style ‘Plombir’ ice cream, they eagerly told me the details of how such an proceedure works. Mini refers to the first trimester, whereas later abortions are at a clinic around the corner and not mini. Abortion is the most prominent method of contraception in the ex- Soviet Republics, and I recalled how it struck me how many girls I met on a trip to Moscow in 2003 that had and spoke freely about multiple abortions (at which point, I conceived the term ‘pentabort’.)

The guy vending ice cream had several tatoos on his arms, all from his days in the Soviet army. “Raya, that is the name of a of a special girl,” and also translates to “paradise”.

I barely resisted asking whether Raya, well, you know …

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Opportunistic vs. Hospitable

September 8th, 2009 peretz 1 comment
opportunistic vs. hospitable
When we asked him where we could get “good local wine” Omar, the taxi driver offered to take us if we pay him a dollar since we wouldn’t otherwise find it and he needs to leave his taxi post on our behalf.  We agree, and we follow him for not more than a few blocks.  He gets out of the car, rings a bell on an iron gate, and says “here it is.”
The lights were out and it seemed like no one was inside,
but behold, an elderly gentleman, Anzor, with a melancholy gaze
and a silver crown emerged from the dark and invited us to his basement.
He talked to us at a methodical pace as he syphoned out wine from large glass jars into plastic bottles.  Yes, he grew the grapes himself. They
came from a vinyard of 300 plants that has been in his family for
generations.  Most of the village came to him for wine. He built this house himself.  He had the aura of someone honest, pious, and hardworking.
His wife was Russian.  He likes visitors and travellers.  Turns out his son lives with his family in Minisota.
He handed us 2L of purple, velvety georgian wine from (fill in) grapes both semi sweet and dry and another liter of white wine that is fermented like red wine, with the skin still on the grapes leaving the tannins, and tastes very unusual for a white.
And this — presumably the wine, the company, the tour of the basement, the conversation — he said, is my gift.  Please enjoy my wine, and have a safe voyage, wherever it takes you.  He declined our entrities to pay, and so were left with accepting his genuine and hostpitable gesture.
We took our wine to dinner at a place without a menu where they ask you want you want, and assist you in ordering the two dishes they do have.  The food was served in the courtyard by a mossy brook. The staff asked us to pay and went home, telling us to just leave the plates on the table until tomorrow.
It was not long that we were alone.  A man of crooked and wabbly stature walked in probed a door in the corner, proded along with his cane, mumbling things all the while.  He was followed by a more respectably dressed and smelling gentleman, who wandered over to our table, and looked more puzzled by us than the guy mumbling and peeing in the corner.
I offered him some wine.  He declined, “I do not drink.  I just came here for some tea and company, but they are gone.”  He sat down, reached over and put an empty glass in front of himself.  I offered juice then water.  He declined both.  He seemed as if he was expecting something, so I decided to fill his glass with wine anyhow.  Then he came alive, patted me on the head and said, “good boy.”  Turned out he was the local village police officer during Soviet times and the man in the corner was just “a lunatic joker that respects me since I never arrested him.”  When the guy was done peeing, he made a mock salute.  ”Sometimes the dumb are the wise,” said the ex-police officer who doesn’t drink and downed his glass. After this, he spent the rest of the evening with us, making toasts, pattering endlessly, all of which I was translating in real time for Tristan and Hari.  The toasts ranged from world peace, to Georgian Russian relations, to all that have fallen, to his mother, (from whose grave he just returned and to whom he kept on lighting small candles which kept on going out), to friendship (for which he entreated each of us to light a candle and craddle it), and then he switched gears and started toasting to Stalin, the great man from Georgia who is globally misunderstood and underappreciated.  He climed into our car when we finished.  We passed his house on Lenin street, but while he pointed at it, he insisited on riding with us to the campground.  The park rangers eventually peeled him off from us, threatening to kick his ass (and other such nice things) but not before I gave him a whole sheet of paper with an endless but false list of contact details.  We sped by house #87 Lenin Street and looked the other way when driving by the following day.
I saw the crazy man in the market the following day, and when I aimed my camera to take a picture of him, he lunged his cane at me.  It turned out to be brass and quite heavy, which was both a good and bad thing.  It didn’t fly as he had intended, but bounced before hurting my shin and ankle.

When we asked him where we could get “good local wine” Omar, the taxi driver offered to take us if we pay him a dollar since we wouldn’t otherwise find it and he needs to leave his taxi post on our behalf.  We agree, and we follow him for not more than a few blocks.  He gets out of the car, rings a bell on an iron gate, and says “here it is.”

The lights were out and it seemed like no one was inside, but behold, an elderly gentleman, Anzor, with a melancholy gaze and a silver crown emerged from the dark and invited us to his basement.

He talked to us at a methodical pace as he syphoned out wine from large glass jars into plastic bottles.  Yes, he grew the grapes himself. They came from a vinyard of 300 plants that has been in his family for generations.  Most of the village came to him for wine. He built this house himself.  He had the aura of someone honest, pious, and hardworking.

His wife was Russian.  He likes visitors and travellers.  Turns out his son lives with his family in Minisota.

He handed us 2L of purple, velvety georgian Saperavi wine good for life extension both semi sweet and dry and another liter of white wine that is fermented like red wine, with the skin still on the grapes leaving the tannins, and tastes very unusual for a white.Anzor - Homemade Wine

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_wine (my link embeddin pluggin crapped out now, so accept it like this and there is lots of interesting stuff there.)

“And this” — presumably the wine, the company, the tour of the basement, the conversation — he said, “is my gift.”  Please enjoy my wine, and have a safe voyage, wherever it takes you.  He declined our entrities to pay, and so were left with accepting his genuine and hostpitable gesture.

We took our wine to dinner at a place without a menu where they ask you want you want, and assist you in ordering the two dishes they do have.  The food was served in the courtyard by a mossy brook. The staff asked us to pay and went home, telling us to just leave the plates on the table until tomorrow.

It was not long that we were alone.  A man of crooked and wabbly stature walked in probed a door in the corner, proded along with his cane, mumbling things all the while.  He was followed by a more respectably dressed and smelling gentleman, who wandered over to our table, and looked more puzzled by us than the guy mumbling and peeing in the corner.

I offered him some wine.  He declined, “I do not drink.  I just came here for some tea and company, but they are gone.”  He sat down, reached over and put an empty glass in front of himself.  I offered juice then water.  He declined both.  He seemed as if he was expecting something, so I decided to fill his glass with wine anyhow.  Then he came alive, patted me on the head and said, “good boy.”  Turned out he was the local village police officer during Soviet times and the man in the corner was just “a lunatic joker that respects me since I never arrested him.”  When the guy was done peeing, he made a mock salute.  ”Sometimes the dumb are the wise,” said the ex-police officer who doesn’t drink and downed his glass. After this, he spent the rest of the evening with us, making toasts, pattering endlessly, all of which I was translating in real time for Tristan and Hari.  The toasts ranged from world peace, to Georgian Russian relations, to all that have fallen, to his mother, (from whose grave he just returned and to whom he kept on lighting small candles which kept on going out), to friendship (for which he entreated each of us to light a candle and craddle it), and then he switched gears and started toasting to Stalin, the great man from Georgia who is globally misunderstood and underappreciated.  He climed into our car when we finished.  We passed his house on Lenin street, but while he pointed at it, he insisited on riding with us to the campground.  The park rangers eventually peeled him off from us, threatening to kick his ass (and other such nice things) but not before I gave him a whole sheet of paper with an endless but false list of contact details.  We sped by house #87 Lenin Street and looked the other way when driving by the following day.

I saw the crazy man in the market the following day, and when I aimed my camera to take a picture of him, he lunged his cane at me.  It turned out to be brass and quite heavy, which was both a good and bad thing.  It didn’t fly as he had intended, but bounced before hurting my shin and ankle.

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Vivid image on the way to Lagodekhi

September 7th, 2009 peretz No comments

I have a vivid image ingraned on retina, sadly without a photo to back it up.  It reminded me of another such moment from my travels in the American South, probably also in a Georgia. While driving, I caught a glimpse of a large African American man seated on a magnificant white horse, backlit majestically by the sun, all in a lush green grove.

On the way to Lagodekhi, I saw an old carriage with a load of hay, an older driver with rags accompanied by a younger child with a goat by his side. A large horse was yolked, but there was a lot of young farm animals leashed and walking beside it. A colt, a donkey, and a calf. They road at us thorugh a shady grove and were illuminated from behind by a bright sun with the view of the rising snow capped Caucus mountains in the distance.

This scene is not as majestic, but has the same fairy tale feel:

This looks like a fairy tale to me.

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Geogrian Hospitality – Tbilisi

August 27th, 2009 peretz 1 comment

We drove into Tbilisi under the cover of night and pulled over for directions. The gentleman I asked immediately dropped what he was doing and made our priorities his priorities.

“Has the driver drank?”

“No.”

“Is the driver drunk?”

“No.”

He walked over to make sure. Somewhat surprised, he said, “Well then, this is what we will do. We will call the police. Please do not be worried. This is a little bit unusual for us as well, but given that it is the way it is, I really want to demonstrate it. You see, over the past four years, the Police have become — like dog shall we say — a true friend of man. They are not here to bother you, but to help you. They will take you to your lodgings.”

When the police arrived a few minutes later, he kissed me on the cheek, called us his “dears” and invited us for dinner. “The political situation in Georgia (with regards to Russia) may be complicated,” he said, “but the situation of guest in Georgia is always good.”

“You are my dears,” he said when the police arrived and kissed my three times on the cheeks good bye. “We shall meet again and I will have you over for dinner!”

The police gave us a prompt sirened escort to our lodgings, made sure it was the correct address, shook our hands and drove away. We were following the directions sent to us by our couchsurfing host, and fumbled around in dark crumbling stairwells to the third floor courtyard where I asked for Luka’s lodgings from an elderly woman. She pointed, and we knocked. A young man opened the door and I said, “nice to meet you Luka!”

He said, “Don’t you know?” It turned out that Luka was such a gracious host that he hosted people at his appartment even in his absense using couchsurfing as an agent!

Everyone in the building complex and coutyard seem to know this, and where the hiding place for his keys was. One time when Tristan tried to surreptitously fumble through the drawers within view of construction workers in a neighboring apparment, one of them ran over, pushed him aside and confidently took out the key, “here you go my friend.”

The apparment was charming. There were maggots feasting on a month old stew in the kitchen. The toilet did not work flush without buckets of water. But such is the lot of Abusrdistan. Strangely, this may have been what we came for.

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Georgia on my mind

August 19th, 2009 Hari 3 comments

08/19/09, 10 am in the morning, Luka’s place, Tbilisi

I was going to write about the border experience at the Georgia/Turkey crossing, and the value of videotaping in order to convince guards with M16s to leave you alone, but PP did such a good job describing that experience that I’ll instead focus on my current environ, and my initial, cursory impressions of Georgia.

I’m writing this from an apartment we found on CouchSurfing, on the eastern side of Tbilisi (there is a river that runs through the city). The apartment is large, with several huge, high-ceilinged rooms. Walls are a white, peeling plaster, covered with paintings, Georgian maps, and inscriptions in marker or colored pencil that are etched onto the walls themselves. The place is not the cleanest – floor is dusty, the old comfortable chair that I’m writing this from has soaked up god-knows-what, the toilet flush is broken (requiring us to fill a large basin with water to physically force our excreta down the plumbing), and the shower is temperemental – while giving up hot water, it occasionally shuts off mid-stream. The apartment is located on the 3rd floor of a decaying building, and the first floor is redolent with the smell of urine, either cat or human. But despite the grottiness, the apartment feels comfortable, and exudes an air of mystery to it. It is also free. We haven’t actually met our host, Luka, having communicated with him only via the internet. It seems from the many notes on the wall that lots of other people have stayed here, and have also not met the host – apparently Luka is quite comfortable loaning his apartment to those in need, while he is off on travels of his own (he is now in Turkey). When we first arrived here two nights ago, there were two Poles and an Austrian who had also discovered the place and were crashing while exploring Tbilisi – they also had not met our mysterious host! From the few photographs of him on the wall, I gather that he has a large, curly black beard, and serious eyes. I also wonder if he has spent time blacksmithing – there are some interesting photographs of him with some older gents, in a forge-like setting with large cast bells and red-hot metal. In any case, his generosity has allowed us to explore Tbilisi without worrying about payment for lodgings, so I thank him heartily for that.

We spent yesterday exploring Tbilisi, the first half of the day by car (having paid an old Armenian to drive us around the city, and narrate to PP in Russian the meanings and descriptions of various places), and the second half by foot. Tbilisi – and Georgia – remind me more of Eastern Europe than Turkey. Many of the buildings are old and decaying, and the city seems edgier and gritty in a way that Eastern Europe was. I am also faintly reminded of Buenos Aires, and South America. People are physically more European than Turkish – lots of dark hair, but skin is white, and features are western. There is also more obesity here than in Turkey – have encountered several examples of large, Jabba-the-hutt-like specimens, both male and female. I suspect the fat is due to the richness of the food – cheese pies (khatchapuri) are very tasty but calorie-ridden, and the massive quantity and size of khinkhali (meat dumplings) that show up when placing an order probably also are a contributing factor. While very filling and interesting, there seems to be a lack of green things in the food – I am enjoying it, but would probably get sick of it soon, vegetarian options being somewhat limited.

I’ll relate a fun experience from two days ago, when we first arrived in Tbilisi. As PP mentioned, the street signs here are all in Georgian – so his knowledge of cyrillic is not useful (atlhough his Russian is – most Georgians are familiar with that language, and are happy to help giving us directions), and navigation is harder than in Turkey or Europe. When we arrived in Tbilisi, it was also dark, and we had only Luka’s street name and his apartment building number. To further complicate matters, when we asked an elderly Georgian in Tbilisi where the street was, he told us that many streets had recently been renamed, and that he didn’t know where this particular location was. However, he did have a good suggestion. Apparently the cops are now very helpful and useful to the locals, and he suggested that we call them in order to have them escort us to Luka’s place! After first making sure that T$ had drunk no beer (the legal BAC level is 0 in these countries), he placed a call to the cops on his cell phone, asking them to help us. About 3 minutes later, two cop cars showed up, and we ended up getting a police escort to the apartment! How’s that for service? I managed to videotape part of this, so perhaps if we get a chance we’ll post it.

For now, it’s time to rouse T$ and PP, who are still passed out on the floor. Time to be up and moving towards Azerbaijan…

–Hari

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Georgia Border Crossing, 8/17/09

August 19th, 2009 peretz No comments

Our last day in Turkey started in an place which will soon be wiped off the map to be replaced by a swath of blue, submerged by the lake waters of large dam system in the valley of the Kashgar mountains – Yusufeli. The construction work was underway to replace the valley highway we were on with a larger highway snaking along the surrounding mountain tops. Huge tractors were carving up the mountain face dumping large boulders onto our path. There were signs warning us of falling rocks along our way, and soon there actually were falling rocks — intermittent avalanches — denting the already pot-hole rich surface upon impact and occasionally making it completely impassible. When this happened, the road was blocked to make way for tractors to push the mountain debris into the river itself, and we would stop and make conversation with others in the same situation.

One of the people turned out to be an geological engineer from Ankara coming to make inspections of an already existing damn upstream and he told us about the geological formations of the region and the progress of construction.

A truck driver with a load of cantelopes picked some choice specimens, sought out a bit of shade, started carving them up, and offering slices to other wayfarers. Tristan enjoyed the cantalopes and decided to buy a couple. The land is fertile in that valley, and there were trees bearing large figs, which I plucked following the example of the locals and ate too many.

Rope and wood suspension bridges connected the river banks and now that we had the time we decided to cross one. When we came near and saw how precarious it was, we decided against it.

Eventually the tractors cleared enough debris to pass, and we climbed the mountain pass through the town of Artvin, picking up our last Turkish hitchhiker, and eventually made our way the other side, seeing the Black Sea for the first time…

The terrain changed substantually became lush, subtropical, with terraced gardens, large fields of berries, and even the turkish people in that region were different, light skinned, blue eyed. Across the jagged valleys stretched steel cables which bore buckets used to transport tools to the fields and the harvest back home.

From there it was just a short 30 minute ride up the coast to town of Sarpie and the border crossing into Georgia. About a mile of cargo trucks was waiting at the border, which as a passenger car we passed and so began our most complex border crossing so far.

It had the most intermediate steps, each mildly confusing in its purpose, like a microbureaucracy. One of the immediate peculiarities of this border was the number of plain clothes “helpers” on both the Turkish and Georgian sides, eager to get their hands on your passport and offering to navigate the process with you. A couple times we seemed to progress to the next step only to be turned back, to “check out customs” or some station with a similar moniker. When we were already on the Georgian side, the uniforned official looked us over and told us to go back to a Turkish station and imdicated to one of these helpers to accompany us. Three of them came, quietly arguing among themselves who it was that was sent and all three took turns reaching out for our passports. “I’ll hold on to them, thanks.” Who were these people? I decided to withhold revealing my knowlege of Russian, even when asked, and it took some concentration not to respond one way or the other when they asked me in Russian if I spoke it. Better play the dumb American, amd have the wild card in my back pocket.

When the Turks, who were watching YouTube in their booth (Youtube is, for the moment, banned in Turkey), stamped our passport yet another time and told us, “You are now free.” The helpers got uncomfortably close. When we got into the car, they basically reached in through the window, asking quite explicitly for us to give them some money so there would not be any problems. I said, “no problems” locked the doors, rolled up the windows, while their hands were still inside the car in a fleeting hungry form of protest. We drove on, clearned the first Georgian station and got in line for the next. It felt important not to stall, yet none of the officials urged us along to the next way point. It was a guessing game. We zig-zagged into what seemed to be the next bottle neck, and as we were about to pull in, an armed man with an M16 and his comrade came to the window and told us we needed Georgian Insurance. “We have international insurance, see.” I pointed at our car’s Green Card (a document indicating such).

“No, you need Georgian Insurance.”

“Yes, we have international insurance, and Georgia is a nation.”

“No” said the armed man.

“Yes”

“No”

“Yes”

We had made it a practice to video tape our progress through borders (a border reel is under compilation) and at some point the unarmed comrade spotted our camera and started making a fuss of it.

“No”

“Yes”

He indicated something to the armed man and that guy suddenly walked away.

“No”

“Yes”

This time he gave up and walked away himself leaving us a clear path to the next station. We immediately pulled in.

Inside the station, the environment was a bit calmer, the female border officials seemed to be ignoring both the plain clothes and the armed accessories and dealt with us professionally. They entered data into their computers and asked pertinent questions, where, how long, etc.

Hari and I were forced to exit the car and proceed at the pedestrian border crossing, and Tristan was left with the car, to navigate the remaining redundencies. All of us were first photographed. Hari and I came out the other end and witness the unpleasantries that the now red-shirted official looking border guards were inflicting on the drivers in the next hurdle, searching the cars, guiding people into a parking lot from which there was no obvious eflux. I wanted to make sure Tristan didn’t fall into what seemed like their trap and ignored them and drove onward. Surprisingly, we were spared this step — could have been due to the brand of our passports? Most of the detainies were Russian, Turkish, Armenian, or Georgian. We drove on to yet another check point, which was a final review of all the papers.

Clear. Whew. We paid nothing. We got a 5 day transit visa. We didn’t have to get any extraneous insurance and we didn’t pay any bribes, but our nerves were on steely alert. We learned the lesson that you don’t have to obey just because someone with an M16 tells you it is so, and our edgy practice of video taping our official interactions was strangely vindicated. We shall see how this practice applies to the 8 border crossings to come.

One of the first signs we saw past the border said in bold letters. “Georgia is a Zero-Corruption country. Offering money to the police is a punishible offence.”

–Peretz

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Batumi – Georgia’s Black Sea Resort – 8/17-18/09

August 18th, 2009 peretz No comments

The driving in Turkey required substantial adaptation. The driving in Georgia required substantial rewiring of the brain. Cows, pigs, geece, donkeys constantly wandered onto the road. If in Turkey you occasionally needed to swerve onto oncoming traffic to pass a slow car, driving on the opposite side of the road indefinitely and inexplicably is common practice in Georgia.

All of the street signs in Georgia, when they exist, are written in a cryptic Georgian script and Google Maps are absent for the entire country. Our navigation system switched to one of word of mouth, and I would frequently lean out or hop out of the car to ask the locals for directions. Even more so than the Balkans my Russian came in handy, and the people I asked were among the friendliest I have met. They responded eagerly, even so much as walking several blocks out of their way to point out the corner alley of the hotel where we would be staying. Moreover, their conversation was delightfully laced with humor.

Draft beer for sale in various containers, from recycled soda bottles to plastic bags, whatever is more convenient for you to carry, and lots of delicious looking smoked or dried fish.

The streets of Batumi were overgrowing with vines, which sprouted from the cracks in the pavement, climb up walls to provided shade and fruit to balconies several stories high, would follow an electrical wire across the street and return to the pavement again.

When we booked a room at a small smoked out pension, I told the hosts the story of our experiences at the border. They were surprised. We are a “zero corruption country” they said. Who were these “pederasts” at the border? If you took video, you should send it immediately to the border commissioner to send these people to prison.

Batumi is the primary Georgian resort town on the black sea. It’s heyday came in the early 20th century when it was a primary port for oil exports providing 1/2 of the world’s oil and was a recepient of investments and early oil production innovations from the likes of Alfred Nobel and the Rothchilds. The old city has an imperial charm, but it’s current state is one of dilapidation and looks like one big construction zone. Streets are dug up. There are feces floating in exposed manholes. There was an initially puzzling sign at the entrance of the city.IMG_2314

We later learned that this was a development project which had been underway for several years and slated to go on for another two.

Navigating these potholes and webs of one way streets was a startling number of fancy cars, mostly black Mercedes and black sleek Toyota Land Cruisers. A lot of these fancy cars were in poor shape, missing bumpers, broken headlights, loud or absent exhaust systems. Concrete was being cut with masonry dust tainting the air, exposed rebar, crumbling buildings, etc.

Dodging the cars and the envoronmental hazards were a mery mixture of Georgians, Russians and Armenians which showed no indication that anything was out of the ordinary. They went about their business buying 60 cent draft beers from the huge wooden casks, or Kvas, or seeds and Khachapuri from the stands staffed by old large mustached ladies that Tristan kept mistaking for Jabba the Hut.

The main activity of the town was on the beach side prominade which was a overflowing with merry makers of all ages consuming popcorn, cotton candy, khatchapuri and lining up to all sorts of nighcluby disco establishments with bad music, built into the shapes of ships or cordoned off VIP resorts, guarded by bouncers in black clothes and built like 300 pound hulking humpty dumpties. Traditionally I have heard this body shape described as “bears” but this would imply a little bit more articulation of the limbs.

Something unusual caught my eye and I first did not believe it. One of the perplexing border helpers was standing right there on the bordwalk, chowing down handfulls of popcorn in glazed eye stuppor. This time, I could use my Russian.

“Hello. You remember me?”

“Da.”

“What do you do for work?”

“Ahhrrr.”

“Why were you asking us for money at the border?”

“Ahhrrrr.”

“I appreciate your concern for us and your offers to reduce the number of problems at the border.”

“Ahhrrr…”

I snapped more pictures of him directly, and took a video of that interaction also. “Well, be well, can you recommend a restaurant for us to go to with cheap traditional food?” IMG_2323He pointed and we walked in the opposite direction. Later I snapped photos of him leering at some candy floss.

Over dinner we were recommended to check out the disco in the basement of the Intourist Hotel “if you want to meet some girls” and just for the hell of it we actually went to check it out. The parking lot of the hotel was a itself a construction site, an off road sand lot, and it had the most peculiar scene we had seen so far. About a dozen black Landcruisers with tinted windows were parked, with their doors open. Inside was a border humpty dumpty in each seat and an M16 resting across his lap. Milling about were mean looking men with scowling expressions, some of which wore camo pants. Tristan encouraged me to ask what was going on and the conversation went something like this:

“Hello, what are all of these armed men for?”

“What armed men?”

“Is there anything happening that brings you here?”

“No, there is nothing special.”

“If there is nothing special, is it always like this?”

“Sometimes it is like this, and sometimes it is not like this.”

“Thank you very much, I think I understand everything now.”

There was a 10 GEL cover for the disco so we decided that I should go inside alone to see if the price was worth paying. I cleared a metal detector, was patted down, and went through a dimly lit smokey basement into a neon lit room. There were not more than a dozen guests and about as many burly beasts. The guests were all women. I wouldn’t call them attractive, and as I walked by they glanced up from their coctails, twirled round in their bar stools, shifting their posture from cross legged to something slightly more revealing and rolling their facial expressions from one kind of bored to another. I understood what the restaurant proprietor meant about “meeting girls” and I left the disco quite soon, thanking the guards for the gratis admission and telling Hari and Tristan that we probably wouldn’t be coming back.

We wound down at a cozier cafes with glorious artifacts of silver and gold refering back to the imperial charm of this seaside town.

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