May 25th, 2010 - I have been in Georgia's capital for about nine days. Thus far I walked about a total of fifty miles, ate a poop ton of pork and cheese pie, had a few alcoholic dalliances, been denied entry to a casino for wearing 'sporting clothes and slippers', inadvertently instigated a rather heated altercation (again), was mesmerized by the Georgian National Ballet and met a hostel owner named Dodo.
Georgia wants tourists. It really, really does. No visa required for a stay up to 360 days. That's not a typo. They smile when you come across the border. I like smiling. That may not seem like much but after leaving a land where capricious grinning appears to be outlawed (Azerbaijan) I found this simple act of graciousness to be extremely pleasant.
There is a lot to take in here and I am currently constructing my plan of attack to get the most out of the country. I am so determined I may just rent a car even though it is unwise monetarily. Aren't I the crazy bastard?
Tbilisi is a fascinating place, rich in history, visually alluring, and retains just a smidge of post-Soviet intrigue. The name literally means 'warm spring' and there are a few legends surrounding the city's origin. Sometime in the 5th century AD the founder, Vakhtang Gorgasali, killed a pheasant which then fell into a hot sulfur spring, was spontaneously cooked, and became a savory meal.
Or it was a deer that was shot, fell into the spring, and was miraculously healed, not cooked. Or instead of the deer it was the pheasant that became a miracle bird. Or Gorgas was hunting with a falcon which then killed the pheasant but in doing so set a trajectory straight for the scalding waters of the sulfur springs killing both prey and predator in the process.
Or the deer, the pheasant, and the falcon teamed up, kicked Gorgas's ass, threw him into the hot springs, and had a delicious Stew al la Homo Sapiens. They then asked a wizard named Balakan to morph them into humans so they could build their own city and ingratiate themselves into the realm of bipeds. And the cow jumped over the moon. I may have taken artistic license for this last one, if by 'artistic license' I mean created out of thin air. What ever happened Gorgas decided this would be a hell of a place to build a city so he decided to go for it. Go Georgas. Or none of this is true as there is evidence of settlement in the area dating back to the 4th century AD. Not definitive enough? Do your own fucking research.
So I have just been meandering about, snapping a photo here and there, and attempting to decide just how I should spend my time in this beautiful country. I met a fellow American doing some volunteer work in Azerbaijan staying at my hostel, Dodo's Homestay (The female owner is a woman in her seventies by the name of Dodo). We spent a few days exploring Tbilisi and engaging in activities that could be construed as, well, gay. The other day we had a nice meal and drank white wine together. It was lovely. And then there was the ballet. Yep, we did that together as well. The Georgian National Ballet is a must see if they are in town when you happen to be in Tbilisi.
We toyed with the idea of experiencing the healing qualities of the sulfur baths but decided that might be a bridge too far for two heterosexual males that are relative strangers. Inside said bathhouses you can either congregate in the communal area where other naked men are kicking it or get a private room where you can kick it with some dude you met two days prior. On top of that at some point another scantily dress mature Georgian man enters and commences massaging, scrubbing, walking on your back, and pouring warm water over your body. Although highly recommended we concluded that perhaps we would be pushing our quasi 'Big Gay Weekend' a bit far. Perhaps, another time.
So my 'partner' and I did a small hike up to an area known as Turtle Lake….which was also lovely. After sipping a few beers while waiting for the rain to abate we decided to make our way back into the city. Due to the sporadic rainfall we agreed on a taxi. In the midst of negotiating a fare a local man walked by and told us we should only pay half of the asking price. He then offered to take us down the hill himself for free. This appealed to us but when we approached his vehicle we noticed that he had others inside and believed there to be insufficient room for everyone. We headed back to the taxi.
While standing in front of the taxi the vehicle pulled up and the gentleman told us to hop in. We did so. Inside was a woman I presume to be his wife and a man in the back with a rather morose countenance. By this time the taxi driver and some of his brethren were none too pleased by the turn of events and made their grievances known. Although I have no idea what was being said I am quite certain none of it was flattering. The situation quickly spiraled out of control.
Our driver was yelling at the cabby. The man in the back seat sitting next to me was yelling at the cab driver, as was the man's wife. At one point the cab driver lunged toward the driver-side door with a look of pure hatred. He had to be restrained by his comrade. The man sitting next to me decided he would exit the vehicle in order to 'facilitate' the situation. Everyone began yelling and we sensed an imminent boiling point. To make matters even more surreal the wife began yelling at the husband who responded by shoving her in a not so lovingly manner. It was impossible to determine if she was angry at him for not getting out of the car to kick some ass and defend his manhood or wanted him to just let it go and drive on. I want to believe it was the latter but my instincts point toward the former.
The look on Pete's face (my cohort) said it all but just to be sure he suggested we get the hell out. I agreed but was a bit troubled by the prospect of our departure and how it would be received. Except for a half-hearted plea by the driver for us to remain no one seemed to even notice us slipping away down the hill and into the forest from whence we came. They'd apparently forgotten why they were even fighting. I am not sure how it played out but I have a feeling it probably came to blows. Had we not been at the center of the controversy we would have lingered to see the finale but thought it best haul ass as fast as we could.
This is the second time this has happened to me. You may recall that when I crossed the border from Azerbaijan my subsequent round of bargaining with four different taxi drivers led to a UFC scenario. I am beginning to believe that Georgians may have a bit of fire coursing through their veins. I guess I should just stick to buses and trains.
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it."
- W.C. Fields
|Need a ginormous red balloon? I know a guy.|
|Election posters abound on the streets of Tbilisi|
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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim