Monday, August 8, 2011

Plenty of Time to Remember

The ancient Celtics had a saying: “When God made time, he made plenty of it.”

That thought probably has no place in a blog that months ago was supposed to get you to a Georgian table, into old Tbilisi, and off to our adventure in Italy. But strangely, it has everything to do with this post. While none of us can know the time we will be given, the strange elasticity of this past year has made me more forgiving of the time necessary to process news and changes, griefs and joys. I believe it is possible for we humans, when we back off the hyper-speed pace of our lives, to rediscover a more human dimension to time; the meaning of which most Twitter and blog posters, intent upon filling every space in time with words, words, words, probably miss entirely. For me, time has meaning. Time serves a purpose, if sometimes only to teach us endurance and that what comes before and what follows is connected only by this moment. A full year has gone by since we departed for Europe and parts east of there, and the memories of the moments there, in that strange yet familiar land, are as fresh in my mind today as they were as they occurred.

So too, are the memories of a sweet family day for our family; our son Nic's wedding to Sora two years ago today.

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It was a beautiful, perfect day and time neither makes it more or less wonderful (although the family now can tell stories about some of the mishaps that occurred prior to the ceremony – much of it to me. Let it not be said that I am missing a sense of humor.) Since we don't have the new address for the couple, this will have to suffice as an anniversary card!

I write this as an homage to what the two of them have become together; complete, strong, and as of last night, I hope, finally reunited in Washington DC. Nic has begun graduate school at the Johns Hopkins SAIS school ( and Sora will spend several weeks with him before departing for her own graduate studies at Cambridge. It is not at all the way many of we baby boomers began our married lives, but it is entirely them.

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Some day in time they may look back at this stage and know how much love and support surrounded them as they continue their adventure. I, for my part, wish that I had as much courage...or smarts for that matter!

For today, I remember the anniversary of their day, and our visit to them last year. And I swear, I'll get you to that Georgian feast I promised...just remember, “When God made time, he made plenty of it.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Saint Nino, Saint George and the Dragon.

Literally every church in Georgia has paintings and or statures of two venerated saints. They seem to be as Georgian as the bad driving. To understand why, you have to know a little about Georgian history.

St. Nino, converted Georgia to Christianity in 347 AD:


Then there is St. George, the patron saint of Georgia, from which Georgia derives its name.

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Every church and even the statue at the center of Tbilisi's Freedom Square, celebrates St. George. No one is exactly sure if there really was a St. George because the myths about his origins as a powerful figure who protects earthly domains and controls the forces of nature predate Christianity. Those forces (which by the way are often referred to as mother earth) are represented by the green dragon with which St. George is usually portrayed. Stories of St. George are more ancient than our written language, dating to the Summerian civilization 5,000 years ago. Never mind. Georgian's don't care.

Note that the letters “GE”: repeat twice in the name “George”. There's a reason for that. The ancient meaning of “GE” is that which pertains to the earth. That's why you see these letters used in modern words like geography, and geophysics. Now remember that creation myth that Georgians love to tell visitors to their country about? The one about how God saved this special place for himself and ended up giving it to the Georgians? You begin to understand how Georgians feel about their land, their place on this earth and why they like their name!

So if St. George pre-dates Christianity, how did Christianity arrive?

A woman named St Nino (sometimes called St. Nune), converted Georgia to Christianity, arriving from the Roman province of Cappadocia in what is now central south Turkey in 347 AD. In Christian myth, she is reported to have been a relative of Saint George, as well related to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Known as the “enlightener,” she was both a healer and a healer who preached the Gospel. Notice the droop of her cross? There's a reason for that. Apparently she grabbed the first thing at hand to form a cross and in Georgia, vineyard that it it is, that would be grape vines. Every since that time, you can tell an icon painting from Georgia by the tell-tale shape of the cross.

In a time before England and the Britons were Christian, St. Nino crossed Turkey to what was then called Iberia (today's Armenia and Georgia) and spread the gospel first to Armenia and then into modern-day Georgia. Not a shabby undertaking today, let alone in her day. And we had been standing at the very spot in the cathedral of Svetitskhoveli where she made her first convert and in front of her glass and golden tomb.

After that dive into history, we were hungry......

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some Doors You Enter for Everyone

A friend called me the other day. “For Pete's sake,” he said. “How long are you going to leave us at the door of the cathedral?”

I was sheepish. “I've been busy. You know... marketing work. My book. I'm being workshopped at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. goals.....gee, you mean people are really paying attention?”

He assured me, people are. ”Well, life got complicated,” I told him apologetically.”Sometimes it feels as if adventure is far away from me. Must have been another person who was there. Not me”

“You made that trip for all of us,” he said. ”Write!”

So again...I am there.


Inside its impressive walls, I done a scarf and we cross the sweltering plaza, enter the massive doors and find ourselves in a towering space, cool; shadowy and mysterious.

Candles flicker, the smell of burning incense is strong. Brass and gold shine below walls of enormous frescoes.
Women swathed in scarves and huge aprons bend nearly double over hand-cobbled brush brooms, a continuous sweeping, sweeping, sweeping that did not stop while we were there. I find myself wondering if they might not be the prototype for the Soviet BabaYaga, the witch with the broom and the house that turns on chicken legs.
Inside the massive space sits another stone cathedral,

perfect in proportion and detail, a miniature of the great cathedral that encases it. It is the site, where in 327 the first convert, Georgian Queen Nana, converted to Christianity.
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Near it, the iconic glass and gold tomb of the Queen herself. I take pictures and again get in trouble – an old man in hat, boots and slavic-looking belted shirt, praying at the miniature cathedral believes that I have taken his picture. I haven't, but back off out of respect.
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Svetitskhoveli is our introduction to the history of Georgia. Here we learned the connection between St Nino and Saint George and the Dragon....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From Tbilisi to Mtskheta

Some days of our lives remain – fixed points of reference for all that was before and all that comes after. Our first day in Georgia was such a day....

We can see no fewer than 12 ancient churches from our windows and balcony, plus the modern national cathedral and the president's house. We are located in Old Tbilisi, just uphill from the ancient sulfur baths/banyas. (which will play a big role in activities in a day or two.....) Tbilisi seems a city caught between not just cultures, but centuries. Streets of rubble outside the apartment enclosure gate lead, in only a few blocks, to gorgeous inlaid pavement.


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Still in the clothes in which we arrived (luggage lost, you'll recall) and with aching heads not yet in that timezone, we follow Nic through the streets, over a bridge, down another road, down, down down into the deep Soviet era subway. We emerge somewhere distant, and wend our way back out of the subterranean walkways, where impoverished people peddle the ubiquitous wheels and wedges of the salty, Georgian stinky cheese (non-refrigerated), cheap toys, old clothes and heartbreakingly, their family heirlooms. There is no time to stop, as Nic pushes on, having warned us about the Gypsy children sent out in droves to beg. “Give them food, they can eat it,” he advises. “Give them money, they will never see it.”

We break out into the sunlight, near blinded and wend through a bustling open-air market overflowing with bananas, watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlics and many fruits and vegetables I haven't a clue as to their pedigree.

The bins and pull carts, barrels and boxes follow somewhat orderly lines, but everywhere there are vans in every spare space and people hurrying this way and that, or talking with men standing at the vans. Negotiating, we learn for their destinations and fares. They are the marshrutka of Nic's research (Russian Analytical Digest, Dec. 2010) vans that take people, mail, packages and news from place to palce throughout most of the former Soviet countries.

Nic negotiates. We stuff ourselves into a back seat and we are off, bouncing over rutted roads, stopping to drop off people and pick up packages. There is no air conditioning in the late July heat. Nic points out the American Embassy and the road from the airport we traveled in the early morning hours.

We are on our way to Mtskheta, a village outside Tbilisi in which stands Svetitskhoveli, site of the first Christian conversion in Georgia and for hundreds of years, designated the “Mother Church,” and National Cathedral, before that title was bestowed an a brand new cathedral in Tbilisi.
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Once there we enter the massive building.....