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.....