The main attraction this week was Tbilisi, where the city was celebrated, as it is each year, with a festival centered around the harvest. Tbilisoba filled the center of the old city with music and dancing, grape crushing, every seasonal crop imaginable, and an absurd number of Russian tourists.
To get there, we had to catch a shared taxi soon after classes ended on Friday; the quickest road to Tbilisi, through Gombori, is too dangerous to travel at night. In the daylight, the turning autumn leaves and ancient towers distracted me from the terrifying cliffs and the usual patterns of traffic here, in which cows require more attention than passing on blind corners. It seems that sheep are the most courteous pedestrians of the animal world.
Upon arriving, we found our hostel, met up with some friends, and had a lovely night out on the town. After several weeks of Georgian cuisine, stumbling upon a Thai restaurant was a lovely surprise, as was the existence of Dive Bar, a low-brow/high-brow alleyway place that could easily find itself at home in Portland or Olympia. This sort of bizarre cosmopolitain atmosphere makes me feel at home, even though I’m on the other side of the world.
The creaky floors of our hostel woke up us rather early, but it was well worth it to stay conveniently close to the more international quarters of the city, and to the events of Tbilisoba. Even the McDonalds down the street got dressed up for Tbilisoba, with plastic grapes hanging from the ceilings, and workers dressed in traditional Georgian clothing. It’s quite a posh place here, with every surface polished, modern vinyl lounge chairs, and some of the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen in my increasingly diverse experiences of overseas fast-food chain facilities.
Tbilisi is an incredibly photogenic place. The buildings reflect light so gently, it seem like the sun in on tip-toes, winding its way from morning to evening. Similarly, dancing began on the maidan around noon, featuring a Georgian version point shoes in which a dancer actually carries his weight atop the upper knuckles of the toes. It looked painful, and as physically demanding as the knee spins and high jumps typical of mens’ dances.
In the little squares and parks around the old city, boothes were set up for face-painting, harvest crowns, and churchkhela making. Churchkhela is a local obsession, which involves hazelnuts or walnuts strung on a thin rope, dipped repeatedly in a simmering mixture of grape juice and flour. I’ve not been terribly fond of it, probably because it looks like an unpleasant hybrid of beeswax candles and dog poop. Some people can move beyond this, but the taste of floury grape juice isn’t motivation enough for me.
Connecting with another Evergreen graduate this weekend was another semi-surprise. Even more surprising was our initial meeting in Telavi, but it’s nice to begin seeing familiar faces in unfamiliar places. There were plenty of TLG folks in Tbilisi as well, and it was nice to hear stories from the first few weeks, in which everyone has begun to settle in here, regardless of the everyday absurdity of life.
The crowning glory of the weekend, while on the subject of absurdity, was the most dangerous thing I’ve ever witnessed. A car club put up small barriers around the roadway of a bridge, a square about five lanes wide. The barriers were the same as those separating concert-goers from musicians, or minors from drinkers at festivals. Cars drove onto the square, and began doing donuts and drifting across the pavement in this tiny little space, separated from the crowd by little more than a play-pen. I was sure someone might die, and then people started jumping into the ring, taking pictures, which from above on the hillside looked about as safe as bullfighting. Suddenly there were two cars drifting in the same area, which was quickly filling with smoke and the smell of burning tires. Perhaps my fear comes from growing up in an impossibly litigious society, but it was baffling that such a thing could somehow come to be.
Coming back to my tiny town, I’ve begun to think more about the difference between traveling and living abroad. I think I am still somewhere between those two, though this strange little apartment already feels like home. Last night, the other Oregonian here in town had a birthday, and her host family was eager to meet me. It seems that we foreigners are a bit like local celebrities, which has only confirmed my suspicion that my reputation precedes me. I’ve walked through the bazaar too many times to be a Polish tourist, spent to many hours chatting on the maidan to be a lost backpacker. All this makes me feel that it may not be my decision to make this my home, but rather the community’s willingness to welcome me in the place they’ve called home for generations. And as I’m becoming more and more comfortable with this, I do feel welcome here.