Saturday, November 29, 2003

Casualties

I know she did a Very Bad Thing by putting a rubber stamp on the fraudulent election returns, but I was really kind of sad today to see that Nana Devdariani, head of the Central Election Commission, has resigned.

I don't know what it was about her that kind of touched me. Perhaps it was that Austin-Powers-She's-a-Man-Baby thing. Perhaps it was the unattractive hair, orange with dark roots in a very, um, mannish style. Perhaps it was the fact that she was clearly not getting home often enough for a shower during the vote counting farce. Perhaps it was the glasses (and you thought Nino Burjanadze's eyewear was problematic!). Whatever it was, she struck me as someone who did not give two hoots about anything but doing her job. Trouble was, her job was cooking the election.
Interesting Talk over the Thanksgiving Table

Some points that came up at our Thanksgiving dinner, for which I give great thanks to our genial hosts, the Brickers.

• Shevardnadze was hoping to pull it out just one more year. The BTC pipeline, which will transport oil from Baku (B) on the Caspian Sea via Tbilisi (T) to Ceyhan (C) in Turkey, will come on line in about a year. The Georgian government will get 5% of the oil for free and will have the right to buy a certain (unknown to me right now) percentage of oil at extremely advantageous prices. This will provide a huge boost to the economy. So the administration thought that if they could just hang on until then, they might be able to pay back the $150 million (and counting) they owe on that pesky delinquent electric bill. They thought they'd be able to fix the financials without giving up those dachas and BMWs.

• Ajara (there's no "i" in the Georgian spelling, although I will accept arguments about that first consonant) is now strangling. Abashidze has closed the border, not just to Georgia, but to Turkey, too. Trucks are now being routed from Turkey via Armenia for crying out loud to get to Georgia. Imagine that border crossing! These two nations have a hate for each other that is profound and of very long standing. Yet trucks are crossing that border. And Abashidze is no longer getting that customs money.

• On the other hand, the port at Batumi in Ajara is full of stacked up sections of pipe for the BTC. Will Abashidze hold the pieces of pipe hostage?

• In Indonesia, it was always expected that 10% of everything went directly into the pocket of Madame Ten Percent, the wife of the premier, or president, or whatever. (I don't follow the politics there--I'm just repeating what I heard over the table.) What diplomats here, who have served all over the world, are shocked by is the scorched earth policy. These people took everything. Ten percent was not enough. The tragedy of it all went unnoticed by these folks? Here are things I have seen: hungry people, refugees with no homes for more than ten years except a rundown high-rise hotel, an official unemployment rate of better than 20%, which is probably closer to 60% in reality (not counting such UNDERemployment as part-time drivers with PhD's); shops that sell Jean-Paul Gaultier, Mercedes-Benzes that look like they have been polished with a paste made of ground-up dollars, a luxurious vacation-home community that coexists (behind walls) with crumbling refugee housing. It's not that it's all or nothing here exactly, just pretty darn close.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Never a Dull Moment

It's gone back the other way at the university again. I think it's like Whack-a-Mole: first you think you've got him, then he pops up over there. The rector of the university, Roin Metreveli, has his job again. Saakashvili went over to the university and said a seemingly reasonable thing: that it's not the government's business to be involved with the administration of the university. Seems reasonable.

However, the deck was stacked. The board of directors of the university, heavy with Metreveli supporters, expanded itself a couple of years ago to put even more members on the same team. At the same time, they changed the rule about how many times a person could be rector. Until then, it was not legal to be the rector more than twice, but this one's on his third round now. I think, however, in the long run, this was the only move Saakashvili could make. They skated onto pretty thin ice with the whole rule of law thing. I mean, they are firmly legal now: the Supreme Court invalidated the election, so the previous parliament is legal; and the president resigned, so Burjanadze is the legal acting president. Elections are scheduled within the constitutional framework, so all the t's are crossed and i's dotted.

Kmara Kmara (Enough of "Enough"!) demonstrators came out to show their support for the rector. All the students and staff that I know say these are the paid supporters, but there's probably no proof. What there is proof for, however, is the sleazy real estate deals the rector and the accounting manager of the university have been pulling. And that may be grounds for permanent, not whack-a-mole, removal.

As detailed in Civil Georgia's website, the (abridged for your comfort) story goes something like this. The university has surplus real estate. There are rules for renting this real estate. The rules were first broken when only one company got to make deals for the rental properties. This company was co-founded by the head of the accounting department for the university. One of the properties was rented out to a bank, one of whose shareholders is the rector of the university. The bank pays $1,400 per year. The market rent for this property should be in the neighborhood of $1,040 per MONTH. The lease is for ten years.

Get the picture? It's petty, but it's just not kosher in a country where people are starving.



Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Retraction of Retraction, Again

Nino may have jumped the gun a little, but the rector of the university has indeed resigned.

A demonstration against the resignation of a popular dean of journalism is also underway.
Saakashvili Will Be the Only Candidate

Well. I feel vindicated, I really do.

Having, as I do, a healthy (diagnostic, even) AQ score myself, I often find myself mystified by people's intentions. I have absolutely no predictive ability at all in a situation that includes people's motivations. If asked what I think will happen, I ALWAYS guess wrong. Clif can always figure out the plot of a movie or a novel long before I can. In fact, the whole Asperger's thing made each of us in our barely functional nuclear family go, "Uh-huh!"

So, when it seemed SO CLEAR to me that there was not going to be a problem about who ran for the presidency here, I could not see why journalists kept harping on about "what happens when they both (or all three) decide to run?" This whole campaign of opposition has been so disciplined from the outset--Saakashvili, Burjanadze, and Zhvania didn't agree on many issues, or even tactics, but they NEVER undercut each other in public. Not once.

So, now it has been announced that Saakashvili will be the only candidate, and I am not surprised. It sure will be easier to organize, and cheaper, this way.

This is yet another piece of evidence, as if I needed another one, that the media worldwide love a train wreck. They would much rather report on a cat/dogfight among these folks than look at what is actually being said and done. I sound like such a Pollyanna here! And in real life, I'm as nasty and cynical a person as you could meet, but why couldn't anyone else see it?


I Have More Questions about Ajara

When we were in Batumi, we were allowed by the very gracious imam to tour the one (1) mosque in the city of 140,000 or so. He said that on Fridays, he usually sees about 1,500 people in attendance. OK. Let's do the math. If we assume, for the purposes of argument, that each of these 1,500 attendees is male (which is not true, but for now, go along with me), and if we assume that each of these male attendees is a head of household with three children (same), then that would represent a population of, say, 7,500 observant Muslims. This does not constitute a majority of the population of Ajara.

And, on the Sunday when we toured Batumi, the formerly R.C. church, St. Mary's I think it was, which has been reconsecrated Orthodox, was packed. I mean packed, and it's a big church.
I can't find statistics for a population of the area outside Batumi, but I can't imagine that rural folks outnumber urbanites. Even if the rural population has a far greater proportion of Muslims, I still can't get the numbers to show that the vast majority of Ajarans are Muslim. But I keep reading this (as if it's the reason the autonomous region is autonomous, and as if it's going to stay that way forever).

Maybe somebody out there has these figures, but I can't find them. It's just bandied about as if it's the received wisdom -- "Of course the majority of Ajarans are ethnically Georgian Muslims" -- without any proof.

I don't know what this has to do with whether it will remain an autonomous area or seek independence from Georgia or reintegrate without skipping a beat, but it seems like it would be an interesting thing to know.


Retraction

Apparently, Nino jumped the gun a little. The rector of the university has not resigned. I'll try to find out what the story is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Happy Birthday to My Mother!

She’s been very understanding about what must be a completely nerve-racking situation. I know her inclination is to tell us to get the heck out of Dodge, but she has listened to all our news and has even expressed enthusiasm for our exploits.

So, here’s to you, Toodie! Gau-mar-JOS! Gau-mar-JOS! Gau-mar-JOS!

Mr. Pooley, Again

Well, it wasn't a fluke. The guy got back to me again! Extra credit points to Time magazine. The missing piece of information was that the story was filed on Saturday, at which point I probably would not have taken exception to it at all.

He answered me point by point, and while I don't necessarily agree with him, I most assuredly do appreciate the time and effort it took to do this. Which brings up the question, don't these people have enough to do besides respond to people like me? I mean, I am not a journalist, not an expert in political theory or practice, not a pundit in any way (unless you're talking BtVS). I am incredibly lucky to be here in the right place at the right time, in a situation where I have access to lots of people who know more than I do and who do not mind answering my questions. So thank you, Mr. Pooley, and thank you to the 14 readers who are not members of my family.
Questions about Children of Shev and Ajara

Pete writes:
“i have a professional interest in georgia and have been watching the political goings for several months. i'm intrigued to see how this pans out. i think abashidze and the whole ajara situation will be key.

someone told me yesterday that burjanadze and sakashvili are just "children of shevardnadze". not sure i buy that description. seems to me that shev lost the plot several years ago.”

MN responds:
Well, it's true that both Saakashvili and Burjanadze were intensely mentored by Shev. And also true that Burjanadze's father is deeply entwined with some extremely preferential treatment when state stuff was being handed out--he has the exclusive contract for flour (however that works).

But, just as the best socialists were children of the upper middle class, these two traveled and were educated abroad, and they know there's a better way for Georgia than these silly Mobutu-style economics. Mercedes Benz SUVs don't go over well with the 14 lari pension crowd, especially when the pensions haven't even been paid!

The Ajara situation is going to be fascinating over the next few months and years. I don't think the Ajarans have the same "light at the end of the tunnel" that the rest of Georgia had. I think they have been so cut off they can't see a way out. I heard that after Shev resigned, all the other TV stations except Ajara TV suddenly went off the air. I don't know whether he has managed to control cable or internet access, but my guess is he has, at least to some extent. So I don't see an uprising coming in Ajara.

On the other hand, he is pretty old, and he has just lost his wife last year. His son-in-law has disappeared with a bunch of money (and a bad coke habit). So all is not well in the Abashidze household.

What people tell me here about the ethnic situation, though, is that the Abkhazians don't consider themselves Georgians, nor do the Ossetians, but that the Ajarans certainly DO. The people on the ground in Batumi probably don't really want to be separate, but the money skimmed off from customs is pretty tempting, probably tempting enough to look the other way and enjoy their "security." At least for the time being. If things start to go well in Georgia economically, then there will be additional pressure to reintegrate, I think.

I am inclined to think that things Ajaran will just be in a kind of holding pattern for the foreseeable future. Russia has evidently said to Abashidze that he must pipe down. Maybe he'll choke on an Ajaran khatchapuri and save the world from himself. That would be simple.


Big Doings at the University and Elsewhere

I live a block and a half from the main campus of I. Jviakhishvili Tbilisi State University, and boy are they making a lot of noise today. It’s a concert of what sounds like euro-pop-rock with a few traditional Georgian polyphonic tunes thrown in. (Again, it never ceases to amaze me that the teenagers know these songs.) There was a lot of what sounded like “Gau-mar-JOS!” and general cheering.

So, I called my friend Nino at the Center of (!) American Studies to get the news about what was going on, and it seems that the rector of the university has resigned. I don’t know much about this guy’s offenses, but if it’s anything like others I have heard of, it involves taking the budget of the university for himself and buying dachas, fancy cars, trips to Europe for the family, and generally consuming conspicuously and oligarchically.

Nino is ecstatic. She says, “Now we have hope. We have had nothing [meaning: books, computers, pens, toilet paper for the bathroom], and now we hope we will be able to do our jobs.” She is understandably proud of her countrymen, and her main point of pride is that the whole thing has been accomplished nonviolently. She is happy that no one is crapping on Shevardnadze, and I think this represents a pretty general opinion. This tone was definitely set by Mikheil Saakashvili, who—though he has a reputation for and a history of being a hothead—took a very mature and diplomatic course in dealing with the resignation.

Nino is also thrilled that this will set an example for the rest of the world. Other people who are well-connected cronies and who are taking advantage of their appointments had better be on their toes, she thinks. “Now people everywhere will know how to deal with this kind of situation,” she said. “They will know that there is a peaceful way to change.”

Other people I know are not so happy. Our math tutor is a young lady whose family is (or has been until now) well connected, and she looks as through she is in a state of shock. I have met her family, though, and I don’t think these people have anything to worry about. I have seen no evidence that anyone is out to clean house indiscriminately, and these folks have been doing their jobs conscientiously.

The rector of the Music Conservatory is a case in point. She was appointed by Shevardnadze, but she has taken her job very seriously. She has raised funds from corporate and international sponsors to renovate the buildings. She has worked tirelessly to promote her students and the institution internationally. She gave us a tour of the place back in September, and seeing what a wonderful job she has done getting the building worked on bit by bit and how she was treated by the students as we walked through the halls left no doubt in my mind that she’s one of the forces for good here. Her next priority is to solve the problem of a serious shortage of musical instruments.

Contrast this with the rector of the Academy of Art, who reminds me of a toad. Back in September, we finally saw him one day, after he had repeatedly canceled appointments trying to avoid the meeting. Without going into any details, the very unpleasant encounter seemed to involve a missing kickback. His sartorial sense was unique. His three-piece suit was made of a fabric that looked like bilious green and beige cheap nylon tweed upholstery. It was so thick it hardly bent. And the telephone. The telephone! Left over from a 1970s-era PBX, it was very wide and had a dial, a hefty handset, and many square buttons. This is a sign of being an incredibly important person in the U.S.S.R. But wait, there’s a problem here—THERE IS NO U.S.S.R.! This experience was obviously meant to put us in our places, but it was like something out of Monty Python: hilarious, not intimidating in the least.

The main building of the Art Academy is a grand Beaux-Arts palace that is, of course, falling to pieces. There is an unheated and crumbling back building of nine stories where Clif has been sneaking in to teach a book arts course guerrilla-style. This building has an elevator that only goes to the 9th floor, so the students must then walk down two flights in a completely dark stairwell to get to the 7th floor where they have been hiding. (Or, I suppose, they could walk up 7 dark flights.) There is a paper cutter there, but years ago someone tried to cut a litho stone on it, and it broke. (It has a really fetching hammer and sickle cast into the top. We’d love to buy them a new one and take it home. But how?)

There has been money allocated for maintenance, heat, and repair, not to mention materials, of which there are none, not even paper. I’d like to go take a look at the rector’s home sometime, just to see. Long story short, this guy has been obstructive and hateful for three rounds of Fulbrights, and I think he can go to Hell. In fact, I think he probably will, by the end of the week. I’ll update as soon as I hear something about his fate.


The Morning (er, the Afternoon, um, I Mean, Evening) After

Well, it was sort of a lost day for many of us in Tbilisi, and not just because of that cheap cognac, either. I spent the day catching up on the dishes and the laundry, and obsessively consuming the news. It’s more like an emotional hangover if you can imagine. I even had to take a nap, and this after getting up at 12:30 in the first place!

So anyway, I have been consuming vast quantities of mass media, and here are a couple of things I have found interesting:

From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

While the U.S. largely remained on the sidelines, the Russian daily "Kommersant" says Moscow seized a last-chance opportunity to regain some influence in Georgia. "The turn that events were taking forced Russia to urgently reconsider its policy," the newspaper wrote. "It became clear that [Moscow] should start building bridges while there was still time."

However, Russian foreign-policy analyst Andrei Piontkovskii believes Ivanov's mediation is actually the result of a deeper change in Russian policy. "For once, our diplomacy played it successfully. What is being done now is a step to correct the fundamental mistakes [Russia] has been making -- this dividing into pro-Western and pro-Russian," he said. "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin, Ivanov, everybody speaks about our integration with Europe, but when, say, Georgians or Ukrainians say the same thing, then real hysterics begin. We have to move away from the paradigm that pro-Western means anti-Russian."

Piontkovskii says the events in Georgia can be seen as the fruit of a joint working group set up after the last summit between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush aimed at "cooperating instead of competing in the CIS."

Piontkovskii, who advises the joint working group, says events in Georgia show the new approach is succeeding. "The first such example was Azerbaijan. You may have noticed that the elections, the transfer of power, happened there with the silent approval of both Russia and the U.S.," he said. "It looks like Georgia could become a second such example of the new Russian and U.S. policy in the former Soviet zone -- the coordination of their interests."


Is this just wishful thinking? I really hope this is the case. Putin’s view on the subject seems to depend on who’s doing the reporting. Pro-Western rags are saying that he is scathing in his criticism of Shevardnadze for letting the situation get this bad in the first place. Pro-Russian organs are saying that he is scathing in his criticism of the opposition for resorting to extreme tactics. It seems reasonable to me that, from his point of view, both things are true.

On the subject of wishful thinking, could it be that this has been another example of a new(ish) paradigm for revolution? And that this example is another brick in that paradigm’s structure? I would like to think that morphic resonance or some such factor could make it so that further political upheavals could forever after be as peaceful as this one has been.


Whither Now, Nino?

As I understand the Georgian constitution, acting head of state Nino Burjanadze must call for new presidential elections within 45 days. I’m not sure that she is required to call for new parliamentary elections in that time frame; in fact, the status of this parliamentary mess is probably not anticipated in the constitution. What is happening is that she has completely thrown out the results of the elections of November 2. So, she has called for both presidential and parliamentary elections in that time frame.

Before Shevardnadze’s resignation yesterday, we ran into a couple of the guys from NDI, and the opinion of one of them was that new elections will take from six to nine months to organize. Now, this was before the change in administration, but he certainly knows the law. As I see it, one problem is those voter lists. IFES helped to prepare the lists, but the ones they helped put together may have been flushed. Another problem is voter education, not to mention poll workers’ education, which was Clif’s biggest frustration in Martvili and environs. We just saw an ad on Russian TV that was a kind of infomercial explaining the ballot for their upcoming elections. This seems like a good idea. One thing that is probably not an issue is the candidate list, since this is just a do-over for the parliament.

It looks like an uphill slog to me, but I am going to do everything I can to help out this effort. Feel free to donate to either of the abovementioned NGOs.

Who’s the Boss-to-Be, Anyway?

Time magazine, Europe, had a truly obnoxious article that is, um, inflammatory at the very least. I fired off an e-mail taking issue with five specific points: (1) their characterization of Saakashvili as "radical"; (2) of the country as "in chaos"; (3) "its territorial integrity threatened"; (4) the "raging crowd"; (5) and Nino Burjanadze as "compound(ing) the confusion" by "proclaim(ing) herself interim president."

This is something I’ve seen so much speculation about: What will happen when both Saakashvili and Burjanadze decide to run for president? Maybe it’s just me on my optimistic high, but don’t you think they’ve had time to work that out? Don’t you think they know that if it came down to an internecine struggle, the whole opposition movement would have been pointless? I’ll just continue to be (perhaps irrationally) exuberant until I see evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, in a surprising move, a Mr. Eric Pooley, European editor of Time, e-mailed me back to assure me that they do indeed have a correspondent in Tbilisi, though I was right to guess that the man who had written the article in question had filed from Moscow. He promised to check out my objections. Even if he doesn’t, he gets points for writing back in less than 24 hours, something the AP didn’t do.

Can you tell that I’m going to turn into one of those old people who harangue news outlets? “Uh-oh. Here’s another letter from that Meador woman! Who gets to open it today?” At least I know better than to use all caps.

The bottom line on how I feel about this all today is that I know tough days are ahead. Some of the speed bumps are marked and we can all see them. Some invisible potholes will catch everyone by surprise. But I am not going to let go of what it felt like last night to see all those thousands of people completely ecstatic about what they had been able to accomplish.

Monday, November 24, 2003

A Good Question

Daniel writes:
In the photos and videos that I have seen, many of the Burjanadze and Saakashvili supporters are waving a white flag with a red cross, with a small red symbol in each of the four white areas. I know the official “white, black, and deep red” Georgian flag, but I have never seen this other flag before. Is this the flag of St. George? It looks almost exactly like the English flag of St. George (the official flag of England, and part of the United Kingdom’s flag). Are the small red symbols Georgian roses? Is the official flag considered to be “tainted” by association with Shervardnadze? Could we expect a new national flag soon?

Mary Neal responds:
The white flag with the red cross is the ancient flag of the Georgian nation, what era I'm not sure. It has been adopted by the National Party, the party of Mikheil Saakashvili. The Burjanadze-Democrats have a dark blue flag with a maroon and white curvy striped block in the upper left. Zurab Zhvania's party, the Democrats before they morphed into Burjanadze-Dems, is a yellow field with a green tree. And, as I'm sure you saw on Clif's photo essay, the Revival Party has that attractive blue flag with a circle of gold stars.

I don't think there has been any talk of replacing the national flag. I would be surprised if that happened, because after all the ancient flag is now the flag of a particular party. The national flag, maroon field with black and white rectangles in the upper left, symbolizes either (1) the blood of the Georgian people or (2) the joy and happiness of the Georgian people--take your pick, I've heard both. You do see this color a lot around here, so it is somewhat of a national color, I guess. The black represents the nation's past tragic history and the white represents its hopes for the future. This was the flag of the very brief independent republic after the Russian Revolution and before the Bolsheviks won and made Georgia part of the U.S.S.R. It was re-adopted when the Republic declared itself independent.
The Rose Revolution

Today is the saint’s feast day for St. George, the patron saint of, yes, the nation of Georgia. On this day we are supposed to find every Giorgi we know (not an easy proposition here) and give him congratulations, so of course we congratulated our neighbor, Gio. We went down to the protest with him and his mother and her friend, a fascinating woman who is a university professor here. On the way, we looked out over Republic Square and we saw a breathtaking sight. The whole range of the High Caucasus mountains looked as if it was right there on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Some kind of atmospheric condition (like Foehn?) rolled in, and the low humidity made the mountains absolutely clear. We could even see Kazbegi, which is a long way away, but there they all were. It was a sign!

We went down to the Parliament building and over to the Chancellery (the president’s office) building just to see what was happening. It was a huge and happy crowd, singing and dancing with their flags. We just kind of wandered around and took a few photographs without getting really close to the front of the Parliament building. We did go inside the fence at the Chancellery, but only to hear the singing. The giant flag that was carried over the heads of the protesters the first night they came out into Freedom Square has been suspended from the roof of the Chancellery. Most people were doing the same thing we were, just hanging out and taking in the upbeat atmosphere.

We went home and rested for a while and decided to go out to the neighborhood Indian restaurant for dinner (though I can’t really say it’s all that, you know, Indian). Elizabeth and Lado went with us, and Richard and Tom (other expats we know) showed up with another friend of theirs. It was a lucky thing we picked that restaurant because they have a TV mounted on the wall. For most of the time we were there, it was a split screen on Rustavi 2 (the station President Shevardnadze really hates), and it was showing the crowd at Parliament on the left and Shevardnadze’s official residence on the right.

Lado translated for us. Foreign Minister Ivanov from Russia was doing some kind of shuttle diplomacy, going from Saakashvili and Burjanadze to Shevardnadze at the official residence. We couldn’t really follow what was happening, and that was incredibly frustrating, but we all assumed that whatever deal was being discussed would still be going back and forth tomorrow. Then, the scene cut from the residence to the airport, and the president’s plane was shown, with people running back and forth.

Again, it was not really clear from what we could see and hear in the noisy restaurant, but Lado turned to us and said at one point, “I think that’s it. I think the president has agreed to resign.” We paid our bill PDQ and ran out into the street. There were a few cars speeding by with flags and horns honking, but only a few more than there had been last night. But as we walked down Rustaveli and got closer to the Parliament, the noise grew louder and louder. By the time we got within several blocks of Parliament, it was total mayhem. It was such a great experience to walk down the street and watch the news spread.

In front of the Parliament building, we bought a bottle of cognac and a few plastic cups, and started toasting—along with the rest of Georgia. We screamed, “Gau-mar-JOS!” (victory!) three times along with everyone else. The crowd was beautiful! One woman who heard us speaking English waved and blew kisses at us. Another man trotted out his one phrase, “Thank you very much!” I got to speak my few words of Georgian: “good!” “beautiful!” “wonderful!” which, of course, brought down the house.

This experience was like I imagine Mardi Gras must be, but even better, because people’s entire souls were involved. They are so proud of themselves for having brought down a government that had bled them dry without any blood being shed. It’s being called the revolution of the rose because of the flower Mikheil Saakashvili brought into Parliament.

The noise was deafening, but it was so intoxicating to be part of this! We ran down Rustaveli, slapping hands with people driving by in cars. Wilson was absolutely crazed. A friend of Elizabeth’s gave him a plastic whistle (which I hope has disappeared from our lives forever) and he blew it over and over. It was really wonderful to watch people watching him. He is a blond child with a safety yellow parka, i.e., he is NOT Georgian, and his enthusiasm really touched people.

I don’t know any of the details of how this all worked out yet. We have just spent a few hours out on the street, and it is after 2 a.m., so I am exhausted. I promise to pay attention tomorrow to the down-and-dirty political aspects, but for now, it’s great just to be part of this.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Spin

President Shevardnadze issued a statement from his office that says, "The armed attack on the president has ended without casualties. President Shevardnadze is alive. An armed coup has occurred in Georgia."

(!)

Only trouble here is that it occurred on live television, and everyone saw it. No arms. Not even remotely a question of casualties.

I wonder how long it will take some news service to take the fallacious implications of this statement seriously.


Confession

OK. We went down to Parliament. Gio and his friends stayed with us, though we really didn't need it. Gio's mother was there; there were people with babies there; it was Not a Problem. No sign of police--they had melted away and gone home. People were holding candles and watching the giant video projection screen that I guess Ajara TV had abandoned when they ran away. There wasn't even that much public drunkenness! Gio and his friend gave us a ride home. We rode back up Rustaveli with Wilson whooping out the window and Gio waving a flag. It was not, however, a National Party flag or a Georgian flag. It was Guns 'n' Roses. Clif says we should e-mail Axl and tell him that his party was victorious.
Burjanadze Speaks

Also, an interview with Ryan Chilcote by videophone.

[Do you call yourself the acting president?] I did not declare myself acting president. I said until the question of the president's resignation and his activity is clear I am acting for the constitution.... We don't need any bloody revolution in this country. We guarantee full security for the president and his family and other members of his administration.... No internal forces will shoot on their people. It was the case today. You saw that police opened the streets and let people into the parliament.... [The interior ministry will not use force?] I have not got any guarantee from the interior ministry, but I have guarantee from the police lining the street and from the soldiers and that they will not shoot the people.... It is really sad. President Shevardnadze had a big chance to make this country one of the most beautiful countries and a real democracy.... Until today I always tried to stress that for us the most important problem is to have real parliamentary elections, not an appointed parliament. If the president will decide to call new parlimentary elections ,and new presidential election, it will be some way out of this conflict.... We need revolutionary reform without revolution. I really did not want any kind of revolution even gentle. But he decided not to speak with opposition, so it was no choice but to make revolution.... [Is there an opposition plan to take power? A plan? So far, only the hope that you would take over.] I promised a lot of things, no, not a lot but serious. First, our political orientation: we want to be part of the European family, the Atlantic Treaty, of course good neighbors with Russia. Human rights, democracy, and corruption are all problems. [Shevardnadze called this a coup. Is that fair?] No. It was the will of the Georgian people. They didn't allow illegal parliament to declare themselves. It was a parliament appointed by Shevardnadze and state ministers. Georgian people will not allow anybody to do something like this, not Shevardnadze, nobody. [What are your plans?] Main plan, security for everyone, for president, for people in the street, for peace. [What do you want Shevardnadze to do?] I prefer to declare new presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible. [And if the president stays and calls for new elections?] People will not be happy, but I would agree. [Are your actions in line with the Georgia constitution?] Yes. People have the right to work, to elect parliament, and to defend their freedom. The constitution was broken by Shevardnaze when they were not allowed to have free and fair elections. [How much support do you have from the general population? And what would you say to people who don't support you?] Most people support the opposision. 70 percent or 80 percent supported the opposition. Of course people don't always support us. We will give them an opportunity to express their opinions. We don't want a dictatorship.
Misha Speaks

Mikheil Saakashvili was interviewed by Ryan Chilcote of CNN by videophone. Here are some quotes, typed quickly as he was speaking.

[On going in to the Parliament] People went in, we had our hands up to show we were not armed. The police did not fire.

This is a velvet bloodless revolution. I have never seen the Georgian people so united. Do I look like the leader of a coup? I have no weapons. I have no armed people at my command.

[Ryan Chilcote passing along a question from CNN international anchor, asking whether it's a problem if Burjanadze has declared herself interim president.] We are unified. She is the legitimate interim leader.

We want to negotiate transition, but we do not accept the status quo.

It's very important for us to keep quiet, constitutional order.

We need to have normal lives. Georgia had a middle-class mentality just a few years ago.... We are destitute; we are desperate; we are poor.

[on the Ajaran protesters] We let them go. We told them, go on with your lives.

[on Shevardnadze] We guarantee his safety. He can stay in this country, he can go anywhere else.... People don't like him, but they don't want to see him in prison or especially killed.... If he wants to stay here, that's fine.


The Opposition Ascendant

It's about a quarter past six local time (GMT +4), and the worst of it seems over. We watched the whole thing on television, changing channels compulsively, looking for the best feed. We also kept in touch with Elizabeth and Lado, who were down at Freedom Square today. So here's the story, from our point of view.

Last night, after the cars and buses all arrived, a crowd gathered in Freedom Square. It was late and cold, and the wind was blowing so hard. They kept to themselves, away from the Ajaran Revivalists up the street in front of Parliament. At one point the crowd started to ooze a little closer to Parliament, and Nino Burjanadze came out with a megaphone, and asked them to come back and not provoke anything. Good woman. The night passed peacefully.

The big "meetingi" occured as scheduled at 1 p.m. this afternoon, and Freedom Square was completely packed. The people spilled out into the adjoining streets and squares, and they were packed in tight. After a bit, part of the crowd, led by "Misha" Saakashvili, headed for the chancellery building, where President Shevardnadze's office is. They were going to give him one hour to resign, then . . . um . . . I'm not sure. Be really mad, I guess.

Anyway, they got there to the square outside the chancellery and hung out for a bit giving speeches before some of them tried to get past the fence, or around the other way, into the building. Down a side street, they broke through, and the police fired tear gas and raised a few night sticks. But after the small cloud had started to disperse, they stepped aside and let the protesters through. The protesters hugged and kissed them.

Turns out Shevardnadze was already over at the Parliament building, where the Ajaran Revivalists were still on the front steps, though their numbers had dwindled even more quickly than they have been for the past couple of days. I think they must have been outnumbered by better than 20 to 1 right down the street.

"Misha! Misha! Misha!" the crowd yelled, and he made his way down the street, and--holding a long-stemmed red rose--walked in to Parliament, where the president had just convened a largely empty chamber an hour later than the scheduled opening. Saakashvili yelled some stuff at the president (I sure do wish I understood kartuli!), and the president was hustled out by bodyguards.

Then, the crowd of opposition protesters came in, the members of Parliament ran out, and there was much celebration. Nino Burjanadze came in after a bit and spoke. Later, a brief incursion by the men in black leather was brief and pointless. The whole time this was going on, all the different TV stations had their own cameras in the chamber. Most were up on the media balcony, but the Ajaran station was shooting the entire thing from a low angle, with no video lights, so it looked as creepy as possible.

Outside, the president had to make his way through the crowd--the Revivalists having largely melted away--and he was driven away in a car surrounded by trucks with machine guns. The protesters backed a dump truck up and tried to move the buses. I don't know how that effort came out. More later.

The crowds outside the Parliament building are pretty excited. They tore the blue flags off the fancy loudspeaker buses and jumped around on top of them. They're just kind of celebrating in the street now.

Saakashvili made a brief statement in English, and after reaffirming that this had proceeded like a velvet revolution, he said, "The police did not stop us. We didn't use any arms."

Nino Burjanadze said (according to www.civil.ge), "We have gained the victory today. The world should see that Georgia will never live under conditions of dictatorship. Now everything depends on us. We should secure order to avoid any provocations and bloodshed in the country."

She asked the security forces to help prevent provocations, and said that new parliamentary elections will be held in the near future, and that these will really reflect the will of the Georgian people.

I'll update as things change, but it looks like the government has fallen, and that the new folks are committed to the idea of holding new elections rather than just taking over. The good guys win.

Friday, November 21, 2003

A New Development

Events are moving quickly tonight. Georgia's Security Council chief, Tedo Japaridze, has called for the newly elected members of parliament to dissolve immediately after calling for new elections. He called the elections a massive fraud. Just like the television guy's resignation, he apologized for his boss and ally (former, I guess), saying that there are members of Shevardnadze's inner circle who have misinformed him and kept information from him. Again, I think this shred of loyalty is really sad.
Kmara Strikes Again
Someone at Kmara likes Nine Inch Nails. I just saw a new commercial on TV that was truly wonderful. With "La Mer" playing on the soundtrack, there are scenes of a young man and his father at home. They appear and fade out, alternately, as they get up, eat breakfast, and get dressed. The young man puts on a Kmara shirt and picks up a flag, and the father puts on camo and his police gear. They go out the front door together. The slogan at the end says, "Together, we will win."

Their other commercial, the one with the 11 million euro villa, has a soundtrack of Queen's "I'm Going Slightly Mad." Cool taste.
Primitive Hominids in Georgia:
Some Are from Dmanisi, Some Are from Batumi


Dmanisi
Today I went to hear a talk by fellow Fulbrighter Martha Tappen about her project, a paleontological dig at Dmanisi in south Georgia. Some of this work was published in Scientific American’s November issue, but it was great to hear her talk about it in more detail. First of all, she is a brilliant lecturer. She is entertaining, anecdotal, and funny, but I realized—since I was taking copious notes for Clif who had a class to teach—that her talk was extremely well organized. My notes turned into an outline, all by themselves. To be able to do this is quite a gift, and I enjoyed it immensely. So, any students at the University of Minnesota who want to take a fascinating course, I highly recommend her.

The gist of what the dig at Dmanisi has shown is that hominids left Africa 1.3 million years earlier than previous evidence has shown. There are multiple hypotheses about why this happened, and the really interesting thing about this site is that it gives evidence against many of these hypotheses.

The site at Dmanisi is fascinating in itself. A triangular promontory at the confluence of two river gorges, it was a citadel and a stop on the Silk Road. It is tucked into the lower Caucasus Range, and it looks spectacularly scenic. Archaeologists have been working at the medieval site there since the 1930s. They found, among other things, giant storage pits in the ground where grain was stored. Much to their surprise, they began finding rhinoceros and giraffe bones from extinct Pleistocene-era species. These species are well-documented as to age, and the stratigraphy was well described. The fortuitous thing about this site is that it is bounded, top and bottom, by relatively impermeable layers, so that the bones in the friable layers in the middle were well preserved from crushing. However, the first hominid specimen, in spite of its seemingly good pedigree, was dismissed.

But more and more pieces kept turning up, and after a while, there was no arguing with what was there: several different individuals and pieces from all parts of the body interspersed with a wide variety of animal remains. Martha said, “It looks like sometimes these guys were hunters, and sometimes they were hunted. At times, they were definitely cat food.”

Her specialty is taphonomy, figuring out the exact stories behind the bone fragments: whether they were marked by human tools or animal teeth, how they were broken, and how they came to be concentrated where they were found.

Martha has been working there for four seasons, and every year they make great discoveries. Imagine, if you will, being part of the team producing the biggest leaps since the Leakeys in the knowledge of our origins. It is fabulous just to be at one remove from it! I feel like I own a piece of this project now.


Batumioids
I don’t have much to add to Clif’s photo essay on the Ajaran occupation of Rustaveli Avenue. I think that said it all. (But I’ll add “menacing,” because I like the word.) Early this evening we went out to the TMS gallery on Rustaveli to see the opening of an exhibition of painting. The artist is a friend of Gio’s, the young man who lives downstairs from us. (Gio has adopted, and been adopted by, Wilson, who was desperate to go to this opening, because he is Gio’s friend and wanted to show his support.) Rustaveli was getting more and more menacing as we made our way toward the gallery. The goon factor is incredibly high: trenchcoats that looked as if they might be hiding automatic weapons, intensely grim faces, groups of stout leather-clad men watching us VERY closely. That does not feel good.

Tbilisi’s creative types were out, though, for this opening. The unfortunate artist, a nice-looking very painterly fellow named Kote, was very disappointed that the turnout was low. But there were at least 50 people there at any one time, and they were coming and going, so the artists of Tbilisi proved that they are not going to be held hostage by the primitive hominids of Batumi, the capital of Ajara. Go artists! Beat goons!

One of his paintings was called “The Downward Spiral: At the Heart of It All!” An Aphex Twin fan!! I felt all warm and fuzzy.

As we were leaving, we looked down Rustaveli and saw the riot police forming up, helmets and shields in place, so we bugged out and went directly home (though I must admit we stopped by Zemeli for caviar). The opposition folks are mustering in the provinces, and though we didn’t expect anything tonight, it seemed like the thing to do, plus which, since we couldn’t figure out why the reaction police were out, we thought we’d go watch TV.

We got home, and I tell you, there was the most amazing and inspiring sight on the television. Buses, marshrutny, cars, and motorbikes have formed a column beginning in Kutaisi, in the rain, and have made their way across the country today. As of about 7 p.m. local time, there was a line four kilometers long making its way from Gori to Tbilisi. People are standing four and five deep along the route, cheering, laughing, waving flags, blowing kisses, holding up children. The contrast between these people, who must be frightened of what they are moving toward, but who are going there with joy, and the goons who are waiting for them, tells it all. It looks like Good and Evil. There are tens of thousands of them, and more joining all the time.

When we heard the horns of the approaching cars, we ran out to the street. The main column was approaching Freedom Square from the other side of the river, so as to avoid the blockade along Rustaveli, so we didn’t see the big group. But we did see several buses, marshrutny, and cars of flag-waving exuberant protesters, and it was so inspiring to see. We waved and jumped up and down. Elizabeth and Lado continued to Freedom Square to be part of it, but we turned around and came home, in the dark, because the street lights were turned off. (“I guess that will show those pesky oppositionists!”) When they got back to our apartment, they had two great stories to tell. There was a young man with a flag that was Georgian on one side, and American on the other. They asked him what this meant to him, and he said, “I believe that America has been giving us so much money and support for so long that I believe they are with us,” in perfect English, with a pronounced Southern accent. Turns out he spent time studying in Atlanta. A Georgian in Georgia! The other story is not so nice. Lado heard a policeman saying, “If we just shoot a hundred of them, they’ll go home.”

A “meetingi” (meaning demonstration) is planned for 1 p.m. tomorrow, but Freedom Square is full already. They are not mixing with the Ajarans who are hunkered down in front of the Parliament building, and I hope that remains the case.

I don’t feel any need to be all journalistic and neutral here. I did feel neutral at the beginning of the election mess, because I really didn’t know the characters or the issues (except the obvious levels of corruption, about which more in a minute). But seeing how this has played out has been so energizing and persuasive. And finally, today, the U.S. government did the right thing, and the State Department made a statement about the election. I understand that until the official “results” were released, they could not do this. But, of course, in the current political atmosphere in the U.S., you never know what odious position they (we!) will take for mercenary reasons. So here is part of the statement.

“We are deeply disappointed in the results and in Georgia’s leadership. The results do not accurately reflect the will of the Georgian people, but instead reflect massive vote fraud in Ajara and other Georgian regions.” Thank you, Secretary Powell.

So, the corruption story. Today’s newspapers show a photo of Mr. Shevardnadze’s villa under construction in Baden, Germany. The tab? 11 million euros. I could just cry.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Retraction of Retraction

Even though the channel 9 people called and canceled the live interview, they did apparently show the footage and the mini-interview they had already conducted. We missed it. Clif's translator saw it and said he did not make a fool of himself. That's what we strive for, here.
Michael Jackson

ewww much.

sorry. just had to.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A Voice of Sanity. From Where??

In an editorial from the Japan Times of all places, the issues surrounding the elections in Georgia are laid out in clear declarative sentences. (And I have just learned a new trick. Active links. Will wonders never cease?)

If anyone can argue with their assessment, I'd like to know how. Now that things have slowed down (in anticipation of tomorrow, the legal deadline for releasing the official [read: cooked] election results), it's breathtaking how fast this story has fallen off the list of small items to follow in little countries that we're not sure where they are, or why we should care anyway. Not that there was much coverage to begin with, mind.

[Digression: I may be slightly prickly about accuracy, I'll admit, but when the AP (the AP!) put out a story about the small oil-rich country of Georgia, located on the Caspian Sea, I thought they did deserve a snippy e-mail on the subject of fact-checking. They never wrote me back.]

Anyway, using mostly "small words of just one part" (a game Clif plays with his brilliant sister in which they try to have a conversation in monosyllables), this editorial slams Shevardnadze's regime and all its failures. OK, I'm exaggerating about the monosyllables, but it does use uncomplicated language, which makes it all the more damning. The final two sentences? "An illegitimate government will be unable to govern. More important, however, is the fact that the current government has proven unable to govern."

My only quibble is with the title of the editorial: The Perils of Permissiveness. I'm not sure I get the connection between letting your kids stay up all night with the political situation here. But maybe I'm missing some unknown cultural factor for which "permissiveness" is a code word in Japan, like "stability" or "rights." Those two words are being used a lot here, and I don't particularly care for either one of them.

In other news, the director of the public TV station, Zaza Shengelia, has resigned after a bitter cabinet meeting in which Shevardnadze accused him of biting the hand that feeds him. Shengelia has been a supporter of Shevardnadze for years, but apparently providing any news coverage AT ALL of the opposition was showing disloyalty. I really hate that kind of small-mindedness. Shengelia's public statement reveals his sadness.  

"I do not agree that state television should be governmental. It should belong to the people and I cannot be in charge of television that does not reflect the opinion of the opposition. . . . The president is often in a certain vacuum and people around him, many of whom are quite reactionary, are doing everything to ensure that the president does not have a genuine and clear picture of what is happening in the country," he said.

Apologizing for Shevardnadze, imagine.

During this nasty meeting, apparently not attended by Shengelia, Shevardnadze praised the coverage of a couple of privately owned stations, some of which are funded by money channeled from Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Did I not JUST say that it was highly unlikely that all the money For a New Georgia spent was raised domestically? And I'm NOT that smart about these kinds of things.

The level of completely stupid short-sightedness is mind-boggling in this country.


Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

As of yesterday, I am now forty-six years old. How in the world did that happen?? Well, how it happened this year is that we threw a small party, catered by a Georgian who has recently opened a takeout and delivery restaurant near us (Pomona: 12 Kekelidze, Vere, 23-13-25; Tim). Tons of food, the fanciest birthday cake I've had since the one with the Barbie in it, and much good company. The total bill was absurdly low. We live like oligarchs here. It will be hard returning to New York, where we pay extra to be insulted and are grateful for the opportunity.

Forty-six. Beats the alternative, I guess.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Retraction

Much to his personal relief, the people from channel 9 called up and canceled the interview with Clif. Oh well. That fame didn't last very long, did it?
The Big Mo’

The opposition took a break for the weekend to let everyone go home and get warm. Amazingly, the gas and the electricity have been UNINTERRUPTED since the beginning of the protests. This state of affairs is unprecedented in the last few years. It’s not that people are so stupid as to believe that this will last, but it’s pretty canny on Shevardnadze’s part. Imagine, if you will, being fed up with him but not in a protesting mood. Then imagine your electricity or gas goes off (again), and you have to buy your kerosene from his son’s business to heat your house. Your mood might change, and you might find yourself out on Rustaveli, no?

So, to allow the folks who don’t want to go out and protest personally, but who do want to express their disgust, Mr. Saakashvili planned a city-wide gesture of protest. And just at eleven yesterday morning, the traffic came to a complete standstill—at least in our neighborhood—and horns were honked for one minute, just the way he asked.

Mikheil Saakashvili was interviewed yesterday on CNN International. He sounded so completely reasonable, disappointed with how things have played out, and RIGHT. He was RIGHT! It is pathetic that Georgia had a higher per capita income than Estonia at the end of the U.S.S.R. and that now it is some small percentage thereof. It is pathetic that the Shevardnadzes are the richest family in the country, because of their (what he pronounced as) “luckrative” businesses (although luck had NOTHING to do with it).

We were watching, kind of awestruck, because this was the first time we had heard him speak in English. He struck just the right tone for an international audience in this interview. He did not sound desperate; he did sound thoughtful, but as though the time for “thoughtful” had passed. He is, after all, a graduate of Columbia University Law School, and he worked for the New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. These kinds of institutions tend to produce a smoothing effect.

Mr. Shevardnadze, on the other hand, is sounding a little strained. He has accused an NGO, International Foundation for Election Systems, of faking the voter lists by computer after the Interior Ministry had produced flawless handwritten lists that included everyone in the neighborhood and no dead people. I’d be very interested in hearing how, not to mention why, in the world they could possibly have done this.

To quote President Shevardnadze (in translation provided by the Civil Georgia website www.civil.ge) “Those persons who participated in ballot fraud will be punished strictly. Inaccurate voter lists is one of the serious problems. I failed to find my relatives’ names on the voter lists, while the deceased and those born in 1800 were included on the lists. I demand to create a special group, which will investigate this case.”

Doncha just HATE IT when that happens?

He has also called for banning the George Soros organization from Georgia because they helped to fund the opposition. And I suppose every lari spent here on For a New Georgia’s behalf was raised domestically? Sorry for my skepticism, there.

But things are definitely slowing down and spinning apart. The (Ajaran) Revival Party met this morning at the Sports Palace and is now holding a huge rally in front of Parliament. And striking a more ominous tone, the Zviadists are back, complete with the widow of President Gamsakhurdia. The official name of this party is something like “Fatherland, Faith, Language.” Don’t they know how bad that sounds? Shevardnadze is probably in his office thinking to himself, “With friends like these . . . ”

From where I sit, it does look like the Saakashvili-Burjanadze-Zhvania bloc is a little out of steam. They claim to be planning nationwide opposition movements and to be organizing in the regions. Maybe they’re just home washing their hair and taking a few deep cleansing breaths.

[url for the photo that was here now takes you to another picture, sorry for those who missed it.]


Tune in Tonight

Clif came home for lunch today with a camera crew from Channel 9. They interviewed him briefly and video’d him coming in the front door of our apartment several times. He had already been video’d coming out of the door of the Institute for Culture (several times). They spoke briefly about his photographs and what he will do as an art project. He will appear tonight on Channel 9 at midnight, during their daily news roundup. This is a live show, so he has to go to the studio at that outlandish hour. Never mind that we are up anyway. Luckily, my party is scheduled for tomorrow night, and thus does not interfere with fame.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

A Day Out of Town

Today, Saturday, we decided to bug out and go see some churches. Our art historian friend Keti had told us about one of her colleagues who has a Neva and a lot of background in the field, so Clif called him up (his name is Nodar—I should write science fiction and use Georgian names!) and arranged to go out to Shida Kartli and see some old stuff.

It occurred to me today that we should post a map of Georgia so you can see where this is. I’ll try to do that. Shida Kartli is the heart of the Georgian nation. It includes the territory to the northwest of Tbilisi out as far as the Likhi mountains to the west, and up to the Caucasus range in the north. To the east it reaches to the area around the Georgian Military Highway, and to the south, almost all the way to the same latitude as Tbilisi. These “borders” are somewhat vague. It includes the towns of Mtskheta and Gori, home of Josef Visarionovich Jugiashvili, who gave himself the nickname, “Man of Steel”—Stalin. We will skip the Stalin museum for now.

To the west of Gori there are a couple of old churches that seemed like they might be interesting. All along I had thought that Clif really enjoyed the study of ecclesiastical architecture, but today he admitted that it’s really an excuse to get out and drive around to odd spots. Today was an excellent day to do that. The temperature was in the high 50s and the humidity was zero, so the views were perfect.

The highway to Gori passes through Mtskheta and turns west into the Mtkvari River Valley. It’s not as spectacular as the Alazani, but then again, we never had weather as spectacular as this in Kakheti. To the south, on our left, the hills of the Trialeti Range were covered with frost or light snow just on their tops. But to the north, behind a range of foothills, there were snow-covered pointy-pointy peaks. The snow is brand new, having fallen last week when we had five days of rain in Tbilisi. The sun was shining, and the snow was very white, and the sky was very blue.

Our first stop was Urbnisi. We turned off the highway onto a rough road that led into a village. In these villages, just like the ones in Kakheti, you can’t really see anything. The houses are behind solid metal fences with gates for the cars. You can kind of see the porches, since the main floors are raised a bit, but going through a village is sort of like going through a tunnel. We had to, of course, stop and ask countless people where in this tiny village the church was! We found the church of Urbnisi and went in. It’s a basilica with two aisles and five bays, and it’s really big for a fifth century church. It’s very plain, and much of it has been reconstructed in flat bricks, but the size is impressive. My ancestors were still painting themselves blue, and the Georgians were building these large organized structures. (Yes, I have been to Iona, and we weren’t all being savages. Some of us were civilized Christians, too.) The ground on one side of the church had been excavated, we don’t know why. Nodar was not pleased, especially when we found the two boxes of human bones. Any archeological information that may have existed there was thoughtlessly wiped out by carelessness, not to mention the disrespect factor.

Back out onto the highway, we passed many fruit stands, selling beautiful apples of many varieties, and the occasional meat stand. I have not mentioned this appetizing feature of rural Georgia before, but perhaps now is the time. I don’t know how the farming families decide--whether today is the day to do Wilbur in because they need the money next week for junior’s orthodontia, or because today is their turn at the table on the road. But somehow the decision is made, and it’s bad news for our pig friend. His very identifiable remains are hoisted up on ropes attached to overhead bars, tree branches, or whatever is at hand, and bits are hacked off to order, having been well smoked in diesel fumes. I have not had the nerve to take pictures of this before today, but I think I managed it surreptitiously during a direction-asking stop. Luckily, the men’s committee—those gentlemen who stand around with their hands in their pockets—was meeting at the meat stand, so I got a picture of the whole tableau.

[Our friend Bill the redhead lives in an apartment with an unemployed guy named Irakli and his wife Maya and their daughter. All day every day Irakli and his likewise unemployed friends hang out in the courtyard of their apartment block. Bill calls it the Moose Lodge. I like that so much I think I’ll start using that, too. Clif asked, “What do Irakli and Maya do for money??” Bill pointed at himself. He’s their sole source of income. What happens when the Fulbright student goes home, we wonder.]

Anyway, a few miles down the road, we turned off to go to a church called Samtsevrisi. Nodar told us that Samtsevrisi is an optical illusion, that it looks really huge, but it’s really small. I wondered what that meant. A few kilometers down a very bad road, and many stops for directions, we saw a perfectly symmetrical cross-shaped church perched on the ridge above a village. As we drove closer, it did look sort of massive. We drove past it, trying to find the correct muddy track to take us right to it. Just on the other side of the road was a ruined castle, looking very Scottish. But it had a turquoise residential-type door and a guy sitting outside, so we decided to go ask which was the best path to use to get to Samtsevrisi.

It turned out that the castle was not really a ruin—it’s just the outside defensive wall that is. We pulled up to get some info, and a tall thin orthodox priest came out to greet us. We got out of the car to shake hands and through the gate came two, four, eight, twelve women all dressed in long black dresses and head scarves, and all wearing black down vests on top. The castle is now a convent, although there’s no word for that in Kartuli. They call it a woman monastery. The priest was very young, late twenties at the most, and the nuns were split between middle-aged women and what looked like teenage girls.

Not for the first time, we were the most interesting thing to happen in a very long time. They smiled at us, and after Nodar explained that we were “specialists,” they lent us a nun with a key to the church. She climbed into the Neva with us and directed us to the correct rutted track. Sure enough, when you get right up to the church, it is much smaller than it looks from the road. It has a jewel-like quality, so perfect in its dimensions and its siting. Inside, it is cross-shaped, with only one apse. The other arms are squared off at the ends. Above, there are four squinches, topped by eight smaller squinches, then a dome. Like all Georgian churches of this era (early seventh century), the walls are really thick, but the space inside is very light because of the tall thin windows.

I won’t even talk about the view from this church. You will have to see the photos. As I was taking pictures with my digital camera, the nun (probably about twenty years old) indicated her curiosity about my “apparat,” so I paged back through the pictures I had taken. I’m sure it was her first digital camera with tiny lcd screen ever, and she seemed to like it. Nodar went off for a few minutes to visit the grave of a friend in the adjacent cemetery. Wilson loves these cemeteries because they are all filled with polished dark granite gravestones that have photographs of the deceased sandblasted into the surface. He thinks this is a great idea. I think I agree. Beats a name and a date.

We went back to the monastery to return the nun and the key, shook hands all around, made a 20 lari donation for their trouble, and were off to our next destination: Tsromi. Several kilometers of really bad road later, we arrived. Tsromi is an enormous church, so big that I couldn’t get it all in a frame from inside the churchyard. It was built in 626 to 634, and it has an engineering first: the dome is supported by four columns rather than solid walls. The church as it stands now is mostly restoration; it has been severely damaged by earthquakes. These restorations look great: the same materials are used, the stone carving is recreated, and the structure is generally returned to where it was (although “where it was” is sometimes an educated guess). The original stones are left in their rough condition, and the whole looks like a quilt of the same color but very different textures. At the peak of the entrance wall is a small model church, complete with barrel and witch hat roof. It was really cute.

Inside this church there was a choir loft, so we had to go up there of course. No railing, mind, just a sheer drop 20 feet to hard stone floor. Plus, the steps up to the loft were not just worn down and no longer level, they were also damp and slippery. No one fell, although one of the teenage boys in charge of the key did slip a bit. The apse behind the iconostasis has a faint cartoon—not like Power Puff Girls, rather a guide drawing—of Christ; Nodar told us that there was a mosaic here. It is now in a museum in Tbilisi. Below the domed apse are a few faint frescoes. The columns that hold up the dome leave the interior more open, and the large footprint of the building means that this is one of the few orthodox churches I have been in that seems wider than it is tall.

We ate lunch in the churchyard. Sitting up against the wall in the sun, it was very pleasant and warm. Wilson ran around discovering things, like a merani (interesting), and the rusted remains of a reinforced concrete floor (not interesting, to me at least). Back into the car, we set out for the main road. Just before we reached it, Nodar stopped and wiped off the windshield and, more importantly, the license plate. He didn’t want to be pulled over. There was quite a lot of police checkpoint activity today; I guess it’s to be expected, given the situation in Tbilisi. He has a sign on the dashboard that says “expedition,” and I hope that gives him some small degree of immunity from pull-overage.

Back past Gori we stopped at our final touristic opportunity for the day: Samtavisi. Nodar thinks this the high point of Georgian ecclesiastical architecture. After this (1030–1068), he dismisses all other churches as “late.” The stones are a warm yellow color; it was about 4:30 and the sun was shining obliquely so we could see all kinds of detail in the stone carving. The west façade has a couple of large windows with what looks like Celtic knot-work around them. Here and there are a few stones with inscriptions on them and a few with leaves carved in high relief. These little details seem randomly placed—finding them is like finding an Easter egg. The east façade is largely restored, some work is from the 16th century, some from the 19th. It has two recesses that correspond to the sides of the apse inside. These recesses are bordered with bundles of slim columns. Around to the south side, similar groups of slim columns form a blind arcade. At the corner is a column that turns into what looks like a bishop’s staff, ending in a bunch of grapes that hangs free of the building.

The barrel has the tall narrow windows and the witch hat roof, but between the main shaft of the barrel and the roof itself is a band that is slightly smaller in circumference than the barrel. It makes it look like it tapers a little bit.

Inside, there are frescoes of saints, angels, fantastic animals, and Christ surrounded by what might be John the Baptist and another apostle, I’m not sure. This church also has the four free-standing columns holding up the dome. Three of these are octagonal; the fourth is much larger and square, but it is placed at an odd angle, not square to the outside walls. This was apparently done in the 16th century after an earthquake, and before they knew how to do the job properly I guess. A few carved details that had fallen off the exterior are plopped onto this massive thing, as an apology?

The interior is nice, but the exterior is the thing here. And even though much of the detail is restored, nothing can take away from the perfection of the massing, the proportions, and the interplay between delicacy and solidity.

As we drove back to Tbilisi, we passed Mtskheta and Sveti-Tskhoveli (the church with the living column). Built from 1010-1029, just around the same time as Samtavisi, its proportions are very different. The barrel dome is much larger in relation to the main structure, and it now looks a bit awkward to me. Funny how after you see enough specimens of something, the eye starts to get educated. I really like that process.

We arrived back in Tbilisi tired of bouncing around in the Neva and too worn out to contemplate cooking. As Clif says, “Do you think it is easy being a tourist? It is not. It is hard work. Not just anyone can do it.” So we got takeout and watched Buffy on dvd.

We are almost at the end of season 4, and season 5 (the BEST season) is not out on dvd yet. Bring on the methadone. I’m sure we can persuade James to mule it over for us when he comes in December. It will be released on Dec. 9. I remember living in London and being obsessed with “Dallas,” a program I would not have been caught dead watching if I had been home in the states. So, yes, the charms of Buffy are perhaps a little more piquant because we are in Tbilisi, but I really do like it. I might even attend Slayage. This is, yes it’s true, the academic conference on BtVS.

Sorry for the oversharing, there.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Protests, Week 2: Friday night

Yesterday, Mikheil Saakashvili called for a nationwide protest to take place in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi. And so it came to pass. I had a meeting at the embassy (about which more later) at 4, so I was making my way toward the center of town, but obliquely so as to avoid the protest itself, at the same time everyone was heading toward Parliament. Again, and I cannot stress this enough to those members of our families who are understandably concerned, the mood was jolly and not confrontational. In fact, you can go to this website and download a short video clip of the crowd and see that they are hanging out, being there, and showing their opposition by just showing up. [http://www.civil.ge/Opposition rally in from of Parliament, Tbilisi.MPG] and yes that word is “from”—they are not real good at prepositions here.

Late this afternoon, some Reuters correspondent got all excited because there was an APC near the interior ministry. Of course, this was 2 kilometers from the Parliament building, and it had probably been there all week. I’m sure that is the ONE DETAIL you are hearing on CNN, and it is, in reality, no big deal.

Saakashvili called for general civil disobedience, meaning I guess a general strike. He called for all civil servants, police, and military to quit working for the government as long as Shevardnadze is president. The crowd was huge—some estimates are 30,000—but to me it looks like more people than the protest at Freedom Square last week, plus which people are coming and going, so the total of individuals is undoubtedly much higher.

We can’t for the life of us figure out where this is going. But it is still nonviolent.



The Tao of Flour?

My meeting today at the embassy was with a writer who has written a novella called “pqvildapqvil siaruli.” If you have been keeping up with the Kartuli vocabulary words, you will remember the word that Maka taught me, “pqvili,” meaning flour. Yes, indeed, that first word means something floury, and the second word means “walking.” The novella has already been awkwardly translated into English, with a working title of “The Way through Flour.” I don’t know what that means, nor do I know what the Georgian title means, but this is only a minor challenge in the grand scheme of things.

Rowena Cross-Najafi, the Public Affairs Officer at the embassy, somehow got a hold of this slim volume, and to her surprise she liked it. She asked me if I would be interested in working with the author to improve the English translation. So I took it home and read it, and to my surprise I liked it! The translation was done by a Georgian friend of the author’s who had studied English, but whose command of the language was imperfect. Everyone knows this, so asking me to improve the English was not going to be an insult to anyone. Whew.

So, I met with the author, Mr. Sevarion Nadiradze. He showed up with a dozen roses for the ladies of the Public Affairs Office, and poor man, he was absolutely mortified to find out that I was not on the staff. I evidently deserved my own dozen roses. Magda, the staffer who was translating for me, explained that Georgian men take the flower issue very seriously, thus his mortification. I explained back to her that American women do not expect such treatment, and that any mortification was completely unnecessary. Besides, WTF am I going to do with a dozen roses? I’m not Wendell Steavenson, fer cryin’ out loud, whose BF sent her one thousand roses—in Tbilisi!

In Georgia, the polite way to refer to someone is to say Mr. or Mrs. [First name] rather than [Last name], so I am Mrs. Mary Neal, or Mrs. Merinil, if you spell it in Kartuli. He asked for my name so he could inscribe a copy of the book for me, and I was very happy to be able to write it for him in the Kartuli anaban (literally “a-b” just like “alphabet”).

So, our meeting, which took twice as long as it would have if every exchange hadn’t needed to be translated, went very well. I explained the difference between line editing and developmental editing, and how I thought this maybe needed a teency-weency bit of developmental work.

So, the book. It really is about flour, no kidding. It’s a memoir about the recent war; it has anecdotes about what happened to people and families of Mr. Sevarion’s acquaintance; and it is also a work of magical realism. Hence, the need for a teency-weency bit of developmental work. Actually, the magical realist part is the best. I think what I can do is take the reportorial parts and make them less concrete, and that will be an improvement. And then there’s the English. Here’s an excerpt, pretty much chosen at random. In fact, it’s the first paragraph.

Since my childhood, as I’ve remembered myself, I have had a strange habit. Flour and everything connected to it awoke a keen interest in me. While being young led, I used to stop and stare how the flour bags were unloaded at the baker’s for hours. I also could watch for hours how the bakers were kneading dough. I often stayed on long at baker’s gaping how the specially made, rounded and flattened dough in the thones, was changing its colour and turning into a nice Shoti bread.

See, it’s not that you can’t understand it, it’s just awkward. So I think it won’t be that difficult to improve the English.

The cool thing about the book is that some really weird things happen involving flour. A man is run over by a neighbor’s tractor, and although most everyone gives him up for dead, the village priest buries him in flour, and he is healed. Two boyhood friends find themselves on different sides in the civil war. One tries to shoot the other, but the second one is carrying a giant bag of flour as a gift to relatives, and the bullet does not hit him. He arrives in Zugdidi (yes, there really is a town called Zugdidi) with his black suit covered in flour, and the people think it is a halo.

The last chapter goes off into complete surrealism: magic carpets, manna from heaven, flight to the top of a mountain to eradicate a Russian inscription, I don’t even know . . . Then it’s just over. Here again is one of those places where a bit more involved work will be necessary.

But some of the images are really beautiful—I mean, buried in flour and healed—how wonderful is that?

This project will probably consume me for a few weeks. I would love any suggestions for the title.

Friday, November 14, 2003

The Latest News

Today was calm here in sunny, but chilly, Tbilisi. This morning I went to a spouse's coffee at the home of the embassy's Community Liaison Officer. (There were actually 2 men in attendance, just so you don't think the word "spouse" is kidding here.) I did not wear gloves, but I did try really hard to be polite.

The ambassador's wife was there, and she told the group that the U.S. embassy takes the question of evacuation very seriously, because if the U.S. embassy calls for an evac, then the other embassies do the same, then when all the responsible parties have left, the stuff can really hit the fan since no one's watching. So, it sounds to me like they will try hard to avoid it. In any case, the embassy will not evac us, so we get to go whenever we get to the point where we say, "O.K., that's it. We're out of here."

Right now, we are not at that point. As I said, things are calm here right now. The protest is still peaceful. Rustaveli is still blocked off (see new photos--ambassador's wife scolded me for going down there to take the pictures, said we must not do that any more).

Tonight, Aslan Abashidze has flown to Moscow. We don't know what this means, but I don't like it. Also, Mikheil Saakashvili went on TV to call all Georgians from all over the country to come to the Parliament building Friday to make Shevardnadze resign. So, I'm betting that the roads will be blocked coming in to Tbilisi. The government may take out the cell phone networks if the protest gets really big. BUT, roads are NOT blocked going out, folks, and Yerevan is only 150 clicks away.

In other news: The other day I was googling Georgia and found the web site of a couple who work in foreign service/USAID contracting. They are here now in Tbilisi, so I e-mailed Rachel and we actually got together and had lunch today. She was really delightful, funny, and intelligent. See their site at http://www.r-n-r.com. I tell you it was a social whirl for me, someone who'd really rather be the Cold Mountain goat lady.

So, everybody: DON'T WORRY! Again, we are not stupid and will leave if we need to.


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

No, God Doesn’t Come Down, You Idiot

At least that’s what my friend Lado told me. (Lado would never call me an idiot, though; he is a gentleman, a scholar, and an artist. He is also Elizabeth’s BF, though she suffers from IFO*. I call myself an idiot for not assuming there would be a procedure in place.) If Shevardnadze resigns, then Nino Burjanadze, the speaker of the parliament, becomes interim president, and new elections are called immediately. But Shevardnadze has gone to Batumi in the autonomous area of Ajara today to hold consultations with Aslan Abashidze. They released a statement late today pledging cooperation with each other to get all this unpleasantness behind them. Sounds a little scary to me. On the other hand, Mikheil Saakashvili is also sounding a little Over The Top. It sounds to me like he has staked out a position from which there is neither retreat nor compromise.

What’s to compromise, Clif asks? If you let the fraudulent election results stand, what signal does that send to the rest of the world, not to mention the people here? (I believe that signal is spelled: SCREW YOU!) Russian president Putin has talked with Shevardnadze and doesn’t want any trouble here in this region, which used to be under the control of the U.S.S.R. and before that, of the Russian empire. It all sounds like all these people are getting more and more exasperated with each other.

In an interesting move, The Industry Will Save Georgia, Labor, and Revival parties have accused the television station Rustavi 2 of fomenting trouble by conducting (gasp!) an exit poll during the election. I think this demonstrates a deep lack of understanding of democracy. If what people want, and what they vote for, is dangerous information, then where does that leave this society? Rustavi 2 has been under the sitting government’s scrutiny before; it’s pretty much a thorn in Shevardnadze’s rear. This is the station running the Kmara ad; it is not the station running the Saakashvili-as-Hitler ad.


[Digression: One of the Georgian websites mistranslated the name of the Industrialist party as “Industry Will Survive Georgia” (!) I’m not sure it will.]


In the meantime, things are getting more intransigent here, if that’s what you can call it. Thousands of citizens are standing out in front of the Parliament building in the cold and rain, huddled under giant pieces of building plastic, trying to make their voices heard. They just want the vote to be right. I think they could stomach almost any results from these elections if the process had been deemed trustworthy.

Some people around town are acting as if this is just another protest that will blow over. A few are really frightened, remembering the recent civil war. Most are just carrying on as best they can, hoping it will all miraculously resolve itself. We are so new to this country, though, that we are unable to read the undercurrents. I remember a similar, if smaller in scale, experience in Italy in the early 1980s. This was after the really bad terrorist stuff like the Moro assassination was over. When we were walking around in Florence, a Fiat with 5 policemen holding Uzis tore through the square with sirens blaring. If I had been in the states, I would have known how serious that was on a scale of 1 to 10. But were these guys (a) on their way to kill a plane full of hijackers? or (b) late for lunch? We had NO way of knowing. That’s how I feel here.

So, we are still in a holding pattern. Classes continue at the institutes and schools. The streets are pretty quiet, but stores are open normal hours. Rustaveli Avenue is closed in front of the Parliament. To get from our end to Freedom Square, you have to detour all the way down to the flower market and back up Pushkin. (This made it really easy to get to the American embassy today, since all the marshrutkas had to go close by.) The roads out of Tbilisi are not blocked, but coming in is a problem, especially from certain areas.

But nothing has turned violent.


*IFO is a term introduced to me, if not coined by, the irrepressible Valerie Block, whose books you really should read. It means Intimacy Freak Out, like when someone gets a kitten and wigs out because she thinks it means that she and her BF have a baby or something.


See, I Am Actually Doing Other Things!

I have really enjoyed reading a blog written by an Australian fellow living in Japan and teaching English. (My friend Janet did this and ended up marrying a kiwi. Now she’s a kiwi, the only one from Donelson, I think.) The piece called “Rule 1” at http://no-sword.sieve.net/archives/2003_08_31_index.html has it down COLD about all that stuff I was talking about when I couldn’t take pictures in Kakheti. Thanks for saying it from that side of things, Matt. (Arrrrr.)


Word Coinage

Speaking of IFO (pronounced “iffo”), the other night Elizabeth and I were trading terms that need to be in the larger language pool. My contribution is “mashburn,” meaning to avoid doing something you are really uncomfortable doing, and to spend countless hours dreading it and worrying about it, when you could have just DONE it months ago and spent less time and anguish. Her two contributions were “svaff,” the feeling you have when you are embarrassed for someone who doesn’t have the sense to be embarrassed for him- or herself; and “lindenicity,” the quality certain faces have when the individual features do not add up to what would be expected. An example is Uma Thurman, whose features are not that extraordinary, but who is luminously beautiful. E. says that she is rethinking the concept of lindenicity here in Georgia, because everyone has it, and not in a positive direction, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Goals Change

Not mine. Mine is to survive Georgia. The electoral opposition’s goals have changed. First, they wanted the obviously stinky precinct votes tossed out. Then, I think they wanted everyone, the sitting government especially, to know that they were united in their outrage. Now, they want Shevardnadze’s head (not literally).

What changed in the situation here is that the vote totals came in from Adjara, or Ajara, or Adzhara, or however you want to transliterate. Literally, letter for letter, it’s Ajara, so I’ll stick with that. If you will remember from our trip to Batumi, Ajara is an “autonomous area,” whatever that means. In this case, it means that Aslan Abashidze (and yes, it does mean “lion”) runs the show, keeps a VERY tight lid on things, and keeps all the customs money coming in from Turkey without sending any of it on to the central national government in Tbilisi. I think there has been an uneasy truce between him and Shevardnadze for years: “You don’t send the money? Fine, just don’t challenge me politically.” “You leave me alone to run my personal kingdom? Fine, I won’t challenge you politically.” Power is sticky, and Shevy is well duct-taped at this point.


[Digression: While the Georgians have heard of duct tape, they do not understand or take advantage of its usefulness, which in this country, would be nothing short of miraculous. It’s kind of unbelievable to me that, given their innate sense of tidy and complete maintenance, they don’t use the stuff by the pallet-load.]


The other piece of this deal is that, while Abashidze has never had ambitions outside Georgia, he does now. He has been elected to something like commander-in-chief and given the power to raise an army by the grateful citizens of Ajara. So there’s a carrot and stick operating here, and he’s holding both.

The Central Election Commission was busy counting votes all week. (How long does it take? The results were available over the phone on Monday morning. Speculation is that they needed to see exactly how many votes to cheat and how.) So, when the Revival party of Ajara’s votes came in on Thursday (!), they pushed the totals for that party to the #1 position. This, of course, depends on the fact that 97% of the population of Ajara voted, and that 94% of them voted Revival. What, no one had a sore throat?

This really enraged the opposition, who see that a deal has perhaps been cut between Shevy and Aslan, the total of Revival and New Georgia together approaching 50% now. This also took the Burjanadze-Dems down from mid-teens to just over 7% of the vote. If you remember, 7% is the threshold for proportional representation. So 7.7% is not TOO fishy, huh? I guess the thought was that if the B-D’s had some representation, they’d roll over and play along. Nino Burjanadze then said she would not go along, that she would refuse to recognize the parliament as chosen by these results.

Things threatened to spin out of control at this point. One ugly issue is ethnic tension, which sophisticated Tbilisi residents deny exists. They point out that all ethnicities and religions have lived here together peacefully for 2,600 years. While that is true, the ugly stuff is barely below the surface. The Ajara TV station has a commercial running right now that cuts back and forth between films of Hitler and Saakashvili. There’s one video freeze frame that’s pretty hysterical. It shows Saakashvili on a balcony waving to someone, but it freezes right when his arm is extended. So, yes, it looks like “Heil Hitler,” but I mean, really. . . . Another statement I read said, “We don’t need Zhvania the Armenian telling us what to do!”

Saakashvili calmed things down and made a taped appearance pleading with the security elements—police, swat teams, military—to remember that these are their fellow citizens who have a right to protest peacefully. This seems to have worked. He called for protests in the provinces on Friday, and a nationwide rally in Tbilisi on Saturday. The protests on Friday did happen—although there was a terrifying incident in Zugdidi when mysterious camo-and-balaklava’d guys shot into the ground and air to break up one of the rallies. This, of course, is the footage shown around the world because it’s dramatic and scary, not because it represents what’s happening.

The huge protest on Saturday, estimated at 30,000 people, went off with only one hitch. The security elements blocked ALL roads into Tbilisi. No one was allowed in by car, bus, or truck. While this did keep the number of protesters down, it also really ticked the rest of the country off. Of course, most of the people looking to come in to Tbilisi on Saturday had no intention of going to the protest, they were just trying to go shopping or see family or get home after the work week.

Other than that, it was extremely peaceful, jolly even. They marched from Philharmonia (the round building near us), around the other side of Andropov’s Ears from Republic Square (where all the security elements were mustered), down to Freedom (formerly Lenin) Square for speechifying. As each group arrived, Kmara, the Greens, etc., the crowd parted and made room. At the end of the speeches an enormous National Party flag was hoisted over the heads of a couple hundred people, and the crowd set out for the Parliament Building. Uh-oh, I thought.

It was in front of Parliament that the Soviet troops shot, gassed, and crushed 21 young people, mostly women, galvanizing Georgia’s desire to be out of the U.S.S.R. It was also the Parliament building where Gamsakhurdia’s forces holed up and shot anything that walked by in the early ’90s. It’s a pretty loaded spot.

The protest stayed completely peaceful, though. After it broke up, a group of about 1,500 stayed overnight, vowing to keep a presence there until Shevardnadze resigns. The BBC reporter wrote a nice eyewitness account of this part of the protest. It’s available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3254335.stm (Sorry if I can’t get the link feature to work—copy and paste if need be.)

So that’s where things stand right now. I don’t really see what Saakashvili is trying to do at this point. I mean, even if Shevardnadze resigns, THEN WHAT? God comes down from the clouds and picks a president??

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Tyranny of Maka

Just as I feared, I am not Taking Advantage of Every Aspect of this Big Adventure. This is not to say that I am a complete slug, but it’s hard to get out and see the museums when a certain recalcitrant party, age 11, wants to sit at home and become Jabba the Hut. Every outing requires negotiation; negotiations inevitably break down; both sides revert to negativity, if not violence. Long story short, I am staying at home a lot and knitting. This is pretty fun, actually; Wilson has made friends with some kids downstairs, including one young man of about twenty, Gio, who has a computer with games. Thus, I can read; I can write; I can do yoga; I can knit. I just can’t leave, especially now with protests and riot police right down the street. (I was promised a minder. I am reopening negotiations in that regard even as I write. I am not going to live like this any more.)

The only problem with sitting at home is that every Thursday, Maka comes to clean the house. One of my fears (see August) was that Clif would hire a housekeeper I hated, or who hated me. It’s not that Maka and I have open hostilities, or anything. It’s just that she works really hard washing every surface in the apartment, and there I am sitting on my rear. Tapping at the computer evidently does not count. It doesn’t matter where I go in the apartment to try and get out of her way—that’s where she needs to clean. We have no language in common except my 25 words of Russian, so I can’t say, “Could you please do this area later?” thereby establishing my authority (or whatever I could come up with that would simulate authority). Long story short, Maka is totally in charge on Thursdays. She uses the phone, she takes a shower, she runs the show. But she does do an amazingly complete job on the apartment.

Elizabeth laughed at me, slightly outraged, for letting this happen, especially because Maka is all of four-foot-eight and 85 pounds, and I pay her only 10 laris a day. But the situation is what it is. She has cleaned this apartment for years, so she knows where everything is, and I don’t. Today, things started to look up, though. I fixed the vacuum cleaner for her, and she smiled at me. She also told me a vocabulary word I have been needing: pqvili (flour). So maybe there will be détente with Maka.


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