Georgia Year Four: Visiting Some Old Relatives

It has been a rough semester.

For two months my roommate and I were covering for a vacancy at our school, which meant that I had 27 teaching hours a week (not counting lesson planning or commuting times).  It was a huge pain in the butt and an overall unpleasant experience.

Finally, we got a new teacher at our school which has significantly eased the work burden and has allowed me to start enjoying life again!

Case and point: We took an excursion this weekend!

This week I have several days off!  Today, April 7th, is Khareba, an Easter-related holiday and April 9th is a memorial holiday commemorating the massacre in 1989 by the Red Army.  With that in mind, I decided that I needed to take advantage of the extra day to take an excursion to Dmanisi!

I have been all over Georgia, but I haven’t been to two big regions: Kvemo Kartli and Ratcha.  There’re a few other random places around (Hi, Tusheti!), but KK and Ratcha are the big ones.  I have a map in my apartment that is full of push pins and I wanted to add another, so Dmanisi it is!  Dmanisi is famous for its archaeological site where the oldest humanoid remains outside of Africa were found.  Their names are Zezua and Mzia and if I recall they were dragged off and killed by a saber-toothed tiger back in the day (about 1,500,000 years ago).

First order of business, though, was to find the Marshrutka that goes there.  After a shortish adventure, I found the details at Samgori’s “bus” station and arranged to catch the eleven am marshrutka the next day.

Pete and Damian and I met up Sunday morning at the Freedom Square metro and prepared to hop on the Dmanisi Marshrutka.  While we were waiting for 11 to roll around, we bought some bananas from a wandering lady and appreciated the way that the marshrutka drivers were all play-fighting and laughing when the big guy almost wiped out stepping in a pothole.

Finally, we were on our way!

The road to Dmanisi was really nice!  I haven't been south very often, but it isn't bad!

The road to Dmanisi was really nice! I haven’t been south very often, but it isn’t bad!

Two hours later, we landed in Dmanisi!

 

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This is the view looking out over some garbage near the main market in Dmanisi. There were also some fun cows and a dog to hang out with. The sounds were really village-y and nice! Too bad my camera can’t capture sound in photos!

We were pretty hungry, but we wanted to scope out the museum situation before trying to find food.  In the center of Dmanisi is a huge building with the words “Cultural Center” on it.  We figured that was as good a place to start as any!  We went in and found that it was basically vacant and abandoned-looking, but the lights were on and we could hear angry sounding voices floating through the echo-y halls.

We decided to wander in he direction of the voices, naturally, and soon found ourselves climbing a dark staircase into the post apocalypse.  The floor was covered with dust and strewn with debris, but the voices were getting louder.  We turned a corner and found our way barred by a locked gate.  Behind the gate, however, the wooden door was cracked open and we peered in to discover the room where they apparently keep all of the dug-up pottery!

The Chamber of Secret...Pottery

The Chamber of Secret…Pottery

Back in the hall, Pete was busy uncovering the source of the voices.  In a wonderfully spooky turn of events,

he realized that the voices weren’t coming from our wing of the building at all, but rather from an airduct that led elsewhere.  Nothing to do but climb right in!

 

Just kidding.

Instead, we returned to the lobby where we met a dude coming out of an angry-sounding lecture.  He assured us that the museum was closed on Sundays and that we should come back on Monday.  Fat Chance, buddy!

But, we decided to get lunch instead.  We walked down the one street in town to find a restaurant.  A few minutes later, after exploring most of Dmanisi, we found a house with a sign labeled “Restaurant ‘USO’” and went right in!

Uso turned out to be the nickname of the owner, who was more than pleased to shower us with wine and a variety of Georgian foods (metaphorically speaking).

Damian and I taking pictures of each other taking pictures of food.

Damian and I taking pictures of each other taking pictures of food.

When the chef saw me put some cheese and greens in the bread, she laughed herself silly and pointed, shouting “Бутерьброд!” which is Russian for “Sandwich.” A few minutes later, we had a visitor: Jenni!

Jenni had woken up a bit late and missed the 11 am marshrutka but managed to catch the Noon one and was right behind us!  With her help, we polished off lunch and left to head back to the museum.

But not so fast!  We had made friends with the owners and staff of the restaurant and they wanted us to take our leftover wine with us.  Gladly, we did.  Damian had also been chatting it up with one dude in German and he promised us up and down that he could make a call and get us into the museum.  No such luck, as it turned out.  But the real showstealers were the two Azeri guys hanging out in the main part of the restaurant.  They would not let us leave without saying goodbye.  Or, for that matter, without saying hello.

Here's one of them, with Damian and I firmly ensconced on either arm.

Here’s one of them, with Damian and I firmly ensconced on either arm.

And now even more firmly drawn inward.

And now even more firmly drawn inward.  His friend behind Jenni looked like he wanted to cry when we were leaving.

But don't worry!  Pete got some love, too!

But don’t worry! Pete got some love, too!

Two Azeris and two foreigners, all chilling in a restaurant in Dmanisi.

Two Azeris and two foreigners, all chilling in a restaurant in Dmanisi.

Jenni had the "best" luck of all!  Here she is being almost-kissed by the German-speaking dude who was convinced she was from Nigeria and would become his African Queen/Kitchen Wife.  It was a happy day for Jenni!

Jenni had the “best” luck of all! Here she is being almost-kissed by the German-speaking dude who was convinced she was from Nigeria and would become his African Queen/Kitchen Wife. It was a happy day for Jenni!

See her excitement?

See her excitement?

We finally disentangled ourselves from the friendly fellows at Uso’s and found our way back to the Cultural Center.  The security guard woke up and told us again that the museum was closed.  But Pete was not about to be stymied by a little inconvenience like “Working Hours”.

This face waits for no man.

This face waits for no man.

With his best plaintivity on display, he convinced the guard to call the director.  Minutes later, the director of the museum was there, unlocking the door and letting us into the exhibit!  Gotta love Georgia!

The main event!  Zezua (r) and Mzia (l)

The main event! Zezua (r) and Mzia (l)

Mari showed us around and informed us in broken English about the items on display.  She pointed out which skull belonged to Mzia and which to Zezua and told us about the animals there, too!

Uncanny likeness, don't you think?

Uncanny likeness, don’t you think?

For 1.5 million year-old bones, they have held up remarkably well.  Actually, I have students with worse teeth than these!

For 1.5 million year-old bones, they have held up remarkably well. Actually, I have students with worse teeth than these!

This is what Zezua and Mzia would've looked like if they had skin.  I mean, they did, back in the day, but they don't anymore.  Alas!

This is what Zezua and Mzia would’ve looked like if they had skin. I mean, they did, back in the day, but they don’t anymore. Alas!

With our mission accomplished, we said goodbye to Mari, Zezua, Mzia, and Dmanisi and began our trek back to Tbilisi.  It had been a successful adventure and hopefully the first of many more to come now that spring is here!

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Georgia Year Four: A Bedroom All My Own

It’s a funny thing, my apartment.  A beautiful old Imperial balcony atop a thousand year-old fortress wall.  The building slants, the ceiling is a little cracked, the shower drains poorly, and the kitchen floor is a bit of nasty old linoleum, but I love it all the same.  In the years (Crazy!) that I’ve been living here, I’ve made a few improvements here and there.  Some of them were little changes, others were fairly major.  (Definitely click that last link too.  In case I don’t decide to repost some older photos, you’ll want it as a reference)

This semester, I committed myself to redoing my living room!  It wouldn’t take much doing, I convinced myself.  Just a little furniture shuffle here and some art hanging there.  Well, three months later, I’m finally done!

The renovation of my apartment’s primary room happened in fits and starts.  First and foremost, was to decorate a little.  While walking around the Dry Bridge Marketplace in September with Pauli and Vivien, we found an informational pamphlet that appeared to be introducing President Jimmy Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale to the Soviet public.  Obviously I had to buy it.

It languished on my refrigerator for a long time.  Until one nice weekend when I passed the frame salesmen on Rustaveli Avenue.

President Carter.

Or, as he was known in those days Президент Картер.

This was a very simple step towards making the apartment more livable.  But I had grand plans!

The next bit would be to get another three large frames to hang up some nice artwork I had bought in DC this summer.  While visiting for a few days, Tamuna and I spent one morning with Angela, Vijay, and Katelynn (Talk about a Motley Crü!) visiting Eastern Market and getting some souvenirs.  There was this great section full of retro posters and I bought two from Maine!  One is a buoy, part of a series commissioned to showcase painters from each state, and one is an advertisement from the 1940s extolling the state’s virtues as part of a Come to New England campaign.

The other, major frame I would need was a painting of Old Tbilisi that the art teacher at my school did.  It’s really nice, but really huge and getting it framed was always going to be a hassle.

I never found frames for my Maine posters, but I came up with a clever solution of framing them with nails!  I measured them out and put nails in just the right spots so that the nails would stick out about a centimeter (or less) and hold the paintings in place.  It really worked out well!

I still wasn’t finished, though.  The room still felt to crowded.  The furniture took up all the space and my bed was right smack in the middle of it all.

And that Refrigerator blocking my dresser. God! So inconvenient!

Just kidding, that was a photo from when I repainted the kitchen.

Here’s a normal shot of the apartment, sans paintings, sans furniture-in-nice-places. You can see how it’s a little cramped.

One evening, I decided to just say “Screw it!” and revamp the entire layout.  I didn’t want my bed in the middle of the room anymore.  I didn’t want that TV we never used.  I was tired of having to weave between all the furniture just to get anywhere in the darned place.  So, it was time to change everything!

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Tada! It’s like I have my own little bedroom now!

Here is my big landscape painting in it's lovely new frame!

Here is my big landscape painting in it’s lovely new frame!  Also, you can see that I’ve gotten rid of the TV, bought a blanket and a lamp, and set up a pair of night-table areas for me!

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View from the balcony, of sorts.  But these reforms are more than just functional–they’re also skin deep!  Check out the decor on my table!  Not on is there a table cloth, but there’s also…

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Decorative postcards! Here’s a brief description of them:
I got four postcards in a cafe in Copenhagen in December and two from a Wurst place in Leipzig. They are written in Danish and German, so here are the meanings-

Top Row- “You are the Best!”, A classic view of the Mtkvari in Old Tbilisi, “Sausage Loving Partnership”

Middle Row- “Smile When You Sleep”, “Flying Sausage”, “Which Ought YOU to Wear?” (A British Propaganda postcard from WWII), A ticket to the Strauss & Mozart Konzerte that Marissa and I went to on Christmas Eve 2012

Bottom Right- “Will You Have A Child With Me?”

I also took it upon myself to decorate the hall and the kitchen!  Check these out!

Some more Churchill Museum Postcards and a call to action for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943

Some more Churchill Museum Postcards and a call to action for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943

And lastly, my Christmas present from my brother brightens our kitchen, our newly-renovated kitchen!

Walter White and a Traditional Georgian-costumed Bottle Opener!

Walter White and a Traditional Georgian-costumed Bottle Opener!

So, there you have it!  My newly done apartment in all its glory!  Can’t wait to do the next little project (Maybe repaint the living room?)

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