Funemployed: Going Medieval

Last Saturday, as I sat around in my fluffy robe, contemplating what to do with my afternoon, my phone rang.  It was Sophie, the administrative assistant from my old school.

“Raughley, are you coming?” she asked.

“To what?” I knew Sophie was attending some Martial Arts Exhibition, but didn’t realize I had been invited.

“Come quickly!  I am at the Parliament on Rustaveli!”  Fifteen minutes and one rushed shower later, I met Sophie on Freedom Square in the midst of a scrum of mostly-authentically-dressed Georgian warriors!

The kid in back is sporting a modern traditional leather jacket with jeans.

This fellow here is wearing a traditional Georgian Chokha. I like this outfit most of all!

Just wait for the no-face dancing photos later!

Try as I might, I never was able to catch the faces of these girls in their Abkhaz dresses.

Everyone was marching past my house and then over the Baratashvili Bridge towards Riqe Park where a stage had been erected in Europe Square.  Even the kids got involved!

Pretty darned cool, right?

Pretty darned cool, right?

As we carried on, walking, talking, and getting ushered out of the formation by a squad leader, we marveled at the craftsmanship of the real-looking weaponry.

We call double-bladed axes "ormagi najaxi"!

Here we’ve got a bow and arrows, a double bladed axe, and some assorted swords and spears.

A lot of the weaponry kept it simple.  This is a najaxi.

A lot of the weaponry kept it simple. This is a najaxi.

While other weapons were more ornate.  The Chokha has little breast pockets for holding rifle cartridges.  Cool-looking and practical!

While other weapons were more ornate. The Chokha has little breast pockets for holding rifle cartridges. Cool-looking and practical!

There was a wide array of different costume styles, though, which was pretty neat!

There was a wide array of different costume styles from the various regions of Georgia, though, which was pretty neat!

We even got to see the executioner himself!

This is probably the scariest photo of the day.  It's a good thing Sophie didn't look behind her!

This is probably the scariest photo of the day. It’s a good thing Sophie didn’t look behind her!

Sophie had been invited to this “Martial Arts Event” by another Kobakhidze.  They’re not related, they just have the same last name.  She asked me what the word for this is in English.  I don’t know that we have one, honestly.  Shared last names isn’t nearly as common in the States as it is here, though, admittedly, it’s not unheard of.  I’ve known lots of Smiths and Johnsons and Browns, just not so many Nuzzis.

Kobakhidzes. I won’t make my usual joke about bridges, Sophie, don’t worry. Despite sharing last names, they are unrelated and didn’t even know each other until Saturday!

Lasha Kobakhidze explained to us that the whole afternoon was going to be filled with singing, dancing, and weapon demonstrations.  This got us both pretty excited and we crowded toward the stage to get the best view.

The ceremony opened with a rifle twirling demonstration on par with any I’ve seen elsewhere.  It would’ve been nice if someone had launched a rifle really high before catching it, but all told it was quite a well orchestrated performance!

Everyone marched in in their crimson Chokhas to the beat of a snare drum.

Everyone marched in in their crimson Chokhas to the beat of a snare drum.

They gathered before the stage and crisply executed their moves in time with the drum.

They gathered before the stage and crisply executed their moves in time with the drum.

See!  They're twirling!

See! They’re twirling!

After a brief introduction from the organizers, we were told that the events would begin in 5-7 minutes.  I asked Sophie if she thought he meant 5-7 real minutes or 5-7 Georgian minutes.  She hoped the former.  So, to kill 5-7 real minutes, we wandered over to the hunting falcons!

Several fellows had leather mitts with hooded and unhooded falcons perched along their wrists.

Fierce Falcon!  See, so the falcon stands sort of along the muscular part of the thumb area.  They're all strapped in, so if they started to fly, they would just find themselves strung out and suspended in the air a few inches away from their takeoff point.  After a struggle, they would return to their perch.

Fierce Falcon! See, so the falcon stands sort of along the muscular part of the thumb area. They’re all strapped in, so if they started to fly, they would just find themselves strung out and suspended in the air a few inches away from their takeoff point. After a struggle, they would return to their perch.

The falcons were beautiful and dangerous looking with pointy beaks and sharp talons!  Sophie taught me the word for beak, but I've forgotten it.

The falcons were beautiful and dangerous looking with pointy beaks and sharp talons! Sophie taught me the word for beak, but I’ve forgotten it.

Now, Sophie loves birds.  She’s got lots of shirts and jewelry with owls on it and she really wanted to touch one of the falcons.  She asked a handler in Georgian, “May I pet it?” and by way of response he held out his ungloved hand, revealing about a dozen scratches and tears in various states of freshness.  Undeterred, Sophie reached out to pet the bird.

She got in a few good strokes before the falcon flexed its wings and scared her off.  She jumped back, startled, but satisfied.

She got in a few good strokes before the falcon flexed its wings and scared her off. She jumped back, startled, but satisfied.

We continued to wander the crowds, passing the 5-7 Georgian minutes seeing what the festival had to offer.  There were a couple of dudes hefting a giant log, there were people dressed in all manner of medieval military garb, and there was a loud popping sound coming from the center of a crowd.  Further inspection revealed a whip demonstration!

When a problem comes along, you must whip it!

When a problem comes along, you must whip it!

"What'd you do this weekend?" "Oh, you know, paraded around with my spear and shield.  Pretty normal for a Saturday."

“What’d you do this weekend?”
“Oh, you know, paraded around with my spear and shield. Pretty normal for a Saturday.”

After a spell, there was another announcement and the music started up.  The first performance was a troupe of Georgian singers in black Chokhas.  They did a few folk songs and then cleared the stage to make way for just the cutest little married children you ever did see!

For the record, Georgia doesn't really have a modern tradition of child brides.  But boy, these kids sure could dance!

For the record, Georgia doesn’t really have a modern tradition of child brides. But boy, these kids sure could dance!

As the sun disappeared behind some ominous potential storm clouds, the next musical act took the stage.

Ominous, right?  I'm really committed to making sure you get a sense of what the day felt like.  For real.

Ominous, right? I’m really committed to making sure you get a sense of what the day felt like. For real.

This group of teenagers had a pair of teachers with them on the flanks of the group.  Here you can see the boys on the left playing the Chonduri, then center boys playing Panduris, and a pair of flutists on the right, before the accordion.

This group of teenagers had a pair of teachers with them on the flanks of the group. Here you can see the boys on the left playing the Chonduri, then center boys playing Panduris, and a pair of flutists on the right, before the accordion.

They did a neat cover of the Adjaran song "Adjaruli" and a few other numbers.

They did a neat cover of the Adjaran song “Adjaruli” and a few other numbers.

I had a lot of questions throughout the day.  Mostly “What’s the word for that?” as I pointed at various military and cultural accouterments.  I learned lots of great words like shubi, khmali, nabadi, and papakhi.  That last one you might recognize if you saw it.  It’s a big poofy wool hat that comes in black or white and is a Khevsuretian accessory.  Sophie couldn’t remember the name, though, and had to ask someone.  She was quite embarrassed!

After a few more musical acts, the main event began.  There’s a type of traditional dance called “pharikaoba” which would translate to “shield dancing” or simply “shielding”.  It’s like a cross between stage combat and shadow boxing.  The members of an Adjaran pharikaoba team demonstrated a wide range of weapons on stage, from spears, swords and shields, double bladed axes, dual-wielded hand axes, and judo with knives.  They moved so fast and we were too far away, so I only managed to get one awesome shot.  Trust me, though, when I say that each demonstration was epic.

Aerial assault!  This guy did a lot of leaping and twirling that looked very kinetic and very Jedi.  Oh!  And he's wearing a papakhi!

Aerial assault! This guy did a lot of leaping and twirling that looked very kinetic and very Jedi. Oh! And he’s wearing a papakhi!

After the pharikaoba, there was another brief interlude.  Sophie and I took advantage of it to snap a few more photos–this time with some of the performers!

For example, here's me with a spearman!  Spear is Shubi and shield is Phari!

For example, here’s me with a spearman! Spear is Shubi and shield is Phari!

And here is Sophie AS a spearman! I call this “King Sophie”.

A double axeman was warming up/practicing with axes and Sophie wanted me to just run up and ask him for a photo.  I demurred.  Partially out of shyness, and partially out of a desire not to get axe-identally axed.

A double axeman was warming up/practicing with axes and Sophie wanted me to just run up and ask him for a photo. I demurred. Partially out of shyness, and partially out of a desire not to get axe-identally axed.  I mean, really.  You don’t just sneak up on a dude twirling a pair of axes!

Nonetheless, Sophie called out to him, and we got the photo!

Nonetheless, Sophie called out to him, and we got the photo!

At this point we had managed to sneak around/behind the stage and we were chilling with the performers who were on deck.  (That’s a baseball metaphor that means “up next” for all you non-baseball aficionados out there!)  This also gave us a new angle on the performances themselves!

I had spotted these green clad children earlier on our walk and, being a fan of green, was eager to see them perform.

I had spotted these green clad children earlier on our walk and, being a fan of green, was eager to see them perform.

It turned out that the kids were representing Abkhazia, though it's unclear whether they were Abkhax themselves or not.  What is clear is that this dude looks like a badass.

It turned out that the kids were representing Abkhazia, though it’s unclear whether they were Abkhax themselves or not. What is clear is that this dude looks like a badass.

This shot is from a series I like to call "Trying to Take Photos of Their Faces".

This shot is from a series I like to call “Trying to Take Photos of Their Faces”.

It wasn't a terribly successful series.

It wasn’t a terribly successful series.

The next group of kids had much more colorful uniforms and skewed a lot younger.  I have to admit, I was seriously impressed by these little ones.  Some of them must’ve been no older than 5 or 6!

Had a rough angle on this dance, and I missed the tiniest solo I've ever seen.  Why tiny?

Had a rough angle on this dance, and I missed the tiniest solo I’ve ever seen. Why tiny?

Because it was by these two!

Because it was by these two!

Adorable, right?

The kids danced their dances and then made way for a very acrobatic and intense series of dances by a few troupes of adults.

Like I said, Intense.

Like I said, Intense.  Also, still no faces.

The intense white robed dancer was joined by two dozen men and women who did an awesome circular courtship dance.  (I don't think the purpose is courtship, but I feel like that best describes the sense of the action going on onstage.)

The intense white robed dancer was joined by two dozen men and women who did an awesome circular courtship dance. (I don’t think the purpose is courtship, but I feel like that best describes the sense of the action going on onstage.)

Right?  It looks like courtship.

Right? It looks like courtship.

This pointy-shouldered jacket is called a nabadi.  But I don't think they let nobodies wear it--you have to be important.  For example, you have to be the lead dancer in a dance troupe!

This pointy-shouldered jacket is called a nabadi. But I don’t think they let nobodies wear it–you have to be important. For example, you have to be the lead dancer in a dance troupe!

Georgian dancing has lots of leaping in it.  It is really awesome to watch and I strongly recommend catching some if you can!

Georgian dancing has lots of leaping in it. It is really awesome to watch and I strongly recommend catching some if you can!

The audience was comprised of lots of casual ordinary people, but also other performers who had already gone or who were waiting for their moment.  This led to a lot of great candid photo ops!

Here's whipman and axeman sharing a laugh about something.

Here’s whipman and axeman sharing a laugh about something.

And the pensive besneakered warrior dreaming of owning a car one day.

And the pensive besneakered warrior dreaming of owning a car one day.

At this point, a cry went up and the crowd surged towards the base of the cliff.  The MC had just announced that the archery range was open for business!  A large target had been erected beneath the cliff and there were archers at hand to help everyone fire a few arrows.  After some macho dudes hogged all the bows for a spell, a new rule took effect: Women and Children only.  Sophie’s non-relative Lasha cried out, “I have an American guest!” in Georgian, and so an exception was granted in my case.  Sophie and I strode up like two confident Robin Hoods and loosed a volley of hellfire upon that target.

Sophie about to unleash her wrath on that poor target.

Sophie about to unleash her wrath on that poor target.

We were using modern sporting bows, not traditional ones, but that was alright with us!  Our first few arrows were on target, with Sophie scoring one just off center and me nailing the red and blue portions of the target.  (Notice how I didn’t include any photos of the target?  I’ll just let you assume that the red and blue sections took the most skill to hit!)

As the sun started to go down, I checked the time and realized I was super late for my planned visit to my host family.  My random cultural experience that I scrambled and stumbled into had eaten up the whole day without me even realizing it!  Sophie and I parted ways just as the Karate demonstrations were getting started.  Bad luck for me, but all told, one of my more successful recent random afternoons.

Posted in Adventures in Georgia, Funemployed | Leave a comment

Funemployed: The Polyglots

This fall I find myself in a peculiar and pleasant situation.  I’m between jobs and spending my time in Tbilisi.  Life is cheaper here than in the states, and I can still fairly effectively search for jobs in the US without much trouble.  As such, I’m having lots of time for fun solo adventures around town on the weekends (Note: for the “Funemployed” everyday is a weekend.)

This evening I went and visited my old, beloved host family in Mukhiani.  It’s always such a joy to see them, even though Ilia hasn’t been home in ages and Luka peaced out after a few hours to go see the relatives’ new puppy.

Whenever I go visit the host family, it’s like I never left.  Tata still corrects my grammar, Manana asks about my love life and compliments me on how fat I’ve gotten, and all the while Tina makes funny comments and gives me knowing sidelong glances.  They remember which foods I like and which I don’t, they ask after my old TLG friends, they recall details about my family’s lives “Is your brother still in school?  Did your sister get married yet?  Has your father had another child yet?”  You know, normal stuff.

But the tricky part is, none of this takes place in English.  Nor does it properly take place in Georgian or Russian.  Rather, Chez Alavidze, we speak a blend of all languages.

I first realized how truly messy our conversations were a few years ago when a Russian-speaking friend paid me a visit at my host family’s.  As she knew no Georgian, I figured that if we stuck to Russian she’d fare alright.  Boy was I wrong!  The problem lay in the fact that my family and I have completely polluted our Russian and Georgian with words from each other.

Besides confusing guests who only speak one or the other, this also presents a grammatical problem that interrupts the flow of conversation.  I find myself assigning Russian genders to Georgian words so I can say things like “Khoroshaia manqana” (Good car) and using Georgian declensions on Russian nouns like “Camoletit” (by plane).

My exceedingly random Georgian vocabulary comes in handy, as well.  For example, when trying to relate the story of my mom’s dog Lucy getting skunked in Maine last week, I struggled to explain skunk.  In Georgian [and Russian], I was able to say, “It’s an animal with black and white colors, it lives [in the forest], it has a bad smell.  When it [is afraid] it psssht and then bad smell comes.  Oh!  It’s like a raccoon!”  Yup.  I can’t say “forest” and cannot be relied upon to remember verbs like “to be afraid,” but I can come up with “raccoon” in a pinch.

It’s a mess, but it’s our mess and we like it that way.

Posted in Adventures in Georgia, Funemployed | 1 Comment