Georgians in America, Part II

A funny thing happens when you spend four and half years living in a foreign country–you start seeing it everywhere you go.  Some instances are deliberate: Scanning the stage of the Miss Universe Pageant to find Miss Georgia (Yes, I watched a few minutes of the Miss Universe Pageant).  Others instances are foisted upon you by others: Every other week I hear from an old friend or acquaintance who is traveling to Georgia and wants tips or my sister posts a new article on my wall from the Washington Post about how Georgian food is the next “it” cuisine.  Yet more circumstances are completely serendipitous: chatting with an academic who attended a conference in Tbilisi over bagels at a small bed and breakfast in Charlotte Amalie.

The thing about all of these happenings is that they draw inevitable comparisons and call backs to life in Georgia.  Some of the comparisons are favorable, others nostalgic, while some remind you why you left Georgia.

When I first returned to New York, I made a point of reaching out to old friends and colleagues I had in the area–obviously.  I met my grad school buddy Ken for pizza one day at lunch and we made plans to visit a Georgian restaurant on the East Side.  A few nights later, I wandered through rainy streets with names like “A” and “B” searching for Oda House.

I arrived, having forgotten the first rule of Georgia already.  I was painfully on time.

I sat down at our table for eight and drank a few glasses of water before anyone else arrived.  Ken’s friends started arriving before him.  He is close with the expat communities in Moscow and New York (Americans and Russians, respectively) and so I started getting to know a handful of interns, students, and exchange workers as the table began to fill with young Russians.

When our fully party had arrived, we were brought menus and the questions flooded in.  “What’s good, Raughley?”

The thing about Oda House is that it is all incredibly good!  They have chicken mtsvade, shotis puri, all manner of khatchapuri, khinkali, badrijani nigvzit and unigvzo, several types of real Georgian wine–it’s as Georgian as can be!  The entire staff is Georgian and the walls are adorned with Georgian graffiti from grateful Georgian Wanderers seeking something familiar in the urban jungles of Manhattan.

The other thing about Oda House is that it is damned expensive!  I’ve been to very few restaurants in New York City, but my downfall was surely comparing the prices to those in Georgia.  The part that boggled my mind, though, was that I was literally getting the exact same foods.  I glanced over the menu with sticker shock at each price I saw.  Thirty dollars for a bottle of saperavi???  I used to get 2 liters for 5 dollars near my house!  Eight dollars for a shotis puri??  That cost 45 cents!

The khinkali was $9.50.  Cautiously optimistic I asked the waiter how many khinkali came in one order.  “Three, sir.”  I choked on my surprise and ordered a twenty-five dollar four-piece chicken mtsvadi.  Boy was my wallet hurting that night.

A few months later, my coworkers and I had all moved down to St. Thomas where Morgan and I decided to go for a stroll.  She was wearing a shirt that she’d gotten printed in Tbilisi.  I forget what the front says, but the back says “მორგანი” Morgan.

We were having a nice walk in the sun down Kondprindsens Gade which is a fancy street chock full of jewelry stores.  DUTY FREE their window displays shout.  Well-dressed salesmen and women stand in the entryways to lure prospective clients to their financial doom.  A large man in fake zebra skins and a enormous headdress shakes a spear at the side street where the Shaka Zulu store awaits.

As we wandered, a voice called out in Russian, “Are you from Georgia?”  We wheeled about and I saw a man in a fishing vest and a bucket hat leaning against the doorframe of one of the jeweler’s.

We struck up a conversation in Russian, “No, we just came back from living there for four years, though.”

“Wow!  I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance.  Do you live here?”

“Yes, we came here a few weeks ago.” My Russian was a little shakey, but I was pleased with my performance.

“Are you Russian?”

“No, American, you?”

“I’m from Pittsburgh!”

“Well!  We might as well speak English then, right?”  Much to Morgan’s relief, we switched into English.  Turns out the gemnologist is an amateur linguist and former air force intelligence agent.  He spent the better part of the 1980s debriefing Soviet emigrants in Brighton Beach.  “Lots of pilots and families who spent time on airbases,” he told us.

Morgan got a nice little pendant as a parting gift and we went back on our merry way, only to encounter the aforementioned academic at breakfast the next morning.

It’s remarkable the way that people, places, and experiences stay with you.  Every day I miss Georgia, look back with relief that I’ve returned to the States, crave Georgian food, and worry that my Georgian is becoming rusty through disuse.

At the end of the day, I like knowing that somewhere inside საქარტველო ჩემთანა.

Posted in Adventures Elsewhere, Adventures in Georgia | Leave a comment

An Absurd Life

I live an absurd life.  I really do!

I think about that a lot, actually.  The mood strikes me randomly, though it’s usually inspired by some overwhelmingly fantastic view, smell, sound, or experience.  When I’m walking down a narrow street in Old Tbilisi and glance up at the hills reminding me that I’m in the Caucasus, it’s like, Wham! Your life is absurd!

When I’m Skyping Pauli about booking plane tickets and arranging a road trip through central Europe to attend Joanne’s wedding: Ka-Pow! Your life is absurd!

When I turn the second bend on my drive to work and see the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea splashing along the shore: Shaboom! Your life is absurd!

Wait, what’s that?  Oh, yes.  I live here now:

If you look closely, you can see an airplane coming in for a landing and a large tanker on a delivery!

If you look closely, you can see an airplane coming in for a landing and a large tanker on a delivery!

Yup, my life is absurd.

 

But the long and short of it is that that job I hinted at in my previous post brought me to the endless tropic beauty of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

I moved to New York for a brief stint in the Financial District at our main head quarters.  This was, ostensibly, for training.  Unfortunately our boss didn’t have much time to devote to training us, so it was more a seat-of-your pants type of experience.  In the beginning of January, I flew down to St. Thomas with several colleagues.  We were tired of waiting around for “sometime I’ll have you actually move.”  We were tired of being squatters in our boss’s luxurious Brooklyn brownstone.  We were tired of the uncertainty of our position; our lives are absurd.

We arrived to the island full of verve and eager to launch our several major projects.  After picking up a rental car we followed our ernstwhile host to his B&B on top of the hillside.  There was far too much to accomplish and we didn’t have a single lead on where to start.  The boss was bopping around Barbados somewhere and Morgan had flown to Florida to go digging in the sugar fields, practicing her hand at being a farmer.  We had no office, no business licenses, and no plan for the evening, so we went to a beach on a whim.  Our lives are absurd!

After several weeks of wheeling and dealing, all our initial challenges were resolved.  We had obtained access to our office, furniture for it, and business licenses for both of our start-ups.  Things were starting to look less absurd by the minute!

Look at our beautiful office!  It has gotten only more beautiful in the intervening time.  For example, some of those ceiling holes have been replaced with lights!  Also, one of our plants died....  But that's my desk with the lit lamp and the on-computer!

Look at our beautiful office! It has gotten only more beautiful in the intervening time. For example, some of those ceiling holes have been replaced with lights! Also, one of our plants died…. But that’s my desk with the lit lamp and the on-computer!

Our nail-salon-cum-head-quarters has begun absolutely buzzing with activity as we make phone calls all day long, meet people from shipping companies, the government, tourists, and random passers-by who were curious about the sign on the door.  (It used to say ANGEL NAILS BUSINESS in red letters with the hours of operation.  We scrapped them off until it said “EL BUSINESS” and finally replaced it with the actual name del business.)

Our work could not be crazier.  The boss is like a cyclone, only a little less seasonally predictable.  He’s a master of micromanagement and hypocrisy.  I can’t even begin to share anecdotes because they are too myriad and unbelievable to do him justice.  Also, maybe I won’t give out too many specifics about work here.  Let’s see.

Hey!  Segue!

Because we’ve been relocated to the Caribbean from New York all the random places we were living before, one of the perks is that we get to live in our boss’s house!  This is a bit of a double edged sword.  As I write this, several of my colleagues are making midnight phone calls to Hong Kong.  If the boss doesn’t rest, why should we?  There’s an upshot though:

We live in a centuries-old Sugar Mill.

We live in a centuries-old Sugar Mill.

Sorry, that’s not quite accurate.  When I say “we live in a sugar mill,” what I mean is that Morgan lives in the old sugar mill tower of our enormous estate.  I live behind the pool.

My apartment is around the back of this cabana-y area.  You can see a vine-covered stone wall peeking out of the left side of the photo.  I'm right by that.

My apartment is around the back of this cabana-y area. You can see a vine-covered stone wall peeking out of the left side of the photo. I’m right by that.

Yes.  My life is absurd.

From on top of the mill you can see all the way down to the airport, the town, and beyond!  On a clear day you can even see the islands of St. John, St. Croix (40 miles away!), and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

From on top of the mill you can see all the way down to the airport, the town, and beyond! On a clear day you can even see the islands of St. John, St. Croix (40 miles away!), and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Our house has some stunning panoramic views of both the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Our house has some stunning panoramic views of both the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Here's the north view out over the Atlantic with my apartment roof and the old Greathouse wall more or less centered.

Here’s the north view out over the Atlantic with my apartment roof and the old Greathouse wall more or less centered.

We can also see Puerto Rico from our house!  I am 99% certain that this is the island of Vieques!

We can also see Puerto Rico from our house! I am 99% certain that this is the island of Vieques!

But you know what?  These photos don’t really do justice to our house or to the absurdity of my life of late.  For the pièce de l’absurdité is absolutely this:

Posted in Adventures Elsewhere, Raughley Goes to... | Leave a comment