A few weeks back, Marissa and I took an excursion to Kutaisi to see all the glory the former capital of the Kingdom of Imereti and eventually of a united Georgia had to offer. They’re building a new parliament building there! Apparently committees will do their committee-work in Kutaisi but the General Assembly will still meet on Rustaveli in Tbilisi.
Anyway, we had an excellent classy plan to arrive on Saturday afternoon, see the museum and then go out for a fancy night on the town, including the Opera and a nice dinner. Unfortunately, most of that didn’t pan out.
Monday, May 2, as it turned out, was Kutaisoba—Kutaisi Day—and so all of the theaters and museums were closed for the weekend, during the lead up to the holiday. I made a few phone calls to the Kutaisi State Opera House and State Drama Theater (neglecting the puppet theater, much to the hypothetical chagrin of my old puppet show co-conspirators from Mr. Day’s World History Class) and found out that everyone had rehearsals all weekend and performances on Monday night. All save one.
The Kutaisi State Drama Theater was showing a play Saturday night and tickets were only five lari! Combined with the fifteen lari per night homestay we had booked, it was going to be an inexpensive excursive weekend!
We met up in Kutaisi and trekked in to the center of town. After a detour around an under-construction bridge, we found ourselves in the main square of old Kutaisi. There were two ways to get up to where the homestay was. One of them was a cable car. Obviously we chose that one.
After getting lost for a bit and meeting an adorable dog,
We found our way to the home stay, where Giorgi, the proprietor, seemed to give priority to TLG guests. Good news for us was that we got an awesome room with a big double bed! We got gussied up and prepared to head out for the night. Giorgi took a prom-photo of us, with me in my suit and Marissa in her dress and heels, and we took a Russian-Sexy photo of our environs.
We assumed that the Kutaisi State Drama Theater would be a fancy affair, so we were looking our best as we stepped out of the cab. Immediately we realized how silly that line of thinking had been. We walked up to the theater, arms linked, looking snazzy, and passed through crowds of youngish Georgians dressed as youngish Georgians tend to dress: Jeans and Dark Clothing. It was a completely casual affair.
The theater itself has seen better days, but it was still a very nice space. We went inside and tried to find a ticket office. I asked an important-looking woman where it was and she motioned me to follow her. She led Marissa and I to our seats. Well, to a pair of seats, at any rate. We never did buy any tickets for that show….
The show itself was some sort of surreal nightmare/dreamscape wherein a gaggle of wealthy folks who had somehow been reduced to poverty wandered around a cliffside, crossing paths, slapsticking each other, and acting generally crazy.
Unfortunately we understood nearly none of it and had no Shota handy to translate for us. When the play mercifully ended we were famished and began to look for a super-nice restaurant to continue our super-fancy theme of the evening. We ended up at Mirzaani, a mid-range chain of Georgian restaurants scattered all over Tbilisi, and apparently in Kutaisi as well. It was the only place open but with liters of wine for only 3 lari, who could say no?
Upon returning to the homestay we caused some raised eyebrows as we exhaustedly opted to retire to our room rather than socialize. I’m thinking lots of winking and elbow nudging happened once we left behind the motley crew of European tourists in the common area. Our desire to not interact with them (though they were truly nice people! Honest!) led to our ingenious plan to access the bathroom by climbing out the window. It worked like a charm!
The next morning we woke up and headed out into the misty, dewy morning to find Bagrati Cathedral. It was blown up in the 1700s during a battle between an Ottoman Army and a Russo-Georgian Army. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is under restoration. We jumped around on the neighboring fortress ruins and looked out over the stunning skyline of Kutaisi.
Following the advice of Giorgi Giorgadze, the homestay owner, we embarked for Vani, passing a Kutaisi marshrutka and stopping at McDonald’s for a little fuel. We saw an advertisement there for something called “1955 New Sandwich!” and made a mental note for later.
Vani is the site of Jason and his Argonauts’ penultimate destination. Here, in the gold-rich hills of Imereti, lay the kingdom of the Colchis, centered on Vani. Ageetes (Or some-such) was in possession of the Golden Fleece and Jason was questing for it. He got it and returned to Greece. The fleece was golden because the ancient Georgians used sheepskin to pan for gold in the rivers. Gold would collect in the fleece and make it appear to be golden. Hooray!
The museum was a good hike outside of the town and quaint. An old man shepherded us around the museum and let us in to the fine Gold Room where 2500 year-old golden ornaments and artifacts lay under glass. They were really quite impressive! (I recently learned [In my stint as a French-English translator for a group of multi-national tourists in Tbilisi] that the ancient Georgians used a technique called “Gold Granulation” to solder gold bumps onto earrings, figurines, and other jewelry. Nifty!)
We walked back through Vani to the Marshrutka and saw one that read “Vani-Kutaisi-“ and then something obscured by the windshield wipers. We hopped on and sat down. After chatting for a nice 45 minute ride through the countryside we realized that we weren’t back in Kutaisi. Instead we had been driven to a village called Sulori (Two Rivers). It was in completely the wrong direction and we had to double back to Vani before going to Kutaisi again. Oh Crap.
I escorted Marissa to an isolated spot where she could pee by the river bank and as we walked back we noticed a small suphra by the side of the road.
“I wish they would invite us to join them,” Marissa sighed as one of the old men raised his arm and beckoned, “Modi aq!” (Come here!) Not bad for budding psychic powers, eh?
Clearly there is not a TLG volunteer in Sulori as these old men seemed so absolutely tickled to meet foreigners that the toasts came extremely fast. Four shots of wine and eight minutes later, we climbed back into the marshrutka, Easter eggs in hand, for the bumpy bucolic ride back to Vani. Four revelers joined us at the back of the marshrutka.
The drunk guys were shouting at us (in a good, I’m-drunk-and-can’t-tell-the-volume-of-my-own-voice kind of way) and conversing with me in Russian. Marissa used her limited Russian to explain that she only had limited Russian and we huddled in the corner, laughing and talking. The guys constantly forgot our names and would ask every five minutes, “Ra qvia??” We patiently reminded them “Rali da Mari” every time but it was to little avail.
The handshakes and cheek-kisses started coming faster and furious…er and when I saw one of the guys go to kiss Marissa’s neck I scooped her away into a protective embrace. The guys paused and busted out laughing. One of them shouted to Marissa, “Shen Gqkhavs kargi qmari!” (You have a good husband!)
Marissa looked at me, considering for a split second, and answered, “Ki! Dzalian kargia!” (Yes! He’s very good!), giving my face a pat for good measure. Having dodged the bullet of molestation, we found ourselves in the line of fire of another unanticipated hazard—“Marital bliss.”
The men started excitedly inviting us to stay overnight in Vani. “We have wine, vodka, cognac, champagne! You can stay in my two story house!” one implored us, “My wife is in Kazakhstan and there will be no problem! You two can sleep together and I will drive you to Kutaisi in the morning!”
When we told them that we had to be at work at 9 am in Tbilisi and Zugdidi they insisted that “It’s Georgia! They will understand!” To be honest, they probably would have, but we had to be faithful teachers and as much as we might have wanted to, we could not justify staying overnight in Vani in some random drunk dude’s house, alas! (Though it would have meant that we could go to Kutaisoba! Drats!)
The marshrutka stopped back in Vani and we resisted as the men made one final effort to pull us out of the back seat physically and convince us to stay. We didn’t budge. They left in good spirits and full of good spirits, if you get my drift!
Upon returning to Kutaisi we made good on our mental self-promises from hours earlier and bought and devoured a delicious 1955 burger, or “New Sandwich!” as the McDonald’s Employees called it. One was not enough to share so we’ll be going back again tonight as soon as Marissa gets to Tbilisi. That’s what married people do, right?