Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day Two in Tbilisi

Actually, I had written an entire entry about yesterday . . . in Word, which means that it doesn't copy-and-paste into this blog.  Ahhhhh!  (My colleague Gill is shaking his head and wondering when I will ever learn.)

Yesterday, I spent the day trying to stay awake during the daylight hours.  I walked three times for a total of 4 1/2 hours (probably about 9 miles).  The walks were in the three directions possible from my hotel.  I didn't see any of the major landmarks of the city, but it was good to see people walking.  That said, this is definitely an automobile-crazy city.  Everywhere I went, I saw, heard (honking seems random), and - worst of all - smelled cars.  Crossing some streets was a matter of courage.  Usually I waited for a mother, child in hand, to begin to walk, then I would join them.  Pathetic, I know.  Throughout the walks, I not once saw a person on a bicycle nor a runner.  So it goes.

Julie, Ala, and their friend Charles flew into Tblisi this morning, and we spent the morning getting acquainted.  What amazing people!  Ala is Polish, and she told me the most remarkable story about her involvement in Solidarity.  It brought back so many memories for me of television footage from Poland throughout the 1980s, but her story put a face and a name - and a specific story - to those headline snippets.  Julia is from New Orleans, but she has lived in Poland since 1991, when she came to work at a school that Ala and her husband had started.  She is a linguist by training, and a people-person by nature.  Case in point: while walking today, we came upon an old synagogue.  She struck up a conversation in Russian with people sitting on a bench outside the synagogue, and the next thing I know, I am walking into the synagogue - kippah tentatively set upon my head - and it was beautiful!!  (I wish I could get my photos to load to the blog - I'll keep trying.)  There was an upstairs and a downstairs.  The downstairs was cold and dark; the upstairs was stunning.  The man who guided us told us that the synagogue was left untouched during the war.  (Actually, we saw two synagogues today.  The other one was completely renovated and very beautiful from the outside.  It's gates were locked.)  Had Julia not been with me, I suspect I would have taken a few photographs from the outside and been on my way.  Charles is a friend of Julia's.  He is the son of the Merrill of Merrill and Lynch fame (and the brother of the poet James Merrill).  He took his inheritance and created two remarkable schools in the U. S.:  CommonWealth in Boston and Thomas Jefferson in St. Louis (BTW, I heard on CNN this morning that the Texas Board of Education has erased Thomas Jefferson from all new history textbooks - how is this possible?).  Charles is indefatigible.  He is 89 years old, and he came along because he is curious.  May we all be as able and curious when we are Charles' age.

This afternoon, I ate my first Georgian meal.  Greens (parsley and radish greens), beans (lobi), and a steamed dumpling stuffed with a beef and pork mixture (I am bending my kosher diet in significant ways).  It was the first meal that I had had since arriving, and I felt stuffed.  My sense is that I will need to find many different and polite ways to say no to more food while I am here.  It is part of Georgian culture to be hospitable, and that means plying one with food and drink.

We walked from Freedom Square to the river.  There is money in this part of town, and I saw more than one Cadillac Escalade, some with Georgian plates and at least one with Azerbaijan plates.  Of course, this is mixed in with many street beggars.  Capitalism might benefit some, but there is no question that it does not benefit all.  (Of course, I needn't come to Georgia to know this.)

Tonight, we dine with the Azeri delegation, who arrived this afternoon, and tomorrow, the training starts.


  1. I'm enjoying reading your blog, Michael! Please say hello to Julie and Ala from Ellen. Have a great first day of training and eat some plov for me!

  2. Michael

    I can clearly see where Ellie gets her gift of storytelling. I'm enjoying seeing Georgia through your eyes. Keep the blogs coming and I'm confident you WILL figure out how to upload a few pictures.

    Good luck with the training, I know it will go well.


  3. Michael,

    Just managed to log onto the blog. And what an amazing journey you are on! With the kind of skills, wisdom, and passion that you have, I am sure the training will be fruitful. It's thrilling to just imagine the impact your training will have on that part of the world!!

    Be proud of yourself, and your work. Take good care.