A Decade of Living in Georgia: the Good and the Bad…

I moved to Georgia in September 2009, the year after their short war with Russia. Ten years on, I reflect on living in Georgia, the country not the US state (it needs qualifying every time). I am often asked do I like Georgia? Well, my answer is “Yes and no”. Everywhere I have lived (England, Wales, Australia, France and Georgia) has had positive and negative aspects.   Some things I like, and some I don’t (as with any country, there will be the inevitable few, who will say the tired “if you don’t like it go back to where you came from!“). On balance I’d say I’m very happy here and have no plans to move. This is my own very personal viewpoint, I realise others will have different likes and dislikes, particularly with regards to the Khachapuri (cheese-bread)! I have also lived exclusively in the capital, Tbilisi, which I appreciate is very different to living in a Georgian village.

So let me look at those likes and dislikes in more detail:

Light

I love the fantastic light. Lots of clear sunny days make for good photos. Coming from England, where sunny days are rarer, this is a great blessing.

light in the stairwell
light in a stairwell in Varketili

Mountains

The mountains are spectacular, some are higher than any in the Alps (Mont Blanc is 4810m, Mount Shkhara in Svaneti is 5193m). As a draw-card, I think this is what would  really attract tourists to Georgia.

Khevsureti
Khevsureti, one of many scenic mountainous regions in Georgia

Women

I might get into trouble for the next observation; but I find Georgian women are very pleasing on the eye, strangely many Georgian men seem to fantasize about Ukrainian women. I have been married to a wonderful Georgian woman for many years now.

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Georgian model in Old Tbilisi

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians rave about their cuisine, one list places Georgian Cuisine as 4th out of 48 European Cuisines ranked behind only Italy, France and Spain. This may be sacrilegious to state but I am not so impressed and miss English roast dinners and puddings (UK cuisine was ranked 13th) . I don’t really like khachapuri, their signature dish, a cheese filled pastry, I find it too salty. I do like khinkali and churchkhela. Georgian meals are important events and most birthdays and holidays are marked with a feast or “supra”. Georgians are also proud of their wine and claim to have been the nation which invented wine back in the mists of time, some  8000 years ago, a claim for which there is substantial archaeological support in the region. Georgian Wine

mtsvadi
Mtsvadi (მწვადი), Georgian Barbecue, a popular dish at supras (Georgian feasts)

The Georgian Language (დედა ენა)

The language is a real nightmare for me, using a different and unique alphabet and having long words with tricky consonant clusters. I lived in France for six years and can get by reasonably well in French, but Georgian is a different story. I explore this in a separate blog :  The Georgian Language is one of the most Difficult to Learn detailing my travails with the language. Maybe it is just my brain isn’t as malleable as it once was.

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signs in Georgian

Rubbish

One thing that saddens me is despite the Georgians singing so much that they are proud of their country, so many of them litter with abandon.

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litter near the roadside

Cars

I’m crazy about cars, though strangely I don’t drive here (see traffic later in the post). I love seeing the old Soviet cars around.

GAZ Volga 24 with crates
GAZ Volga 24

Work

As a native English speaking teacher with many years experience teaching English, I can find plenty of students here, many people want to learn English and there are not a lot of native English speakers with whom I need to compete. I have taught English since 1994, first in France, then England and now Georgia. The cost of living is relatively cheap, particularly public transport and accommodation, which are much cheaper in Tbilisi than in London, but wages are also much lower.

Safety

Tbilisi feels a safe city, I have had no troubles, apparently it hasn’t always been like this, in the 1990s there was a lot of street crime. Walking around late at night in an English city on a Friday or Saturday night is more intimidating than walking around Tbilisi at night.

Public Transport

The public transport, though cheap can be very overcrowded. The newer buses are better with air conditioning and less pollution. There are just two metro lines.

on the bus blog

Traffic

The traffic is scary at times, the drivers have little respect for pedestrians and won’t necessarily stop just because you are on a pedestrian crossing. When asked by Georgians what I don’t like I usually say “the traffic !” and they nod in agreement, though apparently it is even worse in Iran.

crossing by Drybridge Market
Traffic won’t necessarily stop if you are on a pedestrian crossing

Another gripe I have with the traffic, is seeing far too many drivers using their mobile phones with seeming impunity.

driving and using phone
driving and using the phone

Religion

Religion is important here, despite the Bolsheviks trying to stamp out religion in the past, there are many new churches and most Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. I have been baptised into the Orthodox church but I find their intolerance of other denominations rather un-Christian, I feel I maybe losing my religion. For example: Georgian Orthodox church takes aim at Armenian Church. My wife is quite devout and prays twice a day, every day.

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Svaneti Museum Crosses

Smoking

Smoking is very common here, it is cheap compared to Western Europe and many smokers seem oblivious to those around them, it pains me to see people smoking around children. Smoking has recently been banned in public buildings which is good, although it often means smokers congregating around the exit, puffing away.

smoking and kids
You can poison your own lungs, but do you really need to poison the children around you?

The 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone was entitled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly“…. for ugly, we have in Tbilisi the Biltmore Hotel.

Biltmore Hotel
The Biltmore Hotel

Zufa Jafaridze commented: “The ugliest building right in the center of Tbilisi, where it shouldn’t be, ruining the view and the beauty of the city, but wait, it gets even worse at night when the giant ad monitor flashes into your eyes when you go outside, it never should have been built there and I hope it will be removed.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Caught in the Rain

May and June are the wettest months in Tbilisi, there can be sudden heavy downpours.girl in the rain

girl in the rain 2

It is a good idea to carry an umbrella with you. Although, some men consider it effeminate for a man to carry an umbrella. On some of the public toilets the symbol for men is a pipe and for women an umbrella.

In the 1750s, an Englishman, by the name of Jonas Hanway, began carrying an umbrella around the rainy streets of London.

People were outraged. Some bystanders hooted and jeered at Hanway as he passed; others simply stared in shock. Who was this strange man who seemed not to care that he was committing a social sin?

Hanway was the first man to parade an umbrella unashamed in 18th-century England, a time and place in which umbrellas were strictly taboo. In the minds of many Brits, umbrella usage was symptomatic of a weakness of character, particularly among men. Few people ever dared to be seen with such a detestable, effeminate contraption.

Citizens Observing Jonas Hanway with Newly Invented Umbrella
Jonas Hanway walking into the rain, with an umbrella. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Remembering 9th April 1989…30 years on

9th April is a national holiday in Georgia.

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floral tribute

On 9 April 1989, 30 years ago, Soviet troops attacked Georgian demonstrators with clubs and sharpened spades outside the Parliament Building in Rustaveli Avenue. The clashes left 20 people dead, mainly young women.

 

9th April 1989. The Berlin Wall was still standing, the Ceausescus were still breathing and events in Tbilisi which included hunger strikes reached a climax. The events of 9 April 1989 were the culmination of weeks of demonstrations for Georgian independence and against separatism of Abkhazia.

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. At their peak, about 10,000 people are estimated to have been present.

An hour before the attack the Georgian Patriarch, Ilia II, begged the crowds to leave the Square.

 

Minutes before 4am on 9 April, General  Radionov told his troops, who had been requested by Jumber Pastiashvili, first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, to clear the square, in front of the Georgian government building, on Rustaveli Avenue, by all means available. The Soviet troops attacked the demonstrators with clubs and sharpened spades. The clashes left 20 people dead, mainly young women.

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My wife, then just 21, was among the demonstrators in the square that day, she fled the square with her cousin, Tsira, fearing for their lives, they sought refuge in Rustaveli Theatre.

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Khachkar (or Armenian cross stone) memorial to the  innocent victims of Tbilisi’s April 9, 1989 crackdown outside Ejmiastin Armenian Church, Avlabari, Tbilisi.

Photos of the events can be seen here: April 9, 1989: Soviet Crackdown In Tbilisi

In the mind of a collector

The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”, is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later advanced by the philosopher Socrates who taught that: The unexamined life is not worth living.

how much is too much?
How many is too many?

I collect diecast cars, my collection really began when I moved to Tbilisi, Georgia in 2009. I feel the need to analyse this. I came to Georgia with just two suitcases in which were maybe a dozen diecast cars along with the rest of my worldly possessions. Now I don’t know how many diecast cars I have, around 1 400 at a guess. There are too may to display, you can see above the shelves are very cluttered and that is just the tip of the iceberg, many more cars are in boxes, not on display.

I have a separate blog for posting about this hobby: my diecast blog (click this link).

I am very lucky to have a tolerant wife, who tolerates my hobby even if she doesn’t understand it. Once she gave me a diecast car as a present, a BMW X5 by Kinsmart. I appreciated the gesture but this isn’t the kind of model I collect. I’m not a fan of BMWs, it is also a larger size than my preferred (3″/1:64) collecting size. I do have a few BMW models but they tend to be older models and sports cars or coupes.

BMW x5
BMW X5

I have had small diecast cars for as long as I can remember.  On my first birthday cake was a Matchbox racing car, so I’m told. Then there was a Matchbox Pickford’s Removal Van with sweets in the back, occasionally restocked by my mother. My earliest actual memory is being on a train holding a Matchbox Racing Car Transporter, I would have been three at the time. Collecting model cars…toy cars…is fine as a child but as an adult?

For most people toy cars are just for kids, especially for boys from 3 to 10 years; I get that. I think part of my collecting is a subconscious desire to connect with my childhood self, I notice my collecting greatly increased after my father died in 2011.

Nostalgia can be stimulated not just by the toy cars of my childhood but also by other items, I recently found a copy of “The Cat in the Hat” a Dr Seuss book, I had another copy,  when I was learning to read. Smells and tastes can also evoke the past, the smell of TCP an antiseptic will take me back to the school playground where I often would fall and have my cuts treated with TCP.

the cat in the hat and breakdown truck
The cat in the Hat and the Matchbox Breakdown Truck both evoke childhood memories

As a child my interest in toys cars waned when I was thirteen or fourteen and I got into music, my pocket money was then spent on records instead of toy cars. Later in my twenties a lot of my energy was channeled into going to gigs and travelling.

I left my records behind when I moved to Tbilisi, if I want to hear music now I usually go to Youtube, I no longer spend money on music. The Internet has changed many of my habits.

Here in Georgia, I haven’t met any other collectors of toy cars, there are a few sellers at Dry Bridge Market, who may also collect, but there is a language barrier (my struggles with the Georgian language are the subject of a third blog : the Reluctant Georgian Learner). Even more than in UK, here people see toy cars as just a plaything for children.

Facebook however and other social media let me connect with adult collectors all over the world, so I don’t feel such an oddity. I am on several Facebook groups related to collecting diecast cars. I have many Facebook “friends” in countries such as the Netherlands, Philippines, USA, UK and Estonia, who have vast collections of toy cars. Occasionally we have exchanged models, I don’t buy models online because the postal service here is not great. Most of the models are found locally, I regularly visit Dry Bridge Market and hunt through the secondhand toy shops near the central station. The thrill of the hunt is part of the reason I collect. Collecting is much like a quest, a lifelong pursuit which can never be complete. Once the prize is actually obtained, the nucleus accumbens ( the primitive pleasure center in the brain ) shows less activity. The anticipation of the reward is more exciting to our pleasure centre than having it.

On Monday, I found eight models in the secondhand shops to add to my collection.

dilemma of choice
Monday’s haul…on the left those I was very happy to find

The models on the left, I’m really pleased to have but those on the right I could have left. I asked my wife, which four of the eight she thought I liked the best and she was half right.

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My wife chose the four on the left as the ones she thought I’d be most happy with

If I were to create an algorithm, there would be many criteria to be weighted in the selection equation… price, size, style, diecast brand, car make, age, country of manufacture…a Matchbox sports car produced between 1968 and 1972, would get me most excited, providing the price wasn’t too extortionate. None of the eight above, although being secondhand, are particularly old, although the Mustang, Beetle and Anglia are reproductions of cars from the sixties and have some of that nostalgia buzz I crave.

There is a thin line between healthy collecting and unhealthy hoarding, I could probably lose half the collection and still be happy. I tried selling some at Dry Bridge Market last summer, I didn’t make a lot of money, that was not the objective. The value of my collection is not monetary, but it is emotionally valuable—I’m not looking to profit from the sale of the cars. I usually take the cars out of their blister packs, which would reduce their value if I was looking to resell, but I want to hold the car to feel it in my hand and look at it from different angles.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to evolve my hobby. I don’t wish to just collect but do something more with the collection like restoring older broken models (but I don’t as yet have the tools or practical skills) or make some stop frame animation videos with the models. My collecting already ties in with my other hobbies of writing and photography.

There are many reasons collectors, whether wealthy or not, collect. But there is one common underlying motivation for all—pleasure. Other secondary motivators include  “bragging rights,” (when you land a bargain) a sense of history and creating a legacy, as well as intellectual stimulation, social rewards, and crafting a sense of order.

 

 

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Cable cars and Kartlis Deda

Walking down from Avlabari to Abanotubani in Tbilisi presents the viewer with a wonderful vista of Old Tbilisi. There are the old houses with balconies, the river Mtkvari and looking up the hill where the cable car goes there is a silhouette of Kartlis Deda. Kartlis Deda is a symbol for Georgia, she holds a cup of wine in one hand for guests and a sword in the other for enemies.