30 December 2009

Batumi and an Old Year's Reflections

We returned home early in the morning from Batumi, on the Turkish border, although we did not go to Turkey--maybe next time.  The trip was well worth it and travel was not as painful as expected.  Score one more for Georgia over Russia.  We took the night train, a trip just long enough for one to fall asleep but not long enough to actually get any sleep.  After arriving home by train, then taking the metro and walking up our hill toward home in the morning twilight, one of the sweepers began to ask us where we were from, where we were going, and so on:

"We're headed home," I replied.

"What do you mean? What are you doing here?"

"We're researchers.  We live just up the street."

"Oh, students..." she said.

"In principle, yes."

Disenchanted, she copped to a passerby, "Just talking with the tourists!" 

[Do tourists come to stay for over a year?]  "I told you we're not tourists. We live here."

"Well, welcome."

"We've lived here for four months already." Half-asleep, I sneered at her.

She grunted, "Ah,"and continued into the darkness

And we tiredly climbed the stairs to our apartment, showered, and slept. 

We had spent three days there walking along the Black Sea coast, conversing, reading, and eating khatchapuri adjaruli (cheesebread adjara/local style) wherein we consumed about a hundred times the daily recommended amount of cholesterol.  This partucular dish is a baked shell with salty local cheese, a raw egg, and a lump of butter.  The egg "cooks" for a minute or two out of the oven and the filling is mixed up together, whereupon the edges of the baked crust become dipping material.  Very tasty and very bad for you:

We stayed at a hotel which was inland aways.   It was owned by Ukrainians and they were very nice.  Sora was happy, as we got to go ice skating once (which we could not acheive in Russia), went for a morning run (dirty air due to Baku oil transit, but better than Tbilisi), and enjoyed the seaside in general.  It was a much-needed rest. 

This week has been a nice break from Russian study with my tutor, as I don't feel she is much help. Although I can enjoy a short story here and there, I'm not much one for fiction, and that's all she cares about--antiquated writing and poetic exploration.  Let's not kid ourselves.  The Russian masters know their stuff and poetry is beautiful, but my goals in Russian have nothing to do with reading poetry.  They have to do with criticizing the political process, analyzing human rights, and documenting security and economic issues.

My interest/research subject is education, further complicating matters.  She doesn't have any children and has just as little exposure to them, making conversation very difficult as she is "old school" and believes such absurdities as "children younger than fifth grade don't have any interests of their own, its up to parents and teachers to stimulate them." and "there was nothing wrong with the education system before the reforms..." Not to mention she has not traveled anywhere since she was in University (to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Mexico City), and even then never in her own region, Yerevan, Baku, etc. I feel she is out of touch with the world in general, hindering me to a great extent.  

Although I don't have any formal projects right now, everything has certainly piled up.  The list goes on.  Still plenty of UGRAD (exchange program) applications left to read and I have a big chunk of data to organize for the research center I'm affiliated with. 

Aside from laundry and groceries, we must find a decent matress so that my back doesn't get any worse.  This may be more difficult than it sounds, as everything shuts down for a few days over the new year holiday as people recuperate and make merry.  It is raining at this writing, so we're not headed out to the bazzar today, meaning this will have to wait until the new year. 

We should be headed to Armenia, Turkey, or elsewhere in Georgia in a few months.  I want to visit a colleague from the embassy where I worked before he moves to a new post and Sora has a professor in Istanbul this coming summer.  Was thinking about going to Baku, but despite not having anything of interest in Azerbaijan, the Azeris feel it is a great privaledge to visit.  A visa application costs 131US$, as opposed to about 30US$ for an Armenian visa and 20US$ to Turkey.

Due to my ignorance and rushing while uploading photos of Batumi (and incidentally from a day trip to Mtskheta also), I accidentally deleted all but one photo of our trip.  It is an unimpressive shot of a section of fountains in the coastal park, pasted below.  Apologies to those who expected photos.