Wisdom from a Cold Winter in Georgia and Armenia: Outtakes from the Caucasus

Outtakes from diary notes in Tbilisi, Georgia New Year 2008 from my book about cycling across Europe, Weave of the Ride.

Vincent

Vincent had learnt the art of sociability and partying. He was good looking, played the guitar and sung well. Aurillien described him as "living as if he was in a film". Aurillien and Vincent together were party people. I would leave for home and they continue until I don't know when. I've never saw either of them leave a party early. They had legendary status.

Lost

I walked past another government administrative building. My aim was to find the house with the party and retrieve my camera which I'd left there the night before. I asked a couple of people if they spoke English - a man standing on the street with his arm in a cast, middle aged with stubble on his sagging chin. He invited me into his apartment for a tea. The television was on. It was very small, just a kitchen and another room with a bed in it which I sat in. He didn't know of any French people living nearby.

Sophie’s Flat

Later we met Sophie, another Couchsurfer, who was a pharmacist with MSF (Medicine sans frontiers) and an Australia lung specialist called Simon, who was working on Tuberculosis in Georgia. “It is surprisingly prevalent.”. He was interested in doing some cycling in South East Asia. Sophie said we could stay at her place if we needed. At Sophie's place I had found a DVD called 'Concepts' with some famous photographers. One photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson said

"Don't think".

"Let the photos come to you".

"A balance of shapes in composition".

I like that spontaneity - ready to capture a moment.

A meeting place

It felt like Georgia was still recovering from the Soviet era. This offered an opportunity for foreigners who wanted to stay and work to feel as if they were really making a difference as the big investors and groups hadn't yet seen it as a big enough investment opportunity. It was a place with a clash of systems and cultures -

Europe meets Asia, Socialism meets capitalism. Ancient, meets old.

A place with a strong culture with songs, dance and language that people are taught from a young age and participate in together. A location between Russia and the middle-east. Hot spots of international politics and war over natural resources. A small place with a big heart. Strong mountain people, with a proud history, not without it's ups and down, wars, and invasions.

Girls

Walking over the treacherous ice to find the camera shop - girls - tight jeans, black hair, sunglasses. Trendy looking ones, ones dressed smart and sophisticated. Bubbly, enthusiastic, and aware of the cultural values of Georgia. Kind of like a burden they love. From people I had met, the family way of life was integral. Everyone seemed to have a family village out of town. Very connected to a traditional way of life.

The city, consumerism, materialism and western aspiration are still kind of a game and don't rule people's lives.

The Parliament Building

The parliament building on the main avenue is Soviet style. The inner area housed a huge courtyard. There are tall archways and pillars on the front, fountains and massive black iron gates where I once saw riot police waiting whilst a demonstration was going on.

Videos Diaries

I hadn't been keeping up with doing video diaries. We weren't moving so there seemed less to say. It is easy to talk about something after you've moved on from it. Staying in one place seemed to make memories blur. I was walking down the same streets in the city repeatedly. My experience depended more on the qualities such as the people, conversation, the lighting, the weatehr. This required a change in thinking because the narrative was no longer linear but involved repeated re-readings.

Travelling Alone

We had both at some point expressed or thought about travelling alone. Displays of independence, walking away from the other person, or disagreeing, were ways of testing to see how to get the ball rolling. When you travel with one other person, especially when it's your best friend, there tends to be a persona that you have when in the company of that person. A kind of social mimicry in order to maintain solidarity perhaps, but after a while the rhetoric, the over-politeness, starts to wear thing - one yearns for a different way of being. Do we really have a sense of self when we are alone when no one else is observing what you are doing or saying in order to judge you?

Manoog

“You know what Andy? We need to de-homogenise the world”.

Spoken like a true American, I thought. The blueprint is the same for office blocks, shopping malls, fast food restaurants everywhere - whether or not the name and menu is in a different language.

“America will be great again, once it starts singing and writing poetry.”

After Vietnam he had trained as a psychologist. He had been in the American Red Cross at Ground Zero at the World Trade Centre on September 11th. He wanted to understand the impact of war on people - post traumatic stress after the Abkhazian war, the affects of war on women.

"Be yourself, be consistent." he said "Remove yourself – allow things to take their course."

War lead to guilt which lead to action to help. Everything went full circle.

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