Georgia, September-October 2011

Georgia is not a place I ever thought about visiting. I knew very, very little about it, before my current trip here.

Georgia is stunning. Its ancient. It has an air of mystery despite the warmth and openness to share of the people. Often thought of as a “former Soviet state”–it is actually a country with one of the oldest languages on earth (remnants of it only found here, and in Palestine) , some of the finest cuisine and wines, and gorgeous landscapes. In a space the size of Switzerland, Georgia’s terrain encompasses strong snowy mountains, river filled green valleys, ancient virgin forested slopes for hiking and skiing, lovely wine country with rolling hills and long views of yellow, gold and green impressionistic landscapes, remnants of ancient cave communities with intricate temple artwork (and whole icon-covered cathedrals carved into mountain sides, so ancient people could cleverly live in safety), and the wide open eery darkness of the black sea. Georgian art is underrepresented in this world. Gold and silver smithing, with unique forms of inlay (ceramic and stone) represent a lost art that many modern artists are studying in order to re-create it.

I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and beautiful Georgia is.

The people arrived from long histories as Persians, Europeans, Turks, and Roman. There isn’t a typical Georgian (at least, to my eyes). Bordering Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Russia, peoples faces, body types, movement and style are truly very diverse. The dance reminds me of ancient Persian temple dance–its energetic, and fluid. The costuming reminds of Gurdjieff. The art has many flavors. I am not knowledgeable about art, but can recognize basic types. One artists display includes abstract, impressionism, realist. There is depth in everything here.

There is also a dark underbelly. We were in several border towns, and the shadow was apparent. There is something palpable in communities that bare the truth of human rights abuses, drug trafficking, crimes. They feel stifling. People glare at outsiders. It feels dirty. There is no projection in my interpretation of this place–it was pretty obvious. I have a colleague who has been in Georgian prisons, and describes them as some of the most horrific places on earth. There is a a significant amount of torture that occurs here. This darkness was palpable, under the surface of beauty and tradition. The darkness is part of the depth.

One of the endearing things about Georgia is the people. I knew so little about their tragic, occupation-laden, proudly resistant history and culture. During the Bolshevik Revolution, most of the aristocracy, artists, and intellects were massacred. Georgian people have survived numerous attempts to destroy all traces of their rich, colorful, brilliant history. I wonder how many generations it takes to recover from such massive social losses? I have a very difficult time accepting this cruelty, a cruelty that wills to destroy an entire society. Of course, this has happened many times in human history. It doesn’t surprise me. But it always stuns me. And amazes me when it reveals the strength of the spirit to not only survive–but also to shine.