Chris Wolf, teacher, gourmand, Nantmeal, PA
It was hot. Ice cream was in order. However just saying ‘icecream’ in Georgian is no small undertaking. There is no adequate transliteration with Latin characters for ‘naqini'. The 'q' consonant is something between a ‘k’ and an ‘h’, said as far back in the throat as humanly possible without choking! Someone told me, “Imagine you are crushing an ice cube stuck in your throat and the resulting sound should be close.”
We stopped at the bazaar in Gori, and while John got some of the unpronounceable cold desert for us, I walked through the stalls, under ragged tarpaulins of blue and orange.
The boxes of fresh produce were endless. Anna was curious about some of the beans in long pods that one doesn’t usually see in the grocery stores back home. She asked the man in Russian what they were called. I don’t know if she got a satisfactory answer in the way of nomenclature, but the vendor gave an enthusiastic answer all the same,
“These are great! Start by cutting up some red onion, see here. Put them in the pan with some hot oil, then the beans. Cook them for about half an hour. That’s how my mother does it- dzalian gemrielia!” [it's really delicious!]
Georgia is a country rushing forward, for better or for worse, modernizing, opening up to tourism and western ways. Now is the time to come before anything else is tainted by the swift tide of globalization, while there is still so much that is wild, and old, and hilariously not first world; while there are still bazaars like the one in Gori, and soviet-era cars riding the roads piled high with whatever produce is ripe, and while you still need to try quite hard not to eat locally and in season.
The monastery tour would be worth it simply for the opportunity to travel through the dramatic landscapes that make up this Valley of Karts [meaning of the name of the country Sa-kart-vel-o]. It is a dramatic land that ranges from a rapidly modernizing capital to lush forests, dry lands, rugged untamed hills and steep river valleys.
But the ten days also provided me with much more than a sense of Georgia’s history (and some incredible photos). Coming to the end of the monastery tour in July this past year I felt filled with the magic and mystery of the ancient land of Georgia, Sakartvelo.
I have a vivid memory of standing in the carved out chapel in the cave city of Vardzia, looking up at frescoes that easily predate the entirety of America’s history, as polyphonic harmonies sung by John, Eka, Anna and Mama Lazare rose up around me.
I was transported to another age, far from the modern western world.