I confess to sloth, one of the seven deadly sins: greed, lust, envy, gluttony and two others I can’t remember but probably committed. The Christmas presents are wrapped and sitting on the kitchen floor because I refused to carry them any further. I’d already carried them from the store to the car and from the car up the steps and into the kitchen. Sloth refused to carry them one step further especially since there is no tree to put them under. Sloth decided back in November that it was too much effort for such a short time at home. We did compromise and put up a few decorations, later adding lights because the neighbors shamed us into it. There was much more effort this year to light up the night, so we put in a token contribution.
Sloth also had the idea of sending pictures to friends in lieu of writing stories sparking with witty repartee—bloody brilliant, Sloth! Hadn’t felt the urge to write but felt guilty if I didn’t—photos, brilliant… God bless Sloth. Ah to be happy hanging upside down from a tree branch and sleeping twenty hours a day. I aspire to become Sloth. But other than this darkest winter month, I probably won’t. Sloth’s opposite number, responsibility, kicks my ass harder and longer than Sloth can get it to sit. And so, I write.
Georgia and Macedonia, Macedonia and Georgia, where to start? Somewhere in the middle of it all is the story of the Georgian engineer tasked by the Soviets to build a hydro plant whose story converges with people on a train. The railroad passed by trestle over the mountain snow fed river where it joined with a larger river headed to the sea. This rail line predated the hydro plant and continued unmolested as the plant was sited just a bit down river.
The chief engineer was directed by the commissars to build a plant to power Tbilisi, at that time small and not suffering from any expectations or the likelihood of exceeding them. This man decided to think ahead to what Tbilisi might become and built a plant with excess generation capacity. Excess generation required more money than budgeted and he built it anyway. For this, he was arrested and convicted for crimes against the People’s Republic and summarily executed for cost overrun. In less than ten years, he was proven a visionary; Tbilisi needed every megawatt he had built. Now there is a monument to him outside the plant, which still operates to power a portion of the city.
During the war, the power plant was of such strategic importance that passengers on the trains sitting on the side of the power plant were ordered to close the curtains on their windows, so they could not observe its operation. Those who didn’t follow orders were shot by Russian snipers.
For those of you thinking, shooting people for cost overrun is not such a bad idea….hey, it’s Christmas, so how about just a public flogging?
Since I’ve begun in Georgia, I’ll stay in Georgia and work backward to Macedonia. The client staff went far out of their way to be hospitable and were foiled only by high winds and cold in their efforts to show me a greater part of the country. The night we were to tour old Tbilisi the wind gusts were near 50, so we saw bits of it by car. This is a magical place by night and I will look forward to wandering it in summer. The old Georgian architecture reached outward with cantilevered second floor balconies on nearly every building.
The consolation prize that evening was a restaurant with a view. The city lights at night highlighting the fort and old Tbilisi make for a grand view. Georgians take their eating and drinking seriously. Plate after plate after plate arrived; all of it quite wonderful. Walnuts make an entrance frequently. The cheese bread is heavenly and there was not a single thing I tasted, I would not eat again.
We had been scheduled to visit a number of places but the cold and high winds continued. We did visit a regional service center and on the way back, we stopped at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Don’t worry I can’t pronounce it either. The Georgian language is unique and uses its own script that, to me, looks like the Khmer script of Cambodia. It helped some with names to know that “shvili” at the end of names means “child of” and “idze” at the end means “son of.”
On the way back, we stopped at a bistro for lunch, including Khinkali. The closest analog to Khinkali is the Chinese soup dumpling. Khinkali is a circle of noodle dough, with a mix of ground pork, beef, onion and spices. The noodle is then closed by twisting the dough into a stem, so that the meat cooks inside of the “mushroom” top. To eat, you pick it up by the stem and as you bite the dough, you drink the meat juice, then, you eat the rest. They are quite delicious. They are even neat and tidy as long as you don’t break the noodle at the wrong time.
The day of the aforementioned hydro plant, the Georgians graciously took me to Mtskheta Monastery. It is built high above the confluence of rivers. One river hails from Russian and the other from Turkey. The waters are two different colors, one green, one blue. The Mtskheta looks down on the Cathedral and the Cathedral up to Mtskheta. Not far from either, we lunched at a winery where wine in made in the old Georgian way.
The grapes are crushed but pulp, juice, seed and skin remain together in gigantic clay pots. The pots are sealed and earth is heaped upon them. Six months later, the sediment settled to the bottom, the vintner tastes the product. It is either good or spoiled. If good, it is bottled. With the skins and the natural yeasts on them, the wine is sometimes in danger of being too sweet or not fermenting properly. When it turns out right, it is very good indeed. The whites had an earthy quality not found in any other wine.
It may sound as if we didn’t work at all, but we did. The work day often went until 6:30 pm and with the traffic, I was rarely back at the hotel before 7 or 7:30. With the nine hour time difference, I’d then need to answer emails from DC. In the evening, I walked the local neighborhood and attempted a bit of shopping but the part of Tbilisi I inhabited was upscale Euroshops and little of local production. Their local specialty is enameled jewelry and I eventually stumbled on a shop with better than tourist and lower than “designer” quality and bought a few things. This schedule got me to do the one thing I’d never do here—hit a treadmill early in the morning.
Working backwards from Georgia was the longest airport run I’d done in quite some time. The flight leaving Skopje was on a fog delay and so in Istanbul, there was less than an hour to connect to Tbilisi. Pleading transfer, the Turkish Airline rep let me into the short lane for security and immigration. Even with that I did run the distance to and was the next to the last person to check into the Tbilisi flight.