Sunday, July 12, 2009

Surami: the town, the fortress and the film

Finally, I'm back. It's been a really long time since my previous post again. 3 months, in fact. What a shame! Well, it's not that I'm a pretty lazy blogger, it's rather because I've got too many things to do all year round except for July and August, when there are no lectures, no exams at the University, when all normal people go on holiday and freaks like me and my colleagues try to use the opportunity and do some scientific research or write a new textbook for students. Today I've decided that my textbook can wait and it's really time to come back to writing my blog.

So what has happened during the last three months? You now, economic and financial crises have their advantages: the employer offers you to go on unpaid "holidays" and you get some extra free time. That's great, even though you don't get paid. The most important thing is that you can spend this time with those you love. Wanna guess..? Yes, that's right, in the meantime, I've been to Georgia again! Well, not only that. My family name is Šileikaitė-Kaishauri now (I like it very much :chups:) Yes, we got married when I was in Tbilisi and you can read about this adventure of ours in Rezo's blog, the post is called Between Two Worlds. Maybe some day I'll tell you about the peculiarities of the way the Civil Registry of Georgia works (trust me, they are unique!), but not today.

Today's topic is Surami, the place where Rezo spent a lot of time as a child and that means a lot to him. It's the place where Rezo's Granny and Aunt used to live, the place he had told me a lot about before we had some unforgettable time there in August 2008 and a place that means a lot to me, too.

I was reading Rezo's post about how we got married some days ago when I saw that he had published our pictures taken in Surami a year before (we had no photos of our wedding because there was no wedding party and things like that and that is one of the things I appreciate in our relationship - everything is quite unusual but I feel that it's the way it is meant to be). When I saw the pictures, my thoughts went back to those incredibly happy moments and I felt a strong desire to tell you about that place.

To start with, Surami is a small mountain resort town with a population of some 9,000 people located in the Shida Kartli (Inner Kartli) region of Georgia, on the southern slopes of the Likhi Range (a.k.a. Surami Range) that divides Georgia into two parts (the western and the eastern ones).

According to historical sources, the first human settlement existed on the present territory of Surami in the early Bronze Age (it's 3300–2000 BC, in case you don't remember).

It might be Surium referred to by Classical authors as situated in the eastern part of the kingdom of Colchis. Because of its strategical location, Surami became a heavily fortified town in the 12th century AD. The famous Surami Fortress was probably built at that time.

There is a local legend associated with the Surami fortress. Preparing to defend their country from the enemy, people started building a fortress, but each time the wall had reached the roof level, it started crumbling to pieces and collapsed.
According to a fortune-teller's prediction, the wall of the fortress would only hold, if the bravest and most handsome young man was walled up in it.
Of course, there was a brave young man who was ready to sacrifice his life for his country. Thanks to his selfless deed, the fortress stopped crumbling to pieces, the building was completed and nothing could ever destroy it.
But the hero's mother used to come up to the wall and cry for his son every day, that's why one of the walls is wet and darker in colour than the others.

Every time I look at the pictures we took at the Surami Fortress, they make me think of the film called Ambavi Suramis tsikhisa (The Legend of the Surami Fortress) (1984) directed by Sergei Parajanov and Dodo Abashidze, based on Daniel Chonkadze's novel Suramis tsikhe (Surami Fortress). The film was made in memory of the Georgian warriors of all times who had given their lives for their country.

It's not an easy film at all, so think twice before watching it if you are used to simple action and adventure films where everything is clear and comes to a happy end. You have to watch this movie with the right attitude.

It's a parable, a film rich in colours and details, accompanied by unique music, a film that makes you feel that the truth is not what you see on the surface, but much deeper, somewhere out there, the real looks like the surreal and vice versa.

According to Hal Erickson, "So many ancient legends are based upon self-sacrifice that one would think that Legend of Surami Fortress would have nothing new to offer--and one would be quite unfair to this well-crafted film to think along those lines. Never as brilliant as the critics made it out to be, Suram Fortress is still an immensely satisfying work from a gifted film-making team."

When you look up at the Surami fortress standing at its foot, it grows over your head, monumental, tremendous and stern, its walls seem to remember the severe battles witnessed in the past, the clanking of arms and the shouting of fighting people. Times change, but it still remains where it was, as though it was saying "It's the land of a freedom-loving nation, people who can give their lives for their country. I am here to remind you of that." The feeling is unforgettable, indeed. And when you climb up the hill, there is a wonderful view over the country.

Among the pictures Rezo, his brother Soso and I took at the Surami Fortress, there is one representing Rezo and me in front of that wall where, according to the legend, the hero's mother used to stand and cry. As you can see in the picture, the wall really seems wet and dark.

To tell you the truth, walking over the ruins made my knees tremble, not only because I am afraid of the height a little bit, but merely because of the excitement that I am finally at this place, the place I had seen in the movie, the place I had heard a lot of. It was good to feel Rezo's strong and warm hand holding me tight.

Coming back to the town of Surami, nowadays it is a quiet place, just ideal to have a rest far away from the busy city life and civilization, breathing fresh air, drinking mineral water rich in iron directly from a spring just in the middle of the street, on the way to the greengrocer's, spending the days in the hammock hanging outside, enjoying lots of sun and all sorts of fruit in the garden behind the house, and the rainy evenings or stormy nights inside the old house. In addition to all these advantages, it's a wonderful place to spend your holidays with the man you love :)

When Rezo and I arrived there, he was concerned a bit about whether the little comfort-loving European Princess (he-he, that's me) would be able to live in a small countryside house without amenities for several days and so on, but I felt just great. It was a good opportunity to see the place where, as I mentioned before, Rezo had grown up, to share his memories, to feel his Granny's almost imperceptible but still warm presence, to wake up beside him and hear his breathing.

What about the shower and the household duties? Of course having a bathroom with central heating and so on would be good, but bringing water from the draw well, heating it up on a gas stove, driving to exchange the gas cylinder (yes, we ran short of gas in the middle of warming up the water necessary to wash my hair), going shopping for fresh bread and cooking can be fun as long as you do everything together.

Now I'll tell you something I once wrote in my facebook. I am head over ears in love with Rezo. If you have seen his homepage, you know that he's a talented artist and designer, if you often visit Tbilisi forum, you know that he's a skilled gamer and solver of any kind of computer problems. What I like about him, is his honesty and his sense of humour :D But not only that, of course. Well, I could talk about Rezo for ages... But I'll just add that he's my partner, my lover, my best friend and my everything, just all in one :2kiss:

P.S. Enjoy a scene from the film :)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wolf-Headed King, Boiled Pheasant and Hot Springs: How Tbilisi was founded

It's been.. well, not exactly ages, but almost two months since my last post, so it is high time to continue with my story about Tbilisi.

This time I'm going to tell some words about the history of Tbilisi, namely, who and how founded this city.

Tbilisi (see the photo by Gia Gvilava on the right) has been the capital of Georgia for fifteen hundred years, but archeological excavations of the region revealed that the territory of present-day Tbilisi was settled by humans as early as the Bronze Age (4000-2000 B.C.).

The earliest recorded accounts of settlement, however, come from the second half of the 4th century A.D. As I mentioned in my previous post, a fortress named Narikala had already been built on the territory even before the city of Tbilisi itself was founded.

You can see here panorama photos of Tbilisi by miss_rubov.

As soon as I learned the word tbili (which means warm in Georgian), I noticed that this word and the name of the Georgian capital city Tbilisi had something in common. As I was told later, the name Tbilisi was given to the city because of the numerous natural sulphuric hot springs coming out of the ground in the area.

According to old Georgian historical sources, Tbilisi was founded in the middle of the 5th century A.D. by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali.

A legend tells that one day King Vakhtang was hunting in the heavily wooded region of the present-day Tbilisi with a falcon when his falcon injured a pheasant. The injured bird fell into a nearby hot spring. When it was taken out of the spring, the falconers saw that it had been boiled and ready to serve. King Vakhtang was so impressed that he decided to build there a city.

Later on, King Vakhtang's son and successor, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi, following his father's will, and Tbilisi became a significant industrial, social, and cultural centre in the Caucasus, emerging as a major transit route for global trade projects due to its strategical location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia (By the way, it is situated along one of the historic Silk Road routes).

King Vakhtang I Gorgasali's reign coincided with hard times of Georgian history. He is known as a brilliant politician, smart statesman and brave warrior who fought for the independence of Georgia against the Persian invaders. Numerous legends and folk songs have been created in honor to him.

In Kartlis Tskhovreba (The Life of Kartli) by Juansher, one of the main Georgian historical sources, King Vakhtang is depicted as a national hero devoted to fighting for Georgia's freedom: "...In his times he exceeded other men in height, good-looks and strength.... And King Vakhtang ordered to make his golden helmet with a wolf's head on the front, and a lion's head and mane - at the back... This Vakhtang built Tbilisi and the city of Mtskheta... His reign signified the revival of victorious fights when the Persians were defeated and other enemies succumbed, because of his terrifying image and height of a Goliath, famed in the world, exceeding all in immensity, since in height".

The name Gorgasali derives from the Persian gorgasar (meaning wolf-headed). The Persians called King Vakhtang the Wolf-Headed because of the shape of the helmet he wore. The name Vakhtang comes from the Old-Iranian *varka-tanu (meaning with the body of a wolf).

King Vakhtang Gorgasali had numerous fortresses built and last, but not least, it was him who helped the Georgian Orthodox Church gain autocephaly and was later canonized as Saint King Vakhtang I Gorgasali.

The monument of Tbilis's founder King Vakhtang located next to the Metekhi Church (see the picture above and the photo by shioshvili below) is one of the symbols of Tbilisi today.

Monday, February 9, 2009

My First Visit to Tbilisi

I had been in love with the Georgian language and culture and dreaming of visiting Georgia for some four years when Lina, my colleague from the University, announced one day: "Our singing group is going to Tbilisi, you can come along as a sponsor".

Despite the strong wish to see everything I had read and heard about with my own eyes and meet my friends, I hadn't managed to visit Georgia, because there had always been something in the way: no time, no money or no right company as people preferred Bulgaria, Spain, Egypt, Turkey or any other place. You see, my day usually resembles a crazy marathon full with phone calls, meetings, e-mails, lectures and other stuff so that I can hardly find time for something else.

Here I want to thank Lina for her sincere support with arranging all the formalities like booking the flight and the hotel. At first, I missed all the possible deadlines for arranging the trip, but some time later Lina appeared and told me resolutely: "We have booked a spare ticket, it's yours!" Then I told myself: "Now or never!" and decided to forget all the business matters realizing that the University had existed since 1579, so I wouldn't see it in ruins if I went on a trip for a week.

Thanks to Lina I just had everything done for me and got on the bus heading for Riga where we had to take a plane to Tbilisi late at night on May 30, 2008. I just couldn't believe that I was going to see Georgia!!!

We arrived in Tbilisi at about 4 a.m., but I was so excited that I felt neither tired nor sleepy. I must admit, after I fetched my luggage and directed the steps towards the exit door knowing that there was someone waiting for me behind it, my heart started pounding and the knees were.. hem... not exactly trembling, but.. in short, it was a strange feeling, a mixture of joy and anxiety.

When the door opened, the first thing I saw was Rezo smiling and waving at me in the middle of the crowd and I was relieved at once.

Forgive me my propensity to incidental digressions, my dear readers, but now I have to say a couple of words about Rezo Kaishauri for those of you who don't know this contemporary Georgian artist. Rezo is a surrealist and considers it his personal goal "to represent the unreality with maximum reality, trying to make you believe in what you see." And he is successful at that! I was literally enchanted by his works when I met him on MSN in 2004, just by incident, while looking for someone to practice my Georgian with. I am no art expert, but when I look at his pictures, I just feel that they are alive. Only a person who is fully devoted to what he or she is doing is able to express his or her dreams and ideas by creating such unique images. My favourite one is Sad Demon.

Well, where did we stop? I saw Rezo waving at me and then, suddenly, someone energetic bumped into me and hugged me. It was another friend of mine, Irakli Naskidashvili, the web developer of Info-Tbilisi (a highly recommended web guide to Tbilisi), also known as Naskida or Bublik :)

Tbilisi is a city of surprises. I had several opportunities to receive evidence of that. When we were leaving Vilnius for Tbilisi, we were dreaming of warm and sunny weather and of course we were wearing T-shirts, because it was quite warm in Vilnius and Riga at that time, too. But as soon as I went out of the Tbilisi airport terminal, I felt my nose and hands turn to small pieces of ice because of the freezing wind. Sunny Georgia! Well, really! Luckily, I hadn't taken off my leather jacket, yet.

As Rezo had come to the airport in his brother's car, we took a short night sight-seeing tour. Night Tbilisi is charming! On the way to the hotel my heart was melting with joy: I was in the city of my dreams with the people that were so dear to my heart, what could be better?!

Another surprise I experienced within my first hours in Tbilisi in addition to the cold weather was the fact that several of the rooms we had booked at the hotel were still occupied and would be free only at the noon. Nevertheless, that wasn't bad news. Unlike my colleagues from the singing group, I could start exploring Tbilisi without wasting any time for sleep (actually, I am used to short or almost no sleep:))

Irakli who took me for a drive in his car so I could see the city waking up to meet the new day. We drove along the streets and Irakli commented on what we saw. Thanks to my guide and good friend Bublik, it became one of the most exciting tours in my life. I saw so many places at once that it is impossible to tell about all of them right now.

To start with, I saw the Rustaveli Avenue (see the photo by flyergeorge on the right), named after the famous medieval Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli, the author of The Knight in the Panther's Skin. 1.5 km long, the Rustaveli Avenue is the main street of Tbilisi due to a large number of governmental, public, cultural, and business buildings (e. g., the Parliament of Georgia, the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, the Rustaveli Museum, the Georgian Academy of Sciences and many others) located along or near it.

Then we had some morning coffee at the McDonald's. It was just another of my crazy adventures and an unique experience to be sitting in a car in the middle of a city I have seen for the first time in my life, drinking coffee at 6 a.m., learning to say me minda pulis gadakhurdaveba (I want to exchange money) and feeling as if I had been doing this for ages. Thank you, Bublik :)

Well, speaking of Tbilisi, I must say that from the first moment on, I felt there like at home. There are places in the world you visit again and again but they remain strange and cold. And there are places you feel comfortable at first sight, they appear familiar even if you don't know anybody or anything there. You just feel that it's a natural part of your life.

The next place I want to mention is the Narikala Fortress along with Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia) next to it.

Located on the Sololaki ridge, a strategical spot, the Narikala fortress, described by the annalists as inaccessible, had existed overlooking the area even before the city of Tbilisi itself was founded. The citadel dates back to the 4th century. Its original name that suits the stormy life of the Georgian capital was shuris tsikhe (invidious fortress) and it was only centuries later that the fortress was named Nari-Kala (the small fortress). Time passing, Narikala witnessed invasions by Arabs, Persians, Turks and Russians, served as a defense and as a royal palace, but it has always commanded the city and drawn one's attention from anywhere as one of the symbols of Tbilisi.

Climbing up the steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical garden of Tbilisi is not easy but it's worth doing it, indeed. Once you have reached the top, there is a fantastic view over the city, the Mtkvari river and the landscape (you can see it above).

Another symbol of Tbilisi overlooking the city is the 20-meter-tall aluminium statue of Kartlis Deda (photo by enrguerrerro) situated only a short walk from the Narikala Fortress. Wearing a Georgian national dress and holding a cup of wine in one hand to greet friendly visitors and a sword in her other hand for those who come as enemies, the monumental Mother of Georgia symbolizes the Georgian national character: wine stands for hospitality and warmth so generously shared with the friends and the sword means that every Georgian loves freedom most of all and is ready to fight for it, should anybody try to infringe on Georgia's liberty.

Then Irakli took me to the Kus Tba - the Turtle Lake. We went for a long walk in this green and pleasant recreational zone and a place where festivals and concerts are held. It is a paradise for those who love nature that's why it is a favourite place of Tbilisi residents who come here on weekends. People of all ages from babies to venerable old men come here to enjoy the fresh air, the green of the park, the sun on the beach and the water. It was Saturday morning, but the park was full with people who were jogging, walking, playing chess or backgammon, sunbathing, or just having a talk.

As it was early morning, unfortunately, the Open Air Museum of Ethnography, located to the west of the Turtle Lake, occupying 52 hectares of land and housing more than 8 thousand exhibits to represent 14 ethnographic zones: Kartli, Samegrelo, Adjara, Abkhazia, Svaneti, Khevsureti, Kakheti, Meskheti, Javakheti, Guria, Imereti, Racha, Lechkhumi and Ossetia, was closed. In addition to the architectural monuments, the museum exposes ethnographic materials - different kinds of tools, textile and ceramics so it is a "must see" for everyone interested in the Georgian culture.

Finally, we decided to have lunch in a small cafe back in the centre of the city where I had the opportunity to taste the real khachapuri - a traditional Georgian dish made of a kind of bread with cheese, egg or other filling. It was delicious! Oh, God, the Georgian cuisine is marvelous, indeed, I miss it so much here in Vilnius. I could talk about Georgian food for ages, but... hem... I've just noticed that I am literally starving so I'll end this post with a link to an article on the tasty Georgian food written by Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll and illustrated with lots of pics. You can see one of them representing fresh khachapuri above.

Doesn't it look tasty? Bon appétit! I'm going to penetrate my fridge :)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

To start with, ...

I'd like to explain who I am, why I have set up this blog and what or, more exactly, whom is it designed for.

Well, I have been always a little bit crazy in comparison to most of my sober friends, workmates and relatives. They all wanted me to be Diana Anna Maria, an exemplary student, teacher, colleague, friend, daughter, aunt and so on... To tell you the truth, I didn't mind as I always was and still remain an incorrigible optimist and altruist, hoping for the better (and working hard to achieve it), loving people, helping them, just making them happy... But there was someone else inside of me, namely, Metalliana, a bad girl wearing black leather, listening to metal music, practicing her little sorcery now and then, mocking and rebelling when she sees injustice or stupidity. In short, a witch.

One day, about five years ago, this witch fell in love with Georgia: its magnificent history, unique culture, its warm, openhearted people and their language that sounds like a small mountain river, is extremely difficult to learn, but even more exciting when you try to analyze it from the philological point of view. You see, a witch has a soul, too. And as a bad example is catching, Diana Anna Maria caught this infection immediately and became a dedicated supporter of everything Georgian, too.

I was named slightly insane (Georgian!? Georgia?! It's so far away... What do you need it for?! Does it make a sense at all?!), but I didn't care.

In my opinion, it does make sense. I've learned a lot since I took interest in Georgia, not only the language. I've met a lot of interesting people and would like to thank them all for supporting me in my desire to get to know Georgia better, even those, who made me suffer once, because I remember only the good things. I've taken a look into the Georgian people's hearts, warm, open and cheerful, but at the same time, proud and freedom-loving and a bit lazy, to tell you the truth, but charming :) I've been to Georgia for three times so far. I was warned about the possibility of being disappointed, but I wasn't disappointed at all. Of course, there are good things and bad things in that country, like elsewhere, but my interest in it even arouse since my first visit. Together with a colleague, I've been teaching a course on Georgia's history, culture and language at our University, doing my best to spread the infection. And life has rewarded me with the most precious gift I've ever been given, but this blog is not about it, so let's come back to the topic :)

I've collected a lot of Georgian stuff during the last five years: interesting articles, useful links, software, dictionaries, teaching materials and I would like to share all this with people outside Georgia, who are interested in Georgian language, culture, history, traditions. Finding good resources on the net is quite time-consuming so I thought, it would be useful to have a kind of all-in-one collection with some comments.

I had been thinking about the possibility of placing it somewhere online for some time, when my friend Rezo told me he'd just created a blog. As I mentioned before, a bad example is infectious. A blog? Why not? Oh yesss! :D And here we are.

The blog is called Vilnius - Tbilisi, like a picture created by Rezo. Why Vilnius - Tbilisi? I live in Vilnius, but my heart is in Tbilisi, so I am somewhere in the middle, hovering over (or more exactly: between) both these places. I know there are people who love me and are loved by me as well both here in Vilnius and there in Tbilisi. And I am just happy.

Well, that's the history of this blog. Got interested? Hang on! More stuff is coming.