This is view you get if you walk about 30 feet down my alley at night. Looking back towards downtown Tbilisi, and directly into the chic neighborhood of Vake, you would expect to see well-lit buildings in the densely populated area. But, in fact, the only three things that stand out are three of Saakashvili’s brightest vanity projects. This Eiffel-tower-style glittering applied to the TV tower, the new glowing ferris wheel in Mtasminda Park, and one of the huge new “transparent” police stations, which straddles the road between Saburtalo and Vake.
A little late again, still learning. This is hard without a smart phone!
Anyways, yesterday I thought I would give you a look at the heating system for my room. Some Turkish made electric heater/fan/humidifier, which was starting to burn my floor a bit so it is now elevated with the help of a lockbox and Sergei Dovlatov.
If you can’t develop new film, you can always tape a mostly ruined medium format negative up in your window and shoot a photo of that, right?
That’s what I was thinking.
Okay, so I’m a little late on this one (in most time zones), but I was once again thwarted in photo processing efforts — turns out I also don’t have measuring cups, which generally help when making chemicals.
Nevertheless, I persevere and give you fun with a slow shutter in a dark bar.
This time I was lucky enough to catch a lion in his natural habitat — the depressingly cramped and muddy Tbilisi zoo.
Apparently the dormant grape vines in my courtyard produced an apple and a lemon. In winter! Weird.
I finally decided to get a photo-a-day going here on Three Kings for two main reasons — 1.) I haven’t been updating Three Kings nearly enough and 2.) I haven’t been taking nearly enough photos.
In this particular one, I bring you into my office. This is my workspace in my living room in the aftermath of Georgian mother’s day (No mother’s were present, but … well, it’s Georgia).
Keep tuning in, sometime this weekend I’ll develop a roll of film that includes shots from Abkhazia, snowy Tbilisi, and my cold kitchen.
In part two of my sojourn towards Abkazia, I finally arrived via Georgian and Russian checkpoints, conversations with a couple of new friends and marshrutkas of widely varying quality.
I was worried that it ran a bit long, but as anyone who has traveled in this region knows, there is simply no way to capture the richness of absurdity you encounter in 800 words or less.
Marshrutkas come in all shapes and sizes.
There are the shiny new Mercedes mini-buses like the one I took from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, and there are sputtering old commuter wagons with DIY seats, which, like the rest of the vehicle, are held together by duct tape, twine and prayer. There are sedans that also technically qualify – mostly 60’s model Volgas and Zhigulis – where every non-claustrophobic person in the neighborhood packs in and rides along a specific route, either splitting the fare or paying a set fee (the word “marshrutka” is short for “marshrutnoe taksi” – a fixed-route taxi in Russian).
As mentioned above, I got lucky with the first leg of my westward journey towards Abkhazia, spending the five-hour ride from Tbilisi to Zugdidi in a stunningly new and clean mini-bus, albeit in the worst seat for a tall person – the back left right corner. Still, at the station, several taxi drivers came up to me offering to drive me to Zugdidi for 200 lari ($120) as opposed to the 15 lari ($8) for the marshrutka ride, a price based purely on my Western appearance I am sure. Fat chance.
I sleepily arrived in Zugdidi’s central square around 1 p.m. and I had already called ahead to Dato Patsatsia, head of the Zugdidi-based Human Rights Centre, whom I hoped to meet with in the city. He met me shortly after I climbed out of the deluxe German marshrutka and led me to a massive Samogrelo-style house where a few human rights workers typed away in a small cold office full of maps and posters. To continue reading, click here.
This is the first part in my series for The Faster Times, chronicling my most recent trip to Abkhazia — last week. This time I was heading in to report on Turkish trade and investment in the partially recognized republic, and the state of the political opposition there.
Although I didn’t make it very far on my first day, I had too many observations in that short experience to just gloss over it.
On each of my three visits to Abkhazia over the last 18 months, I’ve seen an incredible amount of change.
The first thing along the journey that was radically different was the Tbilisi train station. The first time I took the night train to Zugdidi, the Georgian town closest to the de facto border with Abkhazia, the place looked abandoned. I approached the unlit train tracks and asked the figures standing around in the dark where I could buy tickets. They pointed to the dark shell of a structure surrounded by wooden and concrete barriers. All of the doors I could find were blocked. It looked like the kind of ghostly place that high school kids dare each other to break into with tales of a murderous caretaker. Once inside, the only occupied room in the massive building was a small waiting room with only one ticket counter open.
Now the old Soviet station has been renovated into a clean glitzy shopping mall with a train terminal at its center, and I immediately didn’t like it. I admit that like many Westerners living and traveling through the former Soviet Union I have a strange fetish for the old palaces of the proletariat — train stations, metro stations, etc.. The proud structures of a bygone era continue maintain a charming mixture of socialist realist murals and general dilapidation. This new station seemed almost offensively out of place.
In one of Tbilisi’s poorer neighborhoods, the big white building sits next to the city’s largest open-air market where merchants push everything from vegetables to panty hose and bathroom fixtures. On both sides of the train station, masses of marshrtukas – a type of panel van converted to squeeze in 20-or-so travelers – wobble around and rumble off, carrying commuters around the city and country. Stepping into the train station is like being transported to a different reality.
To continue reading, click here.
After having lots of ideas bouncing my head during my long holiday back in the United States, I finally developed a list of what I thought were the Best and the Worst developments of the Caucasus in 2010 for The Faster Times and finally jotted it all down during a long layover in Washington Dulles airport. Feel free to agree, disagree and lambast me in the comments below.
Like any good journalist knows, as the new year approaches, tradition dictates a warm look back at the year gone by and remember the good times and the bad that defined this notch on history’s timeline. This is done principally for two reasons: 1.) it’s an opportunity for journalists to take up the mantle of chroniclers of our times and 2.) it’s an easy way to fill space as we all take time off for the holidays.
And so, without further ado, I present the Best and Worst of the Caucasus 2010:
Best step towards peace and stability- Georgia’s unilateral non-use of force pledge towards Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Russia. It is unfortunate that the Georgian leadership waited so long to make such a pledge. Critics will say this plays into Russia’s hands, but it’s not like the policy of isolation and occasional attempts at seizure by force have brought Tbilisi any closer to resolution of its internal conflicts over the past 17 years. This agreement, accepted in principle by both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, puts the ball in their court and can begin the long journey of unwinding the deep mistrust between ordinary citizens on both sides.
Worst step towards peace and stability- Border skirmishes and blustery statementsbetween Azerbaijan and Armenia undermined peace in Nagorno-Karabakh throughout the summer. Despite peace summits in St. Petersburg, Russia and Almaty, Kazakhstan, bullets continued to fly along the line of contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces around the de facto border of Nagorno-Karabakh. Just 24 hours after the Russia-hosted summit, Azerbaijan mounted an incursion into Armenian-held territory that left five soldiers dead and that the OSCE deemed “an attempt to damage the peace process.”
To continue reading, click here.