a self-absorbed travelogue

Chapter 16: In which I attend my first international conference.

To talk about my dissertation site, Vani, is to talk about the remarkable career of Otar Lordkipanidze.  Although the site has been the focus of sustained archaeological investigation since 1948, it was not until Prof. Lordkipanidze took over as director that the site achieved international fame.  A prolific scholar, Prof. Lordkipanidze wrote in Russian, German, French, English and of course Georgian.  It is nearly impossible to study any period of archaeological interest in Georgia without coming across his work.  The academic community is full of his former students, including Guram Kvirkvelia, Darejan Kacharava and Dimitri Akhvlediani who are my mentors here in Georgia.  Though his scholarly pursuits were not confined to the problems posed by Vani, it was Vani that always held a special place in his heart.  He directed excavations there from 1966 until his sudden death in 2002.  And it is to him that most of the accepted interpretations about the site can be traced.

This past fall a international symposium was held to celebrate Prof. Lordkipanidze’s 80th birthday.  The symposium lasted three days and included an honorary symposium at which friends and colleagues talked about their experiences with Prof. Lordkipanidze, an international conference at the National Museum, a presentation and tour at the Vani museum and archaeological park, a dedication of a lecture hall and a city square to Prof. Lordkipanidze and a tour of the Kutiasi Museum.  As with everything in Georgia, breaks between events were filled with feasting and toasting.

As some may know, my dissertation project is part of a larger survey effort being carried out under the direction of my advisor Prof. Christopher Ratté. The National Museum invited Prof. Ratté and his team to present on the work being undertaken around the site of Vani.  As Prof. Ratté was unable to attend the conference, I had the honor of presenting our work to the gathered audience.

This was my first international conference and also my first experience with simultaneous translation. Every talk was translated into Georgian, Russian and/or English depending on the language of the person presenting.  Talks were given also given in French and German (unfortunately not translated in English).  The entire weekend the conference participants were treated like VIP’s, and I must admit that I could get used to being treated like a somebody.

Here are a couple of shots from the conference:

One of the lamps recovered from the horde discovered in 2007.

Prof. Braund discussing an ophiale that was a point of debate between himself and Prof. Lordkipanidze.

When it was my turn to present, I gave my camera to Guram so that he might take a action shot of me dropping truth bombs on the assembled audience.  Due to forgetfulness, no picture was taken.  Sorry, mom.  The next morning we rose early and boarded a bus and headed west to Vani.  On the ride out, I had the pleasure of talking with Prof. Michael Vickers.  We had a lovely chat about Georgia, Archaeology and a new rug he had purchased for his home office.  This last topic came up because it reminded him of our mutual friend and colleague, Henry Colburn.

We arrived at Vani in the late morning and proceeded to the museum where a few presentations were to be given.  It was here that I heard for the first time about a development plan for the museum and site that had been more than a year in the making.  Either I do not pay attention to what people tell me or I am out of the loop.

The presentations started with a brief hello and welcome by David Otarlordkipanidze, Director of the National Museum and Otar’s son.  He was followed by Darejan who gave a discussion of recent work at the site of Vani, and she was followed by Dieter Pfannenstiel from Ellis Williams Architects (Berlin, Germany) on the proposed expansion of the museum and the development of the site.

Museum director David Lordkipanidze delivering his opening remarks at the Vani museum.

Dieter, the lead architect from Ellis Williams Architects, discusses the plans for both the site and the museum.

Dieter, next to one of the poster displays on the museum expansion.

Poster #1 of the coming museum expansion.

Poster #2 of the planned museum expansion.

Once the presentations were concluded, we had some free time to visit the site.  Since I will be spending more time at Vani this summer, I will refrain from adding too many pictures here.  They are limited to the new signs and placards which were erected around the site.  I aided in editing the English and actually suggested the final Englishized name of the Museum

New sign for the museum.

New signs directing visitors to the museum and the archeaological "parc".

One of the new placard-benches which now dot the site.

Close-up of the placard. Information is in English and Georgian, and the placards include maps to orient visitors as well as pictures of finds from that area of the site.

Picture of a portion of the defensive walls from the middle terrace. Taken standing next to the placard show above.

Dieter, on the middle terrace near one of the placard-benches.

New sign on the old gate leading to the dig-house. The reflection is that of Prof. Vickers.

Picture taken of the "altar" on the upper terrace.

It was drizzling, so I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have like.  Never fear, there will be more in the future.

Our noble steed from the weekend.

A view from the museum looking over a portion of my survey universe. Der's pots in dem der hills!

From the site we were whisked away to the big supra of the weekend at the home of a local parliamentary minister.  This was the fanciest supra I have ever been to.  All the food was cooked in a secondary building where they were also drinking very fine cognac.  Here are the pictures of the building, the cooking and the, shall we say, leftovers.

This is where the magic happens.

Preparing the bread before baking it in the oven (tonis)

Bread baking in the oven (tonis). Reminds me of a tanduri oven.

Pig roasting on the spit.

Heads of the roasted pigs. Often these will be given as a gift to those who serve as tamada (toastmaster). I ate a bit of the cheek. Delicious.

We then took our seats at the banquet table and began to eat, drink and repeat.

View down the table.

Food, glorious food.

This is the table for the conference participants. I was unable to find a seat and thus decided to sit with everyone else outside.

This is Otar's widow responding to a toast in her honor.

Our tamada and owner of the house in which the supra was held.

My mother has requested more pictures of me in the blog, so I will oblige.  I really dislike having my picture taken and like it even less when I know other people will see it.  That being said, here I am with some of my Georgian friends.

Omar, the director of the Vani museum, and I toasting.

Nato! She is a school teacher in Vani and during the summer cooks for the expedition. She is absolutely the sweetest woman in the world.

Hi mom!

Zaza and I. Zaza holds the record for the shortest trip by car from Tbilisi to Vani.

Misha Tsereteli and I. Misha is my primary contact at the museum and the motivating force behind most of the museum's activities.

That night we slept in nice hotel rooms in Kutaisi.  The next day we visited the Kutaisi museum and Tsereteli University for a presentation and the dedication of the lecture room to Otar.  After this we drove quickly by the square that was to be named after him (it was pouring down rain) and then on to yet another supra.  That afternoon we drove back to Tbilisi.

Sorry it has taken me so long to post these photos.  As you can see there are a lot of them and my blog attention lasts only about 15 minutes at a time.  I hope to post a few things about food in the next week.  Stay tuned.


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