a self-absorbed travelogue


Chapter 22: Letter from the Front

I know it has been a long time since my last blog post, but I assure you it was not for lack of trying. Whenever I felt the urge to write something, I didn’t have the time to do so. When I did have the time, I was asleep. Much has happened since the March thaw set in and the project is humming along. We are currently on a week break, which is why I finally have the time to sit down and write a little bit about what we have been up to.

News since my last post:

1) On April 16th, we moved into a new apartment in a house near the Vani Museum. We are able to hold more people here and it offers better access to the resources of the museum. We had DSL internet hooked up soon after and are now fully connected to the world outside Vani. The internet has also allowed me to back up our computer data on both Dropbox and Google Drive. All our GIS data is stored on Dropbox and our photos are auto uploaded from Picasa 3 into Google Drive. It’s pretty sweet and I go to bed with peace of mind that not everything will be lost if the unthinkable happens.

2) We have surveyed two 4km2 grid squares with both intensive and extensive survey. We have started in our third and should be done with it by the middle of June. Hopefully we can complete two more grids giving us a total of 7 grids. My heart was set on 8, but the enormity of this task is beginning to set in.

3) We have adopted three puppies which we found abandoned while on survey. Though we enjoy their company, we are beginning the process of finding them homes. Taking care of three puppies, a house full of students and keeping my own sanity has proven to be a bit more challenging than I had hoped.

4) I have not cut my hair since I left the US. Though I have lived with curly hair my entire life, I have never really experienced the full force of its curliness. That is, until now. How do people live like this? I now totally understand all the curly hair jokes they made on 30 Rock. Curly hair is a curse.

5) I am quickly running out of clothes. I brought three pairs of jeans with me and two of them are almost completely destroyed. My socks are blowing out at the rate of two pair a week. I am actually going to buy some more today. The biggest problem is that my boots are almost completely destroyed. They are only two years old, but Georgia and really done a number on them. At this rate I will be returning to the US in athletic shorts and a I “heart” Tbilisi t-shirt.

That’s the news for now. I apologize for the lack of photos, but it takes way too long to upload them (read 1 hour per photo) and I don’t currently have the time necessary. Sorry, mom!

I hope everyone out there is doing peachy. In two days, we dive back into the second half of the season. I hope it is even more successful than the first half.


Chapter 21: The Thaw is On

Thankfully, ours is a planet that wobbles and spring appears to have finally come to Georgia. The snow has melted, the sun is visible on occasion and flowers are beginning to bloom. This change in the weather has definitely affected my mood. I am ready to find me some archaeology. Granted I was ready to find said archaeology as early as March 10th, but there is no fighting the weather. Before I go on with the happenings over the past week, I want to apologize for the lack of pictures. My last blog post took an inordinate amount of time to complete, and it was all due to the photos I uploaded. This week I only have a few minutes to write. So, the pictures will have to wait. Again, my apologies.

This week has been equal parts productive and unproductive. On the productive side, I have completed most of the research and outlining for a paper my advisor wants me to write concerning Colchian pottery. I think its going to be pretty good and am interested to see how it turns out. I also completed two full days of solo survey. This is the hardest kind of survey to do, especially from a motivation standpoint. To start this year I decided to returned to Mshvidobis Gora, the hill that lies to the northeast of Vani. At the far western end of this hill (really a ridge) are the remains of a medieval tower  which I had documented last year. I wanted to get some better pictures and to check a measurement that didn’t seem right. Luckily I forgot my tape measure and neglected to replace the camera SD card before I left the house. Sooo, I wandered around the hill and did some cleaning of the structure in preparation for the photos. Two days later, I returned to the tower and got the photos and measurements. Afterward, I decided to head east along the ridge to take pictures of the valley before the trees leaf out. I took my time, making sure to get all the photos I could possibly ever want. Eventually, I came to the highest point on the ridge where I decided to take a rest and record what I had done up to that point. While sitting there, I became aware of the large number of cobbles and small boulders which littered the ridge here. I then noticed that, due to erosion, there were areas were large numbers of these stones had slid creating linear features on the surface.

I made note of them in my notebook and decided to walk over these features to get a sense of the size of the stones and the total area of the spread. After about ten feet, my eye caught something orange slightly covered by stones. It was a piece of burnt daub. This material is created when daub from a wattle and daub structure (for lack of a better source, see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wattle_and_daub) experiences a burning event.   Burnt daub found archaeological often is created when the structure itself is burned (either intentionally or by accident). Finding these generally indicates occupation of the period I am most interested in (second half of the first millennium BCE). Needless to say, I got excited. A few feet farther, and there were three pieces and then more and then more. After about 30 minutes of unsystematic looking, I found at least 30 pieces of daub which were strewn over an area of about 100m by 30 or 40 m. Jackpot…maybe. Given the slope of the area and the heavy rainfall it experiences, there is little doubt that the area over which this material was spread is not the actual extent of occupation (if this does in fact indicate occupation). Unfortunately, I found only one fragment of pottery which likely dates to the 3rd or 4th centuries BCE. It was heavily worn, but retained some tell-tale decoration. I also found two pieces of flint.

This is exciting for two reasons: 1) it is on a hill that faces Vani and, if the material holds up, was contemporary with it and 2) for the second year in a row I found a site on the first day of survey. Those who do archaeological survey will know how important is for one’s own moral to find a site early. It lets you know that there is stuff to be found if you just get off your butt and go look. Once I have more help, I will return to the site and do a quick gridded collection of the surface ceramics and stone artifacts (including daub). Hopefully this will allow us to get a feel for the the type of activity that took place here. If it is still promising, I hope that in the near future we can carry out some geophysical prospection to really see what’s up. Productivity wow!

As for the unproductive part, I can thank the weather and my own inability to stay motivated in the face of setbacks. Though it has thawed, we still have driving rain and cold temps most days. If I was more hardcore, I would still go out and do some work. I am not that hardcore. The other hurdle that has gotten in the way of work is the every present supra. This week was the birthday of Nato’s mother. We went to their house and proceeded to have a proper supra for 5 hours. A “proper” supra means that wine is not really optional. Supras are a continuing danger here in Georgia. There is an etiquette to the supra and it often interferes with the goals of a survey archaeologist. I continue to get better at navigating them, but sometimes there is no escape.

So, that is this past week in a nutshell. I wanted to force myself to write this week as to encourage a weekly update of the blog. We will see how that goes. I have had very little time to work on the official working blog of the project, but will put my shoulder into it tomorrow and hopefully get it live within the week. See you on the other side of the week!

Chapter 17: In which I get over conferenced and under showered.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.  My sincere apologies to those who read this blog for my long absence.  I can honestly report that my lack of blogging owes to a series of events both fortunate and unfortunate that begin at the beginning of April this year.  For the sake of both catching you up and keeping this as brief as possible, I will begin where all good stories should begin: at the beginning.

At the beginning of April a conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria for Fulbright researchers working in various countries in eastern Europe.  The conference was a great chance to meet fellow researchers, check out Bulgaria and escape from Georgia for a few days.  I unfortunately lost most of the pictures from my Rebel due to a massive computer failure…more on that later.  Anyway, here is one of the only good pictures from the weekend I still have.  This is me with the United Buddy Bear from Georgia.  Check out the others here (http://www.buddy-baer.com/united-buddy-bears/united-buddy-bears-show/united-buddy-bears-show.html).

I returned from Bulgaria to Georgia early in the morning on April 11th and couldn’t sleep.  So I got online to check Facebook and putz around Google News for a awhile.  I noted on Facebook that there was going to be a talk later that day by Prof. Michael Vickers, formerly of the Ashmolean Museum.  I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Vickers last fall at the conference in honor of Otar and I decided to go to the talk.  It was scheduled for 3pm that day at the National Museum.  I went to bed around 4am hoping I would get enough sleep.

Alas, I did not.  On the positive side, I was up in plenty of time to arrive at the talk.  It lasted until 4:30ish and afterward I approached Prof. Vickers to say hello.  We talked briefly and I asked him why he was in Georgia.  He said he was there to moderate a conference of Georgian and Oxford students to be held in Vardzia which was to begin the next day.  Surprised that I did not know about it, he suggested I email Prof. Vakhtang Licheli.  I raced home and sent an email.

Now, I have made it clear before that timely responses to email in Georgia should not be expected.  I was not hopeful I would hear from Prof. Licheli in time, but checked my email one more time at 11pm before I went to bed.  To my surprise he had responded.  To my further surprise we would be leaving the next morning at 8am for 3 days in Vardzia.  I quickly packed a bag and went to bed.

The next morning we met at TSU and I immediately noticed that I had packed for the wrong trip.  Everyone was in camping mode and my bag was packed for “impress the crowd” mode.  Moreover, everyone was talking about all the snow in Vardzia and how cold the cave would be…..cave, you ask?  Yes, the first day of the conference was held in one of the caves of Vardzia.  Behold:

To the conference cave!

Inside the cave

The caves of Vardzia from afar.

It was decided that the cave was a bit too cold to hold the entirety of the proceedings, so we moved one of the houses situated below Vardzia.  The conference was a blast and it gave me the opportunity to meet the next generation of Georgian archaeologists. Though it was cold and we did not have adequate supplies of hot water (or in my case any at all), the conference was a great success.  I was even lucky enough to be asked to present my work which is always nice.  All in all I must say that based on the level of professionalism shown by the Georgian students, the future of Georgian archaeology looks very bright indeed.

After the conference, I returned to Tbilisi where I had four days to pack before I moved to Vani to begin my field work.  During a part of these four days, I had the pleasure of hosting two Oxford students as they explored the city.  It was nice to have company and it really is true that you see things with new eyes when acting as a tour guide.  That being said, with guests I had an even more truncated schedule and found myself becoming a bit frantic as I prepared to move west. But as always, it all worked out and on April 20th I boarded a bus and headed to Vani.

For the sake of brevity, I will leave the story here and return to it in my next post.  Ryan will return in “All Systems Down.”

Chapter 11: In which papa’s got a brand new pad.

With the reintroduction of internet into my life, it is time to catch you all up on my new digs.  As you know, I was forced to move due to an unhealthy living environment.  I have lived at the new place for approximately two months and I love it.  It’s sunny, centrally located between the places I work and is comfortable and warm.  So without further adieu, apartment meet my reader(s), reader(s) meet my apartment.

Photo 1: Living room/dining room/second bedroom.

This photo is taken from the kitchen area with the dining table/desk in the foreground.  Note that I now have a television with cable, a large buffet and a bed in the room.  The door leads to my balcony that overlooks a rather busy street and the river.

Photo 2: Alternate view of living room/dining room/second bedroom

Photo 3: Kitchen

Unlike my last kitchen which consisted of one working burner and a refrigerator that gave you a mild shock everytime you used it, this kitchen has all new appliances.  Notice that I also have a working oven.  Huzzah!

Photo 4: Entryway and closet

The entryway is to the left of the kitchen.  I have two doors: one of wood (which you see) and one of steel.  To the left of the photo you see my coat closet.  This is the smallest of the closets and it has three times as much space as my closet in the previous apartment.

Photo 5: Entryway and steel door

Photo 6: Bathroom

The bathroom is the biggest upgrade from my last place.  It is located directly to the left of photos 4 and 5.  Notice I have a shower with a curtain and a tub, a brand new washing machine and there is no hole in the wall.  This bathroom is a luxury and makes living here feel particularly bougie.

Photo 7: Shower

Photo 8: Bedroom

Photo 9: Bedroom and Wardrobe

Finally, the bedroom.  The bed is large, it has big windows and the wardrobe is gigantic.  Most mornings I wake up to the sun hitting my face.  It is comfortable and a huge improvement over the dungeon of a bedroom my old place had.

Well there you have it, my new(ish) apartment.  I plan on posting at least twice more before the end of the week.  Also, I have been updating the photos page, so give it a gander if you get the chance.  Until next time, continue to be excellent to each other.

Chapter 9: In which the Fulbrighters join forces with the US Embassy to fight the twin evils of hunger and boredom.

A common opening line for many blogs goes a little something like this:  “I apologize for not updating for (insert amount of time here).  It is due to (insert some excuse here), and I promise to keep this blog updated more frequently.”  I will make no such promise.  As a matter of fact, I chose the chapter format for my blog posts in hopes that it would free me from abiding by set updating rules.  What I will do is attempt over the next week to catch those who care up on all the happenings here in Sakartvelo.  For the next several chapters, I will begin 24-style with an indication of the date and/or time the events took place.  Let’s do this.

The following events took place on the evening of September 28th.

As the Fulbright program is overseen by the US State Department, my stay in Georgia is partly supported by the US Embassy in Tbilisi.  Though I am not officially associated with them in any way (please see statement at the top of the column on the right), the Embassy does what it can to make sure our stay is safe and productive.  In an effort to better get acquainted, the current Fulbrighters were invited to dinner by the Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer, Cynthia Whittlesey, Cultural Attaché, Saul Hernandez and Educational/Professional Programs Coordinator, Tea Kuchukhidze.

The dinner was held at the restaurant Dzveli Sakhli (Old House), a place I had been to twice before when in Georgia last year.

Where's Norm Abram when you need him?

The food was delicious and the company was the best I could have asked for.  Here is a group shot (and main reason for posting this event in my blog).

Starting from the Left: Sora and Nic, Cynthia, (Gerry’s wife, whose name escapes me at the moment), Me, Michaela, Megan, Gerry, George, (George’s wife, whose name also escapes me), Saul and Namrita.

Unfortunately, Tea is taking the picture and is not present in its image.  She is wonderful and is the first person we Fulbrighters call with a problem.  For all those at home, this is the crew I be reppin’ here in the T-Bill-I-C.  They are all great people doing wonderful and important things.  After dinner, a Georgian singing group came out and serenaded the room.  This hastened our leaving by a good 20 minutes.  Sometimes art is, well, bad.  It was nice to get to meet our contacts at the Embassy and to have our first meal together in country.  Well that’s about all I have to say about that.  Until next time, be excellent to each other.

Chapter 6: In which a return visit leads to a new adventure

At the end of my first trip to Georgia, I spent some time at the site of Dzalisa which lies just outside of Tbilisi.  The site dates to the Roman period and was the focus of intense excavations in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Our accommodations were in the apartment building-esque archaeology station located in the nearby town of Dzani.

The outside of the archaeology station.

The station was essentially abandoned the moment the Soviet Union began to dissolve.  Note the date on this calendar still hanging on the wall:

Though the building has an onsite archaeologist and caretaker, it is simply too much work for one man to maintain by himself especially considering the lack of available funds.  Here some more pictures of the building’s interior.

Here are some pictures of the site of Dzalisa and our work there.  I include these pictures mostly to respond to my mother’s request for more pictures of me.

Mikho and I working the resistivity meter one beep at a time.

General shot across the site. In the foreground are the remains of a hypocaust. Beyond that is a water collection basin and beyond that is a large swimming pool. This photo is taken looking away from the area in which we did geophysical survey.

Another view of the hypocaust at Dzalisa.

The pool.

The swimming pool is part of a large complex which has been identified as the public bath.  A second bath complex (public?) has also been identified with mosaic floors still intact.

Picture from the first bath complex looking at the second which is now housed underneath a protected structure.

I like hypocausts. This is from the second bath complex under the protective structure.

A recent meeting with my contact at the National Museum resulted in an opportunity to return to Dzalisa.  Representatives from the Smithsonian were in town setting up the initial steps of a new collaborative project with the National Museum.  After a tour of the site, we had the requisite supra complete with wine and vodka.

Supra in full swing. From left to right: Mike (Smithsonian), Me, Dato (archaeologist), our driver (his name escapes me), and Vato (archaeologist)

Also with us was Niko who does web design for the National Museum.  He and Vato will be traveling to the US to visit the Smithsonian and learn about the various resources offered there.


Kings of Rock

After telling all the jokes we knew and making fun of each other, Niko kindly invited me to go camping with him and his friends the following weekend.  New friends are made in surprising ways in Georgia.  Every chance meeting can result in hours of joke telling, food eating, wine drinking and general merry making.  This is how my great camping adventure began.  How will it end?  These two gentlemen seem confident of success.

Hey, Mother Nature. We're coming for you.

Chapter 4: In which these guns won’t show themselves

As you may or may not know, I am a fan of jokes involving biceps.  In common vernacular these are known as “gun show jokes.”  My personal favorite is administered here by this man: Sick snakes.  One of the great joys of traveling is exposing my new friends to the fascinating world of gun show jokes.  Below are some assorted pictures of my neighborhood as I make my first attempts to spread the gospel.  After all, these guns aren’t going to show themselves.

Let’s start with my first tentative steps out into my new Georgian home:

View from my apartment doorToward my neighbor and the billiards table

I live below street level on the side of a hill.  To the right is another apartment currently occupied by the mother of the actual tenant.  [commentary redacted].  If you walk up the stairs you see in the back corner, you arrive at my landlords residence.  Turning left out my door, you arrive at a gate which leads out into a courtyard.  Up some more steps and you arrive at the apartments of my friends, Michaela, Nic and Sora.  They have a balcony off of which I take almost daily photos.  Here are the best shots:

Balcony view 1: Narikala Fortress

Balcony view 2: Narikala Fortress and the television tower

Balcony view 3

Balcony view 4: Night shot (getting better with the camera)

The area of Tbilisi in which I live is called “Old Town” and was at one time the very heart of the city.  The central market once lined the street leading up to Narikala. If you look over the top of the peach (?) and green building in both view 2 and 3 you can see a gold blob.  That blob is the statue of St. George in the center of freedom square.

An interesting story was posted by the Economist detailing the renewal of the city: Rebuilding Old Tbilisi.  Here are some pictures I took that show this policy in action:

Rebuilding 1

Rebuilding 2

Decay 1: It would appear that three walls were deemed sufficient here.

Decay 2: View of the statue of Mother Georgia through the ruins of a church. The church was destroyed in the earthquake mentioned in the Economist article.

It’s hard to say how well the efforts to revitalize Old Town are succeeding, but work continues at (Georgian) fever pace.  I need to take more pictures around where I live and will post those in the coming days and weeks.  I know that I am behind on my posts and will do my best over the next couple days to catch up.

By the way, do you have a needle and thread?


Because I'm ripped.




Chapter 2: In which Tbilisi becomes my new home

I was roused from my slumber by the buzzing of my phone.  After the initial shock of seeing that it was well passed noon, I saw that I had a few text messages from my fellow Fulbrighters Chase and Michaela.  Michaela is living in the same apartment building as me and I was to be her contact with our landlords.  Chase had come to Tbilisi for the weekend and was staying at the same guest house as Michaela.  Long story short, a groggy and disoriented Ryan guided both of them to the apartment.  As I could not locate the landlords, we put Michaela and Chase’s things in my apartment and hit the town.

I took them across town the flea market at the dry bridge (I will write on this more later), but rain drove us indoors.  I knew of a local brewery nearby and we sought shelter there and had some lunch.

Lunch with Michaela and Chase

Following this we wandered over to Prospero’s books and then headed back to my place.  When we arrived, Michaela went to talk with the landlords while Chase took a nap.  I stared at the wall and prayed for the strength to make it a few more hours before I passed out again.  Jet-lag sucks.

After a half-hour or so, Michaela returned with Justani and a 2 liter bottle of homemade wine as a welcome gift.  I grabbed some glasses from the kitchen and drank some wine with Tamriko, Justani and Michaela.  We chatted about many things, and I may have agreed to go bear hunting (stay tuned) and to helping Justani make wine.  My brain was a bit hazy from the lack of sleep.

Michaela and I finally adjourned to the apartment and woke Chase up.  What followed was one of the more excellent nights I have experienced in a long time.  We all sat around for hours drinking wine, telling war stories and sharing our favorite music.  Once the 2 liter bottle was gone, I discovered a second 1-liter bottle in my fridge.  Fortune was truly smiling on us.

The wine isn't THAT strong

Chase does his best Mr. Peanut impression. I give it a 4.

No amount of trail mix is going to make up for your poor Mr. Peanut impression

Michaela and Ted Bearington. Yes, I said Ted Bearington.

The picture of Michaela with Mr. Ted Bearington led us all to bring out a object we had brought along with us.  I showed them my Trimble GPS unit, but Chase trumped us all by producing a replica ocarina from the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  Well played, sir.  We decided to get a group shot of our totems.

Logically, a real group portrait followed:

I'm still upset about the lackluster Mr. Peanut and the awesomeness of Chase's ocarina.

Things devolved from there:

It was because of this that we found out that Ted Bearington is quite the accomplished ocarina player.

Finally, I was able to get these two yahoos to go to sleep.  I awoke the next morning to find this:

Dear Mom, please come "help" clean my apartment. Love, Ryan

Thanks to Chase and Michaela, my first night in Tbilisi was not as lonely as I had feared.  It was nice to have some friends to let off some steam with after the stress of moving thousands of miles from home.  I also learned a valuable lesson about regret.  If I had taken the 600 Euros and stayed in Newark, I would have been in Munich on the first day of Oktoberfest, but it would have meant missing out on sharing Georgian wine with new friends.  It sounds cheesy, but I am glad I made the choice I did.

Now to step outside my apartment door…

Leaving on the midday plane to Georgia

Today I leave for Georgia via Newark and Munich.  I will probably not have much internet access for at least a week.  So please be patient and I will update when I can.  To begin the photo portion of the blog, I decided to insert a few pics of the patient and loving family I am leaving behind.  Here is a picture of my mom taken with my new camera.  Isn’t she adorable?

mom watering

At work in the garden

Here’s a picture of my dad with my nephew, Nolan.  Also rather adorable.

Dad and Nolan

A very happy grandpa

Here is a picture of my brother, Jon; my sister-in-law, Heather; my nephew Nolan and their awesome dog, Miloh.  I stole this from their blog, but it is the best picture of them I could find.

Jon, Heather, Nolan and Miloh

A good looking family

Well, that is all for today.  Will let you know when I arrive safely.  Adios, amigos.