a self-absorbed travelogue


Chapter 20: In which I experience an actual winter

With the exception for a brief foray to Spain and the United Kingdom, I spent the entirety of last winter in lovely Tbilisi. Though there were a few fleeting days of snow and frigid temperatures, for the most part it was a mild and comfortable winter. This, I have been assured, is what might be termed a “normal” winter in the capital city. This year,  I spent the majority of the winter in Ann Arbor where it was unseasonably warm (and from what the weather channel tells me, continues to be so). So, it has been some time since I have experienced the type of bone chilling cold to which my time in Michigan has made me accustomed. Thankfully, Georgia has remedied this situation as only Georgia can, suddenly and with lots of wine.

I left Tbilisi for Vani on March 10th early in the morning. The trip west takes approximatley 4:30 hours, with the duration of the trip varying based on road conditions, time of departure and most importantly with the insanity of one’s mashrutka driver. Luckily for me, my driver this time was particularly insane (a compliment I assure you). About the time we reached Egoeti (approx. 1 hour outside Tbilisi) it began to snow. I had been told that snow had fallen in Imereti and points west, but I had not been aware of the snow which had basically blanked everything west of Gori. Thankfully, this marshrutka ride would inform me fully of the conditions on the ground. As we came to Gori, the snow picked up and I am not exaggerating when I say it was basically whiteout from that point to Zestaponi which is on the other side of the Likhi Range. The Likhi Range being the mountains the cross Georgia along its north-south axis and connect the Lesser Caucasus mountains with the Greater Caucasus.

At first, our driver slowed to allow for the inclimate weather, but as he became more sure of the road and his impatience grew our velocity increased accordingly. Hurray. Weaving and winding, passing and sudden stopping, I felt as though I was on a bobsled constantly hurdling to that one really dangerous turn. Then something happened I had not experienced before. Several of the passengers began to yell at the driver and he….slowed…down. What the what? Sure people have yelled at marshrutka drivers. Sure occasionally they listen (for instance to stop or to go faster). I have, however, never exeperienced a marshrutka driver actually slow down. I must not have been the only one mentally taking into account all my sins just in case St. Peter wanted some explanations. Again, thanks to the kindness of strangers I arrived in Vani in one piece.

I was greeted at the home of Soso and Nato Giorgadze, where I stayed last year after demolition of the excavation house had begun. They have two children, Nana and Saba, and live with Soso’s mother, Nanuli. This has become my Georgian family. Here are some photos of the family and their home.

The Giorgadze home. Vani, The Republic of Georgia.

Nanuli. Deadly backgammon player and excellent cook.

Nato hard at work on the family's newest member, a shiny new computer.

Soso and I. I include here myself to show 1) that I am alive and well and 2) that in planning for my trip this year I thankfully remembered to pack an extra chin to keep me warm.

Soso, Nana and Nanuli around our trusty heat source.


It continued to snow for the next few days, which gave me the opportunity to experience Vani as a winter wonderland. Of course, I spent the day trudging around the site of Vani. These pictures will someday prove that in fact I did trudge up to site in a foot of snow. The main attraction this time was the new dig house.

The brand new dig house. With the snow, I think it looks like a ski lodge. No water or furniture in this bad boy yet, but it is otherwise ready for action.

Lovely isn’t it? I was pleasantly surprised to find it was three stories and had a fireplace on the ground floor. Evidently it will have a bathroom with a working toilet and  I think a kitchen. I wasn’t able to go inside, but peeked in through the many windows. It is much much nicer than I expected. Though I did expect it to be nice. Here now for some images of the various parts of the site in the snow.

View from the middle terrace overlooking the "circular" temple and the valley of the Sulori below. That is Mshvidobis Gora in the distance.

My favorite tree in Georgia. It occupies a lovely spot on Akhvledianis Gora and stands watch over a portion of the city wall and an industrial complex.

So much snow. This structure, as you may remember from earlier blogs, has been identified as a temple.

Trudging my way up to the upper terrace, I snapped a picture of these stairs which once lead to a large monumental platform. This structure faces directly toward Mshvidobis Gora (roughly east).

Working our way back down the hill, this is the so-called Temple of Dionysus.

This is the gatehouse which once marked the entrance to the ancient site.

Moving down to the lower terrace, here is the monumental "temple complex" which has been associated with the rites of Hecate (due the presence of a huge pit next to the structure).

Another image of the "temple complex" from a different angle.

It was really quite striking to see the sight under so much snow. My experience of the place has generally been under blistering heat or torrential rain. One of the great things about coming here so early this year is that I’m getting a sense for the place which survey alone could never provide. Its important to remember the movement of time with thinking about why people chose to live where they did in the past. Explanations can include a number of factors of which seasonality is one. I’m writing that only to stay positive as my fingers are starting to freeze. I must unfortuanately leave you here. One last image before I go, however. Here is my survey area under a blanket of snow with the ancient site in the foreground. The modern village is centered where the church with the blue roof is. Beneath this white landscape is a dissertation. Imedia (hopefully)!


Chapter 19: I’m Back, Megobrebo!

Well, I’m back. Not just back on the blogosphere, but I’m also back in Georgia preparing for my second season of field work. This time around I’m here for only 6 months, but its going to be jammed packed with Colchian archaeological goodness. The blog I kept last year was really helpful in organizing my thoughts and forcing me to think about my experiences here. This year I hope to continue my self-absorbed ranting while at the same time adding a second blog into the mix.  I know, be still your heart.

The new blog will be entirely about my project at Vani and will allow me to keep those interested informed about the work we’re doing. This will of course allow this space to be used for all the inane musings for which I have become famous. I will send out a link to the new blog once it is up and running. I was encouraged to keep a project blog by my friend, Alice Wright, who keeps a pretty good one herself.  Check it out: http://gardencreekarchaeology.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/first-week-back-gcap-2012/

With that out of the way, I can now get down to the business of talking about myself and Georgia. I arrived back in Sakartvelo on leap day, and I have been staying at a guesthouse near the city center. Since my arrival, I have been organizing my move to Vani and working on a paper on Colchian pottery. Progress has been made on both fronts. My original plan was to leave for Vani on March 8th (this Thursday), but I have been informed that there are 14 cm of snow on the ground there. It’s hard to survey with that much snow on the ground, and the current temperature would make working at the museum slow and uncomfortable. So, I think I will postpone my trip for a few days and continue to work with the materials here in Tbilisi.

I apologize for not having any pictures to post. I have not been the shutterbug I usually am. This will change! Hope everyone out there is well. I promise that future posts will have more substance and more pretty things to look at (mostly me, unfortunately). Until next time, be excellent to each other!

Chapter 18: In Which All Systems are Down

On April 24th, 2011, my beloved MacBook’s hard drive suffered a critical failure. In this age of computers, one of the worst things that can happen is the death of a hard drive. No matter how diligently we back up our data and despite the ever growing sophistication of data recovery methods, dead hard drives often take a significant portion of our data with them. Turns out dead men aren’t the only ones who tell no tales.

The 24th happened to be Easter morning and the family I was living with kindly brought me a traditional Georgian Easter meal.

And yes that is a bottle of wine behind the tray.  It was incredibly generous of the family to share their food with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As I was finishing up dessert, the music playing on my computer stopped and that most dreaded of images came on the screen.

Oh what’s that computer?  You don’t know where your hard drive is?  Let me help you find it.

What’s that?  Still not sure where it is.  Let me be more specific.

Nothing? Well, sorry I couldn’t be of more help. At least all of my data is adequately backed up on this external hard drive…wait, that’s right.  I was just about to re-backup the data after having to wipe the external hard drive due to some data corruption.  Awesome.

The death of the hard drive meant the loss of a lot of data I thought was adequately backed up.  It wasn’t.  Long story short, I may have lost a year’s worth of data in the blink of an eye.  I spent the rest of the day enquiring if there was a place to get my computer fixed in Kutaisi (the nearest big city).  The answers were less than encouraging.

“Sure, as long as you have a PC there should be no problem…it’s a mac?  You’re screwed.”

“Of course. Where is it?  No clue.”

“I know a guy who has a friend who knows someone that might be able to tell you where to go.”

I finally gave up hope and decided to head back to Tbilisi to get it fixed.  As luck would have it, there was a store there that was able to replace the hard drive, give me all new software and have it back to me in a day.  All that for a reasonable amount of money too.  Unfortunately, they were not able to recover the data from the old hard drive.  My hope is that upon my return to the US I will be able to find someone who can recover the data.  Inshallah.

Due to the computer outage, I lost a week of work getting the computer repaired and another couple days reloading all the programs I needed to start the field season.  At the time, I was sure it was the end of the world.  Looking back on it now, however, it was just the kick in the pants I needed to help me deal with the further frustrations the season was to heap upon me.

I know I have been terrible lately about keeping up with this blog. I hope to post a couple more times before leaving Georgia (which I do in exactly 4 days. YIKES!).  I promise the next posts will have more scenery and actually have something to do with archaeology.  Hope this post finds you all well. See you on the other side of the pond very soon!

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.