a self-absorbed travelogue

Winter

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.

Saba

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)!