It's a strange world, being an English language writer on ЖЖ. Some of you may wonder how an American made her way to the Russian blogosphere. It all started in April 2012 when my Ukrainian friend sent me a link to one of Ilya Varlamov's (varlamov.ru) African stories. Immediately I was captivated. A sea of intelligent and prolific thinkers/travelers all writing in the same place. I became hooked, reading many of the top bloggers daily for intellectual pursuit but also to study Russian words.
Then I became friends with another popular Russian blogger, made my way to Russia, and wrote a story that received a lot of attention when he translated it into Russian on his blog. Now I have a wonderful audience, consisting entirely of Russian speaking subscribers. I still don't know how some people make their way to my journal but I'm very grateful for your readership, insight and comments. Sometimes I question whether I should continue writing on ЖЖ, or move to another platform where I'll reach a larger English speaking audience. However, I think there's some value in having an American woman writing here, in a creative space that is dominated mostly by male bloggers.
This post will now remain at the top as an open forum. I try to maintain an active dialogue with readers and you can write what you wish in these comments. Tell me something interesting about yourself, how you discovered my blog, ask questions about America, travel or any other topic. And, most importantly, let me know the types of stories in which you're interested. Thank you for visiting, and cheers from the USA!
Imagine driving through rugged mountain terrain, no other cars or humans around, and suddenly a big, macho Caucasian man greets you with guns hanging from his shoulders, and knives sticking out of most pockets. How would you react?
This scene from a Hollywood movie happened to me in Georgia, near the Russian border. I will try to tell you about this adventure next week, but I want to encourage people to look beyond the surface of humans. This brute of a man seemed so intimidating and scary at first, yet turned out to be a very huggable teddy bear. :) I think there is always something to first impressions, but everyone deserves at least a few minutes of your time to scratch the surface a bit, to see what is hidden beneath the exterior. I would not even think to ask a Russian official or officer for a photo, but in Georgia it is just a different environment, so snapping this photo with my protector was no problem. :)
Suddenly I have inspiration to write in the blog again. So, some new stories soon. Have a wonderful weekend!
Last week, I turned 44 and it's time for my annual birthday trip. The decision on where to travel came quite easily - back to the Caucasus!
This region is like a wonderful partner - there was an immediate connection when we met, and it goes beyond the mere physical elements. Of course, the stunning contours of the landscapes, and excitement of something "new" to explore are what initially led me here. But it's more than that. I love the Caucasus because they are both calm and wild at the same time. Perhaps it's difficult to comprehend, but there is a sense of belonging here. The countries are small, completely different from the massive geographic swells of my home country, or even Russia. This is part of the appeal - that you can conquer an entire nation in a very short period of time, and simultaneously ignite a spark in the soul and mind with all of the stunning mountain landscapes, ancient sites and warm, friendly people. It's an intoxicating blend of Earth, mountain, sky and human curiosities...with the negative aspect of increased heartbeats due to the wild driving culture you must endure to reach these remote places. In such environments, boredom never arises. There is a real sense of feeling alive beyond the mere habit of breathing each day, or going through the routine motions of adulthood that trap us. Boredom - it is the most brutal enemy for me personally. I'm always fighting it off, and can't stand to be captured or held hostage to it for even short periods of time. Yes, I need adventure, stimulation - maybe similar to a young child. :))
I will depart for Tbilisi next week, spend a few days there, and then drive to Armenia. If you know interesting places in Armenia, colorful people, or any other facts you wish to share, please write in comments. If you missed my prior stories about Georgia, you can read them here, and there are still many which remain unwritten.
Sorry for the very long absence from the blog. I am alive and well...and hope the same is true for my dear readers!
I can't imagine having so many days off in a row, as it is unheard of in the USA unless you are taking personal vacation. The country simply would not shut down for two weeks. I was off for too many days the past month because my office was empty, with no work to do. I almost went insane from idleness, but got to see some films in the cinema - the children's movie "Sing," "Passengers", and a very good and touching movie called "Manchester by the Sea." Plus, tons of old films on Netflix. :)
Who is here? :) Also, how many of you have heard of Dreamwidth.org? This is another blogging platform, with an interface similar to LJ. I am thinking about cross-posting there, as there is a mix of both Russian and English language blogs, in an effort to draw new readers and commentators to the blog. I want to continue to publish posts about my journey to the tiny gem called Georgia, but only if there are people to view the words and photos, to absorb the stories, and somehow find meaning, pleasure, or even aggravation in them.
Happy New Year dear readers! I hope 2017 is a good one...
At the beginning of December, I had a discussion with a friend about "fate" and "destiny". Many times these words are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same, and in fact you can believe in one and not the other. Fate - it is like a set order of events, something unavoidable or inevitable, and often with pessimistic overtones. All humans share the same fate - death, and possibly rebirth, depending on your beliefs.
Yet our destinies are different. Destiny - not preset, and arguably within your control on some level. We can change it, or others can come along and be the catalyst for our destiny to be altered.
The topic arose when I began to think about people in my life, those with whom I've allowed myself to get close outside of my family. Ex-boyfriends, friends, even some minor acquaintances, or brief exchanges with people on the street or during travels. Each teaching some lesson, a few of them quite painful, yet opening the pathway forward to another person or cornerstone in life...So, I would say you can choose your own destiny, but not your own fate. This is the main difference, at least to me.
Yesterday, I saw the film "Passengers", and there was an interesting line spoken by Jennifer Lawrence's charcter Aurora - "we are all passengers...we go where fate carries us." Something to think about as we head into 2017...Happy New Year! :)
I'm now recovering from a busy and delightful Christmas weekend. Many days off, too much food, sweets, laziness and relaxation. My favorite ornament in this photo was placed on the freshly cut tree, as in past years. And I can say that as I age many things in life become very routine and traditional, especially at times like Christmas. All of this is comforting, to know that you will be surrounded by loved ones, properly cared for and supported in life. Yet there is always something more to strive for on a personal level, new places to explore, ideas to pursue and people to embrace. At the same time, we must learn to cut off toxic humans in our circles, and I've become quite good at this in recent years.
I want to thank all of you who sent me wonderful Christmas messages, and I return best wishes for you as the main holiday has not yet occurred in your region of the world. Recently I was chatting with a reader and discussing some uncertainty about life, about the future...he suggested that I'm having a mid-life crisis, but I vetoed this notion. The truth is that I've always been the type of person to question things, and wonder what my purpose is.( Read more...Collapse )
Disappearing acts - they happen often in life, and right here on LJ. People, love, pain, grief, sadness, elation - they can exist at various points and then disappear instantly, or gradually fade from existence over time. I believe it is the cycle of life for most humans. And it has happened to my post from yesterday - now gone, I suspect as a result of some updates to LJ last evening where the system was entirely disabled, and I awoke to see the text vanished. I'm too lazy to recreate it, but if you want to discuss anything, or suggest topics for other posts, you can write to me in the comments. I will take into consideration, as the travel posts take a really long time to write, and we need something to feel the void in between. Or, I can just stay absent...life will go on either way. :)
Stereotypes - they are very damaging in many cases, and must be quashed. We are all influenced by stereotypes on some level, but I really try to erase them from memory when traveling, forming impressions based only on pure experience. Most recently, I can say it about Georgia - where everyone warned me about all kinds of things, when in reality I encountered almost none of the horrors mentioned. In the end, we are responsible for the company we keep. You have the choice to surround yourself with good, positive and uplifting...or, you can run wild with the animals in the zoo.
Most people using this phrase - "typical American woman" have never even met, or had any real experience with an American woman. Therein lies the problem...that is all I really want to say for today. :)
I've started to paint a nice picture of Georgia in my first few posts, but this doesn't mean everything is so rosy there. The country is no different from others, with both good and bad sides. The difference is that as a foreigner I notice many problematic things which Georgians may consider "normal", when in fact they're confusing, and even incomprehensible, for a foreign tourist.
You can look at this cover photo and perhaps it stirs some type of nostalgia for those who grew up in Soviet times. :) These old LADAs are everywhere on the roads in Georgia, and I'm always amazed at how many people are stuffed inside them. Often the small cars are weighed down with heavy loads attached to the roof, barely moving down the road. I wondered several times if some of these people ever made it to their destination point. Many of the old cars are in bad shape, and probably shouldn't even be on the road. However, as far as I can tell, there is no type of inspection requirement for machines, no emissions testing - nothing to control the quality or safety of the cars on the roads in Georgia. And this leads to #1 on the list for "bad Georgia"....( Read more...Collapse )
This is one of my favorite photos from the road trip in Georgia, taken in motion from a car window while passing. However, it's very symbolic of life throughout the country. Outside of Tbilisi, Batumi and a few other larger cities, Georgia is one big rural village, immediately transporting you to a different time and place. For all its beauty, the country is very poor, employment opportunities are limited, and people are tied to a simple existence without a lot of luxuries to which most of us are accustomed. This is part of the country's beauty and fascination, at least for me - an American coming from a middle class, stable environment. A woman who has had plenty of opportunities to achieve almost anything she wanted in life. Nothing has been handed to me, for everything I worked quite hard - getting various degrees and a high education, fighting for positions at work, numerous other things...
I tried to find some statistics about average wages, but they are inconsistent. Figures released in 2015 show that women in Georgia earned an average salary of 697.3 GEL ($270), while a male earns 1,126.8 ($440). So, we can see that men earn substantially more there, regardless of business sector. The average pension is about $75. There is free health care, but nothing is really "free", and more favorable care can be arranged by getting private insurance costing from $10 - $50/month. With such poor wages, this seems almost impossible for most citizens. Georgians pay a flat tax on salaries and fees - 20%. If annual income exceeds 40,000 GEL ($15,600), the State will require additional taxes which are determined by the value of real estate owned by the family. At least, this is according to current information available here. Due to the fertile nature of Georgian soil, food is quite cheap - fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are all produced locally. With meat is another issue - sometimes expensive, and not the best quality, unless you like fatty dishes.
I can't really say how living in Georgia is different than life in Russia. In some ways, the systems are the same and village life in each nation mirrors the other based on my experience of traveling in remote parts of both nations. Cultures certainly differ in their openness, friendliness and tolerance for diversity. Georgians by nature are quite animated, friendly and talkative; Russians more cold in appearance, and less animated as a whole. But people are just people....:)
What do you think? Could you live in such a village? This is something I continually ask myself... and the answer remains inconclusive.
At various points in life I was chasing something, and there is one common thread to all the pursuits. Adventure, curiosity or wonder have always been tied to the chase - whether it was an intriguing man I was trying to figure out, some exotic location I was trying to make my way to, or some natural landscape I wanted to experience in person rather than simply admire from my computer screen.
In Georgia, I was able to chase clouds - yes, I love them! At many points during the journey they were hanging so low it felt like I could reach out and touch them with my fingers. One such place was along the Georgian Military Highway, which connects Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. It is also the site of the only official border crossing into Russia, at least this is my understanding. The border used to be restricted to CIS citizens only, but is now open to all. If you're looking for a day trip from Tbilisi, this is my recommendation, and let's see why.( Read more...Collapse )
I often view natural landscapes as lovers of sorts. In such places, nostalgia sometimes arises, and it's easy to equate tides, vistas, and any terrain of nature to a past lover if you only open your mind and imagination. From the curves of the wheat blowing in the open fields, the delicate petals of flowers, to the strong and towering stature of forest trees and vast moutain ranges.
I suppose some people just past by such scenes and think, or feel, absolutely nothing. However, each time I'm in a natural landscape, my mind begins to wander, romantic visions arise and I'm carried off to some magical mental state, if only for a brief period of time. It is here that I momentarily believe in the notion of fairy tales. Of all the landscapes, I dislike the ocean and sea most. Violent, unsteady and often aggressive. The great unknown, the depths and darkness of which remain a mystery to most humans, incapable of ever being wholly experienced or felt. The behaviors of the tide, waves and rhythm often resemble a cocky, aggressive, alpha male. For the sea rushes to kiss the shore day after day, no matter how many times it's pushed away. An overall machismo type of behavior that I despise in men, and I guess natural landscapes also. For those who somehow find peace, comfort and happiness in the open waters, these photos are for you, taken during a trip to San Diego, California last summer.( Read more...Collapse )
We can say that cultures and cuisines vary around the world, but there's a common thread - most humans eat and sleep on a daily basis. If you're lucky enough, on some days you also get the chance to sing, dance, or engage in something uplifting for the soul. In Georgia, there is a huge culture of food, filled with many tasty, aromatic and flavorful dishes. The best part of all of this - it is so cheap! :)
Throughout the journey, I spent most evenings on the road at homestays, which are sometimes the only option in mountain regions. The cost for all of the rooms was a standard $50/per night, and this included hearty breakfasts and dinners. This cover photo is from the start of the road expedition, and this house was my favorite from the journey. Wonderful table filled with all kinds of homemade Georgian foods to fill the belly at the end of a very long and strenuous day of driving. I grew to crave this delicious yogurt soup, and ordered it frequently during the trip because the more traditional soup - "kharcho" - was too spicy! In general, Georgians like to stuff everything with decadent fillings - peppers, eggplant, potatoes filled with nuts, curry paste, spices - lots of other things buried in the pockets.
Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, where we gather around the table for huge feasts and fellowship, so it seems like a good time to begin the reports from Georgia and speak a bit about the food and lodging options. Let's go...( Read more...Collapse )
I often seek refuge under trees in times of deep confusion or when in a reflective mood. I can't articulate why I find them so powerful and spiritual, but it is so. Deep roots here, with fortress walls behind it. Mighty, mighty place in the mountainous country of Georgia.
Where there is a tree, there is hope. Something stirring in the soul, as leaves dance with the breeze, sometimes drifting onward to a new place at the mercy of the winds. Sometimes being stubborn, clinging to the branch on which they have always existed. Nature's rattle, immediately calming. Under trees some of my dreams have been born, romances ignited and poems imagined. Yes, where there is a tree, there is hope...at least for me.
Imagine a place where the mundane patterns of normal life disappear, and you're transported into a fairy tale of sorts. This is my Georgia, the way I'll remember this magical little corner of the globe. A fairy tale for a brief moment in time, yet I don't believe such lands of enchantment exist in reality. Life is a constant ebb and flow. We are always swimming along, and against, various streams and tides in life. For me personally, it's sometimes confusing to know which route to take.
Georgia - it was full of wonder and discovery on many levels - from stunning mountains to the ancient, narrow pathways of Old Tbilisi, fortresses glowing atop hills in the night sky, and of course Georgians themselves. I think all those readers who wrote about these "wild" people have never stepped foot in this country. I love so many things about this place, and of course some things made me uneasy and caused culture shock.
I can't find the proper words to describe my time there, but I'm now back in the USA and have returned to monotonous and boring office life. Mostly I want to thank all the native Georgians who took such good care of me during my visit, and all the friendly and helpful strangers I encountered along the way. When the words come to me, I will write them here and tell more about my journey. We covered North, South, East and West, having some real exotic and off-road adventures along the way. I didn't carry my big camera, and all photos were taken with the new iPhone 7. Somehow I just wanted to focus on the experience, and not worry about getting the best shots. Simply existing in, and absorbing, each moment.
It has been my longest absence from the blog since I began writing on LJ. I hope some of you are still here, and that you're doing well - staying warm with the arrival of winter. Cheers from the USA! :)