Friday, October 12, 2007


Recently Paige and I went to one of the top tourist attractions in Georgia, the famed Mt. Kazbegi. It’s about 15,000 feet high and according to legend it’s the mountain Prometheus was chained to as punishment for giving fire to man.

We shared a rickety cab from Tbilisi with some Israeli tourists, traveling along a rutted gravel road for most of the way. The drive looked a lot like Eastern Washington, but the mountain was unlike anything I’d seen before. We didn’t make it to the summit, but we did hike up to the church that rests in its shadow.

The soviets had built a cable car up to the church, but the Georgians took offense to this and tore it down. So we hiked. Cows ambled along steep hillsides, grasshoppers shot across the path and caterpillars grazed amidst the grass and shrubs. The view was spectacular and it was nice to finally get some exercise without being menaced by stray dogs. Jogging is simply impossible in my village unless I want to be eaten.

Georgians include pagan traditions in their orthodox Christianity so there are plenty of remnants from sheep sacrifices around the church. People will hike a sheep up to the church, march it around three times and then slit its throat. The meat is boiled and then served at a feast. Paige and I didn’t slaughter any sheep on our hike, but we saw plenty of evidence that others had: a severed sheep head, bits of fur and hoof strewn about a pit and various other grisly evidence of slaughter.

Many people probably think this is gruesome, but for me I keep coming back to the fact that they boil the meat. That is no way to eat lamb. Prior to coming to Georgia I made lamb kebabs from a Georgian cookbook I found (The Georgian Feast). I marinated the meat in pomegranate juice, garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was delicious. I’ve never had anything of the sort since coming here. This is a tragedy. In fact, almost everything I found in that book has never shown up on a table I’ve sat at. Who the hell wrote that book and just where did the author visit? Are their two Georgias? Seriously, where are the marinated lamb kebabs?

But Kazbegi was beautiful.

About an hour up the road from my village is Sairme, renowned throughout Georgia and the former Soviet Union for its medicinal water and beautiful nature. I think “Sairme” means wild goat or sheep or something. I lose a lot in translation. When I order rabbit kebabs in a restaurant I still make little bunny hears with my hands and hop about so the waitress understands.

Paige and my host family hopped in my host brother-in-law’s car and bounced along the rutted roads, pausing occasionally at my host father’s insistence so I could photograph various vistas. We eventually stopped beside the road to have a little picnic. I spent a good amount of time photographing my host sister’s kids.

Because we drank wine at the picnic we couldn’t drink the medicinal waters of Sairme, which tastes something like dipping a cup into a sulfur bath. That didn’t stop them from bottling it up and trying to force it on me in the days since. I keep coming up with excuses not to drink it, but I know that soon I’ll have to get into that awful stuff. It’s like a cold cup of fart, but it’s very good for kidneys and liver.


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