Saturday, November 3, 2012

Latest trip

Kansas. It's what we call the country to the south of Georgia that begins and ends with 'A'. We use the nickname because the country is a mortal enemy of the one in which we live, and the lack of freedom of speech here looms large.

After a short stay in charming Tbilisi (above), where we tried out the fun new cable car that goes from the riverside near the old city up to the old fort at the top of the hill.

A three hour taxi ride took us southward and over the border, after which the scenery started heading into  gorgeous  as we entered the Debed Canyon.  Picturesque river at the base of steep surrounding hills,  just about every other one studded with an atmospheric 10th century church.

seen in the local supermarket

I read in a local guide book, "Later, Greeks from the Ottoman Empire founded settlements in Ar..nia and Georgia." How is it to live surrounded by enemies?  Maniacally, the first few bars of the Azeri national anthem keep popping into my brain.  I catch myself before referring to "Turkish coffee," which is of course "Ar...nian coffee." That morning, in Georgia, it had been "Turkish coffee," as it is in the two other neighboring countries.

The wonderful guesthouse proprietor

view of the mine area from cable car
We stay in a comfortable guesthouse in Alaverdi, with an absolutely lovely couple. Well into dinner, we notice a framed photo of a young man in a prominent place in the dining room. It is the son they have lost "on the border."

English is limited but the woman tells us she preferred Soviet Union days, with free education and health care, and when her salary as a musician and teacher of music was good. Now the nearby copper mine functions  at a fraction of the former output, and their daughter makes only $100 a month as a piano teacher.
Akhtala church

Later, in a packed Marshrutka (shared van) headed to Yerevan (someone's carrying fish :-( ) I realize too late that our suitcase, blocking the aisle, has a bright red Turkish Airlines tag on it.

The area around the capital city is not as beautiful as the northern canyon, but when the sky is clear Mt. Ararat towers on the horizon. I comment on the lack of trees on the hillsides to a nice young soldier on the van who has befriended us (he wants to join the US army). He says there are no trees because in 1992 after the Soviet Union broke up there was no electricity and people cut the trees for firewood.

Downtown Yerevan is comfortable, walkable, not flashy. We have only two nights, and have rented an apartment from a nice gentleman who lives half the year in Australia.

We tour the Noy/Ararat winery/brandy factory (formerly Yerevan Brandy Factory), where brandy has famously been made for over 100 years. Noy = Noah, they say, came down from Mt. Ararat and planted the first grapes in Armenia. In 1912, the Russian owner of the factory sent a sample of his brandy to a brandy competition in France. It was sent unmarked, because he was sure it would not be a serious contender. The sample won the "gran prix" and then they had to figure out where it had come from.  It was labeled "cognac," the first and only time that a foreign made brandy achieved that status.

We took the tour with three young Iranian men, one of whom lives in the city. We had very little shared language but I think I managed to apologize for what my country is doing to theirs, and they made it clear they were no fans of Ahmedinejad or Khomeini.  One said he is a DJ.  One shared his FB name and asked to friend us.  Wow.

at a site 45 min from Yerevan

Geghard Monastery, not far from Yerevan

great live music at Yerevan restaurant

It was a great magical mystery tour of 4 or 5 days.  Rain threatened but didn't happen, and more than once people just appeared when we needed help.  On the way out of town, heading back to Georgia, we are treated to Mt. Ararat, a view that had been hidden in cloud. It rises dramatically over a wide plain, and has a large cleft into which it is easy to picture a large boat getting stuck once 40 days/nights of  torrential rain had dissipated.
Welcome to Georgia

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

FIFA, JLo, Shakira and Rhianna in Baku!

Yesterday was the opening ceremony for the U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan, featuring JLo and Cirque de Soleil. First, Eurovision, now this! 

We have tickets for the US- North Korea game next week, and K will also be going to the Shakira concert :-)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The class and no class

The class I'm working in this school year has a wonderful assortment of kids: 5 Azeri, 3 Turkish, 2 American, 1 Afghan, 1 Indian, 1 German/Peruvian and 1 Brit.  Fun!


Well, the good thing about living in an authoritarian country is that the relatively small anti-American protest that was held in front of the US embassy was quickly squelched, and the protesters bussed away. [One does wonder: never to be heard from again??]

Curious thing, freedom of speech. Those of us who have it not only take it for granted but know that when words make us furious that we can react with words hopefully heard just as loudly, and also that society would condemn us for acting in outrage; laws protect both the speaker and the unhappy listener.  Those who have no experience with freedom of expression perhaps act as they would expect their familiar authorities to do. Squelch, crush, damn, the fater and more vehemently the better.

I just don't understand how can religion, moral guide, become the impetus for so much violence, century after century.  Will we ever get it.

[It is also hard to see how so many people can take seriously a cheaply made, poorly acted peice of trash.  Sigh and double sigh]

Of course it is not as simple as religion.  US drones are killing--will we ever know how many?--something on the order of dozens of people a week.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

National pride--gotta love it

Following Azerbaijan's winning two gold medals in wrestling, their sixth medal earned in the sport this Olympics, a group of cars drove through downtown and up and down the Bulvar, honking, guys leaning out windows and sunroofs waving Azerbaijan flags, yelling joyfully.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

USA list

Experience America
  • go camping in an RV--Check
  • toast marshmallow over campire--Check
  • hike in forest--Check
  • have breakfast at Denny's--Check
  • have chocolate milkshake at In-and-Out--Check and Check
  • visit Farmer's Market--check
  • try fried pickles and soft pretzels with mustard, at a local brew pub--Check
  • spend hours in car--Check
  • shop at Trader Joe's--Check X 3
  • shop at Ross--Check X 3
  • visit COSTCO--Check
  • see US medical care in action--Check 
  • eat great Mexican food--Check
  • eat great Thai food--Check
  • try Pabst Blue Ribbon--Check (blah!)
  • gain weight--Check 
  • go to movies--Check (IMAX Batman at Universal City in Hollywood!)

K and LB, outside Kaiser hospital

San Francisco airport

Boyskis atop rock water slide

Moore men study map
Espresso anyone?

B and C and old sequoia

Walking atop recently fallen 300 foot giant sequoia (German tourist saw it fall:

Kern River