Sunday, December 11, 2005

The delirious Tbilisi winter

On a recent night here in the nation of Georgia, Kate and I cooked dinner for our friend Nana, who has lived in Tbilisi for many years. As we ate and drank, she told us several great stories. One of them deals with a timeless Georgian pastime--surviving winters when the heat and electricity go out for days at a time.

One winter Nana sat with her aunt Inga and uncle Peter in their apartment in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, freezing because they had no money to pay the gas bill. They were too cold to go to sleep, so they started burning candles, one at a time to make them last, and while they sat around the flame they agreed to fantasize about being rich: how they would spend their millions, what wasteful extravagances they would enjoy, what exotic places they would travel to and where they would stay when they got there.

Peter suggested flying to Paris, and Nana agreed, saying they had better stay at the Ritz as it was so reasonable--only a few hundred dollars per night. Inga pooh-poohed Paris and the Ritz, suggesting instead a palace in Dubai. The conversation went on like this, and finally they drifted off to sleep as the sun came up.

In the morning they left the building, and saw a neighbor on the way out, whose apartment adjoins theirs.

"How are you?", they asked.

"Horrible," came the response, "and I needn't ask how you are, everything is just roses for you, I'm quite aware!"

They were taken aback and couldn't imagine what had prompted the response. "What are you talking about?", they asked.

The neighbor said, "Oh, don't play dumb! We heard you bragging and planning your fancy trips!"

They looked at each other and buckled over laughing, barely able to explain that this had been their way of not losing their minds in the blistering cold, as they sat in the pitch black apartment and prayed for heat.

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