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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goodbye to Georgia

Former fellow Tbilisi, Georgia resident Sue has left Georgia:
One week and one day ago, it was my last day in Georgia. I spent it in the most perfectly Georgian way possible—neglecting the untended heaps of belongings loitering around my suitcases at home and instead accompanying my favorite Orthodox monk to visit his vineyards in eastern Georgia. Not the most responsible of tactics, but I can tell you that anyone who has spent time in Georgia and hasn't adopted "it'll all work out" as a personal motto, is probably nursing ulcers and anyway missing out on all the fun.
It was an idyllic afternoon, but too soon I was again in Tbilisi and back to the grim business of suitcase-stuffing and separating the necessities (plum sauce, wine horns) from the expendable (shoes, bathrobes, towels). Funny to see your shifting priorities in such material form, cluttering up your living room floor.
It's not so strange to be back [in the US]. I lived here for 26 years, and what's one away compared to all that? A few impressions stand out. How casually Americans dress. How strange it is to communicate so easily in English. How annoying it is the way we divide up checks so clinically and scrupulously.
It took me nine months and two logistics nightmares to adopt "it'll all work out" as a personal motto. I did nurse ulcers, but far more at the beginning of my time in Georgia than at the end. I like to think I'm a better man for it.

National stereotypes have been out of style since the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which casually described the character of millions of people, as in this passage about Egyptians:

Their affability, cheerfulness and hospitality are remarkable, as well as frugality and temperance in food and drink, and honesty in the payment of debt. Their cupidity is mitigated by generosity; their natural indolence by the necessity, especially among the peasantry, to work hard to gain a livelihood. Egyptians, however, are as a rule suspicious of all not of their own creed and country.

(An excellent condensed selection of choice 11th edition passages has been published, by the way; it is called All There Is to Know.)

With that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that Georgia seems to have the effect Sue describes on workaholic types--they (we?) get better at smelling the roses, etc. Conversely, I think many Georgians would do well to spend a year in headstrong New York, or to somehow be otherwise exposed to intrepidity, a quality sorely lacking in what the Britannica a century ago would have called the Georgian character. I fantasize about introducing "West Wing" reruns there, which would fit nicely between the popular Latin American telenovelas, though the large amount of rapid dialogue would be tough to translate.

Sue also writes:
Perhaps numbness explains how easily I moved from crawling about ancient mountain monasteries to attentively noting the attributes of the microplane grater at a Pampered Chef party in suburban Dallas. But somehow Georgia doesn't feel so very far away, or dream-like, so I don't feel too acutely the separation.
I made the transition back to the US easily, more easily than I would have liked. I felt, right away, as if I'd never left. It's disturbing how quickly routine can be revived. I don't feel too acutely the separation, and for me that means Georgia seems very far away, a distant memory of who I once was, as vague in my memories of day-to-day life as high school.

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