Calling an Audible

Calling an Audible

I’m a walking contradiction. I walk with weightless motion while my heavy mind harps on the endless possibilities. I’m one of the more laid back anxious individuals you might ever come across. Airy sensibilities of c’est la vie blended with a deeply serious desire to carpe diem. Watching the days fall off the calendar, feeling every tick of the clock and wanting to make them count. In this case, I wanted to suck the most that I could out of the 30 days that I am in Georgia.

But, this leads me to the question of what exactly it means to suck the most out of my time here? Initially, it meant to see as much of the country that I could and meet as many people in order to really understand the place that I’m in. I took trains, rode public buses and hitched my way around the country as much as I could for the better part of my first 30 days. Then it hit me. I was seeing a lot of beautiful places and people. But, I wasn’t really getting to know them. So I decided to call an audible.

My audible redirected me back to the capital city of Tbilisi. The majority of the people that I had met were here in the city and I felt like the best way to spend my remaining time here in Georgia would be to soak up the atmosphere surrounding me and spend time with the people that I’d already met. To actually recognize the face of my fruit vendor and have them knowingly smile back. A sense of community, if only temporary, is still a sense of community. There’s a beauty in knowing my way around and understanding my winding way through side streets to get to my favorite café. Even having a favorite café. Because after all, I didn’t come here to be a tourist, but a temporary fixture in the framework of whatever community I found myself within.

As I inch toward the end of my time here, I’ve decided that this was the best decision that I could have made. It’s allowed for a deeper understanding of Georgian culture to seep in. It’s enabled the ability to engage in late night conversations in comfortable, distinctly Georgian, café’s and bars. And even when I’m alone, the city speaks its subtle secrets spanning centuries. It’s an often-incomprehensible melody for me, but it’s unnecessary to understand the lyrics to appreciate the beauty of the song, to feel the emotion and measure the meaning. There’s an underlying importance to the ability to be, to be a part of something. To be still and listen to the beatings of the backdrop, our collective hearts drumming together creating a choral community. And to the unaware, it’s not easy to hear. But, if you stop and sense it, you begin to understand that you are a part of it. We all are. And when you feel it your heart bursts as the beat builds and your feet start moving, feeling the reverberations of what it means to be truly alive.

You are a composer and conductor of this collective, collaborative chorus of coexistence.

You are always able to call an audible. 

A Trip Into the Mountains - The Beauty of Georgia and Georgians

 Some of the most exciting travel moments happen when you wing it. Knowing little about Georgia, I’ve often found it difficult to know where to start. So the other day I picked a place on the map and hopped into a marshrutka (Georgian bus) heading north. The time flew by as I got lost in conversation with some new friends. That’s another wonderful benefit of travel, expedited friendships with some of the best people. We couldn’t see much out of the windows along the way due to heavy rain and fog, so I had no clue what was coming. Then BAM. I’m smacked in the face with enormous mountains covered with snow surrounding me from every angle. These are the things that remind us what the awe in awesome stands for.

 

Here’s an easy way to say no to drugs kids. Pass on the molly, head for that nature high. My head was on an adrenaline-induced swivel; I couldn’t choose a direction to stare at. I did my best Julie Andrews impression, spinning in circles to the music that the scenery surrounding was singing. The air up there was so crisp and cool. I just kept walking, staring and smiling. I would later find out that this would only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. I just got sucker punched by beauty and the knockout punch was still to come.

 

A magnificent monastery from the 14th century rests at a peak over 7,000 feet high overlooking this small mountain town. Feeling inspired, I did something I never do. I hiked to the top. Once I got up it became obvious that this was something that I never do, as the sun was setting and overzealous indoorsman over here hadn’t thought of how he was going to get back down. The wind was freezing and the only light was the city lights and afterglow below. Oops. Time to curl up in a corner of the monastery and wait til morning.

 

Just kidding. An Israeli family came to see the sunset from the monastery and drove me down. The Israeli-American alliance pays off this time.

 

By morning I had already forgotten my foolish ways. I packed my bags and began hiking towards a town in the mountains that I had heard good things about. I was told that this trek would take about 3 hours and that I would pass through several small towns. No need to pack a snack, I’ll grab something along the way.

 

Now define small town here Georgia. These were not towns, but a conglomeration of historical homes, castles and times forgotten. The type of town that you wouldn’t really want to live in, but you can’t stop taking pictures of. I tracked down a shed selling a smattering of provisions. Hungry? I ate my first Snickers since Halloween 1996 and kept going.

 

The route was spectacular. Turned out to take closer than 6 hours, not 3. And yet I wasn’t complaining. Beauty was literally behind every corner. I’m a sucker for winding roads. Winding roads flanked by mountains, lakes and rivers? Do with me what you will Georgia, I’m yours. Whether it be aesthetic or symbolic, there truly is something special about a winding road. Hope unwritten around the bend.

 

About an hour outside of Juta, a man in a car stopped me and told me to get in. Thanks Georgian OG, my legs were really starting to shake. Oh wait, you drive like a maniac and the curved road began to slink up the steep edge of a canyon. Of course. Well, hold on and don’t look out the window. I looked. It was scary. I arrived. Fear fades and fantastic comes to the forefront.

 

What lie before me made my arrival in Kazbegi feel like puppy love. Anthropomorphic feelings be damned, I was falling in love with this mountain. And as fate would have it, this mountain loved me back.

 

I hiked to the lone building that this valley high up in the hills held. Immediately I felt warmth, both literally and figuratively. I walked towards the fireplace and was welcomed by the employees, a young man and woman along with an elderly woman that represented everything a Georgian grandmother from the countryside would seem to in your imagination. Only my imaginary grandmother didn’t take such joy in pouring shot after shot of Georgian mountain moonshine (Chacha) down my throat. I didn’t take issue. But, I digress. The 3 of them couldn’t have been more different nor any better. Distinctly beautiful people.

 

After I came down from my ocular high, I began to wonder what I was going to do up on this mountain alone. Sure, there was the staff, but there’s something strange about being the only person hanging out who isn’t getting paid for it. And just like that came a swarm of Georgians. A group of 10 friends and 2 men traveling solo as well. Now the party can begin!

 

And just like that, it did. In my experience, when you’re in the middle of nowhere the party begins as soon as the sun settles down for the evening. And this was no different. Around 6pm I was invited to sit down for a shot of Chacha. Once again I was filled with figurative and literal warmth. The former from the downright poetic cheers performed by our toastmaster (it is a Georgian tradition to have a person designated to perform toasts for the evening) and the latter being the burning sensation that filled my body after gulping down my generous cup of Chacha.

 

Toast after toast followed by shot after shot. You could feel the friendship filling the room like a fiery furnace fills a room with warmth. There was nowhere for us to go and frankly we wouldn’t have wanted to anyways. Fast friends formed again. We sat in a circle around the fire, listened to soothing music, told stories and laughed the evening away. The next day we bathed in bewonderment, enjoying the scenery and our company. Literally lacking agenda, I decided to stay another day.

 

However, my friends had other plans. One by one I watched them leave and wondered what I would do. It felt like that moment you realize that you’ve stayed at the party just a little too long.

 

Wrong. It was just getting started. Just as quickly as the room was drained of the previous evenings occupiers, a new wave of wide-eyed Georgians wandered through the door. And this time the sequel was every bit as good as the original.

However there was no slow burn to this evening’s festivities. These people came to party. The soothing tunes were a thing of the past. The stereo began to blast and everyone was shot into a dance trance. And believe me, I hate to dance so it definitely felt like I was in a trance. It was one of those moments that make you understand the idea behind an out of body experience. Everything just flowed and felt right. There goes that mountain high again. Only this time I’m pretty sure there actually were drugs involved for some. Don’t worry mom, 90’s propaganda campaigns paid off and I just said no. But, I was still flying high as a kite on euphoria.

 

Dancing, laughing and drinking the night away, another group of fast friends was formed. Georgians are famous for their hospitality and it’s for a reason. I felt right at home, like a part of the crew. Only I come from a different country, am constantly confused and speak with an accent. Imagine Fez from that 70’s Show. And yes, I was just as hilarious. And charming. I think. I mean, I didn’t quite understand half of the conversations taking place, which did nothing to dilute the euphoric feeling. When you’re in a place where you don’t understand the language it can send you deeper into your mind as you daze off to the linguistic equivalent to white noise. Feeling at peace, my surroundings sent me towards a feeling of enlightenment.

 

The night lasted long and took many turns. It had everything from dancing to pulsating beats to acoustic sing-alongs surrounded by the signs of shenanigans and obvious overindulgence. It was a puzzle piece evening. The kind where you only see the full scope through everyone’s anecdotal piece of the puzzle served with a side of laughter the next morning. Next up? The epilogue.

 

Everyone was aware of what precious few grains of sand were yet to fall from the hourglass that was our time together in this amazing place. Yet, we were prepared to squeeze every last drop, once again, both literally and figuratively. Story time outside over drinks led to more dancing, laughing and singing inside. Some people went off to hike, while others sat and stared at the scenery before them in an awestruck gaze sending them into a daze. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend.

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We packed our things, said goodbye to those we would be leaving behind and began hiking down the mountain. As we were heading down, two mountain men from the town below that had spent the weekend with us said that they didn’t want me to head back to the capital and that I should stay with them in their town for the night. Keep in mind, this is all being conveyed through translators neither of us spoke one another’s language. I said that I couldn’t stay because I had to go back to Tbilisi. The translator turned to me and said that they said there was no way I was going back to Tbilisi that evening.

 

Initially I was annoyed at being forced into friendship. I asked what we would do, seeing as we couldn’t communicate. The girl translating said that I would be very drunk in no time at all and that maybe they would stab me. In a friendly manner of course. Great, nothing beats a good old fashioned stabbing between friends. Maybe a contest to see who can get the deepest puncture wound. I convinced myself, however, that this would be the right thing to do. To say yes to whatever came along and soak up the story. I said goodbye to my friends and went into the house with the mountain men. As we stood there staring at each other I believe that we both got cold feet. For the first time we were communicating, albeit nonverbally. So, I said goodbye to my mountain men amigos and got back in the car heading to the capital city. Tbilisi ho!

 

We were 6 people to a 5-person car. Crowded, but not completely uncomfortable. In fact, it was almost cozy. It made me feel like the adventure wasn’t quite through. I was out of range for cellular coverage all weekend and when my phone regained coverage I received several messages from my family that had been sent throughout the weekend informing me that my brother-in-law was on his deathbed. Without a doubt one of the biggest buzz kills I could imagine. But, it didn’t defeat me. It actually brought the bond I felt from the friendships formed to the forefront. As I sat cramped in the corner of the car with a slow, steady stream of tears falling down my face I truly felt that I was amongst friends. Beyond the obvious signs of distress shown by the waterworks I was putting on, they could sense in my voice that something wasn’t quite right. A hand on my shoulder. A pat on the leg. A soft wink of the eye towards me signifying solidarity There was no doubt, I’m amongst friends.

 

My trip into the mountains exposed Georgia’s inner and outer beauty. Yes, the landscape is so beautiful it’s beffudling. It’s hard to imagine that such magnificence exists. But, it became secondary to the inspirational imprint of intimacy impressed upon me by the Georgian people I befriended. We all sing in the shower. We dance in the kitchen. We do this when we are alone because we feel safe, comfortable and free. Not surprisingly, I sang and danced my heart out in those mountains with those people, those friends. Surrounded by Georgia’s inner and outer beauty, I felt safe, comfortable and free. Georgia, you exemplify beauty, thank you for accepting me as one of your own. 

10 First Impressions of Georgia

  • Streets of Anarchy - There is no regulation regarding vehicle uniformity. Georgians drive on the left and right side of the car, depending on where they bought it. In fact, there seems to be very little regulation when it comes to rules on the road and if there are rules there is an utter disregard for them. Whether inside or outside of a vehicle here, beware. 

 

  • A City of Smells - Good, bad and mysterious, Tbilisi reeks of all of this. Whether it's sulfur, spices, sewage or the sweet smells of Georgian food wafting out of the kitchens, the Georgian assault on your nose is never ending. 

 

  • Architectural Clash - i've been told that Tbilisi has been rebuilt dozens of times and I'd be lying if I said you couldn't tell. You most definitely can. However, this architectural clash gives the city a distinct and unquestionable charm. Destroyed around 40 times due invasions or natural disasters, the architecture in Tbilisi is as varied within a city as I've ever seen. 

 

  • Open for Business - Fruit and vegetable pop up markets surround the city at every turn. Tbilisi is full of underground walkways that double as markets for anything you could imagine. Barbers, tailors, bakeries, jewelers, religious paraphernalia. You name it, I'm sure there's a store for it in one of these tunnels.

 

  • Aggressive Hospitality - One person told me that due historical aggression near their location, Georgians developed a form of aggressive hospitality and survived in this region by being incredibly friendly, inviting and warm. I can't argue with any of that thus far. 

 

  • Cat Country - This is an artistic omen. Anecdotally speaking, whenever cats and people peacefully coexist in a city it signals the presence of a strong appreciation for arts and culture. 

 

  • Take Me to Church - Religion, specifically Christianity, is unmistakably present and seems to be anything but nominal. Georgians young and old unabashedly profess their faith in a refreshingly honest fashion. One person told me that over 90% of Georgians claim to be religious, making it the 2nd most religious country in the world.

 

  • Counter-Commercial Country - Now, this observation comes from someone who's country is consumingly capitalistic and creates commercial space in any and every place imaginable, but Georgia is by and large refreshingly absent of advertisements. There is a spattering of posters here and there, but far less than I have ever seen in any other part of the world. 

 

  • Carb Counters Beware - Georgians love bread. A lot. If the dish doesn't already consist of some sort of dough related substance, rest assured, it will be served with it. 

 

  • Love Letters - The Georgian language looks like the linguistic love Child of Arabic and Cyrillic lettering. It is as pleasing to the eyes as it is confusing to my mind. 

Georgia - Aggressive Hospitality

24 hours ago Tbilisi was a complete mystery to me. And it still is, but now we’ve finally met. I’ve been taking a blind date approach to coming here. I did no research on the country outside of what the weather would be like so I would know what to pack. Now the date is here and to continue with the analogy, upon “meeting Georgia” I did not want to run for the door. Georgians seem to be incredibly friendly. One person that I met yesterday described Georgians as “aggressively hospitable.” She described Georgia’s location of being surrounded by fairly hostile regions historically and that the way they survived was by being incredibly friendly and hospitable. So far, I can see that being true.

 

Anecdotes, you ask? I had a handful of examples within the first couple hours of landing. In fact, I experienced my first dose of aggressive hospitality in relation to landing in Georgia. Or a failed landing that is.

 

I’ve been doing my best to try and document as much of my experience as I can in order to give an in depth portrayal of my experience here. So, I decided to take a time-lapse video of the plane landing in Tbilisi. I’m a fairly inept photographer, so I was pretty satisfied with the video of our landing that I was capturing. You could see the shadow of our plane slowly growing against the backdrop as we descended, growing ever bigger as we came closer and closer to touching down. Upon landing almost everyone on the plane began to clap, as is custom in some countries to celebrate a successful landing. Only problem? The celebration was premature. Just as soon as we had touched down on ground the plane began to ascend back into the sky. Part of me was excited to be capturing this surreal imagery with my time lapse, until I began to wonder why this was happening at all. A couple of minutes into our ascent the captain came on and frantically mumbled something in Ukrainian. It didn’t sound reassuring. So, I asked the man next to me what the captain had said. He gave a nervous chuckle and said “I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded a bit like a farewell message.” Being a fairly anxious person with a fear of flying, this comment did little to assuage the growing sense that something wasn’t quite right. I began to wonder what could possibly have gone wrong with the landing.  The flight had been delayed due to technical issues. Was it possible that they had thought they had solved them only to find out upon landing that they hadn’t quite done so? Maybe the brakes were shot and they couldn’t slow down so they had to just go right back up? So many questions swirled around in my mind. The flight crew didn’t say anything so I didn’t know anything and that made it all the worse.

 

I began to panic. Silently, but panic nonetheless. It felt like that scene from Toy Story 3 where Buzz and company are slowly heading towards the incinerator. Sensing that the end is near and helplessly feeling as though there was nothing they could do to stop it, they locked arms and faced their mortality. It truly is a paralyzing feeling. I’ve read that the reason people have a fear of flying is that if something were to happen it wouldn’t be immediate, they would have time to face their mortality. In this case, it was also strange because there was no explanation from the crew so everyone was left to their own devices to decide whether there was a serious problem or not. The tension was palpable. As I looked around the plane, you could sense a growing anxiety, many welling up with tears and some even visibly crying. This obviously amped up my mind’s ability to believe that there was a very real problem. I began to pray and reflect. I know that this has the potential to sound melodramatic, but it’s a surreal situation because you want to remain calm and believe that everything will be ok, but you would also like to reflect on your life if it indeed is ending. Weird. Very weird. 

 

What does this all have to do with Georgian hospitality?

 

Well, the Georgian man sitting next to me could sense that I was feeling anxious. What did he do? He began to ask me questions about “30 Days with Dave” and what I planned to do and see in Georgia. Essentially, he did his best to distract my dreadful daydreaming about our possible descent towards death. He asked questions and offered suggestions. He had a certainty about him that made me feel like everything was going to be ok. He said that we were circling around to give it another go. As we descended, the collective anxiety ascended until we touched ground and the brakes began to slow the plane down. This time the celebration felt like much more than customary clapping. It was real exuberance. We dodge death’s door another day.

 

As we departed the plane this Georgian man continued giving me advice about Georgia. We parted ways and I immediately regretted not asking for his information because I felt like he would be a good resource to have in this country where I know no one. Besides, I would have loved to at least buy him a beer in exchange for the comfort he provided me. As I moved towards customs the man appeared and said that I should take down his number in case I needed anything during my stay in Georgia. I gladly took it down and immediately felt as though my time in Georgia was going to be an experience abounding with hospitality.

 

It didn’t end there. I bought a SIM card for my phone and got on the bus that my new Georgian friend said would take me to the city center. As I sat on the bus, I got a call from a Georgian number. “Hello?” I said. “Dave! You left your passport with me!” Said the girl who sold me my SIM card. I jumped off the bus, ran back into the airport and gave her a big hug. She said, “Welcome to Georgia, have a great stay in our country.” I then got onto the bus again and the woman asked me for the fare. I only had the big bills that the ATM gave me and she shook her head and said “no no”, implying that she didn’t have change for such big bills. I waited and presumed that once more passengers came on she would have sufficient change. When I got to my stop I tried to pay and she smiled, shook her head, grabbed my hand and said something in Georgian. I’m not sure what she said, but I’m going to go with the same refrain “Welcome to Georgia, have a great stay in our country.”

 

And the hospitality just keeps coming. Today at lunch the waitress could tell I was confused as to how to eat the meal that I had ordered. She just laughed, grabbed my utensils and began to prepare my meal for me at the table. It was akin to a mother cutting her child’s food. I could not feel more welcome here.

 

I have a lot of first impressions that I will detail in the days to come as I continue to digest everything. But, I have full confidence that the first impression of how friendly these people are will be a lasting one. Georgians truly are aggressively hospitable. 

Georgia on my Mind

Here goes nothing.

 

Last night I pulled the trigger and bought my flight for the first edition of 30 Days with Dave. I felt nervous, like I wasn’t quite ready to launch this project. But, as soon as I clicked purchase the pendulum swung from feeling doubts to flying dreams.  Immediately I began clapping and shaking my head as I could not withhold the kid on Christmas feelings of excitement and joy. It was a “screaming into the infinite abyss” moment, where the glass case surrounding the idea of living shattered violently exposing the reality that this is your life, your adventure, your choice. We are free.

 

So the time and place are set, what comes next? I’ve decided to take a blind date approach to this adventure. I haven’t done any research, planning or investigation when it comes to where I’m going. I know next to nothing about this place and the idea is to go in without any expectations or understanding and let the experience take form in real time. I’m not even booking a place for the first night. I want it to be as if I was shot from a rocket of randomness into a reality I know nothing of. Because that’s basically what is actually happening, just substituting a rocket with a plane.

 

I hope everyone is as excited as I am. And if you’re not yet, I hope to earn your endearment. My heartfelt desire is to inspire bewondered wandering. This project is not about me. It’s about opening a window to the world in the hopes that we will all feel a little bit closer as a result. I have a basic idea of the content I’d like to capture, but I’m also doing my best to be unafraid of being creative. To try things and see what works. To tell stories and listen and tell stories again.

 

I will be taking off Thursday, October 6th. Follow along, spread the word and I will see you in Georgia (the country) soon!