Marshrutka


We leave Svaneti, traveling by marshrutka (minibus) from Mestia to Tbilisi in a single long day. The journey makes a broad loop to the west, through Zugdidi and south to Kutaisi, before finally catching the main highway east that leads to the capital.

We wake early, and in the weak morning light, make our way carefully down the steep icy lane from our lodgings on the hill, down to the main road through Mestia, where the minibus awaits us. We are among the first passengers, but there is a man sitting in the back, carelessly smoking a cigarette. We ride for a few hours in the semi-darkness, and the headlamps occasionally pick out figures standing next to the road. If they signal, we stop to pick them up as passengers, or perhaps the driver takes large parcels from them, stowing then in the luggage area in the back. Evidently, the markets of Tbilisi are served by these minibuses bringing in local products from all over the country in small quantities like this.


About mid-morning, we come upon a crossroads where two men are standing in the mud next to some bulky bundles and some luggage. They signal the driver to stop. They board the marshrutka, naming their destination, Tbilisi, and squeeze their way through the tight space to the remaining empty seats in the back. One of them, a tall young man, wears a typical gray Svan felt cap, shaped like a melon half and stitched with a black cross on the crown. He wears thick eyeglasses and carries a panduri.

The road is restless, tormented, slithering like a hot serpent in the February muck, keeping the frothing river as its close companion. In following its many switchbacks and swerves, the forces of motion pull on the passengers of our marshrutka, causing them to lean first to the left, then the right, in the fashion of an inverted pendulum. We pass through brown and green valleys readying themselves for a fulgent spring, still weeks in the future, its promise is buried under mud, wet rocks, and leafless woods. The driver must often dodge the scattered rocks, and occasionally boulders, that tumble at random onto the road from the slopes above. Once in a while, we passengers are obliged to step out and help clear the road of stones so that the journey can continue.


We ride for a few miles down the road, and each time we round a corner, it’s as if a curtain is pulled back to reveal a new mountain scene, each one seeming more splendid than the last. The early morning light picks out sudden details; a patch of white snow cover atop a blue peak, a shining mountain, radiant in the contrast of a gray cloud; or the glint of a rushing stream falling down the mountain side, making the black rocks beneath it shine. Black and white sheep and goats cluster in grassy valleys as we approach the lowlands. Reddish cows wander the fields and villages, and often stray onto the roads.

Suddenly, from the back of the bus, the young Svan stops aimlessly strumming his panduri, and begins to sing.


Shenma survilma damlia

შენმა სურვილმა დამლია
შენზე ფიქრმა და სევდამან.
შორს წასვლამ, ხშირად გაყრამან
გულის თვალებით ხედვამან

šenma survilma damlia
šenze p'ikrma da sevdaman
šors č'asvlam xširad gaqraman
gulis tvalebit xedvaman
.
Desire for you has drained me
My thoughts do not stray
From my heartache, and I see you
Only with the eyes of my heart.
ცაზედ მოდიან წერონი,
მწკრივადა, ჯარის-ჯარადა
ვერა ხედავთა ტივლებო,
ცრემლი ჩამამდის ღვარადა

cazed modian č'eroni
mč'k'rivada, jaris-jarada
vera xedavta t'ivlebo
cremli čamamdis ǧarada
.
The cranes fly to the waters
of the Adjaran lowlands.
My eyes, so filled with tears
no longer see the mountain.
შენ ჩემს გულს ვეღარ მაიგებ,
ჩემი სათქმელიც ის არის,
გადამაგდე და დამკარგე
როგორც ჩერქეზმა ისარი.

šen čems guls veǧar maigeb
čemi satkmelis is aris
gadamagde da damk'arge
rogorc čerkezma isari
You've lost my heart,
I say this to you,
You threw me away and I fled
Like a Circassian arrow let fly.

Here is the Georgian folklorist Lela Tataraidze’s version of the song.


Lela Tataraidze: Shenma survilma damlia, from here

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