Vámonos a Georgia

Al principio de los tiempos, en los días en que Dios se propuso repartir la Tierra entre los pueblos, todos ellos obedientemente se pusieron a la cola, solo los georgianos quedaron bebiendo y cantando detrás de las montañas. Cuando luego acudieron, Dios los rechazó diciéndoles que no había más tierra para los rezagados. Ellos se justificaban con que solo habían estado bebiendo a su salud, e intentaban conmoverle con sus canciones; y tanto porfiaron que Dios, al fin, dijo: ¿Sabéis qué? Os daré ese pequeño trozo de tierra que he estado guardando para mí.

Esta historia aún la cuentan los georgianos con gran placer (por supuesto, mientras beben y cantan). Y su autenticidad la puede verificar cualquiera que atraviese el país. En un espacio tan pequeño, rara vez se encontrará una gama más amplia de belleza, desde los valles nevados de Svaneti a la majestuosas sierras áridas de Javakheti, desde las cumbres brumosas de la carretera militar georgiana a los viñedos de Kakheti. Y hay que añadir los muchos miles de años de historia, cuyos monumentos, dejados por tantos pueblos y religiones —georgianos, armenios, azeríes, judíos, persas, turcos, rusos, asirios, kurdos, italianos, franceses, polacos y otros—, desde las torres medievales de los pueblos de montaña pasando por las iglesias caucásicas y los monasterios fortificados, hasta los palacios de estilo persa, hacen tan especial esta región.

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A este territorio es al que invitamos a nuestros lectores en un viaje de una semana, del 24 de abril al 2 de mayo, de la noche del viernes al sábado por la mañana. En esta nuestra primera gira georgiana viajaremos a través de los más bellos paisajes y de los monumentos históricos más importantes del país. Nuestro avión aterrizará en Kutaisi, donde cerca de la ciudad visitaremos los monasterios (Patrimonio de la Humanidad) de Gelati y Motsameta, para luego subir hasta los pies del Gran Cáucaso, el valle de Svaneti, la región más arcaica de Georgia, la provincia de los pueblos de las torres medievales (otro Patrimonio de la Humanidad). Desde aquí llegaremos a Tbilisi, parando de camino en la fortaleza de Surami, conocida por la película de Paradjanov; y en Gori (lugar de nacimiento de Stalin –con su museo–). Desde Tbilisi partiremos a Mtskheta, antigua capital y sede de la iglesia ortodoxa georgiana, recorreremos la carretera militar que cruza las montañas del norte, los monasterios de la fortaleza de Jvari y Ananuri y la ruta del vino georgiano que conduce a través del valle de Kakheti, hasta las fortalezas y monasterios del antiguo reino kakhetiano. Por último, tras visitar los monasterios rupestres de Vardzia al sur de Georgia, volveremos a Kutaisi.

Nuestros alojamientos en Kutaisi y Tbilisi serán en hoteles de cuatro y tres estrellas, y en la Mestia Svanetia en una casa familiar de huéspedes. Desde Kutaisi viajaremos por el país en un minibús para 18 personas. El precio es de 520€, que incluye autobús, guía y alojamiento (una cama en habitación doble) con desayuno, y en Kutaisi y Mestia también se incluye la cena casera de estilo georgiano. Hay que añadir el coste del vuelo, que ahora es de tan solo 70€ de Budapest a Kutaisi y vuelta, por lo que vale la pena comprarlo cuanto antes. El primer término de inscripción «sin compromiso», sólo para tener una idea de cuántos seremos, es el domingo 1 de marzo. Ha de hacerse en este correo: wang@studiolum.com. Ya hay tanta gente interesada que casi llenamos el bus, por lo que si vamos a ser más en número suficiente, organizaremos dos viajes. El segundo sería del 1 al 9 de mayo. Si estas otras fechas os fueran también convenientes, indicádnoslo así.

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Come with us to Georgia!

At the beginning of time, when God was giving out land to the peoples of the Earth, they all obediently stood in line, only the Georgians were drinking and singing behind the mountains. When they finally arrived, God rejected them, saying that there is no land left for the latecomers. They, however, insisted that they had only drunk to His health, and moved Him to mercy with their songs, so finally God said: You know what? I give you that little piece of land, which I have been keeping for myself.

This story is still told with great pleasure by the Georgians (of course while drinking and singing). And its truth can be verified by anyone who travels through this country. In such a small space, you can rarely find such a wide range of beauty, from Svaneti’s snow-capped valleys to Javakheti’s majestic barren mountain ranges, from the misty peaks of the Georgian military highway to the vineyards of Kakheti. And add to it the many thousand years of history, whose monuments, created by so many peoples and religions – Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Jews, Persians, Turks, Russians, Assyrians, Kurds, Italians, French, Poles and others –, from the medieval towers of the mountain villages through the Caucasian churches and fortress monasteries to the Persian-style palaces make so unique this region.

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To this region we invite our readers to a one-week tour, from 24 April to 2 May, Friday night to Saturday morning. On this our first Georgian tour we travel through the most beautiful landscapes and most important historical monuments of the country. Our plane arrives at Kutaisi, where beside the city we visit the monasteries of Gelati and Motsameta (World Heritage sites), and then we go up to the feet of the Great Caucasus, the valley of Svaneti, Georgia’s most archaic region, the province of the villages of medieval towers (another WHS). From here we go to Tbilisi, stopping on the way at the Surami Fortress known from Paradjanov’s film, and at Gori (Stalin’s birthplace and museum). From Tbilisi we go to Mtskheta, the ancient capital and the seat of the Georgian orthodox church, the Georgian military highway crossing the northern mountains, the fortress monasteries of Jvari and Ananuri, and the Georgian wine road leading through the valley of Kakheti, the fortresses and monasteries of the former Kakhetian Kingdom. Finally, by visiting the cave monasteries of Vardzia in Southern Georgia, we return to Kutaisi.

Our accommodations will be in Kutaisi and Tbilisi in four and three star hotels, and in the Svanetian Mestia in a family guest house. From Kutaisi we travel around the country with a 18-person minibus. The participation fee is € 520, which includes the bus, the guide and the accommodations (one bed in a double-bed room) with breakfast, and in Kutaisi and Mestia also the home-made Georgian dinner. Add to this the costs of the flight ticket, which is now only 70 euros from Budapest to Kutaisi and back, so it is worth to buy it quickly. The first, “no responsibility” deadline of application, just to see how many we are, is 1 March, Sunday at the usual wang@studiolum.com e-mail address. Since there are already so many people interested in the tour that they almost fill a minibus, thus if we will be too many, I will organize two turns, the second one from 1 to 9 May. So if this date is eventually better for you, write it as well.

(Update: For the first (24 Apr – 2 May) and second trip (1 – 9 May) the minibus is full. Since there are more people interested in the tour, I also announce a third trip from 8 to 16 May. You are advised to hurry, because the price of the cheap Wizzair flight tickets is rising from hour to hour.)

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Eating well and cheap in Rome

is not so easy. Like the structure of the city, the rules of finding the good eating places are not as transparent as you would like. The catering units of the neighborhoods visited by many tourists usually specialize in quickly bleeding them white. Nevertheless, as we will see below, even the most touristy parts have some excellent, cheap eating places. As a rule of thumb, if you want to eat traditional food for cheap, you should look for a pizza rustica, an antico forno, or the small bars of the locals. In these, you can have a hot meal for five to ten euros, and, in addition, a meal prepared by the Romans for themselves, not for the tourists.

The pizza rustica is a bar selling locally baked pizza, and sometimes also traditional, simple one-course dishes. These are made by and for the locals, and the regulars are those of the neighborhood. It is important to know that pizza is originally a poor food, a thin (!) bread dough, on which they put whatever would be at hand in a simple household: oil (pizza bianca), tomato mash (pizza rossa), tomato mash and one of the cheapest cheeses, mozzarella (margherita), and my favorites: boiled potatoes (patate) and zucchini flower with anchovy (fior di zucca). If you are lucky enough to be in Rome in the fall, you can also have mozzarella and yellow boletus (porcini), but, unfortunately, this is quite expensive.

Of course, creativity has no limits, but the more ingredients on a pizza that surely were missing in a poor household of old times (sausages, expensive cheese etc.), the more confident we can be that it is an eyewash for tourists. If you look at what the locals eat, they almost exclusively choose the simplest ones. This is likely due not only to the surrealistically conservative taste of the Italians, but also to the fact that the more worldly pizzas are much more expensive, and in my experience their dough is also thicker, so the buyer – the tourist – pays twice or three times as much for a slice the same-size of one had he or she chosen a traditional type.

Unfortunately, pizza rusticas seem to have begun disappearing in recent years, and even the remaining ones have become more touristy in appearance. And though with the crisis the pizza dough also seems to have become thicker, and the rosemary is gone from the pizza with potato (o tempora o mores!), nevertheless these pizza rusticas belong to the sites to be necessarily tested, because without them you simply cannot understand Rome.

Likewise is the case with the antico fornos. These are traditional bakeries selling bread, pastry and old-fashioned sweets as well as locally baked pizza and often also simple homemade dishes. In contrast to pizza rusticas, here you generally cannot sit down, but the crazily good almond and pistachio muffins make up for that. These are sold in bulk, in normal places for not more than 2-3 euros for a hundred grams. They readily weigh even one single piece. Take care, they are dense, so two pieces can often make a hundred grams.

In the somewhat less crowded streets and squares (sometimes only twenty meters from the flood of tourists!) you can find Italian-style small cafés, which, in the downtown, are often also the meeting and exhibition places of artists and students. They mainly offer sandwiches and traditional one-course dishes to a local clientele as well as to the tourist who is willing to get off the main roads, a taste of real Italian food and life.

Antico Forno La Stelletta – Via della Scrofa 33
That type of old-fashioned bakery, for which one constantly longs back to Rome.

Antico Forno Marco Roscioli – Via dei Chiavari 34
A traditional bakery. They sell a wide variety of pizzas, but they are not what I recommend here, because their dough is too thick, in my opinion. But try the dishes available in the back room! And their pastry, too.

Barnum Cafè – Via del Pellegrino 87
Near Campo de’ Fiori, pleasant, alternative design, inexpensive dishes.

Caffè Perù - Via di Monserato 46 (Piazza di Santa Caterina della Rota)
An old-style café in the immediate neighborhood of Campo de’ Fiori, with artists, university students, small exhibtions, traditional, simple food, free WiFi.

Ciao Checca - Piazza di Firenze 25-26
Pasta in a new edition. A completely new phenomenon, nothing like this existed a few years ago. They do not cook local recipes from traditional materials, but rather fit to an international trend by emphasizing certain elements of the Italian tradition. (It perhaps belongs to trendiness, that checca means homosexual women or men in Italian slang.) It is questionable, whether one must necessarily smear some business philosophy on pasta, and whether it is not better to shape one’s identity in a more sophisticated way than “I’m the one who does not eat hamburger”, but it is a fact, that their approach attracts the appropriate audience. In any case, they are near Piazza Navona, their pasta is quite complex, and they give a honest dose.

Dar Ciriola Via dei Banchi Nuovi 15
Another novelty in Rome. A small sandwich bar in the street behind Corso Vittorio Emanuele, among the many tourist-fleecing places, where you can stuff a traditional kind of bread with a variety of things. Delicious and cheap.

Della PalmaVia della Maddalena 19/23
150 sorts of ice cream. It is not obvious whether we should recommend it. First, in a few days you will spend your last penny on ice cream. Second, you will roam about unhappy and aimlessly later, for example in Berlin, that what you can get here is no ice cream. Its daily visit – which, if you are no fakir, and have no sore throat, you will certainly do – has one benefit for sure. Given that the Italians here elbow their way even more brutal than usual, as if they fought for their lives, seizing an ice cream amounts to the participation in a survival tour.

Fior di Pizza – Via Metastasio 20
An absolutely good-old-times, classic pizza rustica, a few minutes away from Piazza Navona.

Forno Campo de’ FioriCampo De’ Fiori 22 × Vicolo del Gallo 14
There is no more touristy place in Rome than Campo de’ Fiori (and not without reason, because the square is fabulous), and I do not really recommend to buy at the market, because it is really for the tourists. But the traditional bakery on the corner should be tried. Classic pizzas and wonderful cakes.

La Renella PanificioVia del Moro 15
One of the best and certainly the most popular traditional bakery in Trastevere, with fantastic pizzas, and enough seats to taste your way through them. The pizzeria is also a passage from the Tiber to the Santa Maria del Trastevere, which saves you a big turnoff, but makes you arrive a hour later. Next to the pizzeria, you cahn peek through the permanently half-open door of the bakery, and take beautiful photos on the oven and the fresh loaves of bread on the shelves.

Market in the Mars FieldPiazza Monte D’Oro
Not in the immediate neighborhood of Piazza Spagna, but it takes just a few minutes to walk here, and it is very worth, because only a few yards from the main tourist flow you can find an authentic, hidden small market. Here you can eat in three excellent places. If you approach the market through via di Monte D’Oro, then you get exactly to Monte D’Oro Pizza. Here, in a market stall, they sell traditional pizzas and ready meals to the locals at lunchtime. If you appreciate steamed vegetables with cheese or a little meat, the locals obligatorily take it with pizza bianca. A few meters away, at via dell’Arancio 60 is La Bottega di Cesare, a well-done country feeling small inn. A few people can comfortably sit here, they do not hurry with the service, but the food is gorgeous, and the prices low. On the other side of the square, at piazza Monte D’Oro 94 you can find a real traditional café, Caffè Monte D’Oro. Time has stopped there, so you should also stop for a coffee, sandwich, cake.

Paninoteca da Guido – Borgo Pio 3
In the close proximity of the Vatican, a few tables on the street, enough for a smaller company, a few types of simple home-made dishes for cheap. What else do you need?

Pazza per la Pizza – Via della Mercede 18
Next to Spagna and Barberini, a traditional, especially cheap pizza rustica, with touristy design, but old-fashioned, reliable and good pizza.

Pizzeria Vecchio Borgo – Borgo Pio 27
Pizza rustica next to the Vatican. It was one of our favorites already twenty years ago, when we came here for lunch from the Jesuit Historical Institute. Here I fell in love with pizza with zucchini flowers. Since then, it has only changed in as much it already has a Facebook site and a homepage. Both then and now it has been visited by locals. They also make sandwiches from pizza dough, you must try the one with roast piglet. And if by some miracle – not unusual in this holy district – you can still eat more, or you go with a company and you order with a wise apportioning, you should also try their ready meals. (I have to correct myself, just now I saw that they also have a Pope Francis pizza. This was not there twenty years ago.)

Pizza da Michele – Via delle Vergini × Via dell Umiltà
It is incomprehensible, how this pizza rustica could remain authentic in the immediate neighborhood of the Trevi fountain, in the middle of the tourist business, but the point is that it has remained.

Pizza il Capriccio – Via Giustiniani 18.
It looks a bit touristy, and a bit more expensive than usual – well, near the Pantheon you can forgive both –, but they sell real pizza (which of course is always good).

Pizza Rustica – Via Merulana 267
Next to the Santa Maria Maggiore, miraculously, a completely authentic pizza rustica.

Pizzeria Tavola Calda – Via Falegnami 69
Oh, the other old favorite. A few steps away from Via Arenula. Twenty years ago, whenever it was possible, I always made a little turn here when going to the city (and, possibly, also on the way back). Unfortunately, it has been a bit modernized, but the pizza is just as good, and if you’re tired of the much dough, you can also try their delicious vegetable meals.

Pizzeria Minerva – Via della Minerva 4
It is a pity, that this pizza rustica, next to the Pantheon, also fell victim to modernization. The pizza is still good, though not as much as it used to be, and I would prefer to see the old simplicity and prices instead of the present checkered tablecloths.

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A Lucky Journey / Un viaje afortunado

We cross the river Mktari from Avlabari over to Metekhi square. We have been walking the early morning streets of Tbilisi, and decide to rest for a few minutes and restore our strength with some Turkish – or as some here insist, Georgian – coffee.

As the Russian-speaking waitress places the over-full cups before us, mine is tipped a bit too much, and a stream of black slurry runs down the side of the cup, and into the saucer.

“Ah,” she says with a smile. “The sign of a lucky journey!”

Cruzamos el río Mktari desde Avlabari hasta la plaza Metekhi. Hemos estado recorriendo con las primeras luces las calles de Tbilisi y decidimos descansar unos minutos, reponer fuerzas con una taza de café turco —o, como algunos aquí insisten, georgiano.

Cuando la camarera de habla rusa nos pone delante las tazas bien colmadas, la mía se inclina ligeramente y un reguero de lodo oscuro se escurre por el borde hasta el platillo.

«Ah», dice sonriendo. «¡Señal de un viaje afortunado!»

Buskers in an understreet passage in Tbilisi / Músicos callejeros en un paso subterráneo de Tbilisi

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The toll

When I catch sight of the thick rope across the road, the fires on the roadside, the masked persons who start toward us, after passing Sanavardo village on the banks of the Alazani River, I immediately recall Kapuściński’s reports on the road barriers and extortions of the African militias, and I switch into reverse. However, the masked ones wave that there is no problem, we should feel free to come. It comes to my mind what I read the previous night about the living carnival folk customs of Kakheti, but still I hesitate. The gathering here is friendly, they explain in local dialect, phuli, phuli, money, money, they repeat. I empty the contents of our small money bag into their hands, two or three lari, one or two euros. They require the ritual toll from Lloyd as well, they are not affected by our affirmation that the small money belonged to both of us, he must sacrifice a banknote of five, about two euros. The rope is lowered, we can go. After a few meters it comes to mind to Lloyd that we could have recorded a local song with the accordion player. We pull to the side, on the bank of Alazani, and he walks back with the recorder, like a Béla Bartók,

Béla Bartók collecting folk songs with phonograph from Slovak peasants in Zobordarázs (today Dražovce, a suburb of Nitra, Slovakia), 1907

or like a Vladimir V. Akhobadze,

The Georgian musicologist Vladimir V. Akhobadze recording Gurian (Western Georgia) musicians (the photo was copied by us yesterday in the Tbilisi Museum of Folk Music)

pushes the recorder in their faces, simghera, he says, a song. From the noise one can clearly hear only khuti lari, khuti lari, they require further five lari for the show. But the cacophony makes it clear that the accordion is there only as a traditional carnival decoration, it will not produce any music for any lari whatsoever. A new car arrives, which must be tolled, so we also continue our way to the medieval town of Sighnaghi.

Simghera! – Khuti lari!

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Al ver la gruesa cuerda atravesada en la carretera, fuegos en las cunetas, unas figuras enmascaradas que avanzan hacia nosotros nada más salir de la aldea de Sanavardo, a orillas del río Alazani, me acuerdo inmediatamente de los reportajes de Kapuściński sobre las barricadas y las extorsiones de las milicias africanas, y meto sin pensarlo la marcha atrás. Sin embargo, los enmascarados nos hacen gestos de que no hay problema alguno, que avancemos sin preocuparnos. Algo había leído la noche anterior acerca de las vivas tradiciones folclóricas del carnaval de Kakheti, pero estos individuos me han hecho dudar. Es una fiesta abierta a todo el mundo, nos aclaran en el dialecto de la zona. Phuli, phuli, dinero, dinero, repiten. Vacío el contenido de un pequeño monedero en sus manos, dos o tres lari, uno o dos euros. También le exigen el impuesto ritual personalmente a Lloyd. Son sordos a nuestra protesta de que esta calderilla era de ambos. Habrá que sacrificar un billete de cinco, más o menos dos euros. Bajan la cuerda, podemos pasar. A los pocos metros Lloyd cae en la cuenta de que podríamos haber grabado una canción local con el acordeonista. Paramos a un lado, en la misma orilla del Alazani, y Lloyd regresa con la grabadora, como un Béla Bartók,

Béla Bartók recogiendo en un fonógrafo canciones populares de campesinos eslovacos en Zobordarázs (hoy Dražovce, suburbio de Nitra, Eslovaquia), 1907

o como un Vladimir V. Akhobadze,

El musicólogo georgiano Vladimir Akhobadze grabando a músicos en Gurian (Georgia occidental). Tomamos la foto ayer en el Museo de Música Popular de Tbilisi

coloca la grabadora a la altura de sus caras, simghera, dice, una canción. Entre el ruido solo se entiende claramente khuti lari, khuti lari, harán falta otros cinco lari para la actuación. Pero la cacofonía deja claro que el acordeón no sirve sino como elemento decorativo del desorden carnavalesco, no va a emitir música alguna por muchos laris que añadamos. Llega otro coche, que también pagará el peaje. Nosotros seguimos nuestra ruta hacia la ciudad medieval de Sighnaghi.

Simghera! – Khuti lari!

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Pink postcards 15

On 10 February [1915.]
Name of the sender: Private Károly Timó
Address of the sender: HOSPITAL OF SICK SOLDIERS, Budapest, IV, Molnár Str. 25.

Address: To the honored Miss Antónia Zajác
3rd district, Kis-Korona Street 52

Previous letters (gray dots):

Kecskemét, 30 January 1915
Dukla Pass, 11 January 1915
Felsőhunkóc, 4 January 1915
Sztropkó, 31 December 1914
Budapest, 23 December 1914
Budapest, 21 December 1914
Budapest, 11 December 1914
Budapest, 2 December 1914
Budapest, 28 November 1914
Budapest, 27 November 1914
Budapest, 18 November 1914
Budapest, 27 October 1914
Debrecen, 25 September 1914
Szerencs, 28 August 1914
My dear son
I have a new apartment again. But I like it very much, because I have not yet lived in such a smart hospital. This is rather a club or a resort place, at the corner of Molnár and Sörház Streets. Here we will perhaps also have leave. If you were to see me, you would perhaps not even recognize me, such a pretty striped dress I have on. But I will tell you more when you come. Otherwise I feel well, and I wish the same to you. On Sunday come for sure. Visiting hours are every day from 1 to 4 p.m. See you soon

Embraces and kisses from Károly. Please notify Anna, lest she come here in vain. Greetings to those in the workshop.

[There must have happened no great disaster, if, after less than two weeks, Károly could leave the military hospital in Kecskemét, and was taken to Budapest. The news quickly spread among the acquaintances and those in the workshop, that the worst fears did not prove true, and he got a simple gunshot wound in the shoulder. The exact circumstances of the injury are not known, but he was the son of fortune, because in cases of this injury one rarely gets away without a serious operation or amputation. In pondering these odds, there is nobody who could not be considered an expert. Over the past more than half year, no family has avoided injuries or deaths.

This is discussed by everyone in the neighborhood, Perc Street, Kis Korona Street, and even the nearby parts of Lajos Street.

Such a wound, if the soldier is climbing or lying on the slope of the makeshift trench, avoids his unprotected face only by a span, and nests among the most sensitive organs, the artery running down in the left arm, the arteria subclavia sinistra (left-side subclavian artery), or its continuation, the axillary artery (arteria axillaris), and the nerves running down from here (nervi supraclaviculares). And the bones (clavicula, scapula) also escaped unharmed. A one in a hundred chance.

Was the postcard sent from Molnár utca? “Hospital of sick soldiers”. Is there any hospital there? Everybody turns the page quite a few times before going to visit there.]

Saturday afternoon in the Metekhi Church

The doorpost of the gate of Metekhi Church has been worn shiny over eight hundred years from the kisses of the believers entering. The church, rising on a riverside cliff in the middle of Tbilisi, was built in the 5th century by King Vakhtang as a palace chapel. After the Mongol devastation, between 1278 and 1284, it was rebuilt by Demetrius II upon the same floor plan and in the same style, which at that time was already considered archaic: an early example of historicizing architecture. The next devastation would have followed in 1937, when Beria, during the demolition of old Tbilisi, wanted to pull down this emblematic building, too. The intellectuals of the city organized a society to save it. Its leader, the painter Dimitri Shevardnadze was allegedly offered by Beria an appointment as director of the Museum of Tbilisi, had he put a stop to the resistance. The painter, who refused, died in prison that same year. However, somehow the church survived. After being converted into a theater, in 1988, in the wake of the hunger strike of Georgian intellectuals, it was given back to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Saturday is the day of weddings in the Metekhi. In the churchyard, several couples and their relatives engage in social life while waiting their turn; at the gate beggars, Gypsies and wedding photographers each expect some revenue. In the single, small space of the church several ceremonies take place at the same time, and while some faithful are praying at the iconostasis, some light candles before the icons, or, secluded in a corner, confess or ask for advice with the old priests.

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Sábado por la tarde en la iglesia de Metekhi

El umbral de la entrada a la iglesia de Metekhi está desgastado y brillante por los más de ochocientos años de roces y besos de creyentes. La iglesia, se levanta sobre un acantilado junto al río en el centro de Tbilisi. Fue construida en el siglo V por el rey Vakhtang como capilla del palacio. Después de la devastación ejercida por los mongoles, entre 1278 y 1284, fue reconstruida por Demetrio II sobre la planta original y en el mismo estilo —que en aquel momento ya se tenía por arcaico: un ejemplo temprano de arquitectura historizante—. La siguiente devastación estuvo a punto de ocurrir en 1937, cuando Beria, durante la demolición de la antigua Tbilisi, quiso destruir también este emblemático edificio. Los intelectuales de la ciudad constituyeron una sociedad para preservarlo. Su líder, el pintor Dimitri Shevardnadze fue al parecer tentado por Beria con el nombramiento como director del Museo de Tbilisi si lograba poner fin a la resistencia. Al negarse, el pintor murió en la cárcel ese mismo año. Fuera como fuese, la iglesia sobrevivió. Tras haber sido convertida en teatro, en 1988 una huelga de hambre de los intelectuales concluyó con la devolución de la capilla a la Iglesia Ortodoxa de Georgia.

El sábado es día de bodas en Metekhi. En el patio, algunas parejas y sus familiares cumplen con la parte social de la fiesta mientras esperan su turno; en la puerta, mendigos, gitanos y fotógrafos se prometen algunos ingresos. La única y angosta nave de la iglesia acoge varias ceremonias a la vez; y mientras algunos fieles rezan en el iconostasio, otros encienden una vela ante los iconos o, en un rincón, se confiesan o piden consejo a los viejos sacerdotes.

metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi metekhi

En el valle del río Inguri

Una densa niebla verdosa se extiende por el valle del río Inguri. La vemos desde arriba mientras reviramos por la carretera que bordea la cresta del cañón. Svaneti, la provincia más septentrional de Georgia, estuvo unida al mundo exterior durante miles de años unicamente por pistas de montaña, de modo que nadie puso demasiado empeño en ocuparla. Así, el gobierno de los príncipes Dadiani, solo formalmente dependientes del zar ruso, consiguió perdurar hasta el comunismo. «Esta carretera la construyó Saakashvili», dice con reverencia nuestro chófer mientras esquiva una vaca huesuda o algún cerdo que cruza en el frío glacial, así como las piedras que aparecen de pronto en la calzada cuando nos acercamos a un amenazador barranco. «En aquel tiempo se hizo todo; el gobierno actual, nada». Entramos en un túnel de cuya bóveda fluye un copioso manantial. La marshrutka se para justo debajo y pasa unas cuantas veces, adelante y atrás, bajo el chorro de agua, como los cerdos que vimos ayer rascándose contra los muros del monasterio de Gelati.

Paramos en el paso de Jvari. «otdykhat, comer y beber algo». «¿Cuánto tiempo estaremos?» «Quince minutos, media hora, el tiempo que estemos a gusto», el pequeño y decidido chófer nos anima a entrar. Una cabaña de madera con dos mesas. Comemos cordero guisado en salsa picante y el chófer nos sirve naranjada de su propia botella. Los vecinos se han acercado al ver que llegaba un bus. Alguien pide una gran bandeja de queso fresco muy sabroso, khachapuri, acompañado de chacha, el orujo local al que se añade naranja. Llega otra camioneta. Un hombre de fuerte voz se nos junta con su hija y el novio, bromean y ríen sus historias. Enseguida, por aclamación, la chica saca un panduri, una guitarra georgiana, y la empieza a afinar. «Por esto he venido yo hasta Georgia», dice Lloyd encantado.

Chemiguli shenmogelis – Mi corazón te está esperando

Chemiguli shenmogelis guli ankara
amdenikhnis molodinma guli tagala
meshen gamigeb chemo engulo
kalmakhebis sabudaro Enguro ankara
Mi corazón te está esperando, pero
estoy cansada de tanto esperar.
Tú me comprenderás:
hay muchos peces en el río Inguri.

Svanur koshkze artsivebi skhedan – Las aves se posan en las torres Svan

Svanur koshkze artsivebi skhedan
khivianda bans adzleven mtani
ar sheshinde genatsvalos deda
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Garetsiva kharishali gminas
elvam dasva khedebs okros tmani
daidzine farskvlavebsats sdzinavt
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Ushishari Ushba hrubleps ikhvevs
nislishi tvlemen Ushguli da tsani
mamasheni kakholia jihvebs
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Dromova da mtepshi tsakhvalt ertad
kamezrtebi ushishari Svani
tavs da oijakhs uertgule marad
nanil nanil nanaila nanil
Las aves se posan en las torres Svan,
cantan y las montañas cantan con ellas.
No temas, mi pequeña.
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Hace frío y viento afuera,
el fuego arde como una cabellera dorada.
Duerme, pues las estrellas también duermen
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

El monte Ushba no teme a las nubes que se juntan,
la niebla y las nubes bajan sobre el pueblo de Ushguli.
Tu padre saldrá a cazar cabras salvajes
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Cuando crezcas irás a cazar con tu padre,
crecerás valiente como un Svan
Serás fiel a ti misma y a tu familia
nanil nanil nanaila nanil

Y por la tarde ya estamos en los altos del río Inguri, bajo el monte Ushba, en Ushguli, el pueblo habitado a más altura de Europa, la tierra de las torres Svan