Caucasus Journey IX: Getting Settled in Tbilisi

April 16, 2009
It’s been a busy few days. After working all day at the Kutaisi archive on Monday, I went out to dinner with Nino, a professor at Kutaisi State University that I had met at the archive that day. Then, the next morning, I had to return to the archive in order to pay my 20 tetri  [about 13 cent] per document fee for using archival materials. The process was pretty straightforward. I went to the bank, waited in two lines, signed my name to four sheets of paper, had each of them stamped twice, then took them back to the archive to prove that I’d paid. Couldn't have been any simpler, really.
After paying my debt to the archive, I headed back to the apartment where I was staying and picked up my things. The family I was staying with was friendly, as was their little dog. We bid our farewells and I took a taxi to the bus station.
The trip from Kutaisi to Tbilisi took about three and a half hours, and was gorgeous. For much of the journey, there were long rows of snow-capped mountains on either side of us. The regions we passed through were pretty populated, with one small town our village pretty much blending into the next. Traveling from the second largest city in the country to the capital, the road was two-lane and badly potholed until about twenty miles outside of Tbilisi.
Between Kutaisi to Tbilisi
Once we arrived at the Tbilisi bus station I took a cab to a hotel where I had booked a room for a couple of nights. From my hotel, I went to the nearest subway station and went downtown to Rustaveli Boulevard, the main drag. I walked up and down the street, looking at the Baroque-style architecture of the buildings on either side of the street, then popped into a café to use the wireless internet.
Rustaveli Street in Tbilisi
On Wednesday I went to the archive and started going through the opisi, or catalogues, in search of various issues of interest. I hadn’t been planning on actually getting the chance to look through the opisi that day, and therefore did not dress appropriately. In other words, I was wearing normal street clothes, rather than long underwear and a thermal undershirt, both of which I find necessary during the hours spent in an unheated reading room. By the time the archive closed at six in the evening, I was totally frozen. 
Actually, on Wednesday I was still working only provisionally in the archive. The archive's assistant director hadn't liked the fact that my letter of introduction, written by Columbia University, had been produced in June of last year. I had, after all, originally planned on flying here from Moscow last August, but scrapped the idea after the war and went to Istanbul instead. Anyway, I hadn't bothered to get a more recent letter, so the folks at the archive had insisted that I get another letter from the US Embassy here vouching for me. They let me sit in the assistant director's office and look through the opisi anyway, though, which seemed pretty nice of them.
On Thursday morning I called the US Embassy and was told in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't write a letter for me. "What you're asking us to do is vouch for you, which is something we can't do," said a woman working in American citizen services. When I told this to the people at the archive, they told me not to worry. Apparently the assistant director had gotten permission from higher-ups to allow me to work even without a letter from the embassy--I was very relieved (which goes to show, once again, the value of staying polite and respectful even when things start to get frustrating). After walking through a few more offices and getting my credentials stamped, I was led into the reading room and allowed to begin my work.  
The archives, Tbilisi
The other news here is that I've rented an apartment. I saw two, and after seeing the first one the landlady took me for a long drive around Tbilisi. She is very active in the anti-Saakashvili protests which have been taking place since April 9. In Tbilisi, demonstrations are occurring on a daily basis in three main locations: in front of parliament on Rustaveli Street, in front of the government television studios, and in Republic Square, begininng in late afternoon and taking place into the evening. We drove by all three locations between 6:30 and 7 pm, and there were a couple hundred people grouped in each of these locations. Apparently, the crowds were considerably larger last week.  
I ended up taking the second of the two apartments I saw. For at least the next couple of weeks, I'll be living in Vake, an apparently trendy/posh neighborhood located close to the university. It's a recently renovated one-room place with a couch that folds out into a bed, and seems pretty comfortable. The price is $400 for a month, but since I didn't want to commit to staying that long I cut a deal with the landlady whereby I'm paying $250 for two weeks at the start, then an extra $50 if I stay a third week and $100 per week after that if necessary. 
After renting the place, I went to a cool-looking bar/restaurant across the street and had some khachapuri and beer and met up with a couple of Armenian accountants who live in the same neighborhood. I'm pretty excited about the neighborhood and am really happy to be getting a break from hotels. Best of all, the apartment appears to be well heated. 
The next four days will be a holiday in Georgia, celebrating Easter. I've been keeping up a pretty heavy tempo for the last couple of weeks, so I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit in my new place.
To see more photos from the Caucacus journey, go to the photos page of  
More links, analysis and photographs can be found at the Borderlands Lounge

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