Apologies for the absence; I’ve been traveling in Georgia, that mysterious little post-Soviet Eden on the Black Sea. And as post-Soviet things tend to do, the republic is slowly crumbling, from pockmarked, torn-up stretches of sidewalk on Rustaveli Avenue, the main street of Tbilisi and the most important street in the country, to the Tbilisi metro, which in form looks like a rundown mimicry of the St. Petersburg metro and in size resembles a model train set. But the food is delicious, even the alcohol, which ranges from red wine to the stiff Georgian white wine, a de facto hard liquor, to the grape-based vodka “cha cha.”
And the people are the friendliest I’ve met so far in the former Soviet Union, priding themselves on their maxim, “Guests are a gift from God,” and inviting this traveler into their homes on more than one occasion.
In short, a charming place, which is why it’s hard to watch as its already scarce territory is sliced away by Russia, which has played on Abkhazia’s half-baked dreams of independence and poured its settlers and then its troops into South Ossetia in August 2008. These troops have yet to withdraw from the new swaths of territory they conquered.
The August war is never far from mind. On Rustaveli, there’s still folks living in tent-like “cells” to protest the rule of Misha Saakashvili, who is either loved or hated by each citizen of Georgia in his turn. An American government employee I met in Tbilisi blamed Saakashvili for the August 2008 war, saying he had misinterpreted signals from Washington and gotten overexcited to win back his country’s territory, but also noted that the Georgians don’t have anyone better to lead them at the moment.
When I went to Georgia in the second week of July, word was that a new war was soon to break out …