I’m back from my trip to Georgia! And just like last time, what a rollercoaster it was. I had to flee Azerbaijan before my visa expired, but – just like last time – shenanigans with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs threatened to keep me out of the country for another 20 to 25 days. It’s one thing to go on vacation; it’s quite another to be trapped on vacation, with an uncertain end date and no idea when you’ll be allowed to return to your work, your apartment, your life.
But let me tell you, if you’re planning on getting trapped somewhere, Georgia is a damn fine choice. The place seems somehow designed to be as beautiful as possible. Arresting mountain scenery; colorful hillside villages with houses stacked just so; medieval churches perched dramatically atop rocky cliffs, the better for their worshippers to touch the face of God. An entire country, blanketed end to end with white. It strikes me that perhaps Georgia was meant to be seen in winter, so effortless is its snow-shrouded beauty.
I could live here.
The moment I stepped off the train in Tbilisi, I was ecstatically snapping photos – the first ones I’d taken in weeks. Somehow, there never seems to be a reason to take my camera outside in Baku. And I think that says a lot about my current attitude toward the place. Leaving Baku threw it into stark relief. In Tbilisi, I got a little thrill from incorporating the city into my everyday routine; in Baku, I struggled to claw my way out of ruts. Tbilisi’s frosty cold carries with it the smell of wood smoke and cheer; Baku’s howling winter winds drive knives into your skin and make it impossible to stay outside for long. Tbilisi is built on a human scale; Baku feels like a place not meant for men.
But most of all, Tbilisi is a city that understands what it is and was. Its awareness of its own history, its pride and shame alike, deeply informs everything from its architecture and cityscape to the riotous clashes of its politics. In Baku, meanwhile, there is a building next to my office with a gorgeous 19th-century facade – or there was, I should say. They bulldozed it just before I started work to make room for yet another soulless glass tower that reduces its neighbors to ants below. Out with the old, in with the new. I only got to see it once.
I’ve noticed that I often need two trips to a place before I really become comfortable there. On the first trip, part of me is consumed with figuring out how things work: where all the major landmarks are, how to use public transit, where to buy my food, how to navigate the local language to do what I need to do. It can be frustrating at times. But once all that’s out of the way, the second trip is just for rocking things up – figuring out what you want to do, knowing exactly how to do it, and getting out there to make it all happen. And that’s when you make your most fulfilling memories.
If that’s true… then let this be my second trip to Azerbaijan. Let this be the trip where my clock is ticking and I don’t waste a second, where I see all the places I want to see and accomplish everything I set out to do. Let this be the trip where I travel far and wide and come to deeply understand the country I’m in.
Perhaps I’ll start by taking some pictures.
And then we had yet another Georgian sheep traffic jam. The end!