Archive for October, 2016


October 18, 2016

When jogging last Friday morning I was surprised at the silence of the streets. Cars remained tightly pressed to one another on the sidewalks, and only one of them tried to move cautiously out of its parking place to go elsewhere. No children rushed to school, and yard-keepers, in their orange coats and hats, were sweeping the fallen leaves from under the trees. Since the dominant religion in Georgia is Orthodox Christianity, I thought that it was a free day, and the holiday celebrated was the same Intercession of Virgin Mary which is observed in Ukraine as a national holiday. However, later that day I came to know that on October 14 the Georgians celebrate a different spiritual holiday – Mtskhetoba-Svetitskhovloba.1-img_20161016_153948502

Mtskheta, located some 20 km to the north of Tbilisi, had been the capital of Georgia (Iberia) until the 5th century A.D. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is a temple in this city. So, the feast of Mtskhetoba-2-dsc_0558Svetitskhovloba honors both the city and the temple.

4-img_20161016_151814263The ending “-oba” rang a bell with me. When attached to the name of the modern capital Tbilisi (“Tbilisoba”) it stands for an annual October festival that celebrates the cultural life and diversity of Georgia featuring concerts of folklore music, dancing and numerous cultural events. Usually Tbilisoba is celebrated in Tbilisi, but this year it was observed by the Georgian diaspora at Andriyivskyi Uzviz in Kyiv too – with the exquisite Georgian cuisine and traditional 5-img_20161016_154457359choral singing. Especially thrilling was the moment when a folklore group, in their black chokha outfit and daggers at their belts were performing (as a sign of respect for 6-img_20161016_154230121the Ukrainians) a Ukrainian song “The Wide Dnipro Roars and Moans.”

However, Tbilisoba and Mtskhetoba-Svetitskhovloba are radically different. While the former is a secular holiday, the latter is strictly religious. The legend has it 7-img_20161016_154436434that in the 1st century AD, two Jews who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and became Christian believers, brought to Georgia the tunic in which Jesus had been executed. Georgians will also tell you that on the burial place of the tunic rose up a sacred cedar, which later began to ooze forth 1-dsc_0626myrrh and gave people healing from ailments. From all part of the Caucasus pilgrims began to come to the place. They named the cedar a “life-giving pillar”. In the 4th century, the king of Georgia – Mirian – decided to build a church in its 2-img_20161016_162402230_hdrplace. The cedar was cut down, but the trunk could not be moved. St. Nino, a missionary from Rome, was 3-img_20161016_163246046_hdrthe only one who could beg the blessing of the Lord to move it. An invisible force lifted the trunk into the air and dropped into place, where soon a wooden church arose. In the 11th century the decayed church was replaced by the Svetitshoveli Cathedral. St. Nino’s icon is now in the cathedral, and the grapevine cross, with which she came to Georgia (then Iberia) to preach the Gospel, is a symbol of Georgian Christianity. A copy of that cross (also called St Nino’s cross) with a recognizable slight drooping of horizontal arms is set up in the yard of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, and tourists love to be photographed next to it.

It’s also thrilling to walk through the narrow medieval streets of old Mtskheta – narrow and cobbled.

The Georgians have a very strong retrospective thinking. Even though the capital of the country was moved from Mtskheta to Tbilisi seventeen centuries ago, they keep calling Tbilisi “the new capital”, while Mtskheta remains for them “the old capital.” Lots of high schools in Georgia begin their academic year (it starts on September 15) by trips to Mtskheta.

1-dsc_0450Ludmyla and I arrived at Mtskheta as “parents.” Our daughter Yasya and Irakli had their wedding at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. That was a church wedding (a civil registration of their marriage took place earlier). First we had came to the Cathedral a day before, because Yasya’s maid of honor Sanya (her long-standing 2-dsc_04215-dsc_0619friend from Serbia) had to be baptized before she could attend Yasya during the wedding and give her emotional and spiritual support. Being held in a temple which had witnessed centuries of Christian history, Sanya’s baptism was an uplifting moment. Now Sanya was really a person born anew: you could see it by the shine of her eyes, by her smile, by her posture.

1-i-and-yNeedless to say that for my wife and me, our daughter’s marriage held the next day was the pinnacle of happiness. Any parents will understand us. This country and its people have become as close and dear to us, as they are to Yasya. “Please, know that Yasya is absolutely safe with us. Don’t worry about her,” assured us our numerous in-laws. We know. We are sure. 3-img_20161016_151515602

After the wedding ceremony there was a lot of picture-taking: every family of relatives wanted to be photographed next to the newly-weds. Then a short trip to the Dzhvari monastery followed. It’s another inspiring place: being the setting of Mikhail Lermontov’s romantic poem “Mtsyri” (“The Novice”) it also heartens all lovers of literature. Besides, the monastery rises high over the surrounding ranges of mountains and, as Yasya told us, makes the most beautiful view in Georgia.


The reception in the evening was 3-img_20161016_220805426unforgettable. There was much of Georgian folklore on the podium. My impression was that at any moment any person sitting at table could jump up from their seat, rush to the front and present –spontaneously and brilliantly – a Caucasian song or dance. How talented they are, these people! While songs were sung and dances performed, Irakli’s relatives were never tired explaining to us which part of Georgia this or that piece of 4-img_20161016_220817908art came from. A real surprise was two Ukrainian songs: The Red Rue (it has been invariably popular in Ukraine since 1968 when it was first performed) and the energetic “You Have Cheated Me, My Dear…”


Usually translated as a “toastmaster”, the Georgian word “tamada” is more than that. The tamada is a ruler of a supra (feast), the pivot round whom everything rotates. First, Irakli’s  cousin Koba rose to his feet and profusely thanked all those present for having chosen him to be a “tamada.” By 5a-img_20161016_222359669each toast he came to a person he chose, that person had to stand up holding a glass filled to the brim, and, with his silent consent, support what the tamada said. Each toast that Koba pronounced was a lengthy speech listened to by all those present. Knowing only a few Georgian phrases of greeting and farewell, I consulted my in-law who sat on my right, what the toasts were about (“And this time, what shall I have to drink to, Revaz?”). The themes varied from the health and well-being of the newly-wed couple through the health and well-being of all those who were in the hall and also all those who couldn’t attend the reception for some reason, to more global themes of the past, present and future of both Georgia and Ukraine.

A moment of special fun at the reception was carving the wedding cake (see the photos). Of course, everybody understands that married life is not sweet dessert all through, but a sweet push into it is symbolic. Symbols do matter.7-img_20161016_211929614

6-img_20161016_223441729As it is usual at weddings, relatives clinked glasses with the married couple, told them their wishes and, being more “experienced” 🙂 gave them “instructions” on how to live on. Now we have many relatives here in Georgia. We are rich people now.



October 11, 2016

2016-10-11-12-59-48While planning a trip to Tbilisi downtown today, I penciled a few metro stations in my jotter and prepared a city map. There are two metro lines in Tbilisi: the red line running from north to south (sixteen stations) and the west-east green line (six stations) joining it from the west. We live near Vazha-Pshavela Station (the green line), which makes it a shorter way to the city center The third line is under construction. The map is good – even though slightly outdated. The present-day names like “Rose Revolution Square” or “Zviad Gamzakhurdia Avenue” are not on the map yet, but “Alexander Kazbegi Avenue” (not “Pavlov Street”), “Liberty Square “ (not “Leninis Moedani”), or “Rustaveli Avenue” (not “Golovin Street”) are there already. Tbilisi is returning to its roots. Besides, more streets are now re-named to honor outstanding women, because according to the City Council, there’s a gender imbalance in street names: out of 1,200 streets, 1,120 are so far named after men.

As regards the transport in Tbilisi, I have already mentioned the big number of cars (the number looks even bigger because of short and narrow streets). It becomes quite a problem to park your car when you go out in the evening. Good thing if the driver has got a friend inside their car who can jump out and rush to a vacant spot next to the sidewalk protecting the place from other drivers, while explaining to them that the car to be parked in this place is your friend’s car who is just making a U-turn at the cross-roads to get here. I was told that in Soviet times there was a ramified network of trams and trolleybuses in the city, but in the 1990s (without regular electricity supply) the electric transport collapsed. Another sign of the energy problem in those days is the absence of wooden rails in walk-ups (the rails were usually fixed to the metal carcass on one side of every staircase) Their absence may be seen until now. People had been removing the rails then to keep their apartments heated.

2016-10-11-18-05-32However, the rain, which was correctly forecast the day before, trapped us in our apartment. Not to lose time I decided to bake mchadi, and the trip to the city center might be postponed till tomorrow (“mchadi” is a very popular Georgian cornbread). My wife agreed and I got down to business. Earlier Irakli had told me that preparing mchadi was comparatively simple: you mix the cornmeal, salt and water to form dough, then split the dough into balls, flatten the balls and fry them in a fry-pan until they get golden on each side, put it on a plate and it them with sulguni. Irakli said that men 2016-10-11-18-35-51in Georgia often cooked that dish. You should only know some “secrets” into which he would initiate me as soon as he had time. I made my 2016-10-11-18-41-48mind not to wait till I was coached by a more experienced person (I also rejected my wife’s attempts to assist me, asking her only to take pictures of how I’ll be baking the mchadi).

The result of my effort may be observed from the pictures posted. I also downloaded from the Internet a picture of mchadi as it had been 2016-10-11-18-45-54prepared by  people “who knew.”

For all that, with sulguni and shashliki (grilled meat), we found my mchadi delicious. Luda said that I reminded her of Uncle Podger from “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome.




October 10, 2016

Last evening we met Irakli’s family. Before, they had lived in Gagra, but fled to Tbilisi after the war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993 and the ethnic cleansing of Georgians that followed. Deprived of everything, with two adolescent sons in their care and some belongings in their suitcases, they had to re-start their life in Tbilisi from zero. The government couldn’t help refugees in any way. Revaz (the father) and Merab (Iraklli’s brother) went into business, and Irakli became a medical student. When Irakli was taking us by car along Vazha Pshavela Avenue yesterday, he showed us Tbilisi State Medical University he had graduated from. A very demanding institution, as I understood. It has about 7,000 undergraduate students and a strong postgraduate program.

2016-10-09-16-52-30My wife and I liked the atmosphere in the family. Revaz and Merab are more emotional, Irakli is quieter, having taken after Dodo (the mother). Here we are in the picture: Revaz and Dodo with my wife Liuda (sitting), and also Merab, Tamuna (Merab’s wife) and yours truly (standing).


2016-10-09-16-05-00But the real treat was little Cecily, Merab and Tamuna’s daughter. She was all smiles, she sang and danced for us, and her dark eyes were so expressive. As Yasya (my daughter) has noticed, children in Georgia are exceptionally BEAUTIFUL. Cecily proved to be exceptionally TALENTED as well – and not only in singing, dancing or arts but also in languages. I stepped out from the dining table and we had several wonderful minutes of English in front of the audience. By the end of our dramatized blitz-lesson Cecily had remembered a number of useful English words and structures and won well-merited applause. And I received an offer 2016-10-09-16-04-47from the people who know more about business than I do to start an English-teaching project for younger children in Tbilisi. As I was told, the success was guaranteed 🙂


October 9, 2016

1-2016-10-08-14-27-29As I see it, Tbilisi’s physical appearance (if we can only speak about the “physical appearance” of cities) is characterized by rather simple architecture of its box-like buildings. The buildings are mostly grey in color and, as a rule, they have loggias – balconies are rarer. Narrow streets fork left and right from broad avenues, which, as a 2-2016-10-08-14-30-16rule, have several lanes and heavy traffic. Huge plane-trees (platanus) grow everywhere. They form thick roofs over smaller streets, and are also a nice protection from the scorching sun on the sidewalks of thoroughfares. Incidentally, we are well into October now, but the temperatures are rather high: the forecast for the next three days is 3-2016-10-08-14-30-2720-25 degrees Celsius (my FB friends from Ukraine tell about 4-6 degrees in Kyiv and say they are turning on heaters).

Other trees are coniferous. I call them pine-trees, but they look slightly different from those that grow in the vicinities of Kyiv. Besides you will never see pine-trees 4-2016-10-08-14-33-37in the center of Kyiv.

The area is rather hilly. Every time you feel like you are going either “up” or “down” a street. The rugged horizon rises high because of the steep mountainous ranges round the city.

Lots of cars. At least, the ratio between cars and pedestrians is definitely higher 5-2016-10-08-14-34-59in Tbilisi than in Kyiv. My impression is that there are more cars than walkers here.

All along streets (no matter how big or small the streets may be) there are sales outlets called “marketi.” That makes things rather convenient: you go out of your apartment house, turn any way you like and buy whatever you like. 6-2016-10-08-17-34-01Situated so close to each other and being so versatile as regards the goods sold, the “marketis” remind me of corner shops in England. At least, their function is similar. Such multitude of smaller points of sale is impossible in Kyiv downtown. I attribute it to traditions of trade that have stronger roots in Georgia than in Ukraine. In Kyiv small business is being inhibited. The latest wave is the “anti-kiosk” campaign. The “city fathers” are concerned about what Kyiv will look like during the Eurovision song contest next year, so they are knocking down “small architectural forms” and repressing their owners.

7-2016-10-08-17-39-07Yesterday Irakli took us to the Mtatsminda Pantheon. The name comes from Mount Mtatsminda, on whose slopes the Pantheon is situated. Here, significant Georgians are buried. If you already know something about the Georgian history and culture, you will definitely appreciate the place. However, this site on the territory of St. David’s Church (“Mamadaviti”) is also a good starting point for those who are going to do the Georgian studies “from scratch.” Among celebrities on whom Georgia prides and who lie here, are the romanticist poet Nikoloz Baratashvili, the 8-2016-10-08-17-50-32father of the Georgian ABC-book for children Iakob 9-2016-10-08-17-18-26Gogebashvili, the first president of independent Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the writer Nodar Dumbadze, the poets Vazha Pshavela and Akaki Tsereteli, the Russian writer Alexander Griboyedov and his Georgian wife Nino Chavchavadze… In this respect Georgia has the edge over Ukraine: it knows how to honor its true sons and daughters.

I admired Irakli when he was guiding us through Mtatsminda. His love of Georgia and his knowledge of its history and culture appeal to me. Besides, Irakli introduced a strong personal note into his narration telling us how they, as students, used to walk up all the way to the Mount (this time we, “foreign guests”, were lifted up here in the funicular), and absorbed the aura of the place.

The place gives a wonderful panoramic view of Tbilisi which is even more beautiful at night.



October 8, 2016

2016-10-07-09-00-25While travelling I always look for “culture markers” that make life of other communities different from the life I’m used to. The first of such markers was at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv (it is still hotly debated in Ukraine after whom the airport should be named: the aircraft designer Sikorski, the artist Kazimierz Malewicz, the poet Pavlo Chubyns’kyi or the 18th-century hetman Ivan Mazepa). This morning the departure hall was “occupied” by Hasidic believers returning to their homeland. There were about a hundred of them in typical long black overcoats, round hats and long sidelocks dangling from under the hats, but the impression was that they made up no less than two thirds of all the people in the hall. They were moving quickly around, loudly talking, dancing in a circle, pushing baggage trolleys (with children on top) in front of them. As other passengers, I also made a few snapshots of this ingenuous group. When boarding for the flight to Tel Aviv began, there followed a dozen of boarding calls inviting Hasidic stragglers to gate D…”. Each time different names were called, so it looked like half of the community were still hustling somewhere around the hall. First, the announcements were made, as usual, in Ukrainian, English and Russian, but finally, a strong and angry-sounding voice in Hebrew thundered our a long list of Jewish names, with only one other word “Sabbath” that I could make out. I think their Rebbe was reminding his believers that they should duly prepare their hearts and be disciplined to observe tomorrow’s Saturday in Israel, and not in Ukraine.

My seat on board was in the aisle. A corpulent old Georgian was sitting right in front of me. His neighbors on the left were a rather dynamic young couple who, not once during the flight, rose to go out and stretch their legs. Each time the old man politely stood up and, without sitting down again, waited patiently until one or the other of the couple returned to their seat. I admired his politeness and patience.

Noisy guys behind me kept laughing all the time, and when they asked the air-hostess why the food should be paid for and its price wasn’t included in the price of the ticket, as was the case with other airlines, the air-hostess bluntly advised they might choose other airlines: “There are a lot of them,” she added.

2016-10-07-14-57-41Tbilisi welcomed us with an understanding smile of a passport control officer after my Ukrainian accented “გამარჯობა”, the temperature of 23 degrees Celsius (quite a different feeling after +9 degrees in Kyiv only three hours before), sharp peaks of cypress trees on both sides of the road leading from the Shota Rustaveli airport and 2016-10-07-14-58-12mighty plane-trees in the city center along the Mtkvari (Kura)river. Having reached our destination, my wife and I came to know the authentic taste of khachapuri (ხაჭაპური, leavened cheese-filled bread), sulguni (სულგუნი, a brined Georgian cheese), and mchadi (მჭადი, a traditional bread eaten with baked aubergines or sulguni on 2016-10-07-16-00-10top). But the main treat was the welcome and love given by our Irakli and Yasya to whom were had flown thousands of miles over the steppes, seas and mountains on this day.


Why Fads and Gimmicks Should be Resisted in the Classroom

October 2, 2016


One of the perpetual cycles in education is harnessing of whatever is popular in youth culture at the time in order to ‘engage’ students. The current gimmick de jour is with Pokemon Go, a virtual reality mobile phone game that has taken the world by storm. Several ‘hints and tips’ websites offer ways of using this technology in the classroom. For example, in order to engage students in History you could “Create a timeline that shows the history of Pokemon and the other Pokemon games.” Last year English teachers were treated to a series of books on how to use emoticons to teach Shakespeare. Titles included Srsly Hamlet,’ ‘Yolo Juliet’ and  ‘Macbeth #Killingit.’  


One of the main justifications for these kinds of approaches is the notion that kids will be engaged in subjects they would otherwise not be, and it’s a way to “get them involved.” Apart…

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