Seeing the Republic of Georgia…
Through the Outer and Inner Eye
My husband Ed and I are in the midst of a two-week trip through the Republic of Georgia. Our senses are bombarded with novel stimuli, as we throw ourselves into experiencing the magnificence, the mystery and the massive contradictions of this little country.
Did you know?
- Nearly 90 percent of Georgia’s people are Christian Orthodox.
The Church exerts great religious and political power. Anchiskhati Basilica is the oldest surviving Orthodox Church in Tbilisi (capital of Georgia), dating from the sixth century. During the Soviet period, all religious ceremonies at the basilica were halted, and the building became a museum for handicrafts. When the independence of Georgia was restored in 1991, the basilica returned to religious use.
- Less than 10 percent of Georgia’s population is Muslim, but Sunni and Shia Muslims in Tbilisi worship side by side in the same mosque.
Until 1951, there were two mosques in Tbilisi. Like everywhere else in the world, Sunni and Shia Muslims worshipped separately, at the Jumah Mosque and the Blue Mosque, respectively. But in 1951 the Communist government demolished the Blue Mosque to make way for a bridge. Recognizing that the Shia community had nowhere to go, the Jumah Mosque opened its doors to them, making it one of the only mosques in the world where the two sects worship together side by side.
- Georgian wine is diverse, while the food is…well, not as diverse as we expected.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Caucasus have supported wine production for at least 8,000 years. Due to the long history of wine making, Georgian wine traditions are deeply embedded in the national identity.
Georgian cuisine is the result of a wide array of culinary ideas carried along the ancient Silk Road Trade route. So we expected more diversity than we have experienced… generally some variation of salty cheeses, walnuts, various types of breads, and grilled meat.
However, two unique food specialties stand out:
Khinkalis are dumplings that originated in the Georgian mountain regions. They’re everywhere. The fillings consist of minced meat (lamb, beef or pork), onions, chili pepper, salt and cumin. The juices of the meat are trapped inside the dumpling as it cooks.
Churchkhela is a traditional Georgian candle-shaped candy. The main ingredients are walnuts, grape juice and flour. The nuts are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice and dried in the shape of a sausage.
- The Georgian national character is a study in contradictions.
Kartlis Deda or Mother of Georgia is a statue on the top of Hill Sololaki, erected in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary. The twenty-meter aluminum figure of a woman in Georgian national dress symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand, she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends; in her right hand she holds a sword for those who come as enemies.
- Georgians love and hate Stalin.
Stalin, the most famous Georgian who ever lived, is revered by many as a great leader who created a grand empire. Georgian history books continue to laud Stalin for defeating Hitler’s fascism and transforming the Soviet Union into a superpower.
He is also hated by many in this country. 18 million people were sentenced to the gulag under Stalin. Up to 10 million peasants died or were killed in Stalin’s collectivization programs of the early 1930s. And nearly one million people were executed in the purges of 1937–1938.
- Ancient and modern architecture stand side-by-side.
Tbilisi boasts remains of a 12th Century fortified wall.
And nearby, the ultra-modern Bridge of Peace, built in 2010, stretches 150 meters over the Kura River, connecting old Tbilisi with the new district.
In the midst of the cacophony of stimuli to our outer senses, Ed and I have found that we need times of stillness to become truly mindful and present to what we are experiencing.
The late poet, theologian and philosopher John O’Donohue wrote:
“May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you.”
For us, tai chi is a practice that allows us to begin to open our “inner eye.”
Through the continuous, flowing movements of tai chi, we quiet our minds and open our hearts to begin to “glean the real presence” of the many outer sensations that are bombarding us in this fascinating country.
If you enjoyed this and would like to see more, please visit me at marlenafiol.com.