Our night-time arrival in Batumi was well-matched to its first flavour, after the partially religious prohibitions of Turkey in Ramadan, the nocturnal vices of sex, drink and gambling greeted us minutes after crossing the border. The neon pointers for casinos, ‘gentlemen’s performances’, and bar signs lit the roads in tandem with the streetlights.
The morning ride along the seafront further impressed Batumi upon us as a Caucasian Miami, the new post-modern constructions of the Rose Revolution towering over the buildings of Soviet-era culture, which in turn dominated the pre-communist revolution houses of the old town. In this old-town, we banqueted in celebration of our first country completed together and dived into the well-regarded niche of Georgian cuisine. As in aside, we weren’t able to think of two cuisines further apart in taste and from but closer geographically than Turkey and Georgia, possibly the result of the religious and identity differences that have been constantly reinforced between the two nations.
After a delicious meal delivered excruciatingly slowly, and loving, if a tad motherly, goodbyes from Asli, we were only underway in the leisurely late afternoon. This set us back from our original plan, and landed us with a late dinner in the town of Ozurgetti and the prospect of hunting for a camping spot in the looming darkness of the industrial outskirts.
We had much anticipated the end of our Ramadan abstinence, but the awaited beers were dreadfully slow in coming. Before I could charade out my concern, two glasses of blush but refreshing vinegar wines were brought to us courtesy of the wrestling team cum biker gang on the next table. A general cheers or ‘cavia-gos’ went up, the pre-beer aperitifs, resembling the Roman marching drink of Potsa, set the course for the rest of the meal.
Our dining neighbours to the other side, were four young couples each representing a different stage of parenthood from twinkle in eye through to Maria the english-excelling 9-yo. The usual half-full half-food conversation and trip explanation bridged the tables between courses. They asked us if help was needed with hotels, camping was the reply; to which after a small pause and a barely perceptible nod between our head interlocutor, Gorge, and his partner we were offered somewhere to stay and two seats at the table - each set with a not quite shot glass, not quite tumbler of the local firewater Chacha. The evening’s charades rolled through scene by scene, until Rob had the discipline to refuse another round of Chacha on the balcony, and I followed swiftly in his wake - our foray into Ramadan dissolved neatly by the Georgian Spirit.
If Turkish hospitality is embodied by the sincere, tea-drinking but tee-total Ernest of the party, then the Georgian host is the rambunctious uncle swilling agri-wine with hearty cheer. This was truer than ever in the bizarre city of Chiatura set into its deep gorge in the form of a concrete soviet mollusc in a rocky moss-strewn crevice. Because of this topography, it used to be the only city in the world whose sole method of public transportation was a net of gondolas that enclose the city from above.
This net was at its peak in the 70’s and by now each Gondola was in a unique state of disrepair, with only 3 of the original 30 still serving some function. Beneath one I spied a wire net set 30 feet under the cables, presumably a welcoming insurance for on-boarding passengers. Under the next one, which was incidentally still in use, was the same netting, but this time cradling a rusting gondola forever suspended from its downward demise.
The drunken uncles made their appearance felt in full force during our hurried evening meal in the city. An All Blacks rugby shirt and it’s close-cropped bearer barged in and spilled his drink-dulled eyes over us. A repetitive, mildly aggressive and wholly misunderstood spurt of words followed, before his barrel-chested and kindly friend fixed the scene, and they returned back to their 6-strong drinking company across the restaurant.
Rivulets of communication resurfaced, before the All Black came over again and poured us two full glasses of wine. we thanked him kindly, offered a convivial cheers, and swirled in a mouthful to catch the aroma and then the bouquet of this fine local nectar. Our tasteful appreciation was not what his aim whatsoever. When we returned the glasses to the table, he summoned the crass self-importance of a militant second-year rugby social secretary and commanded with all but his language that we down the drink that instant. Both Rob and my tolerances for such behavior had been over-worn at university, and we’ve heard too many ‘down it fresher’-s to fall for that ego-dominance trick. Our small show of defiance further dizzied the chap, all were left unsure where everyone’s masculinity lay, and as such we sipped the wine with our toughened meat.
However, one has to have thresholds over when to stand ground and when to soak it, especially in a tough old town like Chiatura. And so when with the rest of his more benevolent company, a deflated rugby ball was brought out and passed round to each filled with wine, we felt much more at liberty to partake. We left inevitably grinning, having forgotten who had the longer wine glass, and an imperceptibly wobbly ride to our canvas bedchamber followed.