Caucasus! The name evokes a sense of complexity, mystery, a bit of tension, danger even… And where is it, exactly? In Europe? Asia? Somewhere in between?
Tomorrow I’m delving into a new region of the world. New to me, that is. It’s a region I’ve been drawn to for quite some time, so I’m very excited for this upcoming journey and to be exploring Caucasus. I’ll be completely free – all on my own, with nothing organised other than flights. I’ll not even bring my trusty old Mac along.
When I sit down at a sidewalk cafe, I don’t want to look at the screen and get slightly lost in the virtual world as I’m wont to do. I want to look at the landscape and the people, the way they dress, the way they walk (will the girls clamber about in impossibly high heels down cobbled hills like they do in Kiev?) I want to smell the air (will it remind me of Eastern Europe of old, like Skopje did – that peculiar combination of exhaust, tobacco and …) I want to listen to the music of the Georgian language, and eavesdrop on anyone speaking more familiar languages. I want to take in the atmosphere, unconstrained by mod tech (will I feel like I’m back in the USSR, like I did in Transdniestr?)
So no Mac, no iPad, just a notebook, a paper one. And a pen. Getting back to basics. It worked very well before. (And it will probably work wonders for my slightly weary wrists as well.) Only allowance to mod tech is a mobile, so expect Instagrams. And if cyber withdrawal rears its head, well… there must be Internet cafes still, right?
Exploring Caucasus – where?
I’ll begin in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, home country of the world’s most infamous dictator, one Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, born in Gori in 1878.
What? Who? Infamous, you say? Never heard of the man.
With a name like that – and a desire to rule the world, or at least the Soviet Union – better do like film stars and acquire an alias. Let’s see, what would be a good name for a Soviet dictator, I imagine young Iosif must have pondered. Something strong, strong like … steel. That’s it! Iosif Steel. Or, as they say in Russian, Stalin.
I said I have nothing organised. There is one thing, however. I’ve filed an application for a visa to Abkhazia (north-west on the map above) and am eagerly anticipating a positive response. Nothing yet, though. No word at all, as a matter of fact. Cross your fingers for me, my lovelies.
I’ve also got my eyes on the UNESCO-listed monastery Svaneti, just look at that gorgeous landscape in the bottom photo. And you know I’ve a weak spot for World Heritage.
So, where is it? Abkhazia? Georgia? The Caucasus? Well, boundaries can be many things: geographical, cultural, linguistic, historical, political, more or less random borders created by former colonisers…
All the three Caucasian countries participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. (If you’re American, you might not have heard of this annual music fest. Let’s just say its infamy is almost on a par with said dictator. Almost.) So, if Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia participate in Eurovision, does it mean they’re European countries? One would think so. But, oddly, Israel is in as well. And if memory serves, Morocco once was, too. And no one would claim either of those countries as European.
Sticking with geographical boundaries, when I was in school, we learned that the border between Europe and Asia went along the Ural Mountains, well east of the Caucasus. But it’s not as easy as all that. The boundary isn’t merely a straight, or even straightish, line from north to south. Up north by the Arctic Ocean, it begins at the Urals – but then it curves west, as far west as Istanbul in the south. It’s all quite confusing. The three countries are often described as transcontinental.
In the end, I think how the countries identify themselves is what matters. All three are members of the Council of Europe, presumably because they want to. Armenia even holds the current chairmanship of the Council.
So long! Or, as they say in Georgian, ცოტა ხნის – pronounced ts’ota khnis. Or so Google Translate tells me. I’ll be sure to verify.