Top: World's first 360-degree Panorama of Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia, Feb 24/2009, from 12 separate photos...

Monday, 7 May 2007

Above: First ever picture using my new cellphone, bathroom mirror, Tbilisi, May 2, 2007

Giorgoba, Ladreri, Svaneti, May 2007

Well, I actually did manage to acquire a new cellphone just before heading out to the mountains. This journey is also notable for my not taking a single roll of film with me, though I did have all of my 35mm camera equipment. A last-minute request to buy and take some medical supplies, made the evening before my departure, after I had been to the bank and it had closed, meant that I didn't have enough money for my return journey to Tbilisi - let alone for such frivolities as film! Just as well, it turned out, that I had splashed out on the new cellphone, a necessity anyway as my old one has been expiring. The 4-day trip was to be an experience of getting to know my new phone's multimedia capabilities, both photo- and videographic. While its 2 MegaPixel limit is quite small, its ability to handle contrast quite limited, it does offer the advantage of great speed in getting one's material from shoot to blog - soon I will be able to post straight from the phone itself.

This time I was travelling by local transport, on the ubiquitous marshroutka (a word which the French "marcheroute" lent to Russian for the name of its set-route taxi-vans, and from that language travelled into all of the languages of the former USSR, and thence by this tortuous way slipped into local English). Nodar was detained by another funeral, this one not in Svaneti, and found himself unable at all to go home for the event to which which he had invited me in the first place. I count this trip, my 17th into Svaneti since 1999, as a milestone in independence from my big Svan brother and in freedom to come and go more as I please.

The 6th of May, Giorgoba, the festival of St George, is a major day all over Georgia. In Svaneti there is an outdoor feast, weather permitting. Ours was in a beautiful clearing in a small forested knoll which contains one of the oldest churches in all of Georgia, the ruined, purportedly 6th-century Church of St Barbara. It is tiny, able to hold no more than 15 or so non-claustrophobic people shoulder to shoulder; but at least the crowding isn't vertical, as there is no roof at all but the sky.

The village's women had baked bread in small round loaves. Three men chosen for their ability to say the required prayers each took the loaves in threes and, holding them up to the east-facing front of the church, prayed all together to God for each male in each family in the village in turn. The women lit thin candles and stuck them against the stone block walls of the church as this was happening. Their turn to be prayed for, along with that of the cows, I am told, is on another special day...

A chicken was brought into the ceremony as well. Presented to God, it was then released into the woods to be chased and caught before being sacrificed and added to the huge cauldron of calf meat which was already boiling away.

As I was taking all of this in, one thing which stood out to me was the beautiful setting of the church, open to the sky and to nature which is crowding its walls and reentering via its floor. All right, it's a ruin needing restoration; but it is also a very natural-seeming place to worship the Artist of the creation mingling with it.

Sacrifices and prayers done, the 30 or so people present were ready for the feast. This consisted of the boiled meat, along with the bread and some tqemali, sour plum jam; toasting was with either araqi (local moonshine) or wine, presided over by Nodar's brother, Sergo. It was over in about 5 hours, and all were able to walk away from it under their own power, making their way home to the village below to end the evening peacefully. I had participated in this major religious festival in Svaneti for the first time. I am still processing what I witnessed.

No comments: