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

Thursday, 13 December 2007

the W()RD: in lieu of pictures

I had 30 MB of free internet access from Magti when I first signed up for 3G service months ago. It certainly didn't take me long to blaze through that, and into my phone's credit, at the rate of 1 lari (c. 65 cents US) per MB of download. With careful, frugal use, I can achieve costs of about 2-4 lari per day - no more always-on internet like it was in Tbilisi, at 45 lari per month! The other complication is that the Mono cards by which one updates one's cellphone credit cost 1 lari extra in Svaneti... and some bright entrepreneur has decided to import only the 5-lari version into Ushguli, meaning that those of us who need cellphone credit will pay 20% extra for it. I'm protesting this robbery by getting my Mono cards, the 10- or preferably 20-lari versions, in Mestia. I'll be there next on Monday the 18th, it seems. So all of this is to say, blog updating will be a bit sparse until then, when I can a) get to my bank, b) buy more credit, and c) jump back online.

Until then, here are a few notes, 1000 words being worth a picture:

1) The most popular export to Ushguli from Latin America is... soap. Lots of it, many flavours, all of similar quality. I mean TV soap operas, or serials, as they're locally known. Some members of my host family, including 16-year-old Anzor, Dato & Nanuli's son, are wildly into these deeply meaningful, highly educational, throughly realistic cinematic portrayals of the lives of genuine people. Now that the Imedi ("Hope") TV channel is back after being closed down on Nov. 7 during the riots which briefly gripped Tbilisi, there are more serials than ever on offer. (Imedi, incidentally, is milking those bad times of its closure, damage and subsequent reopening as of last night for all they're worth. This morning a music video appeared, featuring clips from the riots and chaos of Nov. 7 in a sour-and-sugary context. Have the Georgian media made a cynic of me? Not hardly. Imedi knows that a bit of suffering can be whipped up into all SORTS of righteous indignation.) Back to serials... I'm thinking of taking on a new secret identity: serial killer. By which I mean, of course, not the usual meaning of "a person who murders many victims" but, in a play on words, "one who kills soap operas".

2) Cow manure, when it freezes, is by virtue of its organic bonds harder to break than ice and some kinds of rock, all of which are more brittle. Try it with a pickaxe sometime! Dare to compare!

3) This winter in Ushguli will be the season in which weather has the greatest effect of any season in my life, ever, anywhere. Not necessarily a bad thing, merely an observation. I'm not uncomfortable at all, in my 3 pairs of socks and trousers, with up to 7 layers on my upper half, wearing a hat indoors and two outside. I will never have lived through as snow-filled a winter as this one, even in 15 years in Canada.

4) White actually has an infinite variety of shades. Just ask any interior decorator how many names of white paint there ever have been, are and will be. Or ask a foreigner recently moved to Ushguli for a winter in up to 2 or more m of snow.

5) Having one's electricity fail at unspecified intervals is much harder psychologically than knowing when it will fail based on a schedule of power cuts. This feels like a time warp to my early months in Tbilisi 8 years ago: in Ushguli those bad old times are still here.

6) I'm actually loving it here, despite some of the above ranting. Wouldn't leave for the world. (As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, the best critic of something is one who loves it and is frustrated by its faults, not some one who hates it.) Ushguli is always amazing, and in the winter, with much less going on than the frenzy of spring through fall farming and tourism, I'm learning a lot about the village and its people. This is a PRIVELEGE - I don't need convincing of that.

More to come soon...

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Ushguli, December 11, 2007

More straight from this morning!

Me at work on top of the haystack, and at my computer in my room.

Ushguli, Svaneti, December 11, 2007

Good morning from Ushguli! Temperature -2 C, medium to heavy fall of snow happening as I write.

Introducing some members of my host family, whom I have been friends with - and stayed with many times - since my first visit to Ushguli in 2004. These pictures are from this morning, so hot off the press they're practically steaming.

Bottom - Anzor Ratiani, soon to be 17. He and I are two members of the morning and evening animals' work crew. We help look after what goes into the cows - hay - and what comes out of them - chiefly manure. Twice a month we'll move about 3 tonnes of the stuff via ox-drawn sled to a field, where in the spring it'll feed the potato crop - which in turn will feed US. Talk about a recursive food chain.

Top - Bebia (Granny) Tsiala. She also helps with the above duties, as well as milking. Does a lot of cooking and cleaning at home as well. A real sweetheart.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Ushguli, December 4, 2007

I spoke too soon. Uploading pictures is not so bad, after all - doable, at least.

These photos are both from my cellphone camera (the only way you're going to get pictures from me in reasonable time for the next few months, as film developing and my scanner are a long way away now), from a jaunt I made up to a favourite spot for viewing Ushguli. Jaunt? The snow was up to 2 1/2 feet deep and I was wearing rubber boots, plus 7 layers on my upper body. But I got there and shot the photos and some video too. Going back down took about 10 minutes as opposed to about an hour. This was because "up" needed me to tack (zigzag) up the relatively steep hillside in that deep snow; whereas "down" was straight, buoyed up by all the same snow. Wonderful! The bottom shot is towards Mts Shkhara (left) and Lamaria (right) and the upper parts of the village, where I live; the top shot is of the lower part of the village, the angle I trudged up to get.

Pictures are slow.

Tried to upload a medium-size one (less than 600 kb) and it wouldn't go. Will keep on trying tomorrow. Hey, it's better than nothing; at least I'm back online, even if it is rather slow and buggy.

Greetings straight from Ushguli...

Yes, it's true. I'm back online after nearly 3 weeks. Arrived in Ushguli on November 23, and have been trying to get onto the internet from then until now. 5 days without electricity; numerous other power failures; several calls to and from Magti, my cellphone service provider. The last little thing needing correcting we sorted out a few minutes ago. Needless to say, I'm delighted. Don't know how much this will cost; do know that it's a bit buggy and slow; but the main thing is, I'm up and running again.
It's been as cold as -16 C; and we have about 1 metre of snow. I'm teaching 8 English classes per week, from grade 1 through adult, all from zero knowledge (by the students, that is! Although it's the first time I'm teaching my native tongue to those who know nothing of it, as well). And helping my host family with farming things - looking after the cows, mostly. Learning much about this amazing village at the top of Europe.
Stay tuned, viewers. More to follow, as close to live as it gets.