Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lermontov Opera

We went to the opera on a Sunday night. Tako, a woman we had met in Lincoln arranged for s to have tickets. Her boyfriend was one of the leads in the play. The opera was written by Pushkin but was based on the novel that I read as a recommended work by an historian of the Caucus region, Lermontov's A Hero of our Times. This is a nineteenth century Russian novel replete with wild emotion, romantic love, and extravagant declarations. Here are few pictures. The cast. Two musicians.

I can think of no better place for me to see an opera than in Georgia. Opera and classical music is very much a dominant part of cultural life here. One often sees people carrying violins strapped on in cases on their backs in place of the ubiquitous American and European backpacks. The opera was wonderful.

Davit Gareja

I made a quick time movie of the trip to visit the incredible caves and frescoes at Davit Gareja, a long mountainous ridge on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. But, I have been unable to load it. So a few pictures will have to suffice. This was another trip organized by Rita Prokopenko. We went in a van which provided more comfort. Nana, Giorgi, Gogo, Paata, Rita, and a driver plus Sarah and me.

Pictures were plentiful but I am only going to load a few. The path was narrow. We did not see the plentiful bird life the guidebook promised but this visit was on the first warm sunny day in March so we were too early. I had wanted to see some of the huge eagles and vultures that live in this region.
The picture of the cave entrance with the 53 in green ink on the wall is left over from the times when the Soviet military used these sites for artillery practice. You can see bullet holes in the cliff walls if you look closely.
The frescoes and icons were magical and beautiful and overpowered the graffiti written on them. I am glad we were there at a time when there were so few people as this made it even more special--to be able to feel the silence that this community of monks must have known way back 12-14 hundred years ago.

We probably passed 40-50 separate caves, many with beautiful imagery celebrating various aspects of Christianity, imagery made more beautiful by time. I wondered about the monastic society that lived here. Some caves were simple holes in the cliff. Others were quite elaborate, multi-room affairs with beautiful frescoes everywhere. This suggested some kind of status order to me but I have no idea what this might have been. Anyway, the social order of this ancient society is something I should like to explore further.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I was able to make a one day trip to a Caucasian ski area called Gudari. Here is a video of the experience. My ski companions were Nic and Soro Wondra, new friends from Colorado and Iowa and Alan Lambert, a pyschology professor from Washington University in St. Louis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Number One School

School Number 1

This past Sunday, to make something out of a cold, windy and rainy day, we decided we would walk around the town anyway. We loaded up a pack with water and reading/drawing material and walked down to the main drag, Rustaveli avenue. As we were going by a big yellow building adjacent to the big yellow Parliament building, Sarah noticed an open door. So, we walked across the expansive terrace in front of this building to discover School Number 1. I am still trying to figure out what to make of this school. It was built in 1802. It sits right next to Parliament. We had a wonderful tour from Nodo and his friend whose name I did not get—both sophomores I think. And from the custodian who was a bit steely at first but warmed into a tour guide in short order. This is a huge building with students in 1-12th grades. Because it was Sunday there were no students. My guess is that on a school day the place would echo with noise as the schools I have seen thus far do. We saw a number of totally impressive places—a huge meeting room with antique chairs and conference tables, a library with an array of computers for students to use, a recital hall with a grand piano the size of an aircraft carrier, an incredible art room. Everywhere were wall murals of famous Georgian writers, poets, artists. Even the hallways had figures of famous Georgians. Imagine our festooning the walls of Lincoln High or of Morley with famous American writers. Not a bad idea I say. Of course, we would quickly get into a culture war over what writers to put on the wall and what writers should be excluded. Twain--I think not. Rand, terrible idea. Dreiser, a socialist. I saw not a single athletic trophy or image of a football player anywhere. Not only that, these two kids knew the name of

the person in each and every mural and there were lots and lots of these. So this experience gave us much to talk about as we went through the rest of the afternoon. Here are a few pictures of the Number One school. An image of the entrance. Imagine the faculty meeting in the room below. It would, I have to believe,lend credence to the theory that the environment will shape human behavior. And the art room--imagine such a facility in a public school. These Georgians devote way too much space and resources to art and way too little to sports.

Last night was Tuesday night. Taught my seminar to the usual group of students who show up. Great group. Dinner with Sarah in the bina (flat). We didn't go to the Italian restaurant I like and stayed in for a tasty (a popular English word with Georgians) for a salad and tunafish meal. This morning the sky is a clear and sparkling blue and the air is clean.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

No Panic Here

March 14, 2010

Last night around mid night there was a lot of hollering going on outside. I am getting used to this so did not check it out. This morning a friend told me that there had been a TV show simulating what might happen if the Russians invaded and murdered the current president. This led to a scare like the one back in the 30s when a radio show broadcast an invasion of aliens. If there was panic, it was invisible to us today and we were all over the main part of the city including by Parliament where there was supposed to be a rally condemning the president for perpetrating this hoax for political reasons. It was a pretty normal day as far as we could tell although our day was anything normal. We got to go into the Number 1 school in Georgia, a school established in 1802. We were led about by two charming young students, Nodo and _________. Amazing school and we’ll write about it. And post some pictures. Then on our hike above the city we met a fellow from Kazbek who used to be a guide and who has a brother up there and he volunteered to help us. The best news was that the snow would be gone, in all probability, from the trail up to the glacier. This means we may get to do a high altitude hike in the Caucus Mountains before we depart. Anyway, we saw no signs of panic.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Seminar

The Seminar

I teach a group on Tuesday evening from 18:00 – 20:00 that varies in size and composition. There is a handful of regulars who are always present. There are some who are usually present. There are many signed up for the class that I haven’t seen and wonder why they signed up. The roster has 38 names on it. I keep asking if these names are for real. Do these students not care about the consequences of not attending? I may be witnessing another version of a syndrome that we saw in a funded project in South Dakota a few years back. In that project, teachers had their tuition and costs paid for a masters degree in technology by the grant. This was an initiative of the governor as I recall who wanted to inspire more technology use in SD schools. Because they were paid no matter what the level of performance, some students didn’t put much effort into the courses. These students in my seminar have their way paid. There is no cost to them. So, if they miss a bunch of classes, it doesn’t matter. This actually is good for me as I couldn’t possibly deal with 38 active PhD students who have a very weak understanding of research methods and lack a grounding in their subject area fields. And, it is hard to put these people in touch with the resources they need to begin to work on a dissertation. The can only log into their library’s three data bases (JSTOR, Oxford Reference, and Cambridge Journals) from on campus. Other current library resources are almost non-existent. I post a few pictures above. Think of these as entitled the research library at ISU.

The students who are active are a wonderful group who would fit right in at UNL and would love the resource rich environment at a US university.

Ana—a woman who works at an Institute of Psychology and is a Deputy Director of Psychological Counseling and Training Centre at THE PATRIARCHATE OF ALL GEORGIA. She want to do her dissertation on ways to prevent drug abuse in Geogrian youth.

Eka is an Assistant Professor of languages at ISU. She wants to do her study examining how active learning improves the learning of a foreign language and I think is proposing an intervention study with an experimental and control group.

Nino, who discovered for the class how to log into JSTOR, wants to examine intercultural competence in Georgian high school students. By this term I think she means what we would might call tolerance.

Maka wants to study test anxiety in high school kids now that Georgia has a high stakes test in place. She is in psychology.

Maya wants to study teacher job satisfaction. This is a good topic in Georgia where salaries are quite low and usually require that teachers try to supplement their income through tutoring or other work.

Nino works in special education and is working with several others to develop an assessment instrument that will identify children with special needs. Georgia has no such instrument at the moment and must rely on those from abroad which tend not to work very well in this culture. Although I don’t know if anyone has actually examined how such instruments work.

Nino S works training teachers and wants to know if levels of job satisfaction change as a consequence of the training. That is, if teachers have the skills to make their teaching easier, are they happier with what they are doing.

Tamta wants to examine the impact of portfolio assessment on student learning.

Tina is a linguist and wants to examine Georgian stative dimensional verbs in Georgian and develop methods for teaching these verbs to non Georgian speakers.

Kate is a university teacher of physical education. She has a new baby of 6-7 months and is a regular. She and I have worked on editing her research article exploring what pre-service teachers think are the most important competencies for the new teacher to possess. This she is sending off to a journal published in the Baltic states and I have to recall the name of it.

Kete Tskhomelidze is a lawyer who speaks excellent English as most of these students do. She proposes to study the different models of electing government leaders, looking at the outcomes for democracy that follow the different models.

I have one student who wants to study one aspect of the Georgian school reforms, the Boards of Trustees that were created two years ago. This is what I am working on as well. But, I have only met this student once at the very first class.

Monday, March 8, 2010

From Sarah

Sarah sent a nice email to some of you. I asked if I could just add it to the blog since she covered so much territory. She is doing well as you will be able to tell.

Hey, sorry to mass mail, but I am thinking of you. I currently am with MIles at Prospero's, a coffee house-bookstore hang out of ex pats and Americans. We are in chairs by a fireplace ,which is lit, on a drizzly, forties grey day. It is on Rustavelli, the main street with fashionable stores, street sellers with boquets of seasonal flowers to include large nosegays of hundreds of tiny hot pink cyclamens, daffodils, calas, tulips, and more. There are flower and veggie-fruit sellers all over. Up in our neighborhood there are several per block. Some have eggs or cheese. All have bananas, cabbage, potatoes, onions, wonderful green and red peppers, apples a bit the worse for time, oranges and satsumas.
Miles is here to meet with a grad student to help her set up her dissertation for a PHD in Political Science. She has her masters from the Sorbonne, speaks fluid French and English, works for the UN in Human Rights, and is beautiful,doe eyed, dark and slender. So many of the students Miles is working with are so interesting and highly achieving.

Miles gave a talk about academic rights of faculty in the American University at the Am Studies meeting at Tbilisi Univ. last Friday. People came from various institutions and were engaged. I was still in jet lag, as I arrived Wednesday. A handsome woman with blond hair and a white suit was in front of me engaged in it all and asking questions. It ends up, we find out, she was Yulia Shakasvilli (sp?), the mother of the President of Georgia. Another woman was from the Caucuses University. She came to me, and asked me to come to work with some of her graduate and undergraduate students in Translation!! Gee, Folks, I am doing this the 14th. Imagine!

After the lecture we were invited to the apartment of the Professor who organized this all, and has been working with MIles, even if he is teaching at Ilia State. She also lives two hours from here with her husband on lots of rural land with vineyards, orchards, and old family homes and cabins. We are invited out there soon. That should be quite nice.

We got to the apartment which is her mother's. It was straight out of early twentieth century Paris! And, since the mother who was a young 78 did not speak English, we spoke French which she taught for years. The whole evening was unforgettable. To think I almost did not go, because it was Friday night. Ha! Live and learn.
They had prepared a variety of vegetable salads that were delicious and unique to Georgia: cabbage and other veggies, two kind of beet, rice and carrot and delicious roasted potatoes. There also was some very salty cheese from their place. They are very observant Eastern Orthodox, fasting for Lent. So, they were vegetarian at this time, and do not eat sweets. But we had to try the home made , home grown apricot, strawberry plum(YES!) and rose petal (DOUBLE YES!) preserves with little dishes and spoons with our coffee. Now fasting for Lent does not include fasting from wine! We drank white and red from their own vineyards. The red was deep, full of fruit, and terrific. The white was a bit resinous and reminded me of some French ones.
After dinner both women sat at the upright piano which was a tad out of tune to play with skill and soul melodies of Georgia for us. It was so enchanting, and we just smiled and smiled as we stood by them.

Now, you Woolie Mamas, we thought of you as the mother got out her sweaters, vests and skirts her daughter asked her to show. Incredible! They were intricate of linen and softest wool. She knits elegant and casual things for herself and daughter. We both told them about our Woolie Mamas.

This weekend Miles strolled me through streets behind the parliament area. They wind with rutted walkways beneath iron balconies and roofs that are rusting, Eastern European architecture that is in a state of decay, and fading colors that all has it's charactar, charm and stain of the Soviet years. Street vendors abound. We bought some pansies we have now potted at our apartment.
The day before we found the old Synagogue which is a little ways from there in an area that some international organization has been sponsoring renovations. Well, whoever the old geezers in their black newsboy caps with missing teeth who hung out and followed us in were, I do not know. Miles Georgian let him know they wanted to know where we were from as I was kissing the mezzuzah as I entered. Miles said, "America", and they scowled and almost spat. Dy! Enough! We were looking for the Rabbi Miles met on Purim who said we can get matzah fom Israel from him, but this must not be where he is, as he was welcoming. I will not go back to this place.

We also went to the Embassy last week for a Fulbright briefing. The American Embassy is far out, a concrete compound which resembles a prison, and we had to be scanned in the guardhouse to enter, badged with an ID, and escorted at all times. The other Fulbrights are very interesting and fun. The chiefs of staff were most informative. The mission of the State Department in Georgia is to educate about America and democracy and freedom. They believe in what they are doing, and seem knowledgeable and helpful. What else they do, I do not know. That is from a jaded American woman .

Okay, the conference is winding down, and I have rambled too long.

Hold down the fort, and if there is news I should know, send it. Hello to Sarah, Aaron, Sean, Ina, Jesse Rose, Brendan(sp?) Liam and Jema from me.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sarah Arrives

This is perhaps a bit more personal than some of these postings. Sarah and I have only been separated for two months once and that was when I toyed with the idea of accepting a position at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR. I left Sarah and the kids for the spring semester then and taught in Portland. It was a long and lonely time for us. This period of two months in Georgia had its loneliness and it was hard at times for Sarah. We decided to have the kitchen painted in the house and the kitchen floor sanded and sealed. So Sarah had to dismantle the kitchen. If you have eaten with us, you know what a gargantuan task that was--to dismantle our kitchen.

Sarah arrived at the airport at 4:05 just as Lufthansa promised. So did her luggage. I waited for her plane studying my Georgian with a taxi driver named Zuraub, a talkative fellow. We sat and drank coffee and studied expressions from my Georgian text. It turned out to be fun. Sarah unpacked after the ride through lit up Tbilisi (it is always a blaze of lights a night). We had coffee and putzed about and then slept for a while. Then we spent the afternoon walking and seeing a bit of the city. And shopping for tonight's dinner. Tbilisi is a European city in that respect. One shops a bit everyday. It is too hard to transport food so one doesn't go to a Sam's club or big supermarket to buy groceries. I introduced Sarah to the lady who sells me veggies and fruits from her little hole in the wall. Sarah amazed me and the store clerks who spoke little English by finding capers at the Goodwill Vake (a supermarket of sorts). We had asked these clerks if they had capers and were told no. So, now it is getting late and we are going to cook dinner together for the first time in several months. I think the planet is starting to aright itself.