In the summer of 1978, I flew Aeroflot from Leningrad to Tbilisi. (On my first Aeroflot journey, from Copenhagen to Leningrad, I’d turned on the air-conditioner vent above my head, and the air that came out was blue.)


En route, I glanced out the airplane window, and I saw the Caucasus Mountains from above.


They are the mountains of your dreams, craggy and snow-covered and imperious. They are the ideal mountains lurking in the subconscious of every person of European extraction, I think. They are our heritage.


Tbilisi is the capital of the Republic of Georgia. In 1978, it was still the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, but it was very foreign, very un-Russian. I realized quickly why 19th-century ethnographers had decided that “Caucasian” was the ideal European type. The men are massive and swarthy and handsome; the women are dark-eyed and seductively beautiful. Everyone smoulders.


The culture is warm and welcoming and full of swagger. Waiting for a city bus one day, a huge handsome Georgian approached me. “Cuban?” he asked me. It turned out there’d been a Cuban foreign-exchange group in town recently, and he assumed I was part of it. (Not many foreigners came to the USSR in those days.) It was, children, the only time in my life I have ever been taken for a Cuban.



One radiant evening I was in a Tbilisi bakery, buying a fruit-and-goat-cheese pastry, when I saw a pale older woman clutching her parcel of bread and staring at me. Finally she approached me. “Bitte,” she said, “sprechen Sie Deutsch?”


“Ein bischen,” said I, lying bravely. “Ich bin Amerikaner. Sie sind Deutsch?”


She shook her head. “Nein. Polnisch.”


How in the hell did a Polish woman get to Tbilisi? “Meine Mutter ist halb polnisch,” I said, trying to be conversational and grammatical at the same time.


She shook her head, thinking I’d misunderstood. “Nein, nein,” she said. “Ich bin polnisch.”


Finally, after a few minutes, I got her story. Her husband had been a German soldier taken prisoner by the Soviets during World War II; after the war he resettled in the USSR, and he’d brought his wife to Tbilisi.


And then he’d died.


And she was left all alone, stranded, far away from her family.


The memory still haunts me a bit. I hope she managed to live to see her home – in Germany? in Poland? again.


But, from what I could see, there are worse places to live your life than Tbilisi.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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