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Blogs don't burn

Emily · In the words of Jason Mraz, "I'm all about the wordplay, and also Russian and East European Studies"
Apr 19 '14

I have written about this on here before, but: I have never appreciated nature as, shall we say, fully as I might have. I can appreciate it on a rational, intellectual level (she wrote, pretentiously), but I have never really connected to it on an emotional level. And so the fact that some people take trips to be in nature—listen, I am glad that those of you who do this can appreciate the majesty of the natural world, but you could also just look at a photograph, because you’re just seeing it and moving on, after all, because maybe it’s just very beautiful and that’s it?

I went to by marshrutka from Tbilisi through the Georgian Military Highway to Kazbegi today. So, through and to mountains. And I have said before that I have been taken with the Georgian landscape, and that I have been impressed by my natural surroundings on previous day trips in a way that I haven’t been in any other country.  A friend of mine said that she likes landscapes when they tell her something about the people who call them home, and that Georgia’s does that, so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s just very beautiful.

But even for Georgia, the Georgian Military Highway is something else. I can’t quite describe it, but I think it was the feeling of being so close to the sky and yet so solidly on earth. But maybe it was just very beautiful.

(Aside: Upon arrival, I got khinkali—Georgian dumplings—for lunch because my bosses, in keeping with the the strong Georgian tradition of insisting that there is one best place for this best dish or that best drink at that best season and that you, visitor, must accept no substitutes—told me that I must eat khinkali in Kazbegi. They were not wrong. End aside.)

I took a ride up to the church atop the mountain, because, as much as I take pride in the amount of walking that I have done hither, thither, and yon in Georgia, there is a line that my adventurousness does not cross, and that line is alone on a mountain in flats. And I thought, several times, that we were going to sink into the mud and/or crash, so poor were the road (“road”) conditions, but we didn’t. And mostly that thought was secondary to the fact that the road was nothing—nothing!—compared to the mountains in which we were nestled. Or maybe they were just very beautiful.

And then I got to the top and walked the rest of the way up to the church. And I could not have seen what I saw today in any photograph. Because I saw beauty, yes, but I saw beauty and beauty and beauty. Beauty, everywhere I turned. And I saw, and felt, at once, my own smallness and my own strength. And I was on top of the world and amidst it. And I wish always to remember what that felt like. Feels like.

And the trip back along the Georgian Military Highway was even more breathtaking, somehow. Maybe it was the sense of achievement and accomplishment and appreciation. Or newfound humility.

Or maybe it was just very beautiful.  

Apr 18 '14

The Tsminda Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi is on the other side of the river and up a cliff of sorts. And so, though I have taken many a picture of it from a distance, and though I had long hoped that I would actually go visit,  there was a part of me that thought—that was afraid—that I just wouldn’t. That I wouldn’t have the time, or wouldn’t make the time, or wouldn’t get around to it, or would come up with an excuse for not going. And that I would tell myself that that was alright, but that it wouldn’t be, because this would have been a thing that I meant to do that I just didn’t.

I went to the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral today. It was quite a long walk, and there were points at which I thought I was lost, but I wasn’t. I made it to the Cathedral. And I have never seen anything quite like it. Quite so palatial, or present, or with such a view of the other side of the city. The side of the city on which I normally stand, but which I viewed today from a beautiful distance. And I happened to be there for services—it’s Good Friday!—and I watched them for a bit and felt, mostly, just so happy to be there. That I finally made it there.

I was afraid, when I first got here, that I wouldn’t have had a reason for coming here. Or that I would have had a reason, but that I wouldn’t accomplish it. That I wouldn’t end up conducting enough interviews, or going to the archives, or traveling as much as I wanted to, or seeing enough of the city, or meeting and getting to know new people. But I have done all of those things.

And it turns out that I myself was the only thing there was to be afraid of. And I’m not so scary, after all.

Apr 18 '14

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To female friendship

I have had the time and space over these past five weeks to catch up with people with whom I do not have the time or space to catch up regularly. And so many of those people have been female friends I have made at different points in my life. And some I have known for years and years, and some I have known for months, and some I have met here in Tbilisi. And all of them have led me to discover anew, and more richly, what I have long known, which is this:

Female friendship, you are a joy.

You get a bad reputation, female friendship. People dismiss you as petty and superficial. But what they are actually dismissing is the cheap imitation of you. Because your true self, female friendship, is anything but. You are, like the women of whom you consist, deep and strong and beautiful.

This is not to say that male friendship is not also very dear, or that I do not cherish my male friends. It is! And I do! But it is to say that female friendship offers something unique and powerful and supportive and, it should also be said, tremendously fun. 

Over the course of this break, I have spoken with female friends near and far about graduate school futures and new jobs; about plans for summer and how they got through the winter; about heartbreak and self-love. And I have been there for them, and they have been there for me. And I am better for it. And I am lucky for it.

There was this movie that I had to watch in my fourth year Russian class back in my last year of undergrad. I no longer remember the title, but it had “women” or “woman” in it, and it was about a mother and her two grown daughters and how they were getting through perestroika. And after we watched it this guy in the class commented that the movie wasn’t actually about women. How could it be, he said, when they mostly talked to one another about men. And I told him that he didn’t get it. They talk about their relationships with men, I said, but the most important relationship they have is with one another.

I am not trying to say here, female friendship, that you are the most important relationship that I have. But what I am saying is that you are a very important one. And that I don’t tell you enough how glad I am to know you. 

So thank you, female friendship.

(And thank you, female friends.)



Apr 17 '14

Written wisdom: On time and sinks


I took myself out to the jazz café that my Georgian teacher recommended again this evening, to have a glass of wine and eat good food and listen to jazz. I have been there four times: alone, in the first week (I could not find it by myself and a Georgian man graciously showed me the way and told me that I have a pretty name); with my friend’s boyfriend; with the two girls from my program (we ran into my friend’s boyfriend in the café); and tonight, alone, but not in the same way I was that first week.


I cleaned my sinks today. My kitchen and bathroom sink. I always forget to do that. I clean my dishes, and the toilet, and the floor, but not the sinks. And I didn’t realise how dirty they were until I made them clean. And I didn’t realise how easy they would be to clean until I did just that.


A fun thing to do from time to time, when you have the time, is to think of the things that once bothered you or made you feel small or scared or sad or mad. And to think of how they don’t, not anymore, and of what you have done between then and now. And of how what once seemed like everything - everything! - to you is now something you laugh at on an evening out by yourself in a café, listening to jazz you have heard before as if for the very first time.

Apr 17 '14

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

  • Cab driver Zaza: Do you like it here?
  • Me: Yes, very much. It's lovely. I will be sad to leave.
  • CDZ: That means you need to marry a Georgian man!
Apr 17 '14

A new album by R&B’s resident provocateur Kelis is proof she can’t be molded to fit inside one genre.
Stream Food from NPR Music’s First Listen.

Ladies! Stream this. Feel at one with your bad selves. Wonder that the woman who brought us “Milkshake” and “Bossy” could also give us “Breakfast.” 
Eat this Food, ladies. Eat this Food.


A new album by R&B’s resident provocateur Kelis is proof she can’t be molded to fit inside one genre.

Stream Food from NPR Music’s First Listen.

Ladies! Stream this. Feel at one with your bad selves. Wonder that the woman who brought us “Milkshake” and “Bossy” could also give us “Breakfast.” 

Eat this Food, ladies. Eat this Food.

Apr 16 '14
"You’ll be back."
The professor who oversees the series at which I presented tonight when I told him I am leaving the city on Tuesday. He is, I hope, right.
Apr 16 '14

Each day this week I have gone to the Ministry of Interior Affairs to read the KGB archives. It is the most surreal thing.

I got permission to use the archives on this particular set of dates the week before last, but, even so, each time I need to wait, wait, wait at the gates outside of the building for the archival people to call down and approve my entrance. Then I register my passport with a woman at one window, then go through security, then turn over my passport and cell phone, and then am led by a woman who has been tasked, apparently, with escorting me to the archives each day.

80% of the KGB archives were burned in a mysterious accident in the early 1990s. Of what was left, some was, I believe, taken to Moscow. But the rest is made readily available to the public. And it is made so by a man who is tremendously dedicated to the cause of archival openness and research on dissidence, and who was himself a KGB colonel.

And I can’t quite get my head around any of this. I sit there and read through transcripts of interrogations and think that the man who protects these documents may himself have been interrogating. And that these documents are housed and protected and made public in a place that was the place that persecuted the people recorded therein. And people are running around and sifting through archives and drinking coffee and laughing and chatting as though all of this makes perfect sense. And maybe it does to them.

Or maybe it doesn’t, but, really, what else are they supposed to do? They have 20% left, and somebody has to look after it. And research it and preserve it for those who make it past the gates outside the building.

Apr 16 '14

Bold Realizations!: Expertise

I presented my research on Russian and Georgian Soviet dissidence at a lecture series run by a friend of one of my professors at Oxford this evening. And, at the risk of sounding cocky, I think I did quite well. I made my case. I held my own. I was well received. (Save the one woman who told me I needed more sources because I refused to say that national Georgian dissidence wasn’t true dissidence because it wasn’t about human rights. Which - ma’am, that refusal is BASED on my sources. But I smiled and thanked her for her recommendation.)

I spoke about Russian and Georgian Soviet dissidence for an hour. People asked me for my opinion on this subject and I gave it to them.

And I gave it to them based on the work I have done. Because it is that work that allows me to have an opinion on the subject.

Last year I went to a conference in Berlin for “young experts on Eastern Europe.” And I thought that that was funny. That it has been that easy to be called an expert.

But it’s not that it’s that easy. It’s that it’s that simple. To become an expert in something is simple: Pick a topic in which you are very interested and commit to yourself to it. Take it seriously but do not take yourself seriously, because you can always be more of an expert, because your topic is bigger than you are. Work until you know your shit and then keep working. To keep working is a joy and a privilege.

So keep working. Keep working. Keep working.

Apr 16 '14
"And you are American! I love America. My son is there now. But I would love it even if he were not. America is Georgia’s close, good friend."
Indeed, cab driver Giorgi.