I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover yesterday that there is a beautiful Orthodox church literally feet from our hotel here on the hill in Tbilisi. Made it very easy to attend church this morning, and this evening for the Forgiveness Vespers (this is the service that kicks off Great Lent). The services were, of course, in Georgian, which sounds completely like gutteral gibberish to me. But the church was packed for both services, and the women were all in skirts and headscarves, and I would say that the majority of churchgoers were in their 20s and 30s. I was in Georgia for Forgiveness Sunday last year too, and noticed the same thing then. It's very pleasant, particularly after the empty churches of Armenia, where it seems most people just tend to stop in to place a couple dozen candles and then walk right back out again. It seems to be more superstition than anything else. I get a very different feeling here. The singing was also gorgeous. Georgian polyphony is fascinating. The tonal structure definitely has an Eastern feel to it, but it is still accessible by ears used to Western harmony. And once again, I find myself smitten by Georgian iconography. It's less austere and more folksy, for lack of a better word, than the Byzantine icons I tend to gravitate towards. I took the below photos during my trip here last year. I stopped into several icon shops on Saturday, looking for a Georgian style icon, but have yet to find one I want to put up in my home. I plan to take another trip here before I leave, though, so hopefully I'll find one.
I think I would like to live here. I used to be scared of the crime, but I really love the churches all over the city, and particularly the vibrant faith that I see within them. I also like the robustness of the culture. Armenian culture is very distinct as well, but, particularly as manifested in its visual and performance art, it's a lot more melancholy than the exuberant Georgian culture. Maybe we can come here after Afghanistan (though I'm not sure how Jeremy would feel about that).
So today, after church, Taline and I went to the English language bookstore, where I picked up a copy of "Stalin:In the Court of the Red Tsar." Started reading it this afternoon. Very interesting. Then we went to CD store, where I picked up some Georgian folk music, and then to another cafe, where we read for a bit. This evening we met up with our friends Sonya and Amy from Yerevan, who happen to be staying in the room next door. I'm pooped from all the strenuous sitting around we did today, so I left them in the bar and came down to bed. It's been a nice, relaxing weekend.