Jun 25, 2018
It all started with a bottle of home-made wine offered in welcome. As I sat in the flower-lined patio of the guesthouse sipping the delicious vintage, my host came with a platter of nuts.
“From my village” said Soso, “we have a small vineyard and fruits and nuts also”.
My questions about his village soon evolved into a tour around the countryside and a visit to his village.
Soso, his wife Tamar and I drove out of Telavi, past acres of grape-vines that cover most of this valley. Car traffic dwindles down and horse-drawn carts go clopping along the side of the road. There are fields, some heavy with crops, some shorn, where cows graze. There are orchards of peaches and nectarines and road-side stalls selling produce. A stop at the Gremi castle and church was deemed essential and I was treated to stories and legends of these parts. It was in these mountains that Soso herded cows as a child. And it was while playing with his friends in the forest-clad mountainside that they discovered a burial site with skeletons lying undisturbed. An ancient country with ancient secrets, it is riddled with sites like that that have yet to be uncovered. How thrilling is that?
The village is not far from Telavi, but life here marches to different rhythm. It is where fruit plucked from the garden are offered to guests and broad smiles precede warm welcomes. It is where the goatherd drives his flock through the streets at the end of the day and everyone knows everyone else. It was in Arthana that Soso spent his early childhood with his grandmother. At eighty years of age, she still prefers to live here in the summers. And she still works in the garden, almost single-handedly. Carrots and onions, grow in orderly rows next to eggplants and herbs. She no longer has cows but has forty chickens. They cluck around underfoot as we sit in the shade of a vine-draped veranda and chat. I was shown the room with earthen floor where their qvevri are buried in the ground. Everyone in the village makes their own wine they told me, and every house has a cellar. Come September, they will be making wine, each with their own family recipe.
I had another treat in store – we were going to picnic by a stream. Down rutted dirt roads Soso drove the car, with occasional scrapes of the chasis that he shrugged off nonchalantly. Popular with locals, there are a few spots with ramshackle tables and benches under huge shade trees. There are flat grassy patches perfect for camping. Nearby the gray-white waters of the stream rushed and tumbled over boulders. Jarringly cold at first, we soon got used to it, wading to the far bank in search of mushrooms.
“There are some good swimming holes here” Soso said, and “you can catch some fish here too”. Another time, we agreed we should fish and grill it over the fire ring at the picnic site; we had more than enough food for today. An assortment of Georgian food, washed down with home-made red wine somehow manages to taste better here in the woods.