Friday, January 14, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: Georgia

Kakheti Wine Region
This week we introduce the mysterious E. McClintock. She's an American writer and traveler and makes her living in the environmental field. Her first mystery, Monkey Love and Murder, is set at a spider monkey research camp in the Amazon and may or may not be sitting on an editor’s desk in New York. She’ll investigate when she’s back in the US. Her nearly finished second mystery is the first in a series about Miami politics.

Last year, I did what every expert will tell you not to do. I quit a very good job in the middle of a recession to write for a year. I called it a sabbatical year since it sounded professorial and hid the reality of my daily life, which involved moving across the country to live in my sister’s converted garage and working three days a week as my nephew’s unskilled but loving nanny.

I was diligent. I became a hermit. I often thought I’d made a huge mistake. But it was also wonderful, the freedom to write and write and write. But I knew something was missing. A real sabbatical, after all, needs an exotic destination—or so I’d learned from my professors in grad school. So I applied for a three-month project through a US government program that allows returned Peace Corps volunteers to do short-term volunteer assignments overseas.

While I knew my project would be in the country of Georgia, I didn’t know anything about my working conditions, where I would be living, or even much about Georgia. So I bought a guidebook and read Wikipedia and from every direction came opinions. From Russians, and Ukrainians, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and even friends of friends who had connections to Georgia. None of them were Georgian. Most had never set foot in the country. But they all had a story—about the men, about the countryside, about the food and wine. And always about winter.

According to Wikipedia, Georgia’s temperature is mild, even subtropical in some areas. But I was consistently warned it would be bitter cold. I’m from Miami so I was scared. I pictured myself tromping past crumpling Soviet era apartment buildings, snowdrifts looming above. Or shivering through dark nights in a tiny apartment, winds whipping through the cracks in the windows. I bought a massive down jacket. I named my blog A Winter Tale ( I packed for Siberia.

I arrived in late October to sunny, beautiful days that lasted through the end of December. It’s nearly mid-January now and the ski resorts are still waiting for snow, my three pairs of gloves and long underwear remain unused. And fortunately the tiny apartment with cracks in the windows didn’t work out. I was placed with a Georgian host family with central heat, 24-hour hot water and a driver to take me to work each morning in a heated SUV.

Vardzia Cave Monastery
Only my guidebook mentioned the hospitality and generosity of the Georgian people. But it’s the thing I’ll remember most, the main thing I’ll tell people about. Georgians I’d just met threw massive supras (celebrations) in my honor with musicians and piles upon piles of delicious food and wine. They took me on long sightseeing trips and welcomed me into their families. They rarely let me pay for anything. And my host family, well, they took the generosity up about fifty notches higher. It’s been overwhelming and I admit to feeling unworthy.

I’m nearly finished here in Georgia, as is my sabbatical. I plan to travel for a few weeks in the Middle East but then it looks like I may have a good job waiting for me back home (fingers crossed). I’d like to claim I had this all figured out when I quit my job eighteen months ago, but mostly I’ve made it up as I went along. It’s been scary, often hard on the ego, but I was lucky to have some savings, a few consulting jobs, and supportive family and friends to help me along the way. And in the end I would say, don’t listen to the experts, they’re often wrong.


  1. Thanks for your post, E! Georgia sounds fascinating and like it's an undiscovered gem. What a great way to experience a new culture and country. Good luck with your writing and yeah, sometimes the experts can get it wrong and the only way to find out the truth is to do and discover on your own. Good for you!

  2. Edith, I'm inspired by your journey and especially that great advice! Enjoy the rest of your travels and good luck with this next phase of your career. We can't wait to hear about both!

  3. E. what a wonderful experience you are having in Georgia. It sounds like a fascinating country. Rugged with warm, hospitable people. I've been intrigued by Georgia ever since I translated a story set partly there (thought 500 years ago). Enjoy your travels through the Middle East (my favorite part of the world). You will be returning home with lots of new ideas for stories to tell.

  4. Edith, I’m glad you enjoyed Georgia and Georgian hospitality. I was there over twenty years ago when it was still a Soviet republic so it’s good to know it’s still the same. I remember that people we stayed with killed a lamb in our honor and baked it on the open fire; it was the most delicious roast I’ve ever eaten. And, of course, not a single meal happens without wine. Georgians tend to remind me of Italians – they love wine, food and life with the same intensity and passion.

  5. Thanks all. Georgians definitely remind me of Italians too!