Gudauri Ski Area, Georgia.

Friday was a holiday in Georgia, International Women’s Day.  The Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, GIPA the University where I’m doing some work, takes the holiday for a ski excursion to Gudauri.  ( გუდაური in the Georgian alphabet, the word looks beautiful, I hope your computer can decipher it.)  The busses gathered at 8 AM at the Radisson Hotel on Rose Revolution Square, on the other end of Rustaveli Street from where I am staying on Freedom Square.  I was not sure how long a walk it would be.  I’ve walked it many times but never without interruption.  Rustaveli Street has too many distractions with its cafes, bookstores, museums, street musicians and galleries.   I’ve never timed it.  I estimated half an hour.  I left Freedom Square at 7:20, giving myself 10 extra minutes.

On International Women’s Day there were two groups of people working at 7:20 in the morning.  Both were groups of women.  Street sweepers wielded their twig brooms gathering up seed shells left from the day before.  Each woman wore a long skirt and either a ski cap or headscarf.  One woman sang in a distinctive minor key as she swept.  The other group of women, flower vendors, laid out their spring mimosa and set up elaborate displays of bouquets special for the day.

Everyone told me it would be cold in Gudauri, I would be up over 8000 feet in the mountains.  I did not bring real winter clothes so I wore a cotton “t” shirt under cotton long sleeved shirt under a light cashmere pullover under my shell of many pockets.  I hoped the layers would work.  The walk along Rustaveli was cold and I began to worry about the rest of the day.

The walk took 25 minutes so I was 15 minutes early.  The busses arrived about 5 minutes after I did.  I settled into a window seat.  Students trickled in and we left at 8:45.  At 9:10 we stopped for our first cigarette break.  There were several others which allowed me to get off the bus and take pictures without reflections from the bright sun on the windows.

It was a happy bus.  Like college ski trips in the U.S. there was a lot of singing.  Four active undergrads, in the front of the bus led the singing of “Twist and Shout” while passing around cans of energy drink.  The Soviet Union had already ceased to exist when these girls were born.  How do they know “Twist and Shout?”  It occurred to me that I was the oldest person on the bus by, perhaps, 30 years, the next oldest was the driver.

We arrived at about 11:30.  The ski competition was at 1.  Some of the students took right to the slopes.  I was concerned, after my walk down Rustaveli, that I would be cold, and although the temperature on the mountain was below the temp in Tbilisi, it was dry, dead calm, and the sun was fierce.  I first took off my shell, then my sweater, and sat on the veranda in just my long sleeved shirt with the “t” shirt underneath.  No gloves or ear protection needed.  I ended up the day with a bright red face.

At 1 in the afternoon I joined the GIPA community.  A number of faculty members came in cars joined us, and holding GIPA balloons, we cheered our skiers.  At 2 there was a celebratory disco and buffet lunch.  After lunch the skiing party and the dance party went their own ways for a scheduled meeting at 5 PM at the bus down the hill.

The disco was a bit too techno for me so I retreated, with my book, to a café a little lower on the slopes that played Fats Waller and Duke Ellington records.  I wasn’t by myself for long.  Some Azeri journalism students joined me.  They had gone together and shared one pair of skis and poles and took turns on the slopes.  Those not skiing sat with me.

At 5 PM I was at the bus, but since the lifts run until 5 the last skiers got to the bus at about 5:45.  We made only two stops on the way to Tbilisi and we arrived just before 8:30.  I walked down Rustaveli Street.  Women, escorted by either guys or kids promenaded with their flowers.  The restaurants and club were full.  Revelers scattered trash for the ladies to sweep up the next morning and the same flower vendors who I saw at 7:20 were still working, a little over 13 hours later, trying to sell the last of their Women’s Day bouquets.


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