15 May 2008

Сталин my hero

Hold onto your miters, everyone, but I actually went somewhere today and did something. You're going to like this, really. I went to Josef Stalin's birthplace! You'd think they'd have long since plowed over such an ignominious place and sowed the ground with salt. But if you thought so, you'd be so wrong. In Georgia, where he was born, Stalin is a national hero! What?! I guess there aren't too many heroes coming out of the Caucasus, so they take what they can get--even Stalin.

I woke early and caught the minibus to Gori, the town in question, about an hour from Tbilisi through stunning green countryside, backdropped by white-capped mountains. Lovely. In the center of the town is a Stalin memorial park, on one side of which is Stalin Street. You need a very subtle sense of humor to find such things amusing. There was once a village here, but the Communists (in, ahem, the 1930s) bulldozed every building except the Chairman's modest, Lincoln-esque hovel (love the story--mother a seamstress, father a shoemaker, lived in one room). Next to that, they built a less modest museum to chronicle the life of the U.S.S.R.'s greatest leader. Before going inside, I had my photo taken with some local youths who love Stalin next to his bust. Then I found out it was going to cost me 10 lari ($6.66) to enter--and that's the student price. Even the ticket lady lamented about how expensive it is. The Verdi opera last night, and it was enchanting, only cost about $3.25 for the best seats. Well, I wasn't going to miss this. And I still bought a Stalin keychain, too. All the signage is in Georgian (a bunch of squiggly things) and Russian (backwards letters, numbers, etc.) so I was in luck when a group of French tourists (!) came along with a guide for an English language (!) tour. The museum guide was a lovely young Georgian college student who talked way too fast even for me, so we relied on this other Georgian guy to re-translate. At one point, the (museum) guide pointed to a photo of Stalin casting a ballot and remarked, "This is Stalin electing himself." My composure-reflexes not quick enough to block the signal, I burst out laughing. I thought she meant to say, "This is Stalin voting for himself," but didn't realize the irony. I tried to explain, but she got confused, so then I wasn't sure if she didn't mean what she said!

After the tour, which included a peek inside the birth house and Stalin's private railcar, me and the Israeli, Frenchman, and Michigan-based Zionist activist I ended up with wandered over to the main square. There, we were delighted by what must be the last remaining colossus of Stalin left in the world. More photos, of course. Then we took a taxi to a famous house-cave city I never heard of, but which was fairly impressive and, as usual, sited in spectacular Caucasian scenery. The Lonely Planet-equipped Israeli informed us that the site dates back to 1000 B.C. Wow. Then we went back to Tbilisi, where I bought greens and tomatos at a market because I'm sick of eating fried bread and cheese for every meal, dammit. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a salad.

1 comment:

Aaricia said...

"This is Stalin voting for himself" seems to be a scripted line that all of the guides say ;)

I am sure they are well aware of the irony involved. Seems like a historical KGB-safe joke to me!

I will have a look into that SteriPen thing you describe on CS!

Cheers,

Til