“Here’s a toast to… wait… who?”

Selfie time! A great concert with local Gori youth

The rain streaked across the backseat car window, as I looked out over rolling green hills, villages, and valleys in the Georgia countryside. We were on our way out of Tbilisi and into the “regions” as our hosts called them (the areas of Georgia beyond Tbilisi). 

Remember when I told you that Georgia is a beautiful, fascinating, complex place? Our destination that day, the city of Gori, is one reason that I developed that belief. 

As you enter the city, the street swings left past a vast museum dedicated to the story and legacy of a local boy who grew up to do both significant and terrible things. His private, dark green train car looms alone in the yard, and a tiny brick house stands beneath a protective enclosure just feet away: this was the childhood home, personal train car, and museum dedicated to former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. 

The tiny house (not the outer enclosure – look beneath)


The private train car and museum

Stalin came to political power in the early 20th century, and later became the leader of the Soviet Union. In World War 2, he consolidated military power, making him one of the most powerful men in the history of the world, and a dictator. He’s also known for brutality, violence, and silencing political opposition. 

The odd juxtaposition is that, with the admiration of the accomplishments of the man of Joseph Stalin amongst locals (including the tradition of toasting to him in ceremonial Supra feasts)… all of this is separate from apparent current Russian sympathy. 

Gori was a primary target of the 2008 Russian invasion and occupation. It was a battleground, and civilians were attacked and evacuated as the bombs fell. Google “Gori 2008” as an image search, and you’ll get a feel for the terror and destruction that happened there (*discretion advised. This is recent, rough history). 

It’s important to know, remember, and respect history. For better, and for worse. A story like Gori’s is interesting to ponder, to say the least. 

Taking in all of this military and political history fascinated me, but most of the focus of the day was on music and connecting with local youth in the city. We met with artists with various abilities and had a tour of their pottery workshop. Our concert was really fun, as we belted out singalongs and danced. 

The clay workshop

Lunch was great, as well. We dined on khinkali, a traditional soup dumpling dish. To eat: Pepper liberally, bite just the corner, slurp the piping-hot, juicy soup out, devour the dough-covered lamb-meat, and repeat. 

Khinkali

I’ve thought about Gori a lot since our day there. I’d have loved to learn more, talk with more people, and explore, but we had miles to go to our next tour destination: Zugdidi, which ended up being a tour highlight for me.