Dannon: “In Soviet Georgia…”

From 1973 to 1978, the Dannon yogurt company ran a series of successful commercials featuring centenarians from “Soviet Georgia“. Here is a transcript of one of the TV commercials (with captions in brackets):

In Soviet Georgia, there are two curious things about the people [Tarkuk Lasuria, age 96]: a large part of their diet is yogurt [Temur Vanacha, age 105], and a large number of them live past 100. Of course, many things affect longevity [Kasteh Tanya, age 101], and we’re not saying Dannon yogurt will help you live longer. But Dannon is a natural, wholesome food that does supply many nutrients [Shadat Marcholia, age 103]. By the way, 89-year-old Bagrat Tabagua liked Dannon so much, he ate two cups. That pleased his mother very much.

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Is Georgia in the Middle East?

Is Georgia in the Middle East? I’ve found that most people give one of three anwers:

  • The general familiar-with-Georgia public usually says “no”, the reasoning being that Georgia is part of Europe / Russia / whatever, and the Middle East is a whole other thing.
  • Nerds and people who are boring at parties will tell you that the question is meaningless because the so-called “Middle East” is a eurocentric ideological construct designed to bolster Britain’s interests in the blah blah blah…
  • Georgians themselves, as far as I can tell, don’t consider their country to be part of the Middle East mainly because of their religion.
    • Related to this, some non-Georgians say that the only thing to do look at is how Georgians self-identify, and that anyone who disagrees with that self-identification is an asshole.

Now to be fair, the nerds are basically right. The “Middle East” is ultimately a bullshit concept, and any purportedly definitive claim about its would-be borders is bullshit too. The problem with this kind of approach is how unsatisfying it is. It’s one thing to be told an answer that you don’t want to hear, but it’s another thing to be told that your question is no good from the beginning. And besides, is the term “Middle East” really completely meaningless? Does it literally have no meaning at all? I think it does have some kind of meaning, even if it is used in wildly varying and even contradictory ways, and I think there is some value in considering whether Georgia (or any other country) belongs to it.

So assuming that the Middle East is a thing, how can we tell if Georgia is a part of it? Clearly we can’t refer to any definitive borders for the Middle East, so what is there to do? In this post, I would like to look at various properties — geographical, cultural, linguistic, etc — that the Middle East presumably has, and see whether Georgia has them too. If it turns out to have enough of them, then maybe Georgia is in the Middle East. (Spoiler alert: it does, and it is.)

georgia middle east

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In Bloom (2013 Georgian film)

In Bloom is a 2013 film directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross. Set in Tbilisi in 1992, the movie depicts the lives of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, as they deal with typical teen problems: boys, bullies, teachers, domestic violence, food shortages, armed gangs in the streets, and abduction and forced marriage.

In Bloom was the Georgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2014 Academy Awards.

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Corn Island (2014 Georgian film)

Corn Island (Georgian: სიმინდის კუნძული, Simindis Kundzuli) is a 2014 Georgian film directed by George Ovashvili. It depicts a summer in the lives of two Abkhazian peasants who grow corn on a small seasonally-formed island in the middle of the river that separates Georgia and Abkhazia. It was the Georgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards.

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Return to the South Caucasus (and gsykw’s new header image)

I recently took a trip back to Georgia, and I went to Armenia too. I’m not much for travel writing, so I’ll just give you the itinerary and some photos. Then I’ll point out updates I’ve been able to make to past posts.

Before that, however, I’d like to explain this blog’s new header image. For the past two and a half years I’ve used an image of some old Georgian calligraphy that I pulled from Wikipedia. That was fine for a while, but aside from the fact that it wasn’t my own image, it now strikes me as too limited. For while this blog started out as being only about Georgia, regular readers will have noticed that its scope has expanded somewhat to deal also with the regions and cultures surrounding and influencing Georgia. So this new image is fitting: the decayed ruins, covered in Russian graffiti, of an Armenian church in Tbilisi.

tbilisi armenian church ruins

Now, on to the trip.

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Tangerines (2013 Georgian-Estonian film)

Tangerines (Georgian: მანდარინები; Estonian: Mandariinid; Russian: Мандарины) is a 2013 film co-produced in Georgia and Estonia. Directed by Zaza Urushadze, the film deals with the 1992-1993 War in Abkhazia. It does so, however, from an unusual perspective, namely, that of an Estonian living in Abkhazia. Tangerines was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards, but it lost to the Polish film Ida.

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Turkish Money

The Turkish currency is called the lira. This, of course, is an anagram of the Georgian currency, the lari. I have yet to stop mixing these words up. As far as I can tell, most Anglophones use lira as both singular and plural, which they also do for the lari. To my ear this smacks of Orientalism, and I prefer to use regular English plurals: liras and laris.

The current lira regime was introduced in 2005, when the “new lira” replaced the “old lira”. The “old lira” had become grossly inflated, and was exchanged for “new liras” at a rate of 1,000,000:1. At the time of its demise, the old lira was being issued in denominations as high as twenty million.

old turkish lira twenty million

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