It was my pleasure and privilege to live in Georgia for three months in the spring of 2011. It was my first trip there: I was a “stranger in a strange land.” I could not figure out why I felt so at home until I took my first excursion out of Tbilisi.
After an hour or two of driving, the tour bus stopped in a small town and many of us got out to stretch our legs. I was standing there, taking in the scene, when a woman approached and asked in Georgian if I spoke Georgian and if I did, would I tell her who I was.
I responded (in halting Georgian) that I was a poet from the United States. I might have said more but at that point the woman, smiling broadly, grabbed my sleeve and pulled me a few doorways down and into what she said was “a sort of hardware store,” a room full of boxes and shelves containing a welter of mostly metal parts and gadgets.
The woman began rummaging, searching through her wares until she finally uncovered an account book, half-filled with lists of items and prices. This she turned to a new page. She rummaged some more and came up with a pen which she tested to make sure it still wrote. (Yes.)
She cleared some space on the main table, spread out the account book and handed me the pen. Then she explained in clear and careful Georgian that this was the only book she had in her shop at the moment so would I please sign it for her.
I was momentarily confused. Was she asking me to sign for a purchase? The woman apparently understood why I hesitated, because she laughed and said she had never before had a real poet in her hardware store. She wanted my autograph.
Georgians know and love poetry, their own and others’. They see poetry as a universal language and welcome all who write it.
The Georgian love of poetry really made me feel at home. And their world-famous generosity. And their great ability to have fun.