The Best Revenge

From the Mountains Above Batumi

The Black Sea city of Batumi used to be beautiful, and, under a foot of freshly fallen snow, Batumi is beautiful again.  Stuccoed terraces of tired 19th-century buildings sit doorstep-deep in white.  Chuckling gutters trim the softness draped over corrugated iron roofs.  Concrete tenements fade out of focus, their drabness merging with the gray of the sky.  Snowflakes fall like feathers.  Behind them, the tree-scratched foothills of Georgia’s mountains are like an etching on frosted glass.

There has been a power outage, as there often is in post-Soviet Georgia.  At midday, the entrance corridor of the indoor market is lit by candles in bottles.  Inside, daylight falls feebly through the glazing, covering the stalls in crepuscular calm.  On the ground floor, long rows of trestles display vegetables and fruit set out in neat geometrical patterns.  On the mezzanine floor, there is meat.  Plucked and dressed chickens hold out their feet to browsing shoppers.  In a candlelit corner, a ten-yard table is jumble-sale high with offal, liver by heart by kidney.  Underneath it, a half-dozen calves’ heads gaze from the floor into the middle distance with an air of—well, detachment.  A carousel of pink-skinned sucking pigs is turned by a man puffing on a cigarette.

I hadn’t planned to linger in the city.  I had hitched a lift on the press plane...

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