Across Continents

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Stalin’s birthplace

May 1st, 2010

Stalin

I’d made good time to Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, keen to secure Emma and the kit and visit the museum dedicated to the town’s most well-known son. Decided to opt for the best hotel in town, sixty euros online or considerably less if you turn up and pay in Georgian Lari. Took a while to find, and I’d balked at paying extra for breakfast so that got thrown in for free. Worn carpets, but friendly staff and a hot shower. I’d noticed the old Intourist hotel in the centre, but I didn’t feel up to the authentic Soviet era experience.

Reaching the Stalin Museum mid-afternoon, quite a few people were wandering around the grounds, mostly Georgians, the odd German or American tourist. But, it seemed, I was the only one to venture in. The exhibition rooms had to be unlocked so I could enter. Dark and austere, the many photographs of a smiling ’Uncle Joe’ failed to raise the sobre mood within. I was tempted to take a few photos but I’d a minder close by.

Stalin house

Emerging back into the warm afternoon sun, a brief look at the house where Stalin was supposedly born, now transported into the museum’s grounds. More a shrine than a monument.

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Reflections on Turkey

April 10th, 2010

I might have tired of Istanbul, but not of Turkey and its people. Waiting at the city’s airport for my flight east, my rudimentary Turkish still a bit rusty, an elderly chap, overhearing my efforts at ordering a coffee, helpfully explained that ’thank-you’ was in fact tesekkur ederim (pronounced teshekoor ederim), not merci. I thanked him, properly this time. My plane delayed into Istanbul by bad weather, it was late when I eventually reached my hotel in Trabzon. I was greeted at reception by Sena. She’d remembered me from my earlier stay with my Dad. This was much more like it.

The journey back east had given me plenty of opportunity to reflect on Turkey, and what it was to be Turkish. A strong national identity for a start. The military given equal prominence on television with the politicians. You sensed political satire was still in its infancy, and criticism of Ataturk, founding father of the modern Turkish nation, would be ill-advised. YouTube had apparently hosted a few offending clips and, despite their prompt removal, a court order blocked access to the entire site for a couple of weeks.

Authoritarian undertones? The male predilection for dark clothes certainly adds a Kafkaesque feel, but no, just different boundaries to our own, and certainly not oppressive. In fact the military would probably argue, with some justification, that they have only ever sought to protect the constitution from wayward governments attempting to undermine or erode its tenets.

But things are changing, the balance of power gently shifting towards the democratically elected administration, as tolerance by the Armed Forces of the recent arrests of senior military officers for their alleged part in an suspected coup plot would seem to demonstrate. Either way, a strong Turkey is no bad thing, providing a buffer between Europe and more turbulent nations further east. But I doubted if much of this ever had much of an impact on the lives of ordinary people. It just flickered by in the news bulletins.

Fact is I’d been made very welcome, from the moment I’d stopped to get my bearings in Edirne, my first day in Turkey. Back then, Nadir and Beckant had approached me, keen to show me their home city. They’d been Tugba in Istanbul, Zehra and her friends along the Black Sea coast, Yaren, Ali and Sena in Trabzon. And so many people in the villages who’d so often dragged me off the road, plying me with sweet, warm Turkish tea. Couldn’t ask for more. But now it was time to see what Georgia had to offer.

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