Natalia can't believe it. "How come you are going there?"
"I'm writing a travel piece for a ladies' magazine."
"A ladies' magazine?"
"It's the biggest magazine in the country and they keep sending me to the most unlikely places, like Sri Lanka, but I have to tell you, they couldn't have dreamed a better destination than your country. I've been dying to go there ever since I can remember myself."
Natalia is extatic. She gives me the number of her brother so I can bring a gift from the family, instructs me to climb the mount overlooking her city, especially at night, and adds: "bring lots of love from me to my people and bring their love back to me."
She's longing for Tbilisi, sweet romantic Tbilisi. How different the tone of her voice is from that of Israelis when they say "Gruzia" or "Gruzini". No nation suffers more stigma. Georgian Jews have become the most reviled of communities in Israel for no appearent reason. In jokes they are described as being hairy, dirty and somehow barbaric. "Why do Georgians smear shit on the wall at a wedding? so the flies won't swarm the bride."
I always try to keep racism out of my mind, but these jokes have had an effect on how I picture Natalia's city. In my imagination it is a scary metropolis mixing Eastern danger and Soviet grit, somewhere you can get instantly stabbed for chatting to a (knockout gorgeous, though slightly moustachioed) girl, or wake up in a bathtub full of ice after having had one of your kidnies stolen. Tbilisi, in my mind's eye, is a city where church spires resemble minarets, where old men play cards in dark allies and the suburban streets, running among the grey commie blocks, are unpaved and muddy.
My Imaginary Georgia, land of Stalin, of "The Knight in Panther Skin", of heavily spiced food and strong red wine, of silent ravines in enormous mountains, of war sacked villages and forgotten orange groves, of twisty alphabet and eaqually twisty music, is a thrillingly dark place. To Natalia, it's home sweet home. Let's see what happens when the visions are fused.