Canada Crossing

Every now and then I depart from my usual beloved topic of Svaneti in these articles, particularly when traveling elsewhere. Off we go...

Leaving our niece from Kakheti and another volunteer helper lady from Namibia at home to run the place and earn our eternal gratitude, Lali and I have set out for her first trip to Canada. After two visa refusals when we had been married for a year, we tried again. This time we had a cancellable return ticket for her, and the request of the relevant Ambassador to flag him when this next application was coming through. And... they granted her a 4-year, multi entry visa! That’ll do by way of apology, thank you very much.

En route, in Tbilisi, I had the chance to get another large photograph framed for my new house gallery, as in the picture here. It’s not one of mine, though: this is a glorious panorama of the Central Caucasus by Vittorio Sella in 1889, assembled from plate glass negatives when conditions in Svaneti were very challenging.

Separate flights for the two of us, though. Mine, a free pair of one way tickets via TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia), would have been quite a lot more expensive if we bought the equivalent for her. So she flew via Istanbul and Montreal, I via Warsaw and Toronto. In both cases, my stepmother, just about to turn 79 and still behind the wheel, met and would host us, coming in a couple of days apart.

I had the longer trip from end to end, with a 12-hour layover in Warsaw. This was made easier, however, by the addition of a ticket to Chopin Airport’s Business Class lounge, of which I took full advantage, never having been in such a place anywhere before. It made all the difference, with free food and wi-fi for the long wait. I could have got out and explored the city a bit on my EU passport, but generally I prefer to stay put when in transit. It’ll keep, though no doubt it has changed hugely since I was last here sometime in 1992.

Once again, hugely grateful for not being six or more feet tall and having to cram such a frame into economy airplane seating! I even managed to watch the new Avengers movie... on a screen 8" on the diagonal, strictly 2D, no Dolby sound. Although LOT Polish Airlines didn’t seem to be offering free meals in Economy, there they were for the long flight into Toronto, and better than not eating, I ate them.

Although I usually find jetlag worse going from Europe to North America, this time it hasn’t been too bad. Nightly melatonin pills, recommended by my mom, seem to help the body adjust to a sudden 10 time zone difference. Must remember this tip for the future.

I have made this journey quite a few times in recent years, so there’s very little cultural adjustment for me. But, although Lali has visited 41 countries now, it’s her first ever time to North America. She says the houses look “British or German” based on what she’s seen so far in the world. I have let her take in one of the world’s largest shopping malls, West Edmonton Mall with its 800-odd shops and plenty of other features, and we’ve tubed down a segment of the Pembina River, which was great, relaxing fun on a warm day.

My province of Alberta, though, has had a very hot and dry summer, with several counties declaring themselves agricultural disaster zones. When the rain has come during our stay, it has been too little, too late, and sometimes including hailstones nearly the size of oranges. Many crops in this farm-rich prairie land are failing. Such are the caprices of depending on weather for your livelihood or at least part of it, as we know all too well in Georgia. A popular joke in compensated Kakheti a few years ago was, “Can you lend me 10000 Lari until the next hail?” I can only hope that Alberta will be as kind to its farmers. Another indication of the trend towards global warming, or just a blip in typical statistics?

In church, people kept coming up to my wife to confirm that she’s real; their first face to face encounter with her after six years of hearing that we were married. Here she is, in four dimensions!

My father, who has been in a nursing home for a few years now with loss of balance and onset of dementia, recognized me at first glance. This was a huge relief, as you never know when the veil drawn across memory will become too thick. Mom has done a huge amount to keep him as fresh as possible, mentally and physically, since he became too much to handle at home on her own, falling and breaking bones. I am so glad that she’s here for him all the time, when I’m mostly halfway across the world.

This is the other part of my life, although now it consists more of leaving home in Georgia to visit non-home in Canada than “going home” to Canada, where I have no property anyway. But here I have family and so many friends, I find I can slip back into their lives temporarily with little trouble, absorbing the changes of a year or so as we come together for a while. The whole time, keeping Georgia on my Mind.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1000 members, at .

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

23 July 2015 22:49