SOVIET GEORGIA; WHERE 'EVERY PEASANT IS A PRINCE'
"Everyone who writes a book on Russia writes the kind of book he or she would most like to have read before going there," Elizabeth Pond says, "and I have done the same." Miss Pond, who was the Monitor's Moscow correspondent for two years and is now its Bonn correspondent, has writtenm "From the Yaroslavsky Station: Russia Perceived by Elizabeth Pond," which is about to be published in New York by Universe Books. The following excerpt is used with permission.mSkip to next paragraph
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Vakhtang was handsomely moustached, impulsive in his movements. He personified what Russians think of -- half warily, half with that eternal envy of the northerner for the carefree southerner -- when they call Georgians "temperamental." He spoke, and sang, with a vibrant baritone. He and his mates had come to Mtatsminda (Holy Mountain), to the 12th-century church with graveyard on the slope above Tbilisi that is the pantheon of Georgian poets, actors and educators.
The seene could have been Mediterranean, even Florentine. The late-afternoon sky was pink behind gray clouds. The hills were pinned to earth by black Van Gogh cypresses. As at the Piazzale Michelangelo the view was of tiled roofs and laundry-strung balconies stepping down to an S-curved river. As in Tuscany, a certain nobility of style co-existed with an etfervescent joie de vivre.m In Georgia, it is said, every peasant is a prince.
In Georgia, it might be said further, every peasant becomes that prince at Mtatsminda. In the early morning grandmothers climb the steep road to pray at St. David's. In the evening students gather there to sing the haunting folksongs handed down over 17 centuries in one of the world's oldest unbroken oral traditions. The harmonies are close, with a dissonance that sounds contemporary to a 20th-century ear.
"How did you learn to sing?" I asked Vakhtang. He was astonished by this odd query about natural bodily function; "I breathe; I eat macaroni; I sing!" he replied. Every Georgian baby, it seems, dances as soon as he walks, sings as soon as he speaks, and improvises on the three-stringed pandurim as soon as he can manage a spoon.
Vakhtang excused himself from his friends' company, and proceeded to give me a tour of the cemetery.
The first tomb was that of Russian writer and epigrammatist Alexander Griboyedov, an honorary Georgian by virtue of having loved and married the daughter of the great 19th-century Georgian poet Ilya Chavchavadze. Griboyedov was exiled to Tbilisi for his sympathies with the Decembrist revolutionaries of 1825, Vakhtang recounted acidly, "because Georgia was barbarian. Georgia, which was Christianized and got an alphabet half a millennium before Russia!" Bitterly , he went on to describe the humiliation of 150 years under Russian rule.
Did I know, Vakhtang asked, that Georgian culture was two and a half thousand years old? that Prometheus's defiance was set in Georgia's wild mountains, the highest in Europe? that Jason searched for his golden fleece in these same mountains? To Greek mythmakers, as to later Russian writers, Georgians were romantic heroes, their country the mysterious, vital meeting place of Europe and Asia.
Pushkin and Lermontov were inspired by Georgia. Pasternak eulogized: We were in Georgia. You can get this land If hell is multiplied by paradise, Bare indigence by tenderness, and if A hothouse serves as pedestal for ice.