Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Friday, October 19, 2007

When Misha Came to Signagi

While traveling through the wine country of Kakheti, I stopped by the town of Signagi (pop. 2,146). I have to admit, I've never seen anything quite like it. As I mentioned before, the Georgian wine industry is attempting to put itself on the map. Naturally, wine attracts tourist, and these tourist have discriminating taste, so to speak. Up until now, there has been a lack of a destination--a place where these picky travelers can sit in posh hotels and admire the scenic views over some wine and cheese.

So, while most of the towns in the wine region gradually paint over their former-Soviet dullness, Signagi has opted for an extreme makeover in an effort to meet this future demand. In a throwback to the old days of Five Year Plans and centralized planning, the government is conducting a massive renovation of the entire town. Every storefront has been repainted, every street has been repaved (in quaint cobblestone); there are fancy new European lampposts and a fountain with a giant bronze stag. In a few more years, this will be quite a sight, but at the moment it feels like I should have been issued a hardhat at the city limits.

Signagi overlooking the Alazani Valley.

Signagi is certainly an inspired choice for a shiny new tourist town. It is situated on the side of a hill and overlooks the Alazani Valley far below. On a clear day, there is a spectacular view of the Caucasus. All of the houses along the narrow streets have wooden porches with intricate latticework. Oh yes, and it has one of the only Mexican restaurants in all of Georgia. It is only open by reservation made a few days in advance in order to give the manager enough time to go to Telavi to buy ingredients.

On the day that I visited Signagi, I arrived to find the town covered in Georgian and NATO flags. The town was celebrating the arrival of Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary General. Seizing on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (what little boy doesn't grow up wanting to see the NATO Secretary General?), we met up with some other Peace Corps Volunteers and stood in the receiving line.

Misha working the crowd.

You have to hand it to Saakashvili--he knows how to make a dashing entrance. Within a few minutes, we saw Saakashvili and his entourage triumphantly descending the hill with the only finished street in town. Once they reached the square, he began working the crowd--smiling, waving, saying gamarjoba. Oddly, few people were trying to shake his hand. When he got to us, my friend Nick daringly offered his hand. Saakashvili paused for a brief second, looking at us as if he were thinking these people don't look Georgian. He took Nick's hand, gave it a firm squeeze and moved on. That was it--our fleeting encounter with power. Satisfied, we worked our way back out over the construction pit, found a shady area, and had a drink.


  • At 6:49 AM, Blogger Nick Brooks said…

    Well... it was firm, but not too firm. I don't remember much about it, all I know is, you don't get that kind of welcome in many countries.

  • At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There is another Mexican restaurant in Tbilisi. :) But of course, Signagi is very much different. And now it is even more charming after all these works are finished.


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