Plaster Diary, 1: Etseri, Svaneti


The weeks before: We had decided to finish the outside of the house with cement and sanded plaster, at last, as our sixth anniversary of living here approached. A big expense, needing much preparation, thought, planning and communication. After all, if you can’t persuade people to come in to your guest house’s beautiful interior because the exterior is so unfinished and rough, what’s the use?

Initial calls were made to prospective craftsmen, in this case at the other end of the country, from my wife’s village in Kakheti, recommended by her brother. The first thing, they said once they knew the size of the house and we had agreed on a price, was to have wood at hand for scaffolding. As all locally bought wood is green, fresh cut, heavy, needing to be dried out with spacers between each piece to keep them straight, this must be arranged well in advance; months would not be too soon. Done! It came up from lower down in Svaneti by dump-truck, was duly dumped in the yard, and we did the necessary to ensure its drying under the strong sun while we firmed up the dates for the workers actually to arrive.

This next stage proved tricky, as the mother-in-law of the senior of the three was poorly; and then he had to attend her funeral before he was free to come up from so far away. In the meantime, we ordered and acquired another dump-truck load, this time of sand, straight from the banks of the Enguri River in Mestia; and 50 bags of your best Heidelberg cement, please, into the bargain. These we stored in the garage, kicking the car out as there wasn’t enough space for everything.

Arrival day: I fetched our threesome from their minivan at our village’s only bus stop and brought them home. On the 1 km way, they kept an eye out for other local houses to absorb the standard finish for dwellings here. Once we had made introductions with my wife, they asked to be shown some houses whose exteriors I liked, and we walked a bit down to have a look. Something classical but not very fancy, I suggested, and they understood from this and the examples what I meant.

1st day: We awoke to hammering and my circular saw’s growl soon after 6 a.m., no fooling around! But it wasn’t that early or rude a start, and indeed made a good impression. First order of the day, of course, making the scaffolding for two adjacent sides of the house, the ones visible from the street. The posts had to be dug into the ground then several floors nailed to them for the workers to walk on as they progressed from bottom to top. I also took the main man to Mestia for some necessary local supplies.

2nd day: They started with the cement mixing, and this quickly developed into a problem. Never having done wall finishing, I can only pass on what they told me, but it wasn’t going on the wall right. New sand, new altitude, fair enough, some unknowns. The main thing was, would it do? Could they adjust to the unique local materials and conditions?

The fellow whom we asked to cut and finish some square wood bars for cement-smoothing said that he, and everyone else locally, had used exclusively this sand for their walls because it was all they had, and it worked, was long lasting, would do the job.

3rd day: The senior worker and I went off to Zugdidi: I had some shopping for our shop to do and was on the hunt for sand more to his liking. On the way, conflicting calls: the sand we had wouldn’t do at all; no, a short time later (once the cement had set a bit), it was fine; some time after that, no, it’s not what we’re used to after all, please get some better stuff! So, plenty of stress all round. Once we finished the shop business, on the return trip we stopped at couple of riverside villages just before the climb to Svaneti, where there were sand-crushing and -sorting operations visible, to enquire. Although my man liked the look and feel of it, the prices were through the roof, both for material and especially for transport; so we took some phone numbers, made noncommittal responses, and moved on, shaking our heads.

Today: they’re back into liking the local sand, and have dug well into the process, so we think it will work out. Sighs of relief all round, and savings of money, time and nerves. The house and yard look a fine mess, but these are signs of work happening. Put up with it, visitors of the next few weeks, and you will join with us in seeing Hanmer House transformed.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

02 August 2018 17:25