This is me typing my new article for GT. We’re getting quite meta here (as in “about”):
I have a film crew up with me from Tbilisi, and they’re making a documentary about me as an artist in a few media, including word. We are in Svaneti, in my village of Etseri, in the house I have lived in for 13 years with my wife.
As Svaneti has been the biggest part of my creative life (well, my life in general) these years, the director decided he couldn’t do this film without this huge part. So here we are. It’s late winter, early March, one of my best seasons for photography, and even today, after the last two years of revelations of snow and ice leading to a whole slew of fantastic stories from what I’ve discovered, there is more. The texture of the whole area of snowfields I see from any window is magnificently rippled, like whole scapes of frozen waves, but gentle ones. Not running perpendicular to the hill slopes, but running down them, so it’s not from melting snow slumping; more likely a wind phenomenon. While they’re filming me, or between breaks, I rush around to the various 2nd-story windows and get my still shots, delighted that snow and ice still have new things to show me. I expect that this will continue as long as I’m alive.
We still have Ushguli and Mestia on the agenda: Former hosts who remain good friends; museums; watchtowers; landscapes and villagescapes. Hopefully, Ushba will grace us with his stern beauty, visible from so many locations on our route. They film me, I write about and photograph them, and the circle continues.
There is water running into the house, somewhat to my surprise as we hardly go through one of these long cold seasons without it freezing at some point and now running again until April maybe. It actually did freeze a few weeks earlier (despite keeping a tap running a bit), as our renter this year, the new English teacher replacing Lali at the school here, informed us. I was not expecting to see it during this visit, and told my crew not to expect flowing water in the house at all. But here we are, here it is, and it’s all better than expected.
True, the generator I urged them to bring, specially bought for the occasion, has proved utterly useless: It has a weird plug outlet which resembles nothing I know of (Australian, maybe, or more likely Chinese? Who knows!). But electricity, fickle at best in winter, has been on MOST of the time, and so far our lights and other electronica are working. We are being careful to keep things charged for the likely inevitable down times; bedroom doors shut at all times to keep that precious radiator heat where we need it; the Svan wood stove, the beast, fired.
We spend a day walking around the village after my main interview. I take photos and explain my process, or attempt to. Meet people, surprised to see me, and move on. I take them to see a family my wife and I are close with; they’re having a small supra (feast) with guests so we, having just lunched ourselves, don’t stay past a cup of coffee.
We break into two groups, each shooting its own video. I climb to rescue the other group’s drone, which fell into and was embraced by a tree. The weather is nicely cooperative, mixes of cloud and sun, a few degrees above freezing. I don’t find any new snow or ice dragons this time, but do point out plenty of snow breakers frozen crashing over the tops of fences, which are also part of the dragons’ life cycle. Likely the most common part, it seems.
Etseri’s huge wide open spaces will soon give way to the comparatively busy streets of Mestia and the much narrower, closer ones of Ushguli, smallest of the communities we’ll visit. I don’t usually make such epic voyages in such deeply wintery conditions, but for this film, snow up here was to be an important element, my main muse in Svaneti of late years. I’m not allowed to see the “dailies,” raw video of each whole day’s shooting, so have to content myself with my own work, which is interesting enough.
Turmoil awaits us back in Tbilisi, I know, when we return in a couple of days. Until then, it’s all reunions and calm. Good to see you again, my Svaneti. Back in mid-May.
BLOG by Tony Hanmer
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti