I love hearing from readers, especially when they turn out to be old friends… especially when it turns out those old friends have been up to some amazing things!

Greetings from Tbilisi, Georgia!

It’s been far too long since I’ve dropped you a line, but I have continued to be a regular visitor to your Looking Closer website. I love the Blog, too — what a great idea!

Your review of Zhang Yimou’s Hero has me really intrigued. I doubt the film will make it to Georgia any time soon, but I’m going to Scotland next week for a few days of vacation with my family, and maybe I’ll try to catch it in Edinburgh this weekend. Sounds like the sort of film that is much better to see on the big screen anyway. Have you seen Chen Kaige’s film about Qin Shi Huang, The Emperor and the Assassin? It sounds like it would be interesting to watch the two back to back and discuss their different portrayals of the unifier of China. I recommend that you check it out if you haven’t already seen it!

In your review, you write: “Hero also burns with immediacy and relevance. As China struggles with the division between Beijing and Taiwan, Zhang Yimou poses a heartfelt challenge. He acknowledges the value of unification and peace. He knows that militant resistance of the empire’s progress can lead only to more violence and loss. But he reminds the viewer that the peculiarity of unique, diverse cultures produces valuable, irreplaceable rewards … and people.”

This feels relevant also to the current political situation in Georgia, which is also a fractured and divided country. There are two regions of the country that broke away and declared independence in the early 1990s — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — and the conflicts have been “frozen” for the past 12 years. Now, the new government of Georgia under President Saakashvili has set itself the goal of reunifying the country. Saakashvili himself, who has delusions of grandeur, makes no secret of the fact that his great model is Georgia’s most famous medieval king, David the Builder, who unified a divided land, conquered Tbilisi from the Arabs, and made it the country’s capital in 1122. But already this summer he has brought Georgia perilously close to war with Russia over South Ossetia, with last week being the most serious crisis so far. Saakashvili talks a lot about the need to respect the unique languages and cultures of the Ossetes and the Abkhaz, but is he prepared to be patient and work peacefully over time for reunification, or is he going to risk disaster and rush in with guns blazing? We shall see.

Life working in a U.S. embassy continues to be nothing if not interesting. I’ve found that it’s exhausting working in a job like this in a country that is undergoing a self-proclaimed “revolution” (the “Rose Revolution,” which you have probably heard about this past year in the news at some point or another). While this has been a fascinating experience, I also have really found myself missing the rythms and more relaxed pace of academic life. This summer has felt out of joint, as it’s the first time in my life that I haven’t just automatically had the summer free. I find I really dislike having to count vacation days!

I’ve gotten to do quite a bit of travel all over the beautiful country of Georgia this past year, as well as take some fun side trips to countries in the neighborhood. Over New Year’s I flew up to Prague and met up with my parents there, and then we took the train up to Berlin for New Year’s Eve, which was wonderful. I really love both cities, although they are extremely different from one another — Prague is quaint, elegant, and extremely beautiful, while Berlin is a real modern metropolis. One of the many highlights for me in Berlin was getting to see Return of the King in English on the big screen, something which I would not have been able to do in Tbilisi. I spent Memorial Day weekend in Kiev with a couple friends from work, including Trinity Sunday at the gorgeous Monastery of the Caves. In July I drove down to Armenia with a couple friends (I have purchased a used Ford to drive around the Caucasus in), and we spent a weekend in Yerevan. It’s not a particularly beautiful city, but it has spectacular views of Mount Ararat, which rises up out of the Turkish plain across the border like Kilimanjaro towering over the Serengeti. Earlier this month I drove down to Turkey for several days with an old friend from SPU days who was visiting me. It was my first time in Turkey, too. Wow, what a fascinating place! So many different civilizations piled layer upon layer on top of one another. We only just scratched the surface on this quick trip, but it has left me hungering for more.

Please say hello to Anne for me. Drop me a line when you have a moment. It’d be great to hear from you!



I can’t thank you enough for your letter, which is more interesting than most of the films I’ve seen this year, to say the least. What I wouldn’t give to see some of the things you’ve seen. Glad I’ve been able to contribute in some small way to your experience. You definitely contribute to mine!