I got back about a week ago from Uzbekistan, this having been my second voyage to that general part of the world. In many ways it was truly amazing, but for me it couldn't have the special place in my heart that Georgia did and does. I actually feel a bit guilty because some of my favorite Uzbek hang-outs were accomplished with Georgians, pressing my nostalgia buttons, rather than digging myself into a new experience/place/culture. But know what? I don't feel that guilty. And I sure as heck don't feel surprised. It's pretty natural for me to seek out environments where I feel more at home, more familiar, more secure. And I am not one who wants to forget important past moments. I want them, if anything, to remain important, to crop up later in life with a sense of narrative circling. I also think I just like the mountains better than the desert.
One thing I perhaps should have predicted but didn't, two years ago in Georgia, was the effect of what I was reading on my memories of that time.
I've noticed this more and more as I write letters, that if I'm reading a novel (more often than not what I'm reading is a novel), the ideas and the style often re-surface in some way in what I write. Maybe here too--y'all can let me know if this post sounds like Haruki Murakami at all, that's the novel I finished today. So what I'm reading apparently has a more profound effect on my moods and thought-shapes than I previously thought. This fact occurred to me with particular strength during one of the evening concerts at the festival in Samarkand. There were groups from many nations there, and everyone got a chance to perform on the big stage. On the night when us Americans got to be in the audience, one of the groups was the Georgians. They rocked, of course. Georgian singing, especially in person, has an incredibly arresting effect on me, ever since the very first time I heard it after touching down in Georgia. To me it's incredibly exciting, seeming to me to be this paradoxical mix of the ethereal and the earthy. Something about the timbre of the voices, the strength and dexterity of the attack, the intervals, I'm not sure how to explain it but it seems to work on several emotional levels at once. A blend of austere and sensual? I wrote about it the first time I heard about it two phrases that don't seem compatible: "Salt of the earth" and "Music of the spheres". I don't know if anyone else experiences it like that, but it really gets me every time.
Anyway I was sitting listening to their short set, and thinking about spheres and visualizing astrolabes and revolving planets and orbs and ellipses of precious metals and space and time and galaxies and alchemical diagrams....and then I went, hang on, alchemical diagrams?
But of course. When I traveled to Georgia, where I stayed for 3 weeks learning songs and climbing mountains and drinking wine, the only book I took with me was Jung's Psychology and Alchemy. One memorable afternoon I read it aloud to a roomful of college students after a long ride in an open-back six-axel army vehicle--imagine riding for hours in the back of a dump-truck on wooden benches over a gravel road and you'll be in the headspace--and it sent everyone, including me, into a cool, irresistible sleep. I mean, the book is dense. I don't remember half of it, and I'm fairly sure I didn't comprehend a third. I chose Psychology and Alchemy partly because I didn't want a novel with an arresting story to keep me up at night and be finished too quickly, and it did work admirably for that. But the imagery of weird medieval and renaissance pen-and-ink drawings of suns and moon and goblets and crucibles and naked bodies and concentric circles have bonded with my experience of Georgian music on some fundamental level.
Which I think is awesome!