Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Silk Road from Japan to Georgia.



The doubtful rickety barn I live and work in was a silk farming house until the mid-1960s like every other house in the village.

No one moves anywhere.

 The same ten families for the past 600 years it seems. Scratching out a living in this nondescript crease in the mountains. The winters were spent making charcoal to sell and to give the illusion of heat in a brazier under a table. In the spring and summer and autumn they raised silkworms. There was no electricity. Typhoons like the two we have had over the past few days drench the place. A dreary mess to mop up with drearier rags and scrappy bamboo brooms.....





When I moved in this place 22 years ago, the second and third floor was littered with abandoned funereal silk farming equipment. Bamboo trays and linen nets, fuzz removing boxes and wooden pulleys for getting the mulberry up to the top of the house. There was more equipment for reeling the silk and skeining it. There was still more weaving equipment. Looms and warping wheels and reeds.

Food, clothing and shelter self-sufficiency.

The old guy who was born in this house is in the hospital now. I take his wife there a few times a week for a short visit.  His sister was there today and we briefly sat with him. He is so small grey and fragile.

It was just yesterday we were climbing the mountain and collecting bamboo and falling trees.

My head spun a little at the human/time dynamics at the table. I dump fix up money into their old house. (A place full of harsh memories of poverty and mosquitoes and cold for them. ) An antique carpet here and some other unnecessary sarty-afrtsy-something-or-other object there. Ornamental grasses and a dozen kinds of lilies from the local home centre to improve the view out the bathroom window.

I put in flush toilets a few years back. A few of the neighbouring houses still have outhouses and paper walls and doors instead of glass ones. I think my neighbours thought I was needling them on purpose by flushing the toilet to trot out it actually flushed. They came over to look at it (them actually, I put in three at once...)  enviously... in 2012.

I took me a few years but eventually I knew what all the silk and charcoal tools were used for. In neighbouring villages that were wealthier than this one you could find the same tools only of higher quality and cleverer design. Deeper in the mountains there were more meager houses where the equipment was shabbier.

Working in Laos I saw similar old silk industry tools and could discern their purpose at a glance. The branches off the silk road. I figured at first that the tools were developed to fulfil a function and that is why they looked similar. The Japanese tools were slightly different as there is no chair culture and tools were made to use while sitting on the floor. The eye-level is decided in traditional Japanese houses. Windows and furniture and even dishes are based on this single eye level.

After Russia I flew to Tbilisi, Georgia for a week. Georgia was formerly called, The Georgian Soviet Republic. After the Soviet Union collapsed it declared independence and became an independent country in 1991. It sits on the Black Sea.



I flew down there with Anna for a few reasons. To eat/drink the famously delicious food and wine, experience the Georgians legendary hospitality and see the notoriously beautiful people. (Three checks and five stars to all three of the above.) Anna's brother Vanya came along with his finance and we had a small wedding in a remote romantic town.

I didn't expect any textile related experiences except looking for some carpets to drag home to the farmhouse....Iran and Azerbaijan are close by. They were hard to resist.








I had two great unexpected textile experiences in Georgia. We had an excellent guide who cracked our brains with her extensive knowledge of her country. Linguistics. Ancient history. Legends. Religious oddities. Wine. Food. Soviet Era economics.  My god.....

She asked what I do in Japan and then spoke to the taxi driver and he took us to the State Silk Museum. It seemed slightly LSD flashback...like 35 years after the facts...
A silk museum in the middle of well.....nowhere...in Georgia.

Ahh..Georgia was on one of the silk roads...



Inside it was a little Tara-after-the-civil-war-scene. 

The capitals and keystone decorations were gilded silk moths and silkworms on mulberry leaves.

You gotta smile a Soviet smile for those silk moth antennas.

I growled a bit on thinking of the dumb-ass silk museum in Yokohama in the typical Japanese imagination-free idiotic fuck-you-school-of-civic-architecture.






It was a party. We loved it.

 The director was surprised to see our crew so enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. If only we had a bottle of vodka in there! We could have proposed a full bottle worth of toasts in Georgian emotional style to the ingenuity of humans in thousands of years of silk production.


The similarity of the silk producing machines left me nodding......aghhhhh..silk road...
(As a silk farmer in Japan, I more or less cringe when I see or hear the words silk road....)

In Japan:

In Georgia:


In Japan:


In Georgia:


In Japan:



In Georgia:


In Japan:


In Georgia:


In Japan:



In Georgia: 


and so on and so forth...

During the Soviet Era almost every home in some areas raised silkworms. Half of the production went to Russia and the other half was sold or used locally in Georgia. 

When the Soviet Union fell apart so did the silk industry. Factories and tools were uprooted and taken to the Turkish border and sold. There are rumblings of an effort to start the silk industry again. I was  generously offered some land and some government assistance to lend a hand in its revival. The temptation was there. If I was ten years younger I would have jumped on it. 

There are mulberry trees left. There are stories left. Just like Japan. A deceased silk industry and it's lonely remnants.

I spotted this old Soviet Silk farm by the side of the road and stopped to take pictures.


After looking for a place to hold the wedding we decided to do it at home. (Our rented house.) The local band played (and cooked our food on a grill outside) and the locals had a feast waiting for us when we got home.  We ate and drank and danced and smiled and wished Vanya and Olya the best for their future lives together.


(Looks like I am marrying one of them.) (The justice of the peace didn't laugh when we asked her to perform the first gay wedding in Russian Orthodox Georgia.)


And the band was  more than handsome. They sat at the table next to us. Small beautiful wedding on that old silk road.

video



14 comments:

  1. Bryan, this is so good. I have to sit down at lunchtime with my sandwich and go through it. Such a treat. Thank you
    Claudia

    ReplyDelete
  2. Always enjoy your posts...the Japanese culture...and your travel adventures.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Robbie and Claudia. Had a few too many beer and was pining away for Georgia and put this blog together .
    bryan

    ReplyDelete
  4. OMG! I love the material culture comparisons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dawni,
      I could have done such a better job. I/m saving it..

      Delete
  5. You could be in a Russian novel in these pictures! I guess the wonderful thing about travels is they stay with you in your mind's eye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Travelling in Russia is like being in a Russian novel.

      Delete
  6. You're pretty hard on the silk museum in Yokohama- I mean really, how bad can it be?! Ha! And what an offer to help in the revival of the silk industry. Ten years younger- rubbish- there is no difference between 40 and 50, between 60 and 70 , yes maybe, and 70 and 80 humungeous difference, but I guess there would be a lot to consider.. Great to be asked though. Georgia obviously got to you.
    Claudiax

    ReplyDelete
  7. wonderful on all counts.the gay wedding remark -priceless-.
    seems there's a silk "industry" renaissance. they finally did something here in valencia to document and show their silk industry. apparently it was the southernmost leg of the -cringe,cringe-silk road :)
    thoroughly enjoying these posts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The justice of the peace really did throw some heavy lidded shade at me for the marriage request. We had a good chuckle. Being rude in someone else's country....wonderful ambassadors we were.

      Delete
  8. what an experience! your trip must have been one marvel after another. and being ever so naughty can be ever so much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Drinking in disreputable establishments and misbehaving at my age. Russian novels do it to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. shame, shame, novels are of the devil, so i've been told! so is booze. so i forgot to mention how lovely those little moth details were. delightful!

      Delete
  10. Novels are of the devil.....
    I've heard the sort of thing before too.
    aghhhhhhhhhhhhh

    ReplyDelete