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Georgian relatives

My mother's sister Valentina married a Georgian man and went to live in Georgia. He was called Semion Petrovich Tevdoradze. Many Georgian names have 'dze' at the end.

She was a pretty blond girl with bright blue eyes but not very well educated. Somebody joked that she did not have the slightest idea where Georgia was. She might have thought it was round the corner from where she lived but it was thousands of miles away from Achinsk. Semion Petrovich brought her to a small Georgian village where she stayed with their baby son Yuri and her husband left for war.

Nobody in the village could speak Russian and Valentina felt isolated. She cuddled her son against her breasts and cried every day. She had no choice but make an effort with the Georgian language. After several years she spoke so well that could be taken for a native. She had never had a chance to come to Achinsk again.

Semion Petrovich came from the war with his hand injured but otherwise fine. They had two more children, a son Peter and a daughter Lyuda. Lyuda was a year older than me.

For the first time we went to see them in Georgia in the 1960s. The village was called Shulaveri and it took about 35 minutes to get there by car from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Going to Georgia for us was like going abroad. Everything was absolutely different from Russia and from Siberia: nature, climate, language, people, life-style.

They had a big house and a yard with a huge walnut tree in the middle of it. They used to tie a rope to the branches of the tree to make a swing for us. Behind the house there was a very big garden with lots of trees in it. They grew all sorts of vegetables there including aubergines, red and green peppers, tomatoes. There were some herbs growing there which we did not have in Siberia and which made food taste exotic.

They had many hens and turkeys, so they had their own meat and eggs. I remember how Semion Petrovich chopped off a cock's head and it flew headless through the yard for some time. They cooked large amounts of food which was usually very spicy and nice and they put walnuts in many dishes. They also made jam out of green walnuts which was very different. Georgian bread was absolutely delicious.

I had not seen the way grape vines grew before and found it very exotic, especially the way it wound round the veranda. There were plum trees, pear trees and my favourite, peach trees. The peaches were big and very sweet. Auntie Valya used to bring a big basin full of beautiful red peaches. They were delicious!

The cellar of the house was full of big barrels with home made grape wine. Sometimes people stopped near the house and asked to buy some wine and Auntie Valya asked Semion Petrovich's permission to sell it. She asked his permission for anything at all even whether she could buy a new dress for herself.

My mother told me that Semion Petrovich was very strict and he made all the decisions in the family by himself. He did not allow Auntie Valya even to buy her own underwear. She said once he got so angry that he chopped all her purchases with an axe. They said it was common among Georgian husbands to treat their wives like slaves.

In the yard there was a garage where they kept their blue 'Volga'. We often had a ride in it in the village or to the neighbouring village. We especially liked trips to Tbilisi when Lyuda and I were wearing our best dresses and had the same little handbags. We went shopping there but we also went on excursions. I loved Tbilisi, it was very different from other cities that I had seen.

Due to those trips to Georgia in my childhood I came to love the Caucasus very much. I loved it even more after we learned the poetry of the famous Russian poet Lermontov at school, who wrote stories and poems about the Caucasus. Lermontov was one of my favourite poets. I thought that if he had not died at the age of twenty- seven he could have become an even greater poet than Pushkin.

It was very very sad to know in 1980s when Perestroika started that there was a war in Georgia and that my favourite city and its most beautiful Rustaveli Prospect were being bombed. It was difficult to believe anything like that could have been possible.

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