I was going to be legal about it. I was going to register the art I’d bought in Georgia at the Ministry of Sports and Culture. I was also, however, going to leave it to the last moment. The Thursday before my Monday flight, to be precise.
I found the Ministry easily enough. It was conveniently located across the street from the park under Dry Bridge, which was where I’d bought all of my paintings. I’d tramped past it, plodding through mud and snow, and never walked in until this day.
I cleared my throat, and the sturdy entrance guard deigned to look at me. “Do you speak English?” I asked, somewhat bleakly.
She frowned. No, then. “Do you speak Russian?”
“What do you want?” she asked, proving in her directness and diction that indeed, she spoke Russian.
I murmured something about wanting to register my paintings. She didn’t wait for me to finish. She bumbled out the longest string of names and directions I’d ever heard. Eyebrows raised, I managed to grasp that among other things, I had to get me to the 4th floor and find a man named…. I forget. But it was loooooooooooong, his name.
I crossed past the guards, lounging near the elevators, and entered the open lift. The doors shut with a clang. I pressed the button. And waited.
Now, in my time, I’ve managed to get myself both into a falling elevator and into a stuck one, so I’m pretty aware when things are looking grim, and I’m not quite willing to wait for another plunge.
And the thing wasn’t moving. Just standing. And then the lights went out.
I reacted immediately. I lunged for the closed doors and gripped them, pried them open, and pushed myself through. Shaken, I stared back at the guards, who’d stopped talking when the elevator had splurted me out.
I pointed shakily behind me. “The elevator doesn’t work,” I said. (I might have said, “The elevator doesn’t play.” I was speaking Georgian now, and ’tis not my strongest language.)
“Take the other one,” a guard answered.
“No,” I answered, aghast. “I will walk on the stairs and I will walk on the fourth floor.”
And I ran up on shaky legs. By the time I arrived on the fourth floor, the man’s name was a whisp in my leaking memories. A woman asked me what I was doing there, and it was all I could do not to shrug and shake my head helplessly. I whispered the first few syllables of his marathon name.
She nodded me down the hall, and I chose a door at random and stood outside it, trying to recall the first few syllables again. It opened roughly, and a man asked me my business there. “I have to register paintings,” I answered in Russian.
Now I was led to a woman, strict and proper. “Give them to me,” she ordered in Georgian. Oy.
“I don’t have them.” Now I did feel quite the fool.
“How can I measure them if you don’t have them? Come back tomorrow.”
“But I will be in hospital tomorrow. I am leaving the country on Monday.”
She looked at me funny. Could I really predict an illness in my future, or was I just a crazy foreigner? “Well, how can I measure them if you don’t have them?”
A valid point. I hadn’t thought this through, apparently. I shrugged hopelessly. Maybe doing things the legal way was a foolish idea. Or maybe procrastination was. I leant in favor of the former.
“Fine,” she barked, “do you remember their dimensions?” (Thankfully, she’d switched to Russian, for I promise you there is no way I would unravel that sentence in Georgian.)
“Err,” I answered helpfully.
She stared at me.
“Well,” I said, “the first one is sort of–this shape.” I gestured vaguely in the air, drawing a ghost of an outline of a painting. Idiocy, thy name is Ruth. But–
“Wait, hold still,” she answered, and rummaged in her desk, emerging with a measuring tape. I blinked a few times and gaped as she stood up, holding it toward me. “Put your hands out again.”
I did as she asked, and watched mesmerized as she measured from one finger to another, held at hypothetical ends of my absent painting. First width, then length. Painting by painting, I held my hands at varying distances from one another, approximating size and shape. She measured these spaces of air between my fingers, and wrote down the measurements on a slip of paper.
Thus was all legal and straight and narrow and good. I love Georgia. 🙂