20th Anniversary and World Building Blogfest, Day Four (Food, Drink, Holidays, Culture)

Today, 31 January 2013, makes it 20 years since I began my first Russian novel. I was just a 13-year-old kid in 7th grade, brand-new to Russophilia and writing present tense, not exactly well-steeped in how to write good 20th century historical fiction. I created that book on a 1984 152K Mac, and kept all the files on disks. All the chapters except Chapter 22, the first chapter of Part II, were created in MacWriteII or ClarisWorks. The formatting of the margins and spacing within empty space, in the original sections of the first chapters, are all out of whack after being converted and reformatted. An echo of the past, of that vintage computer, lingers on in this book.

At 13, I had no idea I’d stay with the story that long, or even that it would end up being that long (342,000 words in the finished first draft, a bit over 350,000 at its height during extensive revisions a decade after finally finishing, now down to around 335,000 and possibly to go down to 330,000). I didn’t realize how drastically I would change the original material and plotline. I didn’t even know that Amy wasn’t a Russian name.

But the story stayed in my head for all those years, driving me back to it time and time again, with the entire basic outline memorized in my head. There was something so special about it that called to me and made me stay with it, when so many other books I began around that age were never finished and have long since been forgotten and written off. I can’t even remember or explain how I hit upon the new and improved title that came to me during my second major writing phase, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. The original title was Amy and the Boys (gag).

In honor of this special 20th anniversary, I’ve decided I’m going to be doing some kind of indie or e-publishing of the first book sometime this year. I began the book in 1993, finished it in 2001, began an endless series of revisions and edits in April 2011, and am still doing edits and revisions on and off to make it as perfect as possible. I’m not waiting another 10 or 20 years to put my pride and joy out there.

World Building

The topic of the fourth day of the World Building Blogfest concerns the culture of our worlds—cuisine, dance, language, holidays, that sort of thing. I decided to write out the Georgian alphabet, and just because I could, I drew the Armenian alphabet as well.

Georgian is on top in violet, Armenian is on the bottom in dark blue. This was my first time writing the Georgian alphabet, as opposed to how I’m a bit more seasoned at writing the Armenian alphabet. I made a mistake on the Georgian letter Pari, with the arm on the left-hand side coming in way too far, and tried to color over it with a white colored pencil, to no avail.


Some of the Armenian letters have two transliterations because Armenian is pronounced differently depending on where you’re from, East or West. For example, baklava in Eastern Armenian vs. paklava in Western Armenian, dz’merek (watermelon) vs. tsumereg.



As you can see, Georgian, unlike Armenian, doesn’t have upper-case vs. lower-case versions. There are three versions of the Armenian letter Ch because I’ve seen it written all three ways.

You know you’re an incurable omniglot when you’re starting to learn your sixth alphabet and umpteenth language! If I can master Georgian and stop forgetting the Armenian alphabet, maybe someday I really can learn the Arabic/Persian alphabet. (Besides the obvious Roman alphabet, my other alphabets are Cyrillic, Greek, and Hebrew.)

Georgians and Armenians have a rich culture of hospitality and food. The signature Georgian bread is called khachapuri, and has egg and cheese baked inside. The signature Armenian bread is lavash, a flatbread. They both have many foods cooked in walnut sauce, and enjoy fruits such as pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, plums, apricots, and oranges. Also in common is a yoghurt-type cheese I learnt to call lebaneh, but which also has the varying names libna, labneh, lebni, and zabedi. They also have a popular pickled string cheese similar to mozzarella, chechil in Armenia and sulguni in Georgia.

Alina sneaks over to see her imprisoned husband and give him some fruits, bread, nuts, and cheese from the bazaar before she starts making her way into Persia. She hasn’t been eating very heartily since his arrest, and finally is prevailed upon by her Armenian friends to start eating well for the sake of the child she’s carrying. When Alina arrives in Yerevan at her friends’ apartment, Ohanna makes her lentil salad, mushroom soup, pumpkin stew, lebaneh, topig/topik (an appetizer that’s sort of like a giant falafel ball, mixed with potatoes, and stuffed with currants, nuts, onions, and spices), roasted chicken in walnut sauce, matnakash (a soft, golden-brown bread), paklava, and kefir flavored with pomegranate.

Dinner can last for hours, with all the dishes and drinks, and all the toasts. Georgians have elevated the feast to a ritual-like event called a supra, with each dish preceded by a toast. Sometimes what starts out as a simple, basic lunch or dinner can be elevated into a whole supra.  You’ll never go hungry if you’re in Georgia or Armenia.

6 thoughts on “20th Anniversary and World Building Blogfest, Day Four (Food, Drink, Holidays, Culture)

  1. Although Georgian letters have names, Georgians don’t use them. When they spell words, they just say the sound that the letter makes (ah, buh, guh, duh, eh, vuh, etc).

    The problem with your P, by the way, is not the bottom part, but the top. The way you wrote it is the way I usually write it, but Georgians hate it. The way they do it is to make the top part slope down into the rest of it, so that it’s very hard to distinguish from V.


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