My Dinners With Misha
In the summer of 2006, I was part of Mikheil Saakashvili's great and tragic fantasy of an independent, America-loving Georgia.
Back in Tblisi, we were shepherded to all the press-worthy occasions in town—a fashion show, a behind-the-scenes peek at the Georgian equivalent of Saturday Night Live, a meet-and-greet with the local oligarchs complete with a tour of their homes, and an interview with Georgian soccer star Kakha Kaladze. We even watched Misha deliver a speech about the judicial overhaul he was imposing.
We thought this was the last time we would see him, because he was heading off, with great hope and determination, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he was back by dinner. Misha had waited for hours, but Putin had stood him up. Instead of fretting, Misha had headed to St. Petersburg's best restaurant and seduced its owner with the idea of starting one just like it in Georgia. The restaurateur, now shoeless and sitting next to me, said, "He told me I had to see Tbilisi—he hijacked me on his jet." Everyone found this funny. Misha was applauded for "laughing in a minefield." There was much joking about the Russians. Putin and Russia were so yesterday, Misha and Georgia so clearly of tomorrow.
Later that night, I helped the travel writer curse and kick a Siberian bear rug that he was struggling to pack. Putin had given the pelt to Misha as a symbol of the Kremlin's power not long after the Rose Revolution had transformed Saakashvili into his nation's great hope. Now Misha had regifted it to the travel writer. I still don't know how we managed to get that token of Misha's affection and of Georgia and Russia's hostility onto the plane.
Victoria Floethe is a freelance writer in New York City.
Photographs of the travel writer with Saakashvili and Georgian meal by the author. Photograph of Mikheil Saakashvili on Slate's home page by Iralki Gedenidze/AFP/Getty Images.