Sunday, March 6, 2011

Veneer or facade?

I'm a nerd. When it comes to my most-used web sites, is one of the top-five web sites that I use on a regular basis (partly because ever since I learned Spanish, I can't spell English....). Today I looked up the definitions of the words, "veneer" and "facade." Of course I know what they mean, but I wanted to see what they mean, technically. "Veneer" (the way I want to use it) means "a superficially valuable or pleasing appearance." "Facade" (again, the way I want to use it) means "a superficial appearance or illusion of something."

Hmmmmm -- "superficial" is a common theme here..... Hold that thought.

I am spending the weekend in the town that Georgian advertising has dubbed "Love City." Maybe I shouldn't pass judgement since I am here in off-peak season and sans-Love, but from what I have seen, it is not all it's cracked-up to be.  The two words I looked up today are much more applicable than "romantic" or "love" commonly used to describe this town.

I am here with my two favorite travel-companions, James and Katherine (who are in love with each other, yeah!!!), and this morning at breakfast we talked about the "veneer" that seems to be applied to the edifices as well as the attitude that is running this town.

But first, a little background -- within the last year, this town has undergone major refurbishing and renovation. The town of Sighnaghi is a medieval walled town that has been in existence since at least 3,000 BC. In the last year, the World Bank has invested lots and lots of money to make this town a desirable tourist destination because of its natural beauty and historical importance -- and the wine that is produced here. They put lots of money into cobble-stone streets, paint jobs for the buildings, and hotel renovations. But they forgot to include one thing in all their expenditure: actual hospitality...... or at least hospitality training. College degrees are awarded after four years of studying hotel management or hospitality studies in the U.S. I am quite sure that no such degrees have been given to anyone running any of the establishments that we have experienced here in Sighnaghi. Where I live in Western Georgia, hospitality is something that is inherent in the character of every Georgian there, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

A few examples....

The hotel we are staying in is beautiful....superficially. The exterior is lovely -- painted a bright, buttery yellow with dark brown, wooden accents that look lovely in the sunlight. The interior, too, is very nice -- the rooms are comfortable and warm with wood floors, nice brick accent-walls, modern bathrooms, and firm beds. But the people running the hotel are less than hospitable. Despite what the hotel's web site says, there is no internet service; there is no complimentary tea or coffee throughout the day -- even breakfast is meager with only one cup of coffee provided in the cost of the room. What??? One cup of coffee?? That's not right. I have traveled far and wide (except for Asia....), and even in hostels, free wifi and tea/coffee are available all day and all night. What is up with Sighnaghi?

James, Katherine, and I have eaten in a few restaurants in town, and we have been only mildly satisfied with our experience. True, restaurant service is not what it is in the U.S. We know that, and we don't expect the same timing, fastidious attention, or level of service that we would get at any decent establishment in the States. But, waiting a half-hour for our drinks? That's a bit much even for Georgian standards. Good thing we aren't in a hurry....and we abide by our favorite saying, "We aren't on a schedule." We can wait. And we do. But sometimes a two-hour dinner experience of salads, bread, and wine is just a bit much. The mere veneer of hospitality becomes evident....

We went to the Art Museum in town today. The entrance fee was roughly the equivalent of $2 -- not bad for any art museum. We saw an entire room of Niko Pirosmani paintings (the most renowned Georgian painter of all time), so the entrance fee was well-worth what we saw, but the other art that was on display was such an odd assortment of mis-matched works by amateur artists, I wondered for several minutes just what I was supposed to be looking at. One painting especially made me wrinkle my brow in bewilderment -- it was a typical Flemish still life -- a beautiful assortment of fruit and flowers......with a giant red lobster tacked onto the lower left corner of the setting. Wrong. A facade of a fine art collection.

There are many, many storefronts and houses for sale here -- more than I have seen anywhere else in the whole country of Georgia. It seems that this town wants to be a thriving something for tourists, but they can't quite figure out what that "something" should be. Should they be a collection of wineries and shops and restaurants? Should they be art galleries and antique shops? Should they be casinos and markets? Yes. But the only ones that seem to be thriving are the casinos and markets..... and those exist in every other sizable Georgian town and city. The art-, antique-, and shop-scene needs to be developed a bit more. So does the restaurant-scene..... We had been the only patrons in every restaurant we went into until tonight -- one other party came in for dinner. I'll blame it on the winter. But maybe it is merely a veneer.....

The natural beauty of Sighnaghi is extraordinary. However, the human-controlled establishments are severely lacking in the hospitality and generosity for which the Georgians are known. Instead, the "illusion of some pleasing appearance" is much more the reality. I have gotten some really lovely photographs here.....but if I deal with an actual person.....the facade falls away to reveal the lack of hospitality rampant in this tourist-town.

Tea should come here and give a master-course in how to treat a guest. She's the best.

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