My latest reading is a bit esoteric. It is a reprint of an 1888 travelogue, written by Oliver Wardrop, covering his trip around the nation of Georgia. Georgia is a small state in the Caucasus region, south of the mountains, resting on the Black Sea. Throughout most of its history it has been squeezed between Russia and Turkey, with Persia playing an important role as well.
While he was only 23 when he made the journey, he went on to be the British High Commissioner after the 1917 Russian Revolution.
It is a topical read, as today in 2004, the Georgian parliament approved the distinctive 'Five Cross Flag' as the national flag after a period of some 500 years.
This reflects the complex history of a state that has only recently regained its independence (1991), and even then has already lost two regions and is under pressure in a third. The conflict with Russia remains a live issue.
He arrived in the coastal port of Batum (Batumi) and made his way to the present capital and largest city Tiflis. From there he made a number of trips by carriage and horse through some pretty rugged and sometimes bandit ridden territory. These included a trip up a Russian built military road to Vladikavkaz, today the capital of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. He also made a long and quite dangerous trip to Signakh (Signagi) in the Kakheti region of modern day Georgia. From there to Telav, in the same region and then back to Tiflis.
It's important to remember that this is a Nineteenth century Englishman, travelling around with some obviously well connected friends. Georgia was part of the Russian empire at this time and the area was garrisoned following the wars in Caucasus to the north. While his views are redolent of the times, they are not as anachronistic as you might expect.
The book ends with a brief history of Georgia until that date and some notes on language and literature.
This was a surprisingly good read and the author describes his journeys and the people he meets well. He clearly fell in love with the country as his subsequent actions show.