My fascination with mountains, and the Caucasus in particular, goes a long way back. Maybe some day I will document it in the full nauseating detail it deserves. But for now, just a brief “word instead of a preface”.
It was through this album that I first learned about Dagestan – a “stan” I’d never heard of, nestled in the restive north Caucasus mountains, next door to Chechnya. With a population of nearly 3 million, speaking 30+ languages.
Of the 3 languages featured on the album, it was Avar (the largest one with all of 730,000 speakers) that grabbed my attention, with its guttural pops and creaks that made it sound more like the speech of a fictional race of extraterrestrial warriors than anything human (the apostrophe-heavy transcriptions of the song titles – “Kh’uwativ sh’ai qu’at’azav”, “Ak’lu tle ebel” – only reinforced this Klingon-like impression), with a great, but unknown, literary and oral tradition, with its own pantheon of poets and writers, some of whose verses were set to music in those songs, lyrics only hinted at in descriptions about girls’ hearts shattering like pearls from a string and other such things.
So of course I had to learn it.
But I quickly ran into trouble – the difficulty, lack of decent (or any) learning material and the sheer impracticality of it all made me drop it as quickly as I’d picked it up.
After a few more abortive attempts I continued to feed my interest in Dagestan by reading and listening to music but otherwise dismissed the idea of ever learning it. Instead, I turned my attention to “easier” Georgian and, in an unexpected turn of events, ended up flying away to Georgia and living there for a few years.
It was about a year ago, as my Georgian adventure was nearing its end, that I made the acquaintance of an Avar and the germ of something-as-yet-unclear was planted. After a lazy, unpromising start, I finally picked up the grammar books (there is nothing that could even charitably be called a “textbook”) and a bilingual Russian-Avar edition of “Taras Bulba” and started learning again, so many years after that first wide-eyed encounter.
That was nearly two months ago and to my surprise, it keeps going. Where it will go nobody knows, indeed, it’s quite possible it will go nowhere. But anyway I decided to start this blog.