As we enter Batumi itself comes a new odor -- oil, the key to the modern city's existence. The derricks of a medium-sized port stand like giant storks. Batumi's origins are as a terminal for Caspian oil back in the 1880s, when it saw the birth of the Shell Oil company. Two years ago a new pipeline from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, opened 70 kilometers north at Supsa, and the black liquid link with the rest of the world began in earnest again.
The next morning we drive up to the splendid, but much neglected Botanical Gardens. Standing among blossom petals spread across unkempt ground, I look down the coast and suddenly remember a moment ten years ago during the Soviet period, gazing in the same direction. Then the distant line of white mountains over in Turkey lay "outside", beyond the Iron Curtain. It seemed a place of fantastic, almost unbelievable promise. Georgia then exported virtually nothing to the west, and most people thought it was in America.
At the time, I asked a young Ajarian woman what she dreamed about for her country. "Travel for us, and for you all to find out about our country." When she spoke she was standing right under a large civic picture of Lenin, symbol of everything stopping Georgia in its tracks.