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GEORGIA HAS BEEN on our mind --...


GEORGIA HAS BEEN on our mind -- Tbilisi's Georgia, not Ted Turner's. What name will that independent nation-state assume, for its own use?

To the Russians, it has long been Gruzia; to its Iranian and Armenian neighbors, respectively, Gurjistan and Vrastan.

Marching through Georgian history, some 2,500 years of it, one arrives back at the Greeks, whose word for that cultivated scene was georgos, meaning fertile. This was some while before England, and English kings named George, and their North American colony named Dzhordzhya.

Go all the way back in the Caucasus -- that mountainous, seismic isthmus between Black Sea and Caspian -- and one approaches Noah. His son Japheth had a grandson, Togmarah, and his second son was named Karthlos. Tbilisians are descended from Karthlos, and call themselves Karthlis or Karthvelis.

Even the geographers get confused in that region. In antiquity, ,, Iberia was a Hispanic placename. Next door to Georgia, there used to be a second Iberia. Albania, which we place beside the Adriatic Sea, was another part of the Caucasian countryside.

Georgia, U.S.A., is twice the size of Georgia, C.I.S., and Atlanta's 1996 Olympics will doubtless make American Georgia many times the famouser. But local cultures abide. Out there on the bridge between Europe and Asia, it seems likely, few babies are being christened Scarlett or Rhett, or Jane or Ted, or Dzhordzh.

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THE LATEST testament to Yuppie ingenuity could be a boon to the Chesapeake Bay. It's called oyster gardening. Oysters are raised off a backyard pier in a mesh bag or floating tray.

The appeal of these pet mollusks to the environmentally aware is their amazing appetite for oxygen-consuming algae -- the undesirable offshoot of nitrogen and phosphorous that come from poorly treated sewage and the runoff from farming and development. A single oyster goes through about 50 gallons of this stuff each day.

Not surprisingly, people are looking to capitalize on the algae-eating pet craze. Michelle Cummins, a 24-year old

Pasadena entrepreneur, has sold equipment and oysters to nearly three dozen people in Anne Arundel County and in the town of St. Michaels across the bay on the Eastern Shore. The young Crassostrea virginica run $25 to $38 per 100, a mesh bag will set you back about $14 and a floating tray with a plastic foam cover costs $20.

A note of caution: If you are thinking about farming the little bivalves for culinary purposes, forget it. State officials warn that oysters grown near the shore or under piers may contain bacteria from sewage or other pollutants. Still, if you happen to have a backyard pier handy, this is one way you can do your part for Mother Earth.

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