A Walk Around Town

Went for a walk around town last week, taking pictures, visiting neighbourhoods I hadn’t seen before.  This picture is from the old town; there’s a pleasant, leafy square, at one end of which a group of middle-aged men had gathered, drinking vodka, eating bread and ham, and shooting the breeze.  As I walked by, one of them called “Guten Morgen!”, so I answered in German, and we started chatting.  Soon they were pouring a finger of vodka in little plastic cups, and making the inevitable toasts: to our countries, to women, to our ancestors…One of them insisted on getting some authentic Georgian booze, instead of the insipid Ukrainian vodka they had, weaved up the street to his house, bringing back a little coke bottle of chacha, rhapsodically extolled Georgian wines and spirits, and the rounds of toasts started again.  Once my head started to spin, I made my excuses and managed to break away from them.

Down towards Charden Street, I ran into the usual suspects, and had a bite of lunch.  Ian had to go back to work, so Ben and I decided to walk around the old town, and perhaps go visit the castle perched on Mtatsminda, overlooking the city.  The old part of the city, nestled between the river and the castle, is a pleasant maze of crumbling but charming streets opening into the occasional square, where old women sit by vegetable stalls or makeshift tables with bowls of sunflower seeds and pistachios.  These are actually everywhere in town—nibbling seeds and loitering seem to occupy a great deal of Georgians’ time, particularly the men, who alternately smoke and spit out sunflower seed shells while standing around street-corners for what must be hours every day.  One frequently sees zones of sunflower seed debris on the sidewalks, near benches and street-corners, evidence that someone had lounged there at some point that afternoon.  As one climbs the hill towards the castle, the dwellings get more and more dilapidated, more shabby, and more shanty-town-like.  Little wooden shacks tucked into corners formed by the rock the mountainside, or between ancient stone buildings, fenced in by twisted, rusting chicken-wire and surrounded by old, decaying parts of unidentifiable machinery, line the streets as one winds up towards the castle.  Cats slink and slouch furtively along the battered sidewalks, and dogs materialize out of darkened doorways and bark with teeth bared.  Ben had apparently visited something called a Fire Temple, dedicated to Zoroaster, on his last visit, and so we tried to find it.  Eventually he thought he recognized where it had been previously, but it was surrounded by a brick wall and barred by a locked door.  This is Ben climbing the stairway to Zoroaster’s temple.

The path to the castle crawls up the hillside under the shadow of Kartlis Deda, the “Mother of Georgia”, a 20m statue holding a sword in one hand, and a goblet of wine in the other.  Everyone says this is an apt symbol for Georgia—always either fighting or drinking.  Georgians are fond of telling the mythical story of the creation of Georgia: when God was distributing the land of the Earth to its people, allotting to each according to the manner and sincerity of their worship of Him, the Georgians, having just finished some battle or other, had sat down to a supra, drinking copious amounts of wine.  God, having finished distributing the land, came to the Georgians and said that he had, unfortunately, parcelled out all the Earth’s land.  The Georgian’s responded with a hearty toast to God, and invited him to join them in their feasting.  A short while later God agreed to give them the part of the Earth he had reserved for himself.

Views from the castle.

Finally, as I was walking back, I came across a small group of students standing in front of the parliament languidly waving Georgian flags and holding cardboard signs (which unfortunately I couldn’t read), in a mild sort of protest at something or other.  Apparently this sort of thing happened much more frequently, and on a much larger scale, in the weeks following the start of the conflict, just before I arrive in Tbilisi.  Since I’ve been here it’s been pretty quiet, with no protests or demonstrations.


One Response

  1. Mshvenieri sitia.

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