Tbilisi, Georgia

Ștefan Cândea
At the weekend we relaxed ourselves a bit by trying out several local temples of the Georgian wine. Cool and rotund carafes watching one like a hawk at every turn are the only real danger breathing down one’s neck in this country. (On sale for about 3 Euros/ one litre and a half) We start the week with a systematic tour of the city. For someone used to the hustle and bustle of Turkish towns, Tbilisi seems a dead city. Lateral little streets appear utterly deserted. The communists didn’t demolish a thing here and the Old Town stretches away between rocky hills separated by what appears to be a water stream. What the communists did overlook is be slowly, but surely, coming into being in this democratic Georgian era. The Old Centre – most of it, anyway – is on the verge of collapse. You won’t find a house that isn’t this close to crumbling down. Many are halfway collapsed and the half which is still standing seems to be accommodating people. From the street, one can see local house interior segments – living-rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens – halfway crumbled. The part still standing exposes the remaining wallpaper, furniture and other objects one usually finds in a house.

One explanation for this disaster would be that in the rocky soil downtown there are massive water infiltrations which eat away at the foundations. There is also an obvious lack of money for more serious works. And yet, there are a few streets completely renovated where the houses look in mint condition. These are streets chock-full of restaurants and bars – at the tables, conversations in English prevail. An artificial graft on the Old Town’s ailing surface. A local journalist tells us there are business plans to transplant the inhabitants of the Old Centre into the new buildings. Those in charge of the operations intend to demolish the old houses and erect new constructions.

We quickly leave the Old Centre to go to the area of blocks of flats. The New Town continues on the right and left of the centre like Salvador Dalí’s flamboyant tapered moustaches, with pretty narrow segments of new neighborhoods. An underground dug deep connects the ends of the town. We admire that je ne sais quoi of communist blocks and the local craftsmen’s mastery. Everybody has closed up or extended the balcony his or her own way. Here it isn’t double glazing that spells new financial potency, but rather the possibility of extending one’s balcony, somewhere from the middle of the block, with a platform as wide as a new room. Such annexes embellish virtually every communist building.

Somewhere, in the middle of the city, when passing to the area of blocks, from a gangway in construction we see three bears. Small and scrawny, they mechanically sway to and fro, resembling a bunch of street children. Passers-by take their picture with the mobile phones. We approach what proves to be a Zoo in the middle of the city. Suddenly, the atmosphere quickly heats up. A river of children floods in through the narrow gates. And suddenly, it hits us – it’s June 1st: Children’s Day. The zoo park stretches along a communist block. Living in rather confined enclosures which lack vegetation, wolves, hyenas, cheetahs, panthers, monkeys, zebras and an elephant herd together. A pack of wolves is grinding against the bars – the leader of the pack, transfixed with pleasure, is scratched by the visitors.

We exit the jungle and go for a bite to a terrace nearby. The speakers delight our ears with a Romanian manea, something about Mariana and Rodica.