Tbilisi in Petrut’s view

Ștefan Cândea
Taking photographs in Turkey seemed much easier. No matter if you were in Ankara or a small mountain village, the streets were teeming with people who sold, bought, pushed, pulled, lifted, ate, cut hair, drank tea or simply didn’t do anything. All you had to do was walk and choose whatever scene you wanted to immortalize.

Perhaps the growing heat has something to do with it, but if you take a walk in Georgia you won’t see a soul on the street. Especially in Old Tbilisi where each time I asked where the people were, I got raised shoulders for answers. The linguistic barrier was set and I was gazing blankly at it waiting for some kind-hearted man to raise it. Apparently everything happens inside common patios (called Italian patios). I wanted to talk to the people of Tbilisi and record on film their secret life unfolding inside their houses. Secret to me, but normal to them. I tried to let myself into their patios and explain by gestures what I wanted to do, but things became a bit complicated because of my overall appearance: I had a rather dubious ‘bald fade’ haircut, consequence of a small misunderstanding with a Georgian barber. I was desperate and this close to giving up and turning to photograph monuments and churches when Ștefan told me he had found a student who could help with the interpreting for a few hours. Mari is in her third year at the University of Tbilisi and is majoring in Politology; she apologizes for not being able to stay long as she has to get back home and look after her little sister. I tell her I want us to take a walk in the Old Centre so I can steal a glance at people’s patios; if and where I find something interesting, I’ll tell her to ask them to let us in so we can take pictures. She seems a bit surprised I don’t want to photograph the famous Georgian churches, but she briskly gets down to business and, in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, there I am, photographing a man who, having been literally ambushed by us, didn’t even get to close up his shirt. A few minutes later, there I am again, taking photos of a young footballer buried among icons after which I make my exit, my photo backpack heavier by 750 ml – in translation: Georgian cognac, a gift from the locals. Obviously the whole situation is beyond me. Mari enters patios, knocks on doors or yells, people get out, we talk to them for about two seconds and the pictures unfurl like wildfire. What I photograph is none of my choice. Mari is in a hurry; however, she gives it her best and manages to offer me a two-hour tour de force. The entire situation is starting to amuse me - especially as the people’s reaction is most natural. They almost apologize for not expecting my visit. None of them refuse me and the hardest part is turning down their offer to stay longer. The buildings are in pretty bad shape, but the common yards and small space shared by many families seem to have fused the Georgian community even more. They cook together, they drink, they laugh and they laze away together, they help one another with renovations and they remain friends. Mari tells me they keep in touch even after they move out. I remember I lived in a studio in Bucharest for 10 years and when I left I didn’t know even one neighbour.