memories of georgia (pt1)

I don’t really care how exaggerated this may sound… but few places have been so important in shaping my sense of myself like the country of Georgia.

First time I visited Georgia was in 2014. I had been entertaining the idea already for some time back then, and finally I made the decision when an opportunity to volunteer in European Voluntary Service programme opened. Imagining the taste of Lagidze water in my mouth, the sound of polyphonic singing in my ears, and the sight of cylindrical volumes of centuries-old monasteries in my eyes – my senses slowly started to wake from the dullness of everyday life.

I still remember my first sight of Georgia in the early hours of that day sometime in late September 2014., with the flag with the cross of st. George – not unlike the English one – fluttering above the neo-classicist monstrosity on the harsh mountain wind. But it was a warm and gentle autumn; the kind that one can find in the beautiful south anywhere in Europe. Rustaveli Avenue – radiant, broad and clean, worthy of Paris – slowly merging into the haughty poshness of Vake District or oriental Old Town, lovely and charming as if it came straight from Yesenin’s Persian motifs; drops of water on my naked skin as we swim in Tbilisi Sea alone late, late at night; the sheer excitement of accelerating underground train while I observe almost starved figures of red-haired boys, attractive raven-haired but pale young women in black tights and equally dark coats as well as old men wearing traditional Svan hats as their moustache turns yellow with all that tobacco. As we feast of lavish Georgian cuisine – so much different from stern and scanty Russian one – washing it down with grappa-style chacha or mild Kakhetian wine, I look at the reproduction of Pirosmani’s painting above us. Is it simply a poor man’s fantasy of what the Georgia’s true riches are or a faithful representation of life in a country that finally managed to find peace from the foreign invaders who had ravaged it for centuries? A bus trip to Mtskheta where the fine stonemasonry of Svetitskhoveli cathedral overwhelms me as I imagine the glorious beam of Christian faith shedding a light onto these cloud-covered mountains more than millenium and a half ago, but also the golden hour at the larger-than-life Chronicles of Georgia monument upon my return where I ponder the conspicuous similarity of faces of towering medieval heroes with the phisionomy of actual people around me… I quickly recall W.B Yeats dictum of Byzantine Empire as a unique place in written history in which the unity of religious, aesthetic and practical life had been achieved – couldn’t the same words be uttered about medieval Georgian civilization, mighty and even fearsome, a sort of terrible beauty? Everything seemed to feel like haze, as if I were slowly slipping from reality into a dream surrounded by a pleasant warmth. In Chiatura, a forgotten mining town, yet again I am mesmerized by an icon of st. George slaying the dragon against the aethereal golden background. Nowhere else did I feel such a mystic dreamlike quality of otherworldliness which is able to arouse that long-forgotten childlike sense of awe and astonishment even in a grown-up person. The same spirit that expressed itself in polyphonic singing, in glowing illuminations of medieval manuscripts, in monk’s life in a darkened monastery cell is still there squeezed within the modest space of a destitute Soviet apartment block, smoldering like a little inextinguishable flame.

It is already mid-November, and a daring swim in the cold waters of Black Sea sobers me up. Just a few days later I find myself in front of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s statue in his native village – 20th century is here again, futurism, the real life problems of village life in almost a Third World country. My stay is slowly coming to an end and my home is keenly awaiting me

(to be continued)