2019-06-23 Georgia

A while ago I wrote about the week I spent in Armenia. See 2019-06-01 Armenia. Once we had reached the northern frontier to Georgia, we left our Armenian tour guide behind, walked through the border control and started a one week trip through Georgia. What follows are my impressions, and a link to some pictures.

They have three different scripts. Wow!

Of the three scripts, Mkhedruli, once the civilian royal script of the Kingdom of Georgia and mostly used for the royal charters, is now the standard script for modern Georgian and its related Kartvelian languages, whereas Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri are used only by the Georgian Orthodox Church, in ceremonial religious texts and iconography. – Wikipedia

The sun is very bright and it’s hard to take decent pictures in Georgia. And it’s very hot, too. There are many tourists in Tbilisi.

The backstreets of the Tbilisi old town are dirt poor. This contrasts harshly with the glass-and-steel constructions of the Bridge of Peace, the president’s palace, and the residence of “the Boss”. No, this is not Bruce Springsteen. Up where the old fortress stands, next to the giant statue of “Mother Georgia” is another multi-storied, glass-and-steel construction that belongs to “the Boss”. The explanation given was this: Salome Zourabichvili might be the president, but the guy giving the orders is “the Boss,” some sort of rich Georgian who made a fortune in Russia or something. And that’s exactly how Georgia felt: the population is poor, the houses are falling apart, everything has seen better times, but there is also a class of very rich people who like to spend money – and maybe launder it, too? – on fancy projects: a new cathedral.

I’ve taken some pictures of Tbilisi, looking away from the bustling tourist areas, the water fountains, the green parks, the women singing in old churches, the coffee houses and luxury stores. I looked at the backyards within a few hundred meters of our hotel, in Metekhi, the old town. It looks as if there simply was no money to rebuild after a small earthquake. Buildings still stand, but there are sometimes huge gaps between the bricks. Half a house fell away but people still live in the remaining ruin. Half a church still stand. Right next to it, a fancy hotel has been built. A building is for sale and there are holes in the balconies.

Sadly, no pictures allowed inside the church while service is ongoing. I loved the singing. A priest reads a few monotonous lines and then a faint chorus of three or four women sing a few words. I don’t understand a thing. It sounds like a lovely affirmation of their faith. I watch them. The priest is facing forward, doesn’t look at anybody as he reads. The women are whispering amongst each other, looking at the gawking tourists, at the solemn faithful. As the priest comes to the end of his paragraph, they look at each other and sing their words again. So beautiful.

It breaks my heart to see grown people cry. I am not a religious person. The music touches me, but not the words. So I stand and gawk like the others. The people kissing the icons. The people cross themselves as they enter a church. I suspect that they also cross themselves as they see a church. They also cross themselves multiple times as they step out of church, always facing the church, walking backward, carefully, sometimes looking behind themselves to make sure they don’t stumble and fall out of the church, then crossing themselves again. I chuckle as I see this. The ground is often uneven, has been uneven in Armenian churches, too. That’s because so many people have been buried inside the churches. The floor is made of gravestones.

I look around again. The old churches have frescos. Pictures of Jesus and kings and animals and holy men and I don’t know what. They tell me that the Russians whitewashed most of these walls when Georgia was part of Tsarist Russia. Restoration is slow and expensive. Sometimes the uppermost part of a dome still has the original fresco. All this red! It’s strange. The churches I’ve seen are usually not painted. If at all, we have colourful church windows. Sometimes the people have their faces vandalised, or their eyes. They tell it was the huns who did terrible things in these churches and didn’t want the holy men to see what they were doing. It’s weird.

And then I step into a church where women are singing. One of them is crying. Another church. The priest is reading the scripture. On a bench along the wall is a woman, crying and holding her child. Another church. People are singing inside. Here, by the stairs, a woman is pressing her hand onto a slab of carved stone, tears streaming down her face. This breaks my heart, to see grown people cry. I don’t believe in God, but these people definitely need an invisible friend. They need more than that, of course. Hope, prospects, security, peace. I move on, but the memory keeps haunting me.

I see man old people begging in Tbilisi. I make sure to always have some change in my pockets and if I can, I hand out some coins.

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