Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tbilisi at Christmas, Part I. Or: Photos of things that are not Christmas-y. Or: Tidings of Shakira be with you this night.

A day late, a dollar short, my friends, but my Tbilisi at Christmas gallery is finally at hand. And, if you think about it, which you haven't, the decorations are not actually in celebration of December the twenty-fifth; for one thing, Georgia is an Orthodox nation, and it celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. And, secondly, Christmas there (I am not there, at the moment) is a subdued religious holiday. The large secular holiday, at which there is a large tree and pretty lights and presents, is actually New Year's. Thus, my Tbilisi at Almost New Year's Gallery is right on time, friends! See, it's all in how you look at things.

I took these photos over the course of quite an interesting weekend. It was interesting not in the sense of interesting things happening -- very few interesting things happened -- but in the sense that it was the first time I've been alone at all in the capital. I was waiting on a flight from Tbilisi to London on Monday, and there were a smattering of people there that weekend, but I really only spent some of one day with any of them. Sunday and Monday morning, I was totally free to wander around completely on my own, which is something I haven't really done in a large city since I was living in (ok, near, shut up) New York City last fall. It's both an enjoyable and a discomfiting experience, for me. I'm not entirely comfortable wandering around on my own without anyone to natter with, but it provides a certain calm that is enjoyable occasionally. So I spent Sunday wandering around the city, buying gifts and taking photographs. Here are the photographs that just show Tbilisi, without holiday lights and such. The next post, Part Two, will be of Christmas-y (or New Year's-y, or whatever) things. So keep your pants on, until then (I'm just pretending that you haven't seen that post yet, because as I write this, that post does not exist. Of course, when it does exist, it will exist above this one, meaning you will have already seen it when you read this. Whatever.).

This is the statue of St. George in the middle of Tavisuplebis Moedani, or Freedom Square. You can see that he is on his horse, stabbing the mythical dragon. Or perhaps not so mythical dragon. I make no judgments. The Georgians are quite fond of St. George; this is why the place is called "Georgia" in English, although Mr. St. George is not to be found in the Georgians' own name for their country ("Sakartvelo" -- which means, creatively, "Place where the Kartvelebi, or Georgians, live). I was around Freedom Square early in the afternoon, shopping for presents, and I saw the skeleton of lights beneath St. George, and I decided I would come back at night, to take a photo of what must be an awesomely illuminated display. It turns out, as you shall see soon, that these particular lights were not turned on. Perhaps they are only for the New Year's Celebration. I was mightily disappointed. There are no actual lights in this photograph, just the PROMISE of lights, and thus it is in Post Number One.

Here is one of many churches in Tbilisi, and yet another statue that is probably of King David the Builder, who unified the country from its several different parts, and is the most popular of the Georgian monarchs.

Oh my god! Another church! It's almost like this is sort of a religious country. This is a very nice looking church in Old Tbilisi, across a small park from the "Rodeo Drive"-style section of the city, which is a latticework of very small streets near the river where there are expensive restaurants and an art gallery or two. Not a very volunteer-friendly area, unless they start having Have Some Free Art Saturdays, or something. This church has a giant rock in its courtyard. I'm not sure why. Perhaps Jesus put it there.

This is a statue called "Our Mother," which stands on a hill overlooking the city, kind of like Christ the Redeemer in Rio, if Christ the Redeemer had stone, half-spherical breasts. It is said that the sword in one hand is for Georgia's enemies, and the bowl of wine in the other is for Georgia's friends. And the stone, half-spherical breasts are for Georgia's friends-with-benefits.

This is outside Sioni Cathedral, which I believe is the most important church in Tbilisi - perhaps the main church in Georgian Orthodoxy. This throng of people was waiting for this man:

This man is Ilia the Second, who is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. People really, really like touching Ilia the Second. I was in Ozurgeti, a town near my own, for a ceremony in which they opened a new church. The Patriarch came for this ceremony, which was a huge, huge deal. They built new fountains in the park outside this church, and shut off all the water in town for two days to feed these fountains on the morning of the Patriarch's arrival. The Patriarch arrived in a HELICOPTER, which seems dangerous for a man of his age, and said some words before circling the new church. I was almost stampeded multiple times during this ritual, as people rammed into each other to try to get closer to him.

People coming out of Sioni Cathedral.

Two more photos of Sioni Cathedral.

The lighted tower on the right side of this photo is a normal fixture of the Tbilisi skyline along the river; I have no earthly idea what it's for. The small, lit stage on the left is NOT a normal fixture. When I took this photograph, the pop star Shakira had just finished giving probably the biggest concert in the history of Tbilisi. At least, that's how people had been referring to it. Some hotel chain paid her, according to a news story I read, $1-2 million to come give this concert. I did not attend the concert, but I walked across the river towards it as it was apparently ending, and it seemed as if the entire population of the city had attended. They were probably quite excited. The second biggest concert in the history of Tbilisi was a Joe Cocker concert. And his hips just can't keep up with Shakira's.

Here you can see Our Mother on her hill, from across the river.

And here you can see the almost-as-lyrically-beautiful red and white television tower. Russian music channels for Georgia's enemies, Turkish pornography for Georgia's friends.

And here you can see some of the riverfront, with the strange lit tower on the left, and Our Mother on the hill to the right. Sioni Cathedral and Old Town are on the right riverbank near where this was taken.

This photo holds significance because it is a photo of the Turkish Sulfer Baths, also near Old Town. More specifically, this is the very sulfer bath outside of which our volunteer group took our group portrait mere minutes after touching down in Tbilisi for the first time at 4 o'clock in the morning on (I believe) June 16th. I barely remember the photo event happening at this site. We were a bit delirious. If there are staff members reading this, I would like a copy of that photograph, in large enough detail that I can see everyone's faces, so I can see who seems likely to still remember that moment, and who is like me in barely being able to remember how they got off the airplane. Just for kicks, let me quote myself, in all my sage wisdom, from the blog entry I wrote a day or two after this event:

We touched down in Tbilisi at around 4am, local time. We were met by an impressive number of people, all of whom seemed way too cheery and happy to be meeting us, considering it was four o’clock in the morning. I was running on pure adrenaline and likely making an ass of myself with incessant talking and joking...We were herded onto busses and out into the capital of Georgia. I was still going adrenaline-strong, so I didn’t reflect on it THAT much at the time, but I can’t imagine having had a more surreal experience in my entire life. There’s no way to prepare for such a moment, and there’s unfortunately not much way to adequately describe it to you. I don’t think I am good enough with words to describe it here. I’ll have to get some photos from those who were taking them (ashamedly, I wasn’t, because my camera was buried in one of my bags for the flight and I knew I’d soon be much too tired to be wanting to carry it around, even during one of the most seminal moments of my life so far) and post them for you. I can say that the city is
beautiful, an intoxicating mix of modernity and ancient-looking buildings. There are lighted areas with well-paved roads and billboards and gas stations, but most of the buildings look like they’re older than the entire United States of America, and many of the streets somehow seem to have a cinematic quality to them, as if they’re too storybook to be real and they must have been built for a movie set. I have done some traveling in my life, but I’ve never seen anyplace like this. It’s not that it’s the most beautiful place in the entire world – I’ve been on top of the Acropolis and inside the Colosseum and sitting above the harbor in Singapore – but it seems to be one of the most indescribably beautiful. It will take much more time spent in the city, perhaps, to be able to put my finger on it...After taking group photos at some sulfur bath in Tbilisi (though I saw neither sulfur nor any baths – it seemed like a clay sort of half-spherical structure across a road from several of those movie-set-looking houses), our bus took us through the city, snaking up an interminably long switchback mountain road, and several minutes into the countryside...

Eek. Friends, don't let your friends set-off-on-a-stressful-new-life-adventure-and-post. "An intoxicating mix"? Let's just move on.

A nice bit of patriotism to cleanse the palate. St. George is mauling the dragon in a manner similar to that in which I mauled the English language in that quoted passage.

Tbilisi at Christmas, Part Two, coming up.


nini said...

its a pitty that you couldnt see the 'christmas tree' shining, on the Freedom Square. :) it was very beautiful.. and it wasnt made for only was shining before New Year too :) so i am very glad actualy that you liked our Tbilisi. if you saw georgian's confused faces looking at you, you shouldnt pay any attention on them, because we are not used to see forigners, or tourists here. well, at least that often...... i wonder where did you see those "cinema houses"... :) i live here all my life, but i never mentioned that kind of buildings.. anyway i wrote this BIG comment, because i really liked that you wrote this big kind of an article about Tbilisi... ( although some of the things were funny, mostly your opinions and stuff )

Ilona Basilyan said...

CORRECTION: (second picture from the top) It's a statue of Vakhtang Gorgasali (not the King David, the Builder)