The evening was stifling. It was one of those truly hot late July nights when the pavements quiver and a hint of thunder over the Tbilisi skyline promises relief. Leaving the theatre, my head still processing the tragic love story of Ramona that explores, through the beauty and precision of two (puppet) steam engines, the idea that the past can never be bought back and never be re-captured and that ultimately the real world tramples on romantic love, I felt sad. This trip to Georgia was coming to an end and the stark message in the play had invaded dark memories I had tried so hard to ignore. I had not come to Georgia this time, heady with love and optimism, but rather to face some fears and to try to understand how it was I had fallen in love with a man who was the embodiment of a country that was, underneath, as treacherous and unfaithful as so many others.
Georgia, before her Soviet past and Stalin’s demonic ethnic cleansing and obsession with power, had been full of noble, creative, academic, intelligent people. She was at the forefront of cultural developments and was as progressive as other European courts with regards the arts, theatre, literature and architecture. Echoes of this past permeate the very air. I could hear it in the sacred songs that floated from the churches, and as we walked down Erekle Street it was easy to flash back to the first time he had taken me walking in the night. At the end of that first visit in 2009, after pursuing me all week he offered drive, then a walk on a warm September early morn to Sameba Cathedral, where, if you touch the golden stone, luminous and inviting, it’s easy to connect with the spirit of the earth. From there, we walked up to Kartlis Deda, the mother Georgia statue that commands the skyline and where we had come across a group of men singing folk songs and toasting to the beauty of their first love, Georgia.
He had saved the very best until last. The walk up to Kartlis Deda had been accompanied by cicada song and the heady early morning eucalyptus smells that were so reminiscent of my Australian childhood. The path was steep and I clung to the intermittent railings until, at the top and out of breath I was able to slow my heart beat and look out across the city. It was stunning, and so quiet. The silence was thick with expectation. Then, from somewhere below us came the sound of men singing, long and low. Making our way down, slowly because of the hazardous pathway, we came across them. They had gathered at an elbow point of the precarious path, and they shared with us, their deep red wine, and he sang with them, and blended his voice with theirs and the sound swelled and filled the valley. All points of my compass turned. I teetered on the steep slope as we made our down and the silence between us filled with anticipation. I wondered out loud what would happen if I fell. His reply sealed my fate. ‘I will catch you.’
Back in the present, I realised that the conversation between Nino and Eliso was charged with emotion. Eventually I understood what had happened. Irakli , Nino’s son had called, there had been an earthquake in the mountains whilst we had been in the theatre and its power had been felt for miles around. It was such an unusual event and every one was frightened. I was oblivious.
The Caucasian mountains
Whilst we were
Emotionally distracted by
Metaphors and trains under
Crazy Click towers in the
They grumbled to 4.5 and
Tbilisi tower blocks
Already lacking in
Foundations squared up
Prepared to bluff.
As we wandered past the entrance to the Bridge of Peace and down Erekle II Street towards the bars in the Old Town there was a moment where pools of darkness reassigned themselves and became millponds in which memories dwell. The cobbled pavement was hemmed in either side by scuffed and rotting wooden barriers. To the left, the skeleton of yet another new building, its grey concrete form and jutting steel cables like cactus spikes, loomed over us. To the right, a derelict, tumbling ruin of what was once clearly a magnificent residence, slumped in on itself and played host to wild yellow roses that grew rampant from empty stone surrounded windows. There were gaps in the wooden boards and as I pressed my face to them I heard Nino sigh, ‘This was my childhood home’
Spinning round I saw her characteristically shrug her shoulders as I bombarded her with questions. ‘What had happened?’ ‘Who had lived here?’ When did you leave?’ Why is it still here?’ ‘Why did you leave?’