Georgia: On the Road to Europe
Tbilisi, Georgia: On the Road to Europe
By Natalia Motili
At three o’clock in the morning, the road from the airport to the center of the city seemed long, but it was well lighted. Many parts of the road had been dug up and closed, so it was necessary to use the darker, narrower streets of Tbilisi. We had to drive on several cobbled streets, what strengthened impression of an ancient city.
Georgia is very eager to become a part of Europe, and the declarations of politicians and other high officials from the TV screens and printed pages are the best proof of it. This intention is also supported by different organizations and institutions, which hurry to change their signboards, written in Russian for hundreds of years, with similar ones in English.
National Geographic and other foreign publications are sold in Tbilisi on the streets along with local newspapers. People speak about integration to Europe at the bus stations and in art galleries.
A Love of Beauty
One can find an art gallery in Tbilisi every 100 meters, where painters, photographers and other artists display their work. Georgians have a great love of beauty which is also evident in the beautifully preserved buildings and neighborhoods of Tiblisi.
Before the arrival of US President George Bush in 2005, the center of Tbilisi got “plastic surgery”: the facades of the buildings were repaired, and bright make-up was applied that gave the city’s central avenue a whole new look.
The secondary streets continue to have downcast appearance. When you see cracks in the walls of the residential buildings and churches which appeared as a result of the 1991 earthquake, it becomes clear that one more earthquake would be devastating for these old damaged structures.
Lovers of the Sun
Burning sun can also be a disaster. One day the city was without electricity for several hours, when wires melted from the heat.
But people in Georgia are more resistant than metal. Even during the hottest day nobody in Tbilisi wears sunglasses, or a hat. A foreigner can be recognized immediately by wearing this stuff.
Probably Georgians love the sun so much that they consider it a sin to hide from it. They sing hymns of praise to the sun. The symbol of the sun is one of the symbols of Georgia and can be found on the walls of the ancient churches, on the tails of modern airplanes and on banknotes and other objects which are identified with Georgia.
One gets the impression that Georgian men flirt with the sun using their handkerchiefs. Just follow how many operations they do with handkerchiefs: they twist, swing, roll up, whirl, wave, fold, crumple, and wet them. Georgian men also attract attention by their greeting each other: clapping each other’s backs and kissing each other. Women do not express such a vivid delight meeting each other.
Georgian children, even small ones, are very expressive. Boys make gestures similar to those of grown-ups, using their hands to accentuate their words.
As Georgians hurry to enter Europe, they have begun rapidly repairing their roads. The whole center of the city is undergoing construction and every day more and more black asphalt brings Georgia closer to Europe.
Multiple flags with European symbols also prove that Tbilisi is almost a European capital. European symbols are seen often in the city – even on the flowerbed in the city center, where the flag of Europe seem embroidered by blue and yellow flowers.
Georgia has a lot of monuments – and not only architectural. Sculptures of different famous historical figures, artists, and scientists are to be found in the most unexpected places. But the figure of woman – Mother Georgia – keeps watch over everything that happens in the city, standing high on the hill, on duty night and day. She is friendly and threatening in the same time: she holds a bowl in one hand and sword in the other.
Georgians adopted Christianity in the 4th century AD and since then they have always been tolerant of other religions. In Tbilisi one can find the churches and temples of Jews, Armenians, Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the same neighborhood, at a distance of 100 meters. And what is more important – they are active.
Georgia is a truly rich country. Its richness consists in extremely diverse landscapes, minerals, agricultural products and the many examples of its rich historical heritage. There are many legends about the wealth of ancient Georgia because the “Silk Road” from China to the West passed through its borders. According to Greek legend, the Argonauts from Greece went to Colhis (part of modern Georgia) to obtain the “The Golden Fleece”.
Georgia’s rich heritage can be seen not only in museums, but all around. Antiquities are sold in Tbilisi at the open-air market like fruits and vegetables. But the main treasuries of any country are its people, and it does not matter if they are poor or rich. And after getting to know the people of Georgia you understand why, in that regard, it is a very rich country.
The old taxi “Volga” drives us toward the airport through the ancient city of Tbilisi, which stretches along Kura river. Our time in Georgia passed quickly. The taxi also goes quite quickly this time on the new roads, which are freshly paved. The meter in the taxi shows kilometers and rubles, although Georgia has used its own currency — the lari — for a long time.
If the people of Georgia keep up their determination to become a part of Europe, on our next visit to Georgia we may be paying the taxi driver in euros.
Natalia Motili works for an international organization providing assistance to local governments in Moldova. She likes to travel and writes about places she visited and people she met. She is married to painter Ghenadie Sontu.