Marks


Tbilisi is a city that lies on a crossroads, a cultural fault line, between the West and the East; and perhaps it should also be said, between North and South. Long have its powerful neighbors held the region as the apple of their eyes, and long have they vied for a foothold, a base of power here. As a result, Tbilisi has been beseiged, destroyed, and rebuilt many times in the course of history.

A stroll through the central parts of the city reveals some evidence of this, but it must be said that architecturally, with the exception of some noteworthy historic structures (churches, mostly), its buildings are, by and large, of recent vintage, that is to say, from the 19th century to the present day. The most suggestive and evocative structures of the city are perhaps the network of small streets that pass through neighborhoods of ramshackle buildings, where repairs, when they are even bothered with, have a decidedly improvised quality.

This almost casual attitude is also reflected in the walls of the buildings that limn this spider’s web of alleys and lanes. They are striking not only for the copiousness of their handwritten marks, but also for the way they hint, in foreshortened form, at this old city’s profoundly layered and multi-ethnic history. Writing, carving, and signage in at least three alphabets, and even more languages, are commonly seen by those passing down any of the streets where the property developers have not yet taken hold.

It seems a delicate thing, almost ethereal, too fragile for us to believe it will exist for long. One expects, at every turn, the ghosts to step out of the shadows. But Tbilisi is developing rapidly, and how long these picturesque quarters will last, with their shadowy and romantic scenes, where old people dressed in black struggle up steep unpaved streets, young boys play games in the dust, and cats bathe lazily in the sun, is anyone’s guess.


Ensemble Soinari: Nobody refused. From the album Idjassi (2005)


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