The cableway was an especially popular and emblematic instrument of the former Soviet tourism. Where a mountain loomed around a popular resort place, there sooner or later also appeared the ropeway, the monument of Soviet industry, providing at the same time the illusion of the subjugation of nature, of consumption, and of a kind of materialized and allowed mysticism. In Yalta they built even two, and we are going to try both of them. The first one lets the tourist fly to Ay-Petri, the mountain of Saint Peter, rising 1.200 meters high immediately at the seashore and offering a dizzying spectacle over the city. And the second one, the cable car taking you directly from the corso to Darsan Hill in the city center, was the focus of the key scene of Assa (1989), the cult film of the Soviet change of regime: by getting on it, the lovers rise above the stifling Soviet reality and their own fears, with the most magical song of the late 80s, the Golden City sounding in the background, about which we have written in detail. For the former viewers of Assa to enter the cable cabin also means a time travel: over twenty-five years the scene has not changed much, maybe just the domes of the Alexander Nevsky Catheral were regilded.

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Akvarium: Город золотой (Golden city). Mosfilm recently does not allow the embedding of this video, but you must necessarily lsten to this song together with the video taken from the film. See here the lyrics and its translation.

However, the most spectacular realization of Soviet cableway is tied to a city which is not golden at all, which at those times knew no tourists, and even today it is still not easy to get there. The city of Chiatura in the Imereti region of Georgia was at that time the main source of manganese production not only in the Soviet Union, but in all the world. The narrow inner part of the city lying in a deep canyon is completely filled by the manganese mine and the Stalin Baroque city center, so the workers living in the socialist blocks of houses built on the top of the cliffs were transported down there and back by an intricate network of aerial tramways. Seventeen of the aged cableway lines still work, offering such a post-apocalyptic dimension of their symbolism as a monument of Soviet industry, which its builders in the heyday of manganese mining probably did not have in mind. A photo report on these was published earlier at the Russian Livejournal, but the pictures of the excellent New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple, which appeared just a few days ago in The Atlantic, emphasize more dramatically this dimension.

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Interestingly, right next to Chiatura works the other cableway that maximizes the other symbolic value of the Soviet cable car, the experience of the metaphorical elevation associated with the material ascension. The romantic appearance of the Katskhi Cliff invites sublime associations, so it is no wonder that Father Maxime from adolescent age – “when I used to drink with friends in the hills around here” – longed to someday live on its top as a lonely stylite. After lengthy detours – “I drank, sold drugs, everything” – he eventually realized this dream. The needs of the body are provided for by the comfortably furnished cell and the food regularly sent up via ropeway by the monks living in the monastery below, while the maintenance of the soul’s constant level of elevation by the unique view. “It is up here in the silence that you can feel God’s presence”, points out Father Maxime with satisfaction the fast way of mysticism. And the Georgian national tourist administration, to cater this spiritual experience to a possibly large public, plans to build a cable way for passenger transport from the valley to the hermitage on the cliff.

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These photos are by Amos Chapple, too. But some further good photo series on the cliff can be also found at Russian photo bloggers, like masterok or cyxymi. And the unknown blog author at even managed to meet with Fater Maxime himself, who often descends to the monastery to live some social life:

“As I arrived at the monastery, I was offered buckwheat porridge and three glasses of «Odessa» wine, and they said that if I wish to settle there permanently, I am welcome at any time. And then suddenly appeared Father Maxime, whose portrait below I managed to capture for the history. He posed to me two or three polite questions. And then something very strange happened. I gathered my things, and headed toward the exit. Two boys came with me, and at the gate they gave me 10 lari (about 5 USD). «Father Maxime asked us to give it to you», they said.

Mysterious. I would have willingly talked to him a bit about this long and terrible journey. But in the end I did not talk. From his point of view I might have been just a banal tourist with a large camera.”

2 comentarios:

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...

As posted on G+

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Rupert, as always!