It has been 20 years since the country gained independence and began to change. The new Georgian government altered it beyond recognition in the last 10 years. Traces of the recent past were erased preventively. They may have missed something.
The streets I passed through with my mother, hanging on her wrist. She would pull my hand away and beg me not to remove her skin.All Souls’ Day. All the cemeteries are clad in marble and covered in pieces of cake and eggshells. Faces have not kept the well-meaning expression they had at the service. “Hey, so you smoke?“ - addressed to me. “How can you take pictures in a church? “Hanging loudspeakers. A broadcast. It seems I’m in Trabzon.
“We’re not going to the bathhouse, it’s dirty in the baths and there’s syphilis… “
To start shooting men in the baths I go to the store for chacha (70-degree alcohol) - for courage. It’s my lucky day. Today is a holiday and the men are well-disposed. On the women’s side everyone has pursed lips. Jealousy. The washer scrubs me brutally with a washcloth. I have sunburns on my arms and neck. I endure. I go back to the men’s half to finish shooting. Then back home to bandage the grazes.
Market of forbidden things. The smell of herbs knocks you off your feet. The cheese makes you want to vomit. You can get poisoned by the churchhella. It’s terrifying in the meat section. I sample everything from the shelves secretly. From mulberries I get a blue mouth and fingers.
A little girl from next door showed off a newborn kitten. A painful revelation - it looked like a meaningless worm. The girl did not speak Russian, but I could swear we understood each other.
In the Tbilisi subway you can smell the sulfur springs. Every time I passed the entrance with my mother I would inhale that smell of hell with pleasure and trap it deep in my lungs.
A first small experience of petite mort in the garden of my grandfather’s house. A chicken strangled by the cat. It was being eaten by ants that came crawling out of its eye-sockets.
The children next door were always allowed to play on the road. Often wearing just underpants. I would wear imported dresses and sit behind a three metre-high iron fence.
At ten I received a letter from my Georgian grandmother. She described the war. The letter was written in the same hand, small and beady, as her chocolate cakes recipes.
They would often forget me in the garden. From there you could see the mountains, and I imagined myself standing on the thickets at their feet. When my grandfather got old, he developed gangrene. His leg was cut off and buried under the pear tree at the foot of my mountains.
In the 1928 Dos Passos was passing somewhere around here. He was writing his “Orient Express.” A little later he fell out with Hemingway who accused him of cowardice for not going to the front.