Today, being the lovely day that it was, I decided to go for a little walk! I strolled through old town, stopped and bought some ice cream (not where you think, oh you familiar-with-old-Tbilisi folks!), and made my way over to Rike Park, the surreal, modern park that sits just across the river, below Saakashvili’s house.
I brought my book with me–a great read about the first attempt to summit Everest–and settled on a bench with a great view of Metekhi Church, Nariqala Fortress, and Kartlis Deda. Or itwould have been a great view, if not for one glaring obstruction. The city of Tbilisi is building a cable car up to the fortress.
Cable cars can be wonderful things. They’re fun ways to travel, they are exhilarating (will it snap!?), and they can get you up mountains, across rivers, and over canyons with ease! Unfortunately, this cable car has the singular problem of ruining a UNESCO-hopeful by obliterating the Old Tbilisi “skyline.”
I sat on my bench looking towards the balconied wooden houses that creep up the hill and could see but the peak of Metekhi Church–Vakhtang Gorgasali himself was entirely obscured. The fortress was mostly in view, except that the cables of the cable car pass directly in front of it, sloping upward at the exact angle that the fortress slopes up the hill. When cars start running, you will be hard pressed to get a clear shot of the fortress from anywhere except the President’s house, Sameba, or from the cable cars themselves. Accident?
I’m a pretty calm, normal guy. I don’t mind changes or modernity. I rather enjoy the park itself and I don’t really have any issue with the Peace Bridge either. Some hate it and others feel that it compromises the integrity of old town. Spanning the embankment and crossing between the most modern part of Old Tbilisi and the modernist park, I think it kind of has its place. Shangri La, the new garish casino at the foot of the Peace Bridge, is another story. It lights up the night in awful green fluorescent light in a way that the bridge’s bright, warm glow does not. Plus, it’s a casino.
The cable car runs the very real risk of destroying the quaintness of old Tbilisi. Kutaisi has an old cable car that goes up to the amusement park rather unobtrusively. But then again, Kutaisi’s downtown doesn’t have the same airs as Old Tbilisi does. Besides, Kutaisi is already home to a UNESCO site that’s at risk. UNESCO could pull support because the rennovations at Bagrati Cathedral go beyond maintenance and edge over into reconstruction.
I am extraordinarily skeptical of this cable car. It won’t likely turn a profit, it won’t likely bring many people to the fortress (there are already perfectly good roads for those of us who are less fleet-of-foot), it won’t likely be attractive and it will likely become an eyesore flying over the most beautiful and historic part of the city.
But in happier news, I had a lovely and interesting hour-hour and a half in the park! There were droves of people out, buying and selling balloons, taking photos, lounging, making out, you name it!
First there was the group of Russian high schoolers laughing and taking photos of themselves all over the place. We’re not talking weird, Russian Facebook photos either. I mean just normal kids-with-their-friends-on-a-Sunday-having-fun-in-the-park photos. Jumping, climbing, piggy-backing, etc.
After a spell, I heard some commotion and looked up from my book to see a bride swishing past, skirt raised almost too high (her groom gave me a dirty look when I glanced up, although I swear I wasn’t trying to look up her dress!!). They sat on a bench, she again hiking her dress up, and their photographer gave them instructions while pointing a movie camera at them. The rest of their party sat on the benches opposite me. I watched as the groom tightly crossed his legs and planted a big kiss on his bride. That’s when I noticed his socks.
He had a lovely black suit with a black-and-white striped tie. His black shoes were shining in the partly-sunny light and his white socks were peeking out from under his pantlegs. I may not be the most fashion-forward guy, but I know that you don’t wear white socks with formal wear. It’s just not done. If itis done, and I have done it, it is done in shame or rebellion. This man was neither ashamed nor rebellious. He just was.
They got up and walked on, him lighting a cigarette.
Around this time, a woman came and sat next to me on my bench. Well, she sat on the other end. A pair of Georgian youngsters stood facing each other down the path, each with a camera. With a one, two, three, they jumped a few inches off the ground (See: Ringo in A Hard Day’s Night) and took mid-air photos of each other.
Suddenly, I smelled an overpowering stench of garlic and onions and something else. No idea, but I probably made a face. I glanced out my blurry, unbespectacled peripheral vision and saw my benchmate recorking a small glass bottle with a clear liquid inside. She was apparently drinking some kind of awful onion garlic swill. She got up, but the smell did not. It lingered until I left.
I walked home through my favorite back-streets, listening to my podcasts, thinking about Everest, and enjoying the Sunday air.