A Love Letter To Tbilisi

I never know how to feel about anything really. Constantly torn between my conflicting national identity, my desire to live a healthy practical life while being terribly fond of the drink, or supporting the most disappointing football team known in the history of man. I’m never settled in my opinions on anything. Even politically, I’d prefer to sit on the fence of most debates, just because I don’t want to be associated with most of the cunts partaking in them.

Most of all, I’m conflicted by love on a purely functional level. Whenever I got a girlfriend, all these brilliant cynical ideas come to me that love is all just some pathetic impulse to have a consistent shag. Nothing more than a distraction to kill all those empty hours when you’d instead just have a wank and watch West Brom vs. West Ham. Not simultaneously, of course. An impossible task with their boner-killing style of football. But when I am single, my heart turns to porridge. Watching Three Weddings and a Funeral, reading the words of Neruda, having “Take a Bow” on repeat, and I begin to think maybe love could be the answer to all our problems. Notions of settling down seem reasonable the closer I get to what one philosopher referred to as the “Soft Micky Stage of Life.” My brother is doing it now, and the man is a pig in shit. With all these conflicting emotions, I feel like Morrissey in “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

Despite all my ambiguous feelings, there is no conflict when it comes to my love for Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The love that I hold for Tbilisi is one that is unparalleled. We have that sort of love that you see in memes about growing respect, admiration, attraction, and a clear hope for the future. When I’m asked have I ever fallen in love, I can certainly say yes; albeit with a city.

I can fondly remember my first venture into Tbilisi. I was in a taxi driving up Leselidze Street feeling a bit emotional. I had been living in Seoul for a couple months previous with a mate, doing little else other than being mortified by the cost of vegetables and vomiting in taxis from too much cheap booze. I was teaching a bit of English, which abruptly ended when one 4-year-old screamed out, “Ciaran Teacher smells like soju!” in front of a boss. I was never meant for the teaching profession.

People mock Soviet architecture but they’ve not seen the gray scales of the Seoul city line. Not to be cheeky but the city lacks any soul. Coming from the airport into the center of Tbilisi, I began to make out the skyline. Suddenly I felt an amazing weight of pressure coming off my shoulders. After being surrounded by nothing but blandness in Seoul, I was now confronted with a millennium of history and some rather pretty lighting. There was something fantastically decompressing about being among surroundings that are that beautiful. It just reminds you that maybe there is something special awaiting you in life. It was obvious, reflecting on that moment, that Tbilisi was going to change everything for me.

Three years later, I decided it would be easier to fuck off to Korea with a mate rather than do my Masters in London, but that soon got tiresome. I had some cash so I thought I’d take the time to do some traveling. First stop Georgia. I fucking loved it right away. I spent the next couple months just getting pissed in Tbilisi, meeting brilliant people, and hanging out with my hetero-life partner, and No-Yolo co-founder, Klemens. Around this time, we met one of the greatest characters we have ever come across; an Irishman named John O’Connell. He was in Georgia to teach English and when we asked him whether he had worked abroad before, he answered, “Ah not really, I did spend a summer making illegal websites in France.”

As a chain a smoker, John was enchanted less so by Tbilisi’s beauty than by the cost of Pirveli cigarettes and khachapuri. Due to his considerable rate of smoking, his middle finger had turned yellow from the tobacco. Less a Goldfinger, than a ‘shit finger’, as he called it. No worries, he put it in chacha for a couple hours and it turned back to a somewhat normal color. The routine for the three of us was to hit up a bunch of bars, fail miserably in chatting up local girls, and then end up at an Azeri restaurant, where we’d typically get kicked out around 6 am for singing The Pogues’ classic, “A Pair of Brown Eyes” over and over. This went on for months, which consequently transformed me from being a very healthy fucker to a fat bastard.

Eventually, I decide to give it another go with a girlfriend from university that had moved back to Brazil, so I left Tbilisi for there. I spent the summer traveling up through South and Central America, but I missed Georgia the entire time. During these travels, I had got accepted in to a Masters program that would start in January. I decided to fly back to Georgia and spend the fall there. I was loving Tbilisi until I had to leave with a heavy heart, unsure if I’d be able to come back. Living and studying in Montreal, I was bored as shit and slightly depressed. Montreal in comparison to Tbilisi just seemed bland. I used to just get pissed in a local while reading about Shevardnadze. The fella is the bee’s knees. I ended up doing all my research on Georgia’s educational system and realized that there was very little research done on the subject, so I set out to fill that hole. Christ, that sounds perverse.

A year into living in Montreal, I got a giant grant to go to Tbilisi and write my thesis. It was a really happy time for me. I’d go out every night drinking, wake up in the morning and go to Moulin Electrique /A Moda, Moda reading all this fucking post-structuralist shite, while my head spun from the night before. I still feel somewhat ill when I see the word ‘governmentality.’ By afternoon time, I had sobered up and made my way to Purpur for lunch. I’d sit alone in the restaurant in complete peace. I left Tbilisi, defended my thesis, and now I’m in the Middle East but almost on permanent holiday. I’ve learned that ‘consultancy’ means ‘fuck-all work and lots of pay to be spent on plane tickets’.

Tbilisi isn’t a city that you’ll ever appreciate on a surface level. Yes, the Old Town is gorgeous in that superficial way that you can enjoy in any other European capital. However, the depth of Tbilisi’s beauty is far more refined to take a shallow glance at.

The beauty that defines Tbilisi can be found within the design of the city. Unlike so many of the other cities of Europe, Tbilisi wasn’t destroyed during the Second World War, and thus wasn’t really remodeled strictly for cars. Yes, around Rustaveli and along the Mtkvari the driving is fucking mental but I am more curious about the streets of Mtatsminda, Vera, and Vake, which are three of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Europe. Also, shout out my peeps in Gldani. These disjointed streets make no sense. It is fucking chaos until you realize that it is this beautiful cathartic break from the rigid layout of the majority of European cities, which just breeds monotony and depression.

Throughout, the city is a beautiful mess. There are few designated areas for specific purposes, such as nightlife, shopping, etc. For fuck sakes, you could be walking past some of the greatest bars and not have a clue. This has enabled the city to remain somewhat of a people’s city by allowing it to grow through the needs of its citizens. Although this is changing increasingly, major corporations struggle to set up shop, simply because everything is so fucking dense. As a result, there is an amazing amount of small businesses operating to sustain a local economy- such as small grocery shops, hostels, and restaurants – operating with little oversight. It is really refreshing.

You feel like this is a city that has yet to be destroyed by the ‘beautification’ which has made a total mockery of post-socialist cities like Skopje, Riga and, soon enough, Belgrade. This has help sustain the feeling that you’re not in a monstrosity of a city but a place where people actually live and love. The worn elegance and charmed buildings give it a certain authenticity that all the rich fuckers in the rest of Europe could only wish they had. The pure Kartvelian genius of the city is that it isn’t a city you view, it is a city you interact with.

That interaction will make your heart melt when you meet the people. Simply put, you need to be a borderline sociopath to not make a friend in this city. I’ve made some of my best mates simply from asking for directions! What is impressive about Tbilisi isn’t just the friendliness of the people. That’s clichéd and too obvious to mention.

What’s remarkable about Tbilisi’s population is their tenacious desire to transform their city and constantly push it forward. There is no one more impressive than Tbilisi’s young people, who constantly challenge themselves to break from the past in their own unique fashion. Be it music, politics, or even the quality of the bars; Tbilisi is always on the march forward. I feel as if this is an accumulation of accepting that the state will only disappoint them.

Only they will be able to transform the city into the one they want. With every gap between my visits, I can’t help but notice a more tolerant city, a more dynamic counter-culture, and a population ready to make themselves into something special. The city is a testament that being a post-Soviet city doesn’t need to be shorthand for stagnation. In every particular way, Tbilisi is the city of my dreams that constantly inspires me, makes me laugh, and reminds me that home isn’t where you are born but where you can find peace and cheap booze.

I want to write a conclusion to summarize really what is a very strong emotion I have for Tbilisi. Really, I’m at a loss. However, I can give you a quote that I’m always reminded of whenever I drive up Leselidze from the airport to my best mate’s hotel:

“Home – is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home – she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place”

– Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

I will be arriving in Tbilisi on December 19th. We’ll be getting together with some friends and hitting the nightlife that night. Everyone is invited to come down to Canudos at 10:30 and get drunk with us.