Sakartvelo lamazo — my Georgian adventures with Rapsodia. From Kamchia to Kutaisi.
This story begins in 1999 with getting acquainted to one of the most fascinating people in my life, Moldovan choir conductor from Chisinau, Natalia Barabanscicova. Years passed, we’ve been travelling together and making a lot of great, inspiring, sometimes very difficult cultural projects, supporting one another in efforts, and now time has come to go in a small, 21-people bus from Bulgarian Kamchia near Varna (where we attended the most extraordinary multicultural festival I know), through Istanbul, and the whole Turkey on the way around the Black Sea, to my beloved Georgia. Natalia with her “Rapsodia” vocal ensemble has planned the route further, through Russian North Osetia, Rostov-na-Donu, Ukrainian Charkov (the way through Crimea or Donbas is not possible because of political reasons), Odessa and back to Chisinau. We had to use variant B, because we started to make Russian visas too late and we finally didn’t get it. Thus, we planned to fly home from Georgia in due time.
The “Together in XXI century” festival deserves its own story, this one will be just about the journey after it. We left wonderful Kamchia and made towards Istanbul, with the awareness, that we don’t have an overnight there, and the long, over 1700 km journey is before us.
Wonders started at Bulgarian-Turkish border. I crossed this border year before in opposite direction and it wasn’t anything worth remembering. This time the story was similar: rude Turkish border guard with no language but Turkish, unable to explain what we shall do with our bus, chaos and long waiting for our passports (people with passports from Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Poland travelling together in one small minibus must have been very supicious to him). An hour later, in the lazy atmosphere Masha, one of our companions, spotted a strange car, all decorated with beautiful, blue-violet paintings. After a short while a talk begun with the lady insight: it turned out that she’s been also waiting for her friends, they are all Americans who hired a car in Germany and are in their way from some Euopean countries through Turkey, Georgia, Azerbeidjhan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia to Russian Ulan-Ude with their project “Art of migration”. We quickly found a common language, as their mission was somehow similar to ours: in the shortest way it can be described as “make peace, not war”. We exchanged contacts and gifted our CD’s with choral music from Europe and Armenia. Rapsodia sang Moldovan piece, and we were ready to say goodbye to one another, while Natalia suddenly asked: “Maybe you could help us find the overnight in Istanbul?” And you know what? They did it. With a remote help of their friends from Turkey and USA they found us a hostel who agreed to accept group of 21 people for 200 dollars for one night with breakfast. Moreover — their friends took care about us and were sending us detailed hints how we should have got there, because the hostel turned out to be placed in Sultanahmet, the oldest quarter of Istanbul, where all main historic monuments of this ancient city are placed. For me it was the first great feeling in this journey, that world is full of wonderful people who are eager to help strangers.
The hostel itself was a little bit terrible, but nobody of us expected wonders, especially for this price. BTW, all our trips with Natalia are based on minimal budget — otherwise, they would have never been able to come to exist. In the morning, we went to see Istanbul wonders, and after some hours, after crossing Bosfor, our minibus set off towards Georgia.
In the setting sun of northern Turkey, somewhere on the highway (surprisingly good one), Vadim — our new friend from Odessa, doctor homeopatist as a profession and bard, poet and singer of the author’s song as a hobby, took out his guitar who (the guitar is a person, though) were travelling with us, as 22nd part of the team, and a magic time has begun, with Vadim’s own songs, and many other well-known songs in Russian, English and even Polish (which were my modest contribution to this extraordinary event). I felt in love immediately with Vadim’s songs about his daughter Masha. Maybe you will hear it some day? There were also children’s songs, some pieces of Okudzhava, Vysotskij and some other Russian authors, some old soviet songs from different films and most of them were sang with many voices by all companion in the bus. Who said that overnight in the bus should be boring?
We reached Georgian border on the next day in the morning, after all-night ride. Went to Batumi, the main spa in Georgia, got a fine for lacking bus insurance at once (Georgian police is very nice, but firm), I and Natalia bought Georgian telephone and internet card (basis of existence, as turned out later), and were shown our overnight place in Kobuleti lying nearby. I haven’t mentioned yet, that I had a small accident in Bulgaria ten days before — stretching Achilles tendon. Thus, I used time in Kobuleti to rest and let my leg recover. We were living at Armenian families, just in their houses where they hire rooms to tourists, for very small fee. It’s always interesting to me how people abroad live, and I enjoyed our house with creaking floor and crumbling furniture. Beds were relatively comfortable, and the only problem there was horrible humidity, reaching 95%, which combined to high temperature resulted in very heavy atmosphere, obviously with no air condition. However, Kobuleti left very nice memories — it’s because the following incident: as mentioned above, our hosts were Armenians living in Georgia, and they hosted also two nice Armenians from Yerevan at that time. After spending some time together we decided to give them a CD “Treasures of Music: Armenia”, that was issued by my NGO, Chórtownia, and included Armenian choral pieces performed by 14 choirs from Armenia, Poland, Ukraine, Germany and Moldova — and the last country was represented namely by Rapsodia. Suddenly, I hear familiar music and see familiar video on the telephone of our new friend from Armenia, Mko. “Yes” — say I — “it’s a piece from our CD” . “I know, and I was making this video” — says Mko, and it turns out, that he was Christina’s friend who was realising the video recording of this piece in Ijevan last year! Unbelievable! Christina will appear in this story again, now there comes only short information that she is my closest Armenian friend, regarded as “our Caucasian daughter”, with whom we make crazy choral projects. Also in Kobuleti I got to know that my Georgian friend Giorgi would not be able to meet us, because he was going to… Kobuleti on the following day (while we were going to another place already). And believe me, Kobuleti isn’t a big city. It’s rather a small village, but somehow everybody go there. Maybe because it’s near famous Batumi, but much cheaper? Who knows…
Our next step was to go to Zugdidi, a city in western Georgia, where Rapsodia had appointed a small concert in Youth Palace. Appointed?! Do you think it was planned half a year before? Due to hurry and overload I forgot to contact Georgian side before, and in result this concert were prepared two days before — however it was important to meet new people and make new artistic contacts, according to our mission. So, Agnieszka, that appeared accidentaly in my life three months before (and we haven’t seen each other yet) and her Georgian friends from local press (she’s doing international projects with Eastern Europe and Caucasus local journalists) prepared us the unforgettable meeting on newly-restored Youth Palace stage.
I am not an impartial observer, so my opinion is subjective, but I felt this concert was good and needed — I saw people in public were crying, and that’s what I call the real ART. Or LOVE. And I am sure that was something like beginning of something new.
Our difficult, but fruitful journey was continuing. Our drivers won the uneven fight with Imeretian roads and took us to Kutaisi, the second city of Georgia, a capital of Imeretia region.
In Greek mythology Kutaisi performs as Ai, a city in Colchis, to which Jason and the Argonauts went for the golden fleece. However, we didn’t feel like searching for gold and made directly to Ukimerioni Hill, to see the most valuable church in Kutaisi, and very important place for Georgian faith and nationality in the past — Bagrat’s cathedral, that dates to XIth century. Contemporary renovation combined original view of his builging together with modern architecture with glass, concrete and metal. This was the reason why it has been removed form UNESCO’s list, but in my opinion this brave approach shows contemporary Georgian soul. I know, we should protect our historical heritage (and I agree with it as a rule), but the result is a contrast, that makes people think about those, who have been destroying the cathedral through ages: Turkish soldiers in 1692 and then Russians in 1770. Anyway, first steps into the cathedral immediately moved us 1000 years to the past. After a long while, used for admiring ikonostas and individual prayers, Rapsodia formed themselves and silently started singing: they have very beautiful Orthodox music by Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan composers, and people present in cathedral were listening to their singing.
Meanwhile, five gentelman in traditional Georgian costumes appeared in the cathedral, lured by sounds of music. We have spotted them before and they offered us a concert of Georgian music for some fee, but we kindly said no. Now, the following miracle has begun: they were listening to singing Rapsodia and when the piece finished, they started to sing themselves Georian polyphonic music. It was great, but they didn’t know something — we also sing their music! So, when they started to sing “Shen xar venakhi”, we all joined them and sang it together. That was amazing ;) In ended up with common performance of “Mravalzhamieri” and warm hugs outside the cathedral. This wonderful meeting of people who never met before and praised the Lord together with the most beautiful ancient Georgian music is one of the best memories of this journey. If you go to Kutaisi and see those men, please say hello from me, and let them sing to you ;)
Kutaisi gave us rest from high temperature and on following day we spent with great nature of this half-wild country. The truth is, that they have to make money on tourists, because nowadays it is the biggest value of Georgia. My heart ached seeing old, empty houses situated in big parts of soil, with signs “for sale”. People can’t or don’t want to live in villages, because there is no work, no good agricultural system, and everyone go to Tbilisi or emigrate to other countries, which is very sad. Thus, I wasn’t very upset about paying a little too high prices for seeing great Georgian countryside, having in mind that this is their only way to make some money for living.
The day however was great, full of views of high and low wildlife and experiencing fresh, fragrant and cheap Georgian food. In the evening, back in Kutaisi, I went to buy something to eat in the shop near our hostel. It was rainig there (as usual in Kutaisi), and all of a sudden I slipped on the wet floor and saw all stars before my eyes: it was the same leg that was weakened after the accident in Bulgaria. Vadim, our bus doctor didn’t like the leg (nor me, as you may suspect) and we decided to go to the hospital for diagnosis in the shortest possible term.
To be continued.
Second part of my Georgian adventures is available here