The last time I was in Tbilisi, in November, I watched the progression of autumn as trees turned, leaves fell and the winds grew cold. I am watching the reverse this March. I snowed on and off the first week I was here and I could see snow sticking on the hills above Tbilisi. The weather has turned, it is in the 60s, sunny and the green lace and blossoms are beginning to appear on those same trees.
I had a cold much of the first week so I went to work went home and didn’t have many adventures. I’m fortunate to have a room overlooking freedom square. I have a steady show out my window, traffic, dramatic clouds, sunrises, and the architecture at the spot where old Tbilisi meets new.
By Wednesday a week ago I was feeling enough better to explore some of the streets near Freedom Square I had not visited. Just to the northwest, off of the flower market, I found some delightful neighborhoods, slightly run down, with decorated wrought iron fire escapes and canopies over market stalls. There are a lot of surprises here. You can walk down the street and find a tower from the old city wall in the middle of some houses, or just the steeple remaining from some long gone church. I was interested enough in this neighborhood I went back on Sunday to look at details. But I walked further, to the new Justice Ministry building on the river. I like its soaring pedestrian bridge over many lanes of traffic but the rest of it looks like white magic mushrooms ready to transport you to “the Trial.”
The pace of construction on public projects has seemed to have slackened. In September and November public construction projects were swarming with constructors working in the glow of acetylene torches. They worked into the evening and continued through the weekend. While the sites are not deserted there are many fewer people working and I saw no activities in the evenings and on Saturday. On Sunday I counted 4 workers on one project. One of my colleagues, married to an architect, says the construction is apace, it is just internal right now. I reported last time that the Prime Minister wanted to remove the Peace Bridge and, perhaps the Justice ministry. Now he is thinking of moving Parliament back to Tbilisi from its futuristic new building in Kutaisi. I sent Suzi some pictures from my hotel window and she commented on how much progress there was since she was last her in May. My reaction was just how little progress was made since November.
On Saturday I met with the Dean of the School of Journalism to go over some issues. He told me that the school has gotten a franchise to operate a “Frontline Club” a journalist club, bar and restaurant. The mother ship Frontline is in London. The school will run the café and public sponsor events in an adjourning room. He told me where it was and I wondered how it would do because it is not in an area with a lot of cafes and clubs. He suggested we go there “It’s only 10 minutes from here.” It is in one of those neighborhoods near Freedom Square, to the southeast, that I have skirted but I have not gotten into. The area is pleasantly seedy and bit bohemian, not old town but not Soviet either. Several new cafes are opening and I noticed some renovated buildings for offices, and a few designer shops on the neighborhood’s periphery. Like the area around the flower market it has nice wrought iron work. Looming above the neighborhood is the glass and stainless steel private residence of the Prime Minister which looks like a flying saucer landed into a rack of test tubes and beakers. Rents are low. The frontline Club could be leading edge in the precinct, or the whole thing could be a big mistake. Hope for the best.
A week ago Saturday I took a stroll through the old town. Private renovation seems to be moving without interruption. The first really sunny and warm spring weekend brought out a lot of strollers. Some kids were flipping business cards in the air watching them spin. I initially thought this was a way of distributing advertisements for the Bank of Georgia and thought of the ladies with the twig brooms having to clean up. When I picked one up it was a business card taken from one bank teller. Poor Ekaterina has lost her supply of visit cards. They’re scattered around the old town and Freedom Square.