Letters to Tbilisi: A Sentimental Memory Museum

 

In the XXI century letters are an almost dead epistolary format. Even electronic mails are getting pushed to the backyard of history by chats, messengers and emojis. But Georgia is a special case, with Queen Tamar and King David living in the folk memory as if their times were just yesterday. The country that melted together ultra modern glass buildings, contemporary approach to corruption issues and curious pagan rites practiced high in the mountains couldn’t but become the birthplace of a nostalgic project that revived the old school style of communication.

I was spending a part of my summer 2016 in a seaside village Anaklia, a place that got its sewage system later than the medieval cave city Vardzia. Being a part of the organizers team of a contemporary music festival, I was missing my routine in Tbilisi from time to time.

“Dear Tbilisi, I wish I could chill in a cozy cafe in Vera now, instead of suffering from heat at the construction site”.

“I miss you dry air, the subtropical heat of Anaklia is killing me sometimes”.

“I miss that view from my balcony, as the dramatic red sunrise is highlighting ugly concrete blocks of Saburtalo. I want to go back home into your arms that nurse or push away, you moody ass”.

Tbilisi was impersonating everything I loved and disliked, everything I missed at that point. And I came to an idea that there must have been more people feeling this way.

First some dozens of international friends of mine who I used to host and walk in Tbilisi got a message, where I asked them to share their feelings and memories about the city. The most diligent people have dropped the first 7-10 letters, hand-written or scanned. How encouraging! After I was back to the city in August, this little bunch of papers allowed me to approach several bars and hostels, showcase the idea and ask them to host the special postboxes, so that their guests could also submit the letters on spot, being inspired by local beer, well-brewed coffee or insane hospitality.

The postboxes were handmade. 30 vodka bottles stayed in the bar where my flatmate worked, and the empty cartons landed in the other bars covered by old maps and pictures of Tbilisi.

In November, as Racha region was harvesting the last grapes for legendary Khvanchkara, I was harvesting letters to Tbilisi. There were amazing stories about unexpected encounters on the Day of Destiny, curly Georgian heads on subtle Eastern European knees, night rides with talkative taxi drivers, three young dukes who were not dukes, there were tears of joy, smell of fresh bread and Turkish coffee, hands in the long gloves on the old banisters and boarding passes attached to the love stories. There were postcards from Georgians abroad remembering the plane trees and the scrolls from current residents of Tbilisi asking to save the old buildings.

Even my mother sent a touching set of memories from Donetsk, confessing her excitement about sincere people and cows walking around Gldani district.

There were sketches and books, postcards and printed instagram shots. There were about 70 messages from 21 country. Finland, Australia, USA, Ukraine, Poland, France, Armenia, Russia… Being very sincere, in August I couldn’t expect such a resonance.

There were local media who published articles about “Letters” just because they liked the idea. The National Museum of Georgia gave the “Letters” an exhibition space (for free!), so that all the letters could be shown to the public.

And they were there, dubbed into Georgian or English, hanging on the ropes between the balconies dating back to the XIX century in Tbilisi History Museum, as the linen in the real courtyards. 70 pieces of someone’s lives, inspired by the city and shared with it. I remember each of it, and now it feels like there is a small treasury inside me. I look into it, as the drivers and random rude guys piss me off, and it gives me a bit more power to keep doing things and fight for small changes.

Because Tbilisi is worth it. It definitely is.

P.S.: in 2017 more letters are to be collected. Seems like a little book and an online archive is coming up. Please stay in touch!

https://www.facebook.com/letterstotbilisi