The city of Tbilisi is not beautiful in the most conventional of ways. The center of town has the basic European architectural character that you would expect and many modern additions that dazzle—like a 60 million dollar bridge made of glass that sparkles at night. Old Town has dramatic splendor with its colorful terraced homes mounted upon one another just above the ancient river. There is certainly glamor and magnificence in this, but this is not the real of essence of the city, much less the country (in my opinion). Not to be misunderstood, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. But this beauty isn’t always found in the obvious. Much of the city resembles the area where I live—composed mostly of bare cement buildings visibly corroding on the outside. Every window block is just slightly different from the next, depending on what the apartment owner has done with it. Children’s parks appear deteriorated and are often full of trash. Commercial buildings are also mostly gray and overwritten by some cryptic alphabet. This austerity extends to people’s exterior as well, who dress almost entirely in black. Furthermore, this time of year is generally overcast, exacerbating the dreary surroundings. It’s qualities like these that serve as a constant reminder of what this place really was twenty years ago.
Even despite this, it truly is one of the most beautiful places I can imagine. My few trips to the villages have proven this to me. The pass through the mountains that separates East and West Georgia reveals blue foothills covered in snow, often bearing isolated churches or crosses nestled at the very top of mountains. Towering just beyond these, there are occasional breathtaking glimpses of the grandiose white shrouded Caucus Mountains. Georgians have a legend that when God was creating the world and distributing the land to his people, the Georgians showed up late because they were gathered at a suphra. When they finally came, God offered them the land he had saved for himself. This tale serves to justify the remarkable beauty of this land, as well as other cultural attributes (such as a disregard for punctuality and the lack of repercussions—though this I will elaborate on another time). Yet once again, it always seems that the natural majesty is constantly belittled by the dilapidated structures which occupy its space. At least on the surface of things it seems that way, but I’ll get to that later.
This weekend, I went to Bakuriani an idyllic ski town about three hours from Tbilisi. As you know, I am from the other Georgia, and probably the most snow I’ve ever seen is maybe like 6 inches. It was my first time stepping into snow that reached half way up my leg and I absolutely loved it! Our first day there we took a ski class on the bunny slope, since most of us were new to skiing. My lesson lasted a basic 30 minutes—as long as I could stand the burning pain in my legs from the intense physical activity. (In other words, I only learned how to do a stopping “pizza” posture down a ski hill). After that, we decided to take a taxi to the real ski hill where some of our very experienced friends had spent the day snowboarding. The mountain was unbelievable and incredible. Countless people were making their way down the hill, where two warm cafes awaited those tired and sore. We waited for our daredevil friends but then decided to take the gondola (cable car) up to the top of the mountain to see the top of the hill where skiers set off.
Heading up in the gondola, we disappeared into a mist that encircled the upper part of the mountain. When we came out on top, what we saw was one of the most unbelievable sights. The top of the ski hill overlooked not only the colorful town of Bakuriani but the snow peaked mountain chain from which that very hill arose. Just beyond the town towered the powerful Caucuses glimmering under the light of the sun. Meanwhile, the cloud which we had just surmounted created a white mist just above the trees where the skiers and snowboarders quickly disappeared after taking off. The kind of beauty here makes you look beyond and completely forget the surrounding man made edifices. Before man there was God, and this was the splendor that He created. There is a supernatural beauty in this country that I find enveloping and totally unforgettable.