The tale of two towns

Georgia is an extraordinary country because of its intermediate state: it lies between Europe and Asia, West and East. Sometimes even Georgians agree, that it is not easy to describe the country only by using European either Asian categories. „We are somewhere in between“, said David, a cab driver with whom we were traveling around Tusheti region just for the price of the fuel.

Many everyday’s examples show this interesting mixture of cultures. Every morning a lady with full bucket of raspberries starts her journey around Tbilisi; she walks through countless stalls full of traditional Georgian food  (with all these names, as interesting as the recipes are: khinkali, khachapuri, lobiani etc etc); at about 8 AM she passes by the bakery full of baklava, then reaches McDonalds and goes up to Vasil Barnov street. The city is almost awake, and the river of engines follows her steps; the cars are big and shiny, made in Japan, USA or Europe, but not as interesting as soviet marshrutkas. Last night young Georgian man rode his unsaddled horse down the street, but the lady was already asleep – you should wake up early to do such a trip by walk.

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It’s easy to imagine her walking in another city, let’s say Batumi. In Batumi she would see eclecticism and the skyscrapers surrounded by old tenements, she would meet Russian tourists and Turkish street artists. She would find herself between the two seas while being in this city, one them is the Black sea, and the other is blue: next to almost every building (which has administrative function or is political significant in the city) there is a blowing flag of European Union. Even if the questions regarding the legality of this performance could be raised, pretentious decision to keep using Union’s flag is justified by highlighting the desire for Georgia’s Euro-integration and Euro-Atlantic geopolitical direction.

The lady with raspberries also would pass by one of the most popular objects in Batumi – „Statue of Love“, through the story of cross-cultural couple symbolizing the reconciliation between East and West, Islam and Christianity. It’s Ali and Nino, the two lovers often used to prove that there is no place for the clash of cultures in Georgia, and one can see the cooperation instead of it.

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Unless you go down to the Georgian-Turkish border. Two small towns are located on the coast of the black sea; one of them, called Sarpi, is situated on the Georgian side, another one, Sarp, is Turkish. A border post with customs which is so big that covers the view of Turkey from Georgian side is not the only thing, illustrating a strange competition between two towns. Many small details create the atmosphere of rivalry in the border area.

The very first thing which attracts one’s attention shortly after arrival to Sarpi is the sound of Muslim prayers in Georgian side. The sound is so clear and loud that it makes you think about a mosque somewhere around; since it’s not visible in the eye-level, it seems natural to lift your eyes. Only then one see the source of this sound – large loudspeakers, from Turkey turned to Georgia’s side.

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On the other hand, there undoubtedly is a mosque in Sarp, as well as a church in Sarpi. Both of them are large, visible and newly build. Big and noticeable objects in both sides are flags; both Turkish and Georgian-European flags are facing each other while competing which one has the higher stand: the higher you are, the more you are visible (and more will you cover.) For an ordinary spectator it seems like the biggest flags one has ever seen in his life. This spectator could also mention an incredible curiosity of the inhabitants of these places: the most important question for the tourists was „on which side are you staying?“ Followed by glum „but why?“ if an opposite side of the border is mentioned in the answer. It seems that it is easy to find „the others“ when you are living around the border.

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Nevertheless, the lady with raspberries only walks in Tbilisi. And every morning when she comes in front of my balcony shouting „malina malina“ I know that it is the time to wake up.

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