The Forbes Traveller member, Brenda Wilson, has published her latest memorable memoir to Tbilisi on the Internet yesterday. This article opens with an arbitrary line from those who recently discovered Georgia, Georgia wine or the capital – “Tbilisi has a moment.”
Wilson proclaims “Berlin is out, Tbilisi is in.” She is excited about Georgia’s western outlook, noting that the country is a member of the UN (along with every other non-disputed state in the world), and devotes significant time to the recent court decision legalizing marijuana consumption.
Tbilisi, she writes, is “a city with no shortage of character and depth, grace and style, ambition and perseverance.” Well-deserved recognition is given to the new kid on the block Stamba, which was just named among the World’s 100 Greatest Places by Time magazine, as well as a nod to the “more relaxed” Rooms Hotel. Surprisingly, Fabrika and the New Tiflis/Aghmashenebeli area was left out of the article, generally a favorite among international visitors looking for the city’s trendy underbelly.
Wilson recognizes “Georgia’s progressive attitude is what makes it such an exciting place to be right now.” The “young locals are very passionate about moving the country forward and they aren’t afraid to make it known – demonstrations and rallies are acts of defiance that the city’s youth are taking on without looking back,” she asserts. The article focuses on marijuana legalization, but also briefly notes the major political changes ushered in by what some have called Georgia’s “rave revolution.” It misses, however, the inevitable counter-protests that have pushed back against progressive young urbanites. Georgia has not escaped the alt-right wave sweeping Europe, and many of the recent protests were met with neo-Nazi demonstrations across the street. From this summer’s Bassiani and Café Gallery raids that were allegedly drug busts to the Constitutional Court’s decision on marijuana, the highly influential Georgian Orthodox Church has also taken a strict stance against liberalizing the country’s drug policy. Young club-goers may be the most vocal group, but do not represent the majority of the country’s population – or even the city’s. Most people have more moderate views, with significantly more conservative voices making themselves heard as well.
Interestingly, Wilson claims that “locals can’t go a night without consuming [chacha]. And it’s practically a way of life in the city. Locals drink it like water, making their tolerance for the stuff pretty impressive.” Putting aside the potentially offensive suggestion that the entire population of Tbilisi has an alcohol dependency, wine is vastly more popular than chacha. One weekend nights, at dark, strobe-lit, electronic clubs, liquor is definitely preferred, but even then tequila, vodka, and rum certainly hold their own in cocktails and for shots. Chacha is gaining popularity as creative bartenders create specialty cocktails – such as Chacha Room, Lolita, and Batumi’s Chacha Time.
“Everything resolves around chacha,” Wilson insists; I wonder if she just isn’t a wine drinker. The only cure for her chacha-induced hangover, Wilson says, was a heavy brunch of khinkali khachapuri (which she mistakenly calls a “bread boat of cheese and butter” – only one variety, acharuli, has the distinctive boat shape). Hopefully, she managed to try more than those two dishes while in the city – especially in the late summer, when markets overflow with ripe fruit from peaches and figs to a dozen varieties of plums. Another cure for chacha’s effects, favored by old Georgian men in leather jackets, is khashi – a soup made of entrails and calf foot.
While Wilson’s assertion that Tbilisi is the new Berlin isn’t new, her love for the city isn’t wrong. Although her oversight of some of Georgia’s most treasured features and deeper culture stings, no one can blame a visitor for being swept up in Tbilisi’s spell. It really is “one of the most exciting cities to visit this year” – and the next, and the next…