Suspended time

 We had already spent three weeks in Georgia. Before we even got there, somewhere in Turkey, another traveller told me « You’ll see, in Armenia the food is great, and in Georgia it’s the music ». I had remembered that sentence, because I had thought it would be the other way around; and once in Georgia, I was wondering how the food could get even better in Armenia… So, since the start, I had been expecting great music everywhere. But at first, it wasn’t obvious, where the music was supposed to be… So I had learned how to ask « sing Georgian folk for me » in Georgian, and I had hammered with this question every single Georgian person I’d met. But all I got was a sad smile, or, worse, a video from the internet. Great…

For my last day in Tbilisi, I wanted to take the skyline to the top of the cliffs, where you can see the whole city, and wander around the old town on my own. While walking down from the cliffs (the view was indeed worth it), I was thinking, a bit bitter, about that music thing. In three whole weeks, I had not come across the smallest sample of Georgian music! I was already writing, in my mind, the article explaining why I had no sound-mix for Georgia. Doing so, at the bottom of the slope, I noticed a board « museum of folk instruments ». Well, I thought, this is better than nothing, I can at least learn something and there will probably be some folk music in the background. And I opened the door.

It turned out, I got the wrong door. It wasn’t a museum. It was in a small room, with three young girls behind a desk, and, on the wall, music instruments. A folk instruments workshop! The three girls looked friendly, and, luckily enough, as it’s not the rule in this country, one of them could speak English quite well.

I started chatting with them, and, in my musical despair of the moment, explained my situation, the three weeks, my last day here and the scarcity of local music. Could they for example, show me what this instrument on the wall (a panduri, a sort of small robust guitar with only three strings) sounded like? The English-speaking girl, Anouki, got up. I was excited, and up for more disappointment : she only knew a few awkward chords… So, I was unlucky for that matter, that was all! It’s very unusual for me to be unlucky though, but eh, it happens I guess? I still asked them if they knew, maybe, someone able to show me what it really sounded like, or someone who could play Georgian folk music for me. I am not sure what I was hoping for, asking that. That someone would magically appear, and play for me, in the middle of the afternoon, just like that, just because I wanted it? It sounded quite unlikely… but it did happen! After a short phone call, Anouki told me that if I could wait a little, their friend Alex will come and join us with his guitar. Time is all I have, so I was more than happy to wait!

 We kept chatting, waiting for Alex. The girls were studying, economy or tourism. Two of them, Mari and Salome, were in fact twins; but more than studying, they were looking forward to playing chess. One of them had been the Georgian champion for several years in a row. And apparently, in Europe, one can earn money playing chess for a club…

 Alex arrived with his guitar. He did play a few chords on the panduri, and knew obviously more about it than Anouki, but it wasn’t his instrument. The guitar was. Fair enough, let’s hear it! Could he maybe play some folk music, preferably? He could! He started playing, and singing a very old song that had been recently covered by a famous singer and got a whole new life because of that, was I explained. Obviously, that song was indeed appealing to Georgians: soon, the three girls were also singing with all their heart, and the little room was filled with a very warm passion. They were singing quite loud, and one could hear them from the street; it attracted a man passing by. He looked at us through the window, and Anouki gestured him to come in.

 The man came in and starting singing as well. He was wearing a long and very dirty shirt, worn-out sport shoes, and he smelled of alcohol. I figured Michoko was probably homeless.

I don’t know exactly how long he stayed with us. He told us briefly the story of his life. That he was educated, had been to university a long time ago, but the situation in Georgia being what it is, he was now working on constructions sites. He had a strong aura of plain sincerity about him. He talked about his country, how he loved Georgia, the Georgian language, and culture, and music; it didn’t feel like the usual nationalistic speech that makes me uncomfortable. This man was drunk, but true in his heart. He went on explaining how Georgians love strangers and guests, wherever they are from; I was a guest in his country, so he loved me for that, and was honoured by my visit. He also promised to come back the next day, sober and with better clothes – I don’t know if he did…

 While he was discoursing, a friend of his arrived. He had probably started walking at the same time as Michoko, but his stumbling walk had prevented him from getting to us any sooner. Amiko had obviously had a lot more drinks than his friend. He was so drunk he needed the support of a wall behind him, just to stand up. I don’t think he could understand any of what he were saying, and he didn’t try to join in, but, amazingly enough, every time Michoko started singing a traditional song, he was still able to sing the second voice with him! Both of them stayed with the four of us for a while, we were singing, chatting, laughing. And they went. Before leaving. Amiko hugged me repeatedly, holding me tight in his arms: I reminded him of his daughter, who was now living in Germany and whom he had not seen in a long while, he told me.

 Opening the door earlier that afternoon, I had hoped for a CD-player crackling a few folk songs. I got more recordings that I could have dreamed of, and more importantly, a unique experience, one of those moments when time is suspended; we were a completely random collection of strangers, united for a while by the love of music, in the warm atmosphere of a true instantaneous uncomplicated friendship. One of those moment when you are ecstatic to be where you are, and to simply be.

 I was meeting a friend in a café afterwards, a half-hour walk away. I said goodbye to everyone, thanking them all I could, and I left. I think I was smiling at everything and everyone, the whole way. And I am quite sure I wasn’t walking, I was flying.

For an audio impression of that day, you may want to open this page.

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