Sunday, March 23, 2014

the Tbilisi metro

The Tbilisi metro, the remnants of the glories of the old Soviet empire, though the superficial symbols, like brass Lenin or Stalin heads, had long ago been removed and replaced by the more Georgian symbols of roses and crosses. Everything else seems untouched, with cracks in the walls and peeling paint where there still is paint. Advertisements are occasionally plastered onto the walls, but even those look ancient, as though they were from ages past - the hieroglyphic marketings of a proto-Georgia. The escalators continue in fine working order, steep and fast as in any Soviet built metro, the extremities of these two dimensions almost able to be compared to an amusement park ride by uninitiated Westerners. I've heard it's improved a whole lot since the 90's, when trains would stop working mid trip and the lights would unexpectedly go off, but those days are over.

As I descend, I watch the crowds of people who had just got off one train, and hope that my train will be soon - but not too soon. The scheduling of the trains seems bizarre and random, sometimes during rush hour I have to wait for over five minutes to get on a train that is bursting at its seams with passengers, and at non-peak hours, I wait for only two minutes and step onto an empty car. Like in most things in Georgia, planning is always an afterthought.

While I go down, watching the people pass me going up, they all watch me as well. All eyes to the local non-Georgian, like in a zoo, it becomes impossible to feel ignored or one of them or - blessedly - invisible. As soon as you step past the turnstiles of the metro, wearing anything but black, you become as though stuck in a concrete cage, iron bars on one side and open sky, everyone watching you because you are different, waiting for you to do something unexpected, to rap, to sing, to dance, to do something that they could talk to their friends about. To do something.

The isolation of a zoo. 

I step off the escalator, putting those thoughts aside and I move onto the platform, always in a slight hurry, praying that the train would be soon. I look up at the digital clock. 10 seconds. Good, it will be here shortly. No - I forget - the clock counts up. It lets you know just how soon you had missed it. It doesn't let you know when the next train will come, because, a voice in the back of my head reminds me, perhaps no one knows that answer. No engineer, no conductor, no one knows. A schedule is a myth perpetrated by societies of decadence and sin. Relax man, it comes when it comes.

And it comes. And the people squeeze on, no room to move, like being wrapped in swaddling clothes, except these swaddling clothes are made of people not cloth, sweating, smelling people, many of whom maybe don't have gas or water at their homes, some of starving children, or thieving children, trying to survive reptilian drugs that savage across the skin. It's life. At least my gas clicked back on yesterday and I got a shower, but after the metro, or the bus, or a marshrutka, I often question the utility of my showers.

I follow the first guy onto the car, and he stops within one step. The next person moves no farther. But I see space there in the middle, no ones standing in the middle, no ones standing away from the door, why don't these people move? And I push them out of my way, so that I'm not in the way myself. I hate being in the way, but this tall bald guy in a green army style jacket doesn't seem to have the same disposition.

The train stops. Time to get off. People pushing and shoving. It's chaos. The people on the outside of the train trying to get in before the people on the train can get off. More pushing. I have to elbow someone, to dodge an elbow myself. If people would just wait a moment, to let us off before they got on, there would be no fighting and everything would be quicker and smoother. By waiting, sometimes we save time, if only everyone were waiting the same. But here, no one waits. It's a gladiatorial arena in the metro, losing means getting trampled to death or thrown off the platform, winning means getting mashed in-between two babushka behemoths holding sacks of potatoes which they wield like iron morning stars.

Now freedom. Now a breath. Now a look at the bronzed face of the Georgian thespian, Marjanishvili, founder of the Second State Georgian Theatre in Communist Georgia - true to this, the face is in Socialist Realism - watching the hurricane of violent movement the metro system creates. And back on that steep and quick ascent, back out of the cavernous metro, under the overcast skies of a Tbilisi spring day.

1 comment:

  1. "All eyes to the local non-Georgian, like in a zoo, it becomes impossible to feel ignored or one of them or - blessedly - invisible." This brought me right back to Georgia and hating to go out in public... especially if I had to open my mouth and speak to people. As soon as any men heard me speaking something non-Georgian, I felt like I was walking around in lingerie.

    I'm so glad that you wrote this (and so damn well). I've been trying to write down my memories of daily experiences in Georgia in as much detail as I can, but so many have already escaped me. I'm going to borrow yours now. :)