‘SAFE HUG’ IN TBILISI
10 March, 2011
‘SAFE HUG’ IN TBILISI

I recently celebrated my 75 years with my Georgian friends. I thought where else could I meet that date being really happy – and flew from Boston to Tbilisi. For me, Georgia is the world’s best place!
After being absent for a year and a half from here I was making discoveries. A new elegant pedestrian bridge had been nearly completed, over the Mtkvari River. I had a lunch – a tender tiramisu and a cup of delicious all-creamy cappuccino –

at the Acid Bar, and a nice dinner at a Disney-style Elvis Presley Cafe on the ground floor at the City Concert Hall. Restaurants in Tbilisi, both Western-style and traditional, were alluring, and I had many wonderful moments there. I admired new sculptural monuments, old restored houses and new structures on well-lit streets, with attractive ads (one, of a gigantic size, was taken from a famous picture by my favorite Kazimir Malevich) and modern glistering illumination. I was thinking  that never in my life had I seen this city so well kept, glimmering, full of magic, and mind, I started traveling here from the 50s, quite a time!
I enjoyed the crowd in the streets. Women were just gorgeous: I could hardly avert my eyes from these beauties, while men were handsome and nicely dressed too, and kids were so sweet... If not my sadness about some poor elderly people asking for pennies: It would be impossible to meet a beggar in Georgia two decades ago. Fashionable boutiques, cars, modern restaurants, casinos only accentuated this new widening gap between the rich and the poor, a new social phenomenon in this country where for ages young people had been taking care of their aged parents. This lowest social stratum in Georgia, unfortunately, has a wretched life now, as it had never before.
I enjoyed taking photos of violets being sold on every corner (in January!) and pastries, torts, fresh hot khachapuri (cheese-bread), and other delicacies of Georgian baking craft which could be easily observed through transparent shop windows. I was buying discs with unique ancient choral music performed by church choirs; one wouldn’t find these recordings elsewhere in the world while this music is really famous. And I enjoyed a performance (‘ Stalingrad Battle’) at the renowned Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater, after reading many reviews on this show with admiration and praise. This theater is really unlike any other puppet company in the world!
But if asked what struck my heart and soul most, I’d answer: I will never forget how I was — quite unexpectedly – hugged and kissed by a totally unknown young woman (a college student, I presume) on Chavchavadze Avenue, on the very first of my days in the city. It was the most touching and pure kiss of my life. The girl was so nice, one from a crowd of young happy people with posters ‘SAFE HUG!’ in Georgian and English, with arms open and  ready to embrace anybody willing to share a hug. I did not reject, naturally. That was how Georgia greeted me at my 75...
After that kiss, two countries, Georgia and Japan, are competing for the first place in my personal reckoning, as the most cordial countries in the world. As if Georgia had mystically become jealous of my new attraction and admiration of Japan, and decided to restore its prior place.
Traditional innocence and purity, not sensuality or sexuality of the today’s mad, mad world, still prevail in Georgia’s culture. And, if I am not wrong, in Japan’s culture too..
Long live ‘SAFE HUGS!’

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