The Town of Jam, Romanovs and A Love Story
19 November, 2015
The Town of Jam, Romanovs and A Love Story
“Why do you even bother visiting the Romanov’s palace? I would stop even remembering their presence in Georgia if I were you,” my friend told me grumpily during our stay in Borjomi. Looking up at the Romanov’s eagle, I replied: “Power held by these palaces and their owners is not even worth a brass farthing nowadays; How the mighty have fallen!”

“Giorgi Peradze showed me around the Romanovs’ servants’ quarters and showed me the logo of a house that was
insured in 1880. ‘I live in a house built by Romanov’s, he said. ‘When I was repairing it, I came across this tablet bricked up inside a wall. It means that the Romanovs had the house and everything in it insured from top to bottom. That’s how insurance deals were made back then.’”


However, once I continued exploring the area, sadness gripped my heart: Apparently, the Romanovs used to take better care of Borjomi than we do nowadays. They prevented diseased trees from infecting the resort’s unique forests and private companies from ruining the area with their grand construction projects that today threaten to change the streambeds of Borjomi springs. Romanovs themselves, namely Emperor Alexander III’s brother, viceroy Mikhail Romanov and his children, lived at a reasonable distance from the resort.

Today, no one remembers the name of that fateful female herbalist who turned Borjomi into the capital of jam. People who brew jam according to the old recipes composed by that woman, as well as those who gather ingredients for these jams and sell them are now ubiquitous in the streets of Borjomi. Foreign tourists are simply dumbstruck by this – who would have thought that one can make jam from pinecones, fir needles or cedar? And yet there it is, just 5 GEL per 200 grams. I paused at the sight for a moment, wondering what all the hype was about. Thank God I did! Before that, I thought that the only edible thing that could be made from coniferous trees was pinecone jam (which is very beneficial for those suffering from pulmonary diseases, by the way), and yet there you have it – jams made from ground fir needles, acorns, pine resin and whatnot, all arranged neatly in front of me. I stood completely taken a back by at the variety, while the obviously self-satisfied saleswoman kept putting more and more jams in front of me, telling me to write in that newspaper of mine that conifer jam from Borjomi is so good for one’s health that it can even bring the dead back. I seized the opportunity and asked her a very simple questions:

– So, what is this fir needle jam about?

– Jam made from needles sprouted by young firs in springtime is essentially an elixir of immortality – no matter how terrible of a flu one has, this stuff will clear out one’s lungs in three days! The Romanovs would not have settled in Borjomi if not for the curative properties of local firs. Everything in our forests is beneficial; we even make chewing gum from pine resin and then turn it into jam that you will simply fall in love with. Hell, we even make jam from pine shavings. Anyone who cares about his or her health will not pass by our jams without stopping.

The jam seller then directed her gaze towards the park, where vacation-makers who paid a small fee of 0.5 GEL for bringing bottles were getting what they came for – the precious warm mineral waters of Borjomi, gushing from the depth of 1,500 meters. That’s another Georgian elixir of immortality for you – about 200 years ago, these waters supposedly saved the life of Viceroy Golovin’s daughter. After that, a good chunk of the Romanov royal family moved here together with their nearest and dearest. As for Mikhail Romanov, the emperor’s brother appointed viceroy, he was so enamored with the beauty of Borjomi and its waters that he decided to build a town worthy of the emperor himself here. He succeeded, building a real oasis for Russian royalty, including his own two children Nikolai and Sergiy, who came to Borjomi by coach every summer, along with a whole slew of servants. They mostly entertained themselves at no less lavishly established hunting grounds.

Nikolai’s palace, unlike those of his father and brother (the former burned down in 1968, the latter had people settled in it by the Bolsheviks), was preserved in almost the entirety of its glory, save for the statue of a frog that was stolen from its yard. Later, an unknown Russian businessman bought the Romanovs’ frog, estimated to cost a few thousand dollars, at a Chinese market and returned it to the palace.

The place was later repaired for Stalin, who deigned to have a vacation there twice, demanding to have the butterfly room (Nikolay liked butterflies so much that he had a collection of them that featured over 2000 pieces, as well as a room painted in butterfly motifs) set up for his rest; for all we know, his sleep was very peaceful. Stalin’s hangman Lavrenty Beria also stayed in the palace, although it is not known exactly how many times. However, it is a well-known fact that much later, Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili became very fond of the place and spent many vacations with his family there.

Today, the palace is protected by armed guards who do not let anyone come close. After I inquired why, they replied that it is being auctioned and should be delivered to the buyer undamaged. However, while the house awaits its new owner, its yard is getting overtaken by weeds while moss conquers its statues.

On the contrary, Borjomi’s Dog District (it used to be a bloodhound training ground, hence the name) is bustling with activity. Houses of bloodhound trainers still stand, and are in a decent condition, to boot. Giorgi Peradze showed me around Romanovs’ servants’ quarters and showed me the logo of a house that was insured in 1880. “I live in a house built by Romanovs,” he said. “When I was repairing it, I came across this tablet bricked up inside a wall. It means that the Romanovs had the house and everything in it insured from top to bottom. That’s how insurance deals were made back then.”

“And yet, they could not insure themselves,” I replied to Giorgi. He fell silent, then adjusted his Svan hat and said, “Romanovs were driven from our land just like many others before them, while we survive and remain here.”

This man was right. His words stayed with me for some time, making my journey around the town even more pleasant – after all, for us Georgians life is tinged with a slightly bittersweet taste of Borjomi pine jams. Emperors come and go, while we are here and here we will stay.


The Love Story of Nikolay Romanov
geotv.ge
Nikolay, son of Mikhail Romanov, was unmarried and childless. One day, he brought his housekeeper, Varvara Romanenko, to the fantastic palace in Likani that his father built, and settled her in its courtyard together with her husband. It is due to his love for her that he never married, and he did not regret it for a second. The young prince’s palace stood on a hill, while the housekeeper’s house was at its foot. Whenever the prince lit up a candle at his window in the evening, Varvara would bid her husband goodbye and head into the palace, her long dress trailing behind her. They stayed together until the morning birds started twittering. However, despite immense love for her, Nikolay would not dare to marry a woman without aristocratic roots. Both of them died childless. Perhaps there was a bit of divine providence in it – what point was there in having a child that would have been murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1917 anyway?

Author: Eter Eradze

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