The game was called “Going Up or Coming Down.” It emerged on our roadtrip sometime around Kutaisi, original capital of Georgia and the country’s second largest city. Kutaisi, we quickly discovered, is even more faded than Tbilisi. But it also carries those rare moments of modern that make you scratch your head about Georgia on the whole.
We pulled into town around 5pm. Right next to our hotel, there was a familiar strip of empty concrete building shells, seemingly abandoned mid-construction … as if the workers had another pressing matter, dropped hammers and fled indefinitely. The remains seemed awkwardly indecent. Rebar twisted and obvious in the afternoon sunlight. The structures, like elderly ladies with ribs exposed.
“Coming up …. or going down?” I offered, handing a few orange Tic-Tacs to Chris. (Tic-Tacs count as a food group when I travel. I chose orange this time, as a health-conscious choice. Georgians don’t have a lot of fruit, and we needed the Vitamin C.)
“Hmmmm … I’d like to say that’s a building going up? But we are in Georgia. So … it’s coming down.”
After that moment, we played the game consistently, from the beachside shack-mansions near Batumi to the farmhouses along Georgia’s worst highway, S-1.
By the end of two weeks, we’d concluded that either Georgians are among the best builders in the world (plenty of their houses have been “standing” for over 200 years) or they have a country-wide allergy to fresh paint. Basically … we’d “concluded” confusion on the matter. I mean … you want to pat them on the back for historic preservation. But just as I was about to, an entire building burst into flames. Think I’m joking? Melting Asbestos smells like napalm in the morning … and it goes great with a cup of Nescafe.
Georgia – going up slowly while coming down hard – is a beautiful dichotomy. I’m a massive fan of horror movies and that’s certainly one of the reasons I love this place so much. Entire blocks could be that creepy house at the end of the street. There is absolutely something under your bed. And each staircase I wandered up, I heard an alternate-universe voice screaming at some television – “Why the Hell are you going up the stairs!?? Run out the front door, moron!”
A few months back, I discovered photographer Joshua Hoffine via Facebook. (Thanks Facebook!) Hoffine does these campy, disturbing-yet-playful renditions of classic childhood nightmares. He gets his friends and his kids to model for the shoots. If you like horror, check him out.
I kept thinking on his work as I was wandering around. So for fun, I wanted to post a darker, dramatized compilation of the architecture I saw. We never did ascertain whether Georgia was coming or going. I don’t think anyone has that answer yet. Maybe give it another 400 years or so.