- Jack Hubbell
Tbilisi New Year 2022
Not a moment too soon, I managed to fly back into Tbilisi in time for New Year's Eve. If you have read my posts before, you know I'm a rather big fan of how new years is celebrated here in Georgia. So far, I've spent each year here in a different location, from balconies viewing the city's fireworks to quiet mountainside villages. This year I decided to get closer to the festivities.
I didn't have much of a plan. Most of my friends were doing something quiet with their families at midnight before heading out to parties. I had just finished some work, and midnight was in less than twenty minutes, so I grabbed the first communal rent-a-Vespa I saw and sped to the city center.
As I got close to downtown, the road was blocked off, which I hadn't thought of, so I left the scooter and joined the masses funneling into whatever main attraction was awaiting past the endless sea of heads.
We approached a large stage constructed where the main road forks. It was lit up with all sorts of bright Christmas decorations. Because Georgia is orthodox, Christmas takes place after New Year; the decorations are always mixed on this day. I heard several loud blasts from all directions. It was still five minutes until midnight, but some of the crowd couldn't wait any longer to light off their own fireworks that they had brought with them.
I looked around and saw many cop cars placed on the perimeter of the crowd, casually observing as people of all ages started lighting countless fuses to countless explosives. As the sparkles traced the strings into the mortar tubes and roman candles, I looked at my watch to see it was, just now, the new year.
In an instant, the sky was alive with colors, like it is every year, but this time it was right above me and honestly scarily close. Upon the stage in front of us, a long row of men dressed in traditional garb bellowed out a beautiful song in polyphonic harmony. I admired their nerves of steel as they stood unflinching before the rockets and fireballs that whizzed skywards before them.
I was amazed by the lack of accidents, but then the kid in front of me shook his launch tube in dissatisfaction as no more projectiles were coming out of it. He threw it on the ground just as the final surprise round blasted off into the cement. I felt the air hit me in the chest as sparks flew all around us.
I laughed out loud that instinctual laugh that boils up off the top of your lungs when you come too close to danger. I looked around and felt justified in this laughter, as no one was hurt around me. Another person from the crowd who was holding a pack of roman candles, the way one carries a stack of logs, chided the boy in their native tongue, I assumed about firework safety.
I pulled out one of the many beers that I had stashed in my oversized coat and cracked it open. I walked through the maze of people drinking merrily. I was due at a friend's house, and after the night would soon turn into an endless blur of excitement and music. The clubs were open again tonight, and I was determined to be there until the afternoon of the following day.
As the days passed, an air of worry took the place of some of the excitement. The news about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine had worsened. There were fears that Georgia may also be in jeopardy if talks didn't go well. I avoided this conversation the best I could, but the conversation found me anyway.
I was speaking to my friend Saba in the back of a cab as we headed back to our neighborhood from the studio, and I expressed that I might want to buy an apartment this year.
"I think you may want to wait," he said. "We still don't know what's going on with Russia right now."
As I took the cab the rest of the way home, I remembered there's some graffiti on my street that says, "It was only just a dream." I won't post a picture of that now because it hasn't gotten to that point yet, but I'll save it for IF one day the sound of exploding fireworks and laughter is replaced by gunfire.
That night I spoke with my roommate, who is Ukrainian. In her typical fashion, she seemed relatively unfazed.
"First, everyone talking about Churnoble, and now we have had a conflict since 2013," she said. "It would be nice to hear some good news from Ukraine."
What can you do? We can only find our home in this mess as those in power shuffle borders around. Georgia has been here a very long time. It's come back after three different empires have risen and fallen, each time consuming its borders before becoming part of history. They were here 8,500 years ago making wine and dancing as only the Georgians can. I'd like to think they will be here for at least another year.
In the meantime, I'll sit here in my little dream, sucking down my fifth cup of coffee for the day. My roommate tuned into a radio station from back home, and Christmas songs sung in Ukrainian are floating through the air on this very sunny day in Tbilisi.