The marshrutka stops abruptly in front of a gleaming block of marble and black glass with the white neon words ‘Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel’ branded proudly on the front. It’s daytime, but the letters glow like synthetic moonlight. The old woman who I followed to the bus stop back in Kutaisi pats my bare leg and points at the window, telling me that I should get off here. An enamel Virgin Mary hangs on her woolen chest and reflects the sun into my eyes. As I leave, she hands me one of the strange orange fruits that taste of unripe pears and pats my leg again, fondly.

 

ARTICLE 119.

Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to rest and leisure. The right to rest and leisure is ensured by the reduction of the working day to seven hours for the overwhelming majority of the workers, the institution of annual vacations with full pay for workers and employees and the provision of a wide network of sanatoria, rest homes and clubs for the accommodation of the working people.

 And so each year you and 100,000 others join him in Tskaltubo, Georgia

Until 1991, when this constitution crumbles, and its bathhouses follow.

I look beyond the gleaming ‘Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel’ to a shadow that looms in the distance behind it. A peeling turquoise husk of a building. The marshrutka drives away. Inside this shedded blue-green skin, rough and honest grey stone waits wearily beneath remaining flakes of dusty orange, green and teal.

Tskaltubo,

Georgia

I walk as if I am lighter, made of air perhaps. If I wake up the floor beneath me it might swallow me, I think.

Within these walls, a deserted battle ground.

Fragments of a war between the chlorophyll rich tendrils of  nature and the warm, desperate breaths of those who fled Abkhazia, pursued by conflict, looking for new homes.

Vines creep through the wind whittled bullet holes that pepper the bricks and snake around the handles of their battered suitcases, tipping them over, throttling their handles and strewing their contents all over the floor.

We cannot live here. It is impossible to live here.

Tskaltubo, Georgia, home to mysterious springs which flow at 33 degrees celsius, once channelled into the pipes of an empire of bath houses.

‘Waters of Immortality’ - demythologized : radon-carbonate mineral water.

In 1922: the formation of The Soviet Union.

Josef Stalin, stewing like a prune in faintly scented waters, constitutionally orders you too to ‘rest’:

 

HT

'20

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