or Kus Tba, the Turtle Lake
As in many other nations, the Georgians live well in their own national contradictions. It shows, for example, in their attitude to the physical activity.
On the one hand, Georgians clearly are not inclined to torture themselves by exhausting exercises. And you will have trouble to meet a Georgian, winding round and round around the stadium, in full running gear — with the meter pulse or some mini-computer, which carefully recorded data on each workout — time, speed, mileage.
Well, if you were to come across such ever, it will necessary be a professional athlete or an ambitious foreigner residing in Georgia. It seems, this was the reason why all my work-out acquaintances whom I occasionally meet along the way while jogging, initially greeted me … in English.
Walking in the mountains is not a particularly popular occupation among Georgians. This is curiously enough, but there are only elderly and even older people who сare about their health commit their health path alone or in small groups thoroughly and regularly. Lovely women in grandmother’s age on the way up the hill can be seen more often than young or middle-aged people. Nor is it an alarming signal that Caucasians centenarians may simply disappear as a specie? Or, perhaps, a taste for long walks in the mountains comes to the Georgians only with age?
On the other hand, Georgians love to show to themselves and to the others that they do exercise to strengthen their bodies and their spirit. But in fact this does not mean necessarily to sweat, to climb up the mountains or to breathe like a horse after the race! It’s enough just getting out into the fresh air, wearing a nice track suit or other elegant clothes sports coat, with a music player or just in a good company, moving in tempo slightly faster than walking and maybe even performing casually simple exercises.
And one of the best places in Tbilisi to show their own sportive ambitions and achievements is the Turtle Lake, or Kus Tba in Georgian. This peculiar local «Vanity Fair» is a favorite place in any season for local people, who choose it for its fresh air, and the possibility to see and to be seen.
The Turtle Lake was called so, because in the past, people say, there were many turtles. And now you can meet them, but for this you should get damn lucky. This small but enchanting lake, fueled by the influx of the Kura river Varaziskhevi lies in the mountains, 686 meters above sea level, and from below, from the city, it is not at all visible. But there is not, perhaps, anybody in the city who does not know about its existence and has never been there. Any bus doesn’t go to the Kus Tba. Previously, it was possible to climb up by cable car. And since then, as the city stopped to exploit it, the Turtle Lake, apparently became the most that neither elite place for townspeople. Now you can get up there by taxi or your own car: two or three minutes, several serpentines — and you are already in place. In spring and summer, especially on weekends, it is impossible to find a place on the parking near the lake. Nevertheless, rare people come up on foot (the walk takes about 30-40 minutes). As people say in Georgia, «and if we rise to Kus Tba ?» This can only mean one thing: do not walk, and drive up by car! Just listen to how cool it sounds: «Let us rise to the Turtle?»!
«Cherepashists» — people, though patchy, but easily recognizable — by category. And you can get very quickly the idea of who, with whom and at what time of day goes on the lake. And it will be rarely wrong.
For the author of this article, familiar with cherepashka’s people for more than two years, is still a surprising fact: how many people are in Tbilisi who can afford to start their day with this pleasure of life — talking and walking leisurely outdoors with friends and associates and just enjoying.
One lap around the lake is about one kilometer. People, for the most part, slow walk round, as they say, «give a circle», a maximum of two. Then these «athletes» are used to thank themselves for its efforts, by receiving an award from dear themselves, a cup of coffee in the cafe with the same name which has a gorgeous, almost the Italiano-Swiss view of the lake and Mount Mtatsminda.
Only, after some time spent in Georgia, you begin to understand the real difference between the two concepts: fitness and wellness. In the first case, in the target of acquiring adequate physical shape have to sweat and suffer, which is typical for members of the Western cultural space, in the second — you can just go outside, without losing the taste for life and enjoying it. It seems that Georgians prefer the latter. Many things are forgiven to Georgians : coffee and wine, and even smoking. And do you know why? Because the famous la dolce vita, the sweet life — it’s not only about Italians, but also about Georgians !
«Cherepashists» — a very remarkable people. There are men middle-aged and older, often businessmen eagerly discussing with each other the next project and current politics during his morning physical exercise. There are ladies of uncertain age, extremely elegant but sporty-dressed and often even with make-up (!) sometimes briskly paced non-stop, three, or even five rounds while talking intensively with each other, while gesticulating violently, however, do not forget to glance around time to time. After a few laps the representatives of the above-described categories together «hang» in a cafe, drinking one of more expensive, Italian coffee in town and basking in the sun.
They join the group of retired men, who play backgammon under sheds of the café from the very early morning.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can listen to their perfect and spontaneous choral concert when they are in a flood of good mood, suddenly, for no apparent reason tighten melodious folk songs or Tbilisi’s songs called «Kalakuri.»
At Eleven o’clock parents, grandparents and nannies with children of all ages come non-stop. The Turtle lake with its children’s playgrounds, with its beach, where the kids are so fond of throwing stones into the water, with its boats and catamarans, with its unique microclimate – is perhaps the best place for children in the city. And on summer evenings the kids can jump and frolic on the trampoline — here expanse!
The nannies walking on the Turtle lake with children are a special category. Russian speech is heard of them surprisingly often. They say that smart parents, although the main political line of the state, understand the importance of the Russian language for the education of their children. That is why they try to find for their kids Russian nannies.
People who are on two playgrounds in the open air, on the both sides of the lake, are a special caste.
Most of them are jealous football-lovers, or those who even slightly below to the traditional «athlets», but worked hard on honing his own muscular system. It’s probably the only category of Tbilisi hobby-athletes who come to the playground, who are really engaged in the fitness here.
Fortunately, some simple-minded constructions are available here. Simple homemade machines passed the test as by the bad weather, and by a not always sober people walking here at night. Machines passed all exams.
The cultural level of the lake visitors can certainly be discussed, if we juge according the number of scattered trash along the road, which for some reason has not reached the litters made and placed in European style, at every step of the road.
There is one question that can instantly polarize users of the lake, and clearly divided them into two categories. It’s the question if it is safety to swim in the Turtle lake. The water in the lake in summer is calm and pleasant, especially for children. But the question is — in its quality! «Water — spotlessly-clean» – ones say with the conviction of the prophets, and swim in the lake from early spring to late autumn. «We will not find more dirty water than in this lake, across all Georgia» – the others objected.
It would be nice to have some official statistics for this dispute. But, alas, as it is often the case with official statistics in Georgia, and then all the «fork in the water it is written.» So the dispute about the quality of Cherepashka’s water may turn into eternal one. Thank God, there still is no information about the victims of swimming in the Turtle lake.
I wonder what Tbilisi people would do, if the Lord had not given them this luxurious place? — They’ll invent it, would excavate it and filled it whith water! Otherwise, where else, if not on the lake called «Kus Tba» day after day would converge in one place such an interesting, colorful and motley crowd Tbilisi?
After all, where, if not here in Tbilisi we could try this experience, taste the wonderful atmosphere of doing nothing, of relaxation and full enjoying life?
Viva la DOLCE VITA, the Georgian style!
Tbilisi, March, 2012