Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa

Between Exhaustion and Cure — Part I

20 APR 2024 - 06 MAY 2024
Periple Duet 2024
Johanna Musch, Tatuli Japoshvili and Giga Tsikarishvili
LINA, Creative Europe
Additional info
This essay is inspired by a challenging on-land journey spanning approximately 7,100 kilometres from Tbilisi to Lisbon

Speculative Fabulations: Tbilisi — Istanbul
by wit[h]nessing

Tbilisi: Borderlands

Somewhere on earth, in the district called Ortachala, there is a peculiar type of bus station, full of banners all around. From day to day, lumbering, clumsy buses depart towards many different parts of the world, that had been named by someone: Istanbul, Hopa, Rize, Samsun, Trabzon, Izmit, Bursa, Ankara, Afyon, Uşak, Thessaloniki, Larissa, Athens, Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, Haskova, Plovdiv, Sofya, Burgaz, Varna… It’s impossible to take all the routes at once but one might have some idea about the geopolitical context of the country. Well, at least a vague idea, grasped through intensity, frequency, or character of each location’s mention. Other than that, a range of possibilities opens for a traveller to buy screen protectors, cases, airpods, speakers, USB cables, car accessories, SIM cards—mini, macro, and even nano, different currencies, chewing gum, water; all very essential objects, indeed.

I was born in the city of Tbilisi, June 20th, 1971, at midnight. Now, working as a long-haul bus driver, I am getting older each day —no longer having any hope of saving my life. 

This particular morning started differently. I felt an unease I couldn’t place. The banners, the hum of voices, the smell of diesel—all seemed slightly askew. I felt exhausted as I navigated the familiar chaos. As I prepared for the journey, I noticed my passengers, their faces blurred together in my mind, yet one stood out—a child with a toy bus, mirroring my own vehicle. As we departed Tbilisi, the cityscape gradually gave way to the countryside. The hum of the bus engine was a constant and familiar companion. The road stretched out before us, a ribbon of asphalt leading into the known unknown.

After a while, trees thinned out, green grass was replaced by barren areas, and the air grew heavier, infused with the scent of metal and dust. The bus rumbled through desolate stretches of land where the earth was scorched and lifeless. Men in special uniforms worked tirelessly, their silhouettes ghostly against the barren backdrop. They were digging, exercising extractivist practices naively. Grey concrete and metal structures pierced the ground like monstrous needles. The heat was oppressive. Amidst this industrial hellscape, a tiny spring gurgled, defying the desolation. Life thrived in its vicinity —as if nature stubbornly refused to be extinguished. I saw workers struggling with a massive stone, too large to fit any truck. Its purpose was unclear—would they break it down or transport it whole?

We passed a green field surrounded by trees. Wild horses roamed, their coats shining in the sun. Most were red or brown, but one black horse stood out. Suddenly, a huge truck roared past, filled with black horses packed so tightly they couldn’t move. Their desperate cries pierced the air. I shuddered, haunted by their torment. Where were they being taken?

Reaching the border at Sarpi, near the Orthodox Christian church, I saw a dog sleeping and I bent down to caress it. The dog opened its eyes and spoke, offering to share the mysteries of the border. Enchanted, I followed the dog through a broken metal fence to the seashore. An odd lock hung from the fence, rusted and weathered. Outside, two seagulls played on the shore, seemingly well-fed and content. A lone policeman and a border guard stood watch, surrounded by barbed wire fences.

Inside the border building, empty rooms housed computers, printers, and cameras behind glass fences. Everything was artificial, surrounded by giant prints of mountain forests in autumn. Papers filled with travellers’ personal details were strewn about, left for anyone to read. Humans hummed as they walked to the queue, burdened with massive backpacks. Another brown dog lay exhausted, oblivious to the activity around it.

The dog led me effortlessly through the border. No one stopped us. We crossed into Turkey, where a yellow mosque stood amid kiosks, toilets, and taxis. The sea looked identical on both sides of the border, waves crashing gently against the shore. A child played near the water, afraid to venture in, as it was too cold and out of season. He contented himself with throwing stones into the waves. Another yellowish dog slept by the mosque wall. As we barked, the second dog woke up, and we began to play.

As darkness fell, the trees along the road took on a life of their own, moving like giant creatures. A massive factory belched white fumes in the distance. Isn’t it odd it’s operating at this hour?

Camping van parked down the coast line with a imaginary bridge

Periple Duet 2024, Istanbul © wit[h]nessing

Istanbul: The Bridge of Worlds

Exhaustion. After a gruelling 28-hour bus journey, I found myself arriving earlier than anticipated. Exhaustion weighed heavily upon me, yet the prospect of rest remained out of reach. The house, my sole refuge, stood silent and locked, as my business partner, who had the key, had not yet arrived. The wait began, and with it, the contemplation of an unexpected pause in a barely familiar place.

I had nearly five hours to kill before his arrival, so I began to stroll through the city. The historical centre of Istanbul revealed an astonishing number of uninhabited houses. Stone edifices stood solid and enduring, while wooden structures, typically closer to the seacoast, spoke of past lives intricately tied to the sea.  The Bosphorus a liquid artery, served as a border, dividing worlds distant yet close. Its strong smell compelled me to explore one of these abandoned houses.

House. The house was fenced off by a metal wire topped with sharp needles, reminiscent of border fences. I climbed over, careful not to tear my clothes or skin. A piercing scream re ached my ears. Inside this deserted place, I encountered a seagull. Gently, yet keeping pace, I followed. Somewhere in our shared solitude, we felt a mutual understanding, mirroring each other’s movements.

Cure. Movement became flight—window to window, door to door, from roof to courtyard and back again, traversing from one wall to another. The emptiness of the house echoed with our shared dance, an unspoken connection between human and avian solitude. 

Transition. I left the man on the bridge filled with fishermen, his image stuck vividly in my mind’s eye. He lay down on a concrete bench, his gaze fixed on the mosques lining the bridge. With a silent acknowledgement, I left him to his reverie as he closed his eyes, seeking solace in the bustling city beyond.

The Grand Bazaar. One of the most popular tourist attractions is known from the past as a maze of colours, scents, and languages. The old pavement of the bazaar teems with an enormous crowd, and birds soar into the sky above. Movement here is a shared dance, a symphony of currents flowing through the maze. I journeyed towards the Sea of Marmara, then the Thracian Sea, tracing the line where the sea meets earth, the path my ancestors migrated year after year, unchanging. Spring, the perfect season for a gradual reunion with the North.

Crossing. As I soared overhead, riding the currents of the wind, I couldn’t shake the lingering sensation of the human memories woven into my being. Unconscious recollections guided my flight across the border. The checkpoints below, with stern guards conducting passport scrutiny and meticulous bag inspections, appeared insignificant from my vantage point. Yet, their presence cast a shadow over the river below, a reminder of the barriers humanity erects in its pursuit of separation. This political demarcation has earned the river—known as River Maritsa in Bulgarian, River Evros in Greek, and Meriç in Turkish—a grim moniker in the media: the ‘River of Death.’ Each year, migrants from distant lands brave its currents in pursuit of a new life, only to face the obstacle of the border, often with tragic consequences. The midpoint of the bridge marks a distinct transition: the vibrant red of the Turkish flag gives way to the serene blue of the Greek flag. Beneath their flutter, the river flowed, indifferent to political divisions that sought to tame its currents. Beyond the imposing barriers, what is in the air remains unchanged, carrying the same currency of winds and whispers on either side of the divide.