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Rented Rooms

Rented Rooms – Dagny’s Return

Personally I’m someone who would never swap single-use, sterile comfort for anything – never swap it for even the prospect of instantaneous mixture with new culture – renting rooms from strangers in strange towns is, first of all, associated with this pleasure.

I’m different. Disposable toothbrushes, disposable paper cups, breakfast in the room and distancing from everything – all of this acts like a salve for my inspiration greased with myriad pieces of information (in most cases I don’t even remember that my inspiration actually exists).

I listen to the bands that mention “hotels” or “motels” in their songs (for example in the track Super Sex by Morphine you can hear both of those words).

Just like  Chuck Palahniuk’s Tyler Durden, I dream about meeting my alter ego roaming strange hotels. 

And I want to get to know travelers who change towns only by getting there – changing them unwittingly and anonymously.

There are such travelers in Tbilisi today, but there was one, particularly special traveler like that at the beginning of the previous century.

On Atoneli Street, before turning toward the Dry Bridge, one can see a black commemorative plaque that reads: “Norwegian writer Dagny Juel was tragically killed in this house in 1901.” I know that when they were preparing the plaque they thought for quite some time about how to describe her. The best description would be: “Famous Norwegian muse, one of the first feminists, source of inspiration and love of Edvard Munch, Henryk Sienkiewicz and August Strindberg”; but, as you know, they can’t really write such lyrical things on official plaques. Therefore, they just wrote “writer” instead. Dagny did write, but she was not a writer in the classical sense of the word. Her main calling was being a muse and she was really good at it, she left behind great energy here, as well in the vicinity of the Market and Dry Bridge area, where the Grand Hotel Tbilisi used to stand. On a June night, she died at the hands of her lover (at the time an oil magnate) Emeryck, in one of the rooms of the hotel. 

I wonder what Dagny thought when she was traveling to Tbilisi with Emeryck? What did she think Tbilisi was? Why did she leave her three kids? What were her thoughts when she died? The whole charm of Dagny’s story are these unanswered questions and her mysterious and accidental placement in the history of a strange town Tbilisi. I think Dagny’s lost and anonymous spirit is still in Tbilisi, not to mention her remains – she was interred at Kukia Cemetery.

“I sent a lover after her to the Grand Hotel Tbilisi to kill the goddess the idea… Dagny was and wasn’t there” – Blixa Bargeld sings in his song titled Grand Hotel Tbilisi. The hotel was confiscated after the Red Revolution, the government settled different people in it, who of course didn’t preserve the original form and purpose of the place.

“There’s the same hotel and we can go there now, we can go there now if you want to, through the doors of that rented room” – so the song goes performed by the honorable Stuart Staples and his precious band the Tindersticks. The sound and contents of the song perfectly continues Blixa’s lament over the fateful Norwegian woman. But can you really find yourself in one and the same rented room? The sadness of that question can also be heard in that song. This is a general sadness shared by all travelers when you go from country to country in search of something whose name you don’t even know and which cannot be received through the standard and sterile attraction of a hotel room.

Probably that’s when one starts to look for a hotel that has a non-standard feel or one just looks for a room for rent – maybe you’ll be able to appreciate getting to know strange people in a strange town and plunge head over heels into their adventures. I think the secret of success of Airbnb (an international online hospitality service) is that it offers its clients that kind of adventure. This is a business launched in San-Francisco in 2008 by two guys who decided to let a room (inflatable mattresses and breakfast included). Now it’s a $30 billion business with services offered in 191 countries. 

So why is Airbnb more than just a service or a business? I’d like to use a line from the film Grand Budapest Hotel to answer that question: “The Grand Budapest Hotel is not only a hotel, it’s the whole institution.” 

Airbnb is like that.

Here nobody wants just your room; people need your universe, real relations, real touch, sometimes even real discomfort, things that are so hard to come by in this gadget-filled contemporary world.

For example, my guests from Nizhny Novgorod preferred to stay in my loggia. As a result, besides getting a very comfortable king-sized bed (where they are currently sleeping or whatever) and free tea and coffee, they also got to know my friends, met some people during a chance party, listened to a small lecture on photo cameras, watched three episodes of Westworld and Young Pope (using a projector and a wall), received a wonderful roadmap of local trash food taverns, heard “buying your scrap metal” call at 11 a.m. and also they got my little kid, who’s been crawling into their room during the last three mornings waking them up with “hi!”.

A hotel can’t give you things like that, especially when the small monitor of your smartphone lets you know everything about what’s going on or what’s going to happen. It’s time to feel real things in an estranged world that Camus was worried about a long time ago, while he didn’t even have internet or smartphone at the time! 70 years after Albert Camus’ death pace of life has increased 10 times, there are numerous new devices and virtual products, which enhance estrangement even more. The imitation of real things in a world like that is the most valuable process. In fact, my beloved Airbnb is just a simulator, but what a simulator it is! I bet you if I wake up my guests now and ask them about all the nuances of Mapshalia eatery’s menu, they will be able to tell them by heart. 

Like my guests, most of Airbnb’s customers are millennials, who appreciate user-friendly interfaces and are looking for new worlds. Such people refuse to take 40-year mortgages and prefer to invest money in sensations. The so called “rentals” caste is increasing in proportion along with the real estate price hikes. I somehow believe that 40-years of mortgage payments is too much for a 100 square meter space. This is also a generation that is tired of artificiality, but they can’t live without anything artificial and now they have entered a new artificial reality, where everybody instantaneously becomes a local and imbibes all local fragrances on the cheap. 

I recall Sandra’s apartment in Friedrichshain, where I used to live. That apartment, which I found on Airbnb, is situated in a 5 story building on Corin Strasse. It’s evenly distanced from Warschauer Strasse, Ostkreuz Strasse, Berghain and Schlesisches Strasse. It’s situated near my favorite club called About Blank on the right bank of the Spree River. Its backyard was the The Wachowskis’ Sense8 TV series, which was filmed against the backdrop of the famous Molecule Man sculpture. 

It was dark when I entered the apartment. I didn’t feel much except for the greatness of the Star Wars style lighting in the toilet. The cold light of the morning put everything in its place though and made me gape at the simple beauty of the room: the walls were painted white (except for one spot where a wardrobe used to stand, when they removed it I guess they liked the contrast and decided to leave it like that). Abstract dark spots on the grey plaster provided more depth to the white room. There was a glass table on Ikea legs with a 21 inch iMac, two Pioneer monitors and a speaker on it. The speakers were connected to a Stanton turntable. A GDR made leatherette old chair from 1970s stood near the table. 

The apartment also had a small tripod table, one chair and a three-piece mirror set (missing a mirror) from the 70s. All of those items were scattered near the bed made of pallets that stood on a red carpet and an iron console. A rubber plant, another similar looking plant and one decorative papyrus gave a nice green color to the room. The kitchen walls were adorned with Polaroid pictures depicting Sandra’s outrageous partying. That’s when I gave up and admitted that I really enjoyed it all. I entered Sandra’s life and stayed there during the Berlin Atonal, but as you see, it all stayed with me forever. All of those were so much “hers”, so natural and real that it all overshadowed my attraction to hotels. The visual love was accompanied by Sandra’s wonderful record collection including Move D, Michael Mayer and the like. It all depended on the feelings I had after each day of the festival. 

How often the Tbilisi houses lacks this kind of reality! Sometimes people have so many useless items brought from the Dry Bridge flea market that I wish it was washed away by the Mtkvari River someday. The house prettied-up for the tourists lacks the spirit just like hanging ceilings, gypsum walls or the renovated Plekhanov Avenue. If a future host reads it, I’d like to ask them to just share their reality with the guest, forget the gramophones, copper mugs and similar ideally worn decorative rubbish.

With the help of Airbnb, Tbilisi is slowly getting back to its pre-Bolshevik image and it’s becoming a refuge for many stray people just like before. However, some things are still needed. For example, we still need a black quarter, Turkish district with many Doner bars (like Kottbusser Tor in Berlin) and a Chinatown. The latter would fit just fine in the area near the Academic-City, where a concrete jungle is currently being developed. Only the sky can  be seen there when you look upwards – the place already looks like a Singapore suburb. 

Tbilisi needs a lot of good types from various countries, who will fall in love with our city and make it their own. I think it will happen, because Dagny decided so a century ago when she legalized Tbilisi as a home for stray people by her own death.

It’s a new house, it already has a soul. The credit should be given to the owner and the Narikala rock that stands behind it, as well as the whole city that stands in front of it. Nothing can beat drinking tea, then smoking and watching the lit ropeway from that glazed-in veranda in the evenings.

This house breathes, it has a space and it’s on Plekhanov Avenue. It has a big terrace and looks over Mtatsminda and that side of the city. It has a billiards table and bamboos in the second balcony. The owners are wonderful too. Nini and Tato, you are great!

Mariami’s house is also new on Mtatsminda. One can feel theater in the details here. It’s coming from her father. 

At Keto’s place the repair workers have filled in this crack to the right. Then Keto made a scene and they made the crack again. Half of this house’s beauty comes from that crack. Indeed, some cracked things are better than many whole things. This house has a really wonderful owner and she’s beautiful too.

Maia’s place has the kind of rubber plants that you wouldn’t want to get up from under. You wouldn’t want to get up from this table or get out of this kitchen either. This is exactly the type of house that makes guests stay in the city. She also has a ceramics workshop in the basement. 

This apartment is situated in the Sololaki district. The owner’s name is Nikoloz, the place is cozy, the bed is on the mezzanine and one can control the Kikodze-Asatiani crossing without getting up from bed. Fireplace, flora, a “courtyard” in the yard. He’s got a glazed-in veranda outside, which is ideal for selfies. 

Nothing beats drinking tea in the Yesenin neighborhood. The courtyard is cozy and the house is even more so. The owner is very beautiful and with a sense of humor. Breathtaking Sikharulidze. 

This house is a bit pricey, but it has such a view of the Mtkvari and Plekhanov Avenue that it’s worth it. If you don’t believe me, you can rent it and pay the sum, you won’t regret it. It’s in the Vera district. 

Vato has a talent for finding good things. He’s got an arm-chair near this standard-lamp that urges you to sit in it and promises to make you write. 


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