This is my street, and the view from the front door of my building. It might not look like much, but I like it a great deal and think it’s one of the most satisfying places to live in the city. This is the Old Town, but not the tourist-ready part of the Old Town where they’ve painted everything new and where charming cafes and restaurants spill out of every building. This is the tucked-away part, where the streets maintain a tangled and stubborn logic that befuddles intruders and so serves a fine defensive purpose – cars become lost and oppressed and abused – it is not unusual to see a bewildered BMW driver from a more affluent part of town with a stricken look upon her face as she tries to escape the scarred streetscape of trenches and ditches and impossible tight turns afflicting that vehicle made for saner carriageways. By and large, cars avoid these little streets entirely. For a city of vehicular mayhem, it is something of an oasis.
My affection for this neighborhood is not shared by a great many Georgian friends. Like any people in any place, they are much more aware of the meaning of where you choose to live than a visitor might be, and as good friends they naturally take an interest in my standing in society. They tell me that the Old Town is not a prestigious address. The only people that live there are there because they have to be. A great advantage of being an outsider, of course, is that you float in an uncategorizable stratum of your own and so can do exactly as you like and live in the charming old center rather than the sterile neighborhoods of note, and not bring down your family name in the process. My friends also do not have the same delight in old things that I have. Where I see charming decay in lopsided staircases and peeling paint, they see reminders of the miserable dark days of childhood interrupted by war, collapse of empire, dark years without power, and they are running from these things as fast as they can. I understand them, and understand too that my own affection comes from a childhood spent among houses and towns where everything was brand new, and worked perfectly, but held no old stories. No mysteries except those I could conjure up on my own.
There is the best sort of security force here, and that’s the one led by watchful grandmothers. It is perfectly clear that the families living on this street have lived here for a hundred years, and know everything about everyone. Their boys colonize the street in warm twilight with their soccer game and their shouts. I think about my childhood street in Colorado, safe from traffic, full of kids my age, the watchful eyes of everybody’s mother and father tracking us between backyards and driveways. It is a very good sort of childhood to have. When I come home in the evening, sometimes one of the boys will be sitting on the stoop with his soccer ball. He will grin up at me and practice what he’s learned in school “Hello, how are you?” he’ll say in English. So much for anonymity. But their girls, if they have any, are kept well hidden away and don’t come out onto the streets to play.
Unlike the oppressive tenement high-rises on the outskirts of the city rising 20 and more stories high, these buildings are low to the street and so it is very easy for each family to keep track of one another. In places like those high-rises, well-trafficked places where hundreds and hundreds of people live anonymously and desperately, you might find strange men that nobody knows anything about standing in groups of 3 and 4 on corners. They can do what they like without anyone finding out about it. Not here, though. Just neighbors, known faces.
This season, everybody is wearing black. As a matter of fact, it was the same last season. And the season before. It is very easy to imagine that in this neighborhood it has been one unending season of black since, perhaps, the Persians and Arabs were running through the streets with their exotic silks and rugs. The women are wearing their skirts long, and although the young ones chase trends with their skinny jeans and fashion boots with vertiginous heels and faux leather jackets, they are still all in this season’s color. In other parts of town, this is not still so true and you can find quite a rainbow of colors on young people and middle-aged alike, but here in the Old Town the classics never go out of style and my bright pink pencil skirt is not well appreciated by the matrons of street corner and balcony watch.
At the farthest end of my street, where the fashionable district with the cafes and restaurants begins, they’ve taken one of these old buildings and some photographers have opened a cafe. As a place for acquiring food or drink it is completely useless, but as a dreamy place to sit and work, it is simply unimprovable. The staff is darling and helpless, and it is best not to ask them to do anything more complicated than provide you with a tea bag and hot water. Nothing on the menu is available, and neither is the cook, who tends to disappear for extended stretches without telling anyone. Sometimes the cook will come back and tell you what you can have, and it’s usually not too bad if you have it, but this is not the place to come with any sort of plan for your afternoon. In the daytime nobody is ever in here but me, and they play old Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone and I drink tea among the fresh flowers they’ve put everywhere. It is the most calming place I know in the city.
I suppose one day these old streets may become fashionable again. It is in the heart of the city and the very best cafes and restaurants in the cleaned-up Old Town are very near us. One day new families or maybe rich Iranians will come and buy up the old buildings and fix them up and these families that have known each other for 100 years and more will have to decide what to do. Some will take the money and some will not, but there is no stopping the change when it comes one day, not even here.