Frozen Time in the Kutaisi Newspaper Chronicle of the Early 20th Century




Author: Tamta Turmanidze

Libraries are vaults of frozen time, time that springs to life and begins to exist only when you touch it. You pull out a book, and it’s as if rusty gears start moving, turning the days and hours preserved from the past.

This peculiar journey through time is most profoundly felt when flipping through an old newspaper that captures the breath and pulse of its era.

The periodical section of the Kutaisi Public Library, named after Ilya Chavchavadze, holds issues of the newspaper Kolkhida, which was published in Kutaisi from 1911 to 1912.

This journey begins on the very first page, where advertisements are placed. Right under the headline, it states: “The newspaper is sold at all railway stations between Baku and Batumi, as well as in all cities and villages.”

And then, the core content begins:

“A newly arrived teacher is seeking lessons or a clerk position in an office; she can also manage an office and is skilled at operating a ‘Remington’ typewriter.” Contact the “Kolkhida” editorial office.”

“Ask for ‘Esperanto’ cigarettes everywhere.”

“M.S., female dentist. Kvariani’s daughter sees patients daily from 9 AM to 2 PM and from 5 PM to 7 PM. Tbilisi Street, Mikeladze House.”

Trading House “Children of Gokieli.” Briefcases for lawyers, excellent folders for letters, office supplies and addresses, and notebooks at any price.

Filipe Chelidze. Champagne “Queen Tamar and Colchis.” Medicinal and dining wines. The enterprise has been awarded 1 gold and 5 silver medals at various exhibitions. The wines are specially aged.

“Request ‘Lagidze’ everywhere.” Authentic fruit water is a decoction made from the finest fertile juice, water, and pure sugar. The taste and aroma are enchanting.

“An eighth-grader with five years of experience seeks tutoring in a cultured family. Prefers accompanying to the countryside.” – This ad would have cost this eighth-grader quite a bit because, as “Kolkhida” itself informs us on the first page, the price of one line is three “shares” (a five-kopeck coin), and the pupil’s advertisement spans at least 20 issues. Perhaps his experience seemed less credible, or there were doubts about his ability to “accompany to the countryside,” or he simply couldn’t withstand the competition, as there are also several more impressive applications for tutoring in various subjects listed.

“Students from Moscow Pedagogical and Women’s Higher Education Courses are preparing children from the first four grades of all middle schools for entrance exams and re-examinations.”

“He offers lessons in French and German (theory and practice) at a very competitive price, a graduate of the University of Geneva. Appointments can be made every day from 10 am to 1 pm. Mosie Janeter.”

And there are various advertisements about medical practices, child education, or selling Singer sewing machines. These statements accurately reflect the rhythm and interests of Kutaisi’s life at that time. The first page of “Colchis” also introduces us to the schedule of one of Kutaisi’s first cinemas, or more precisely, as it was called then, the electro-theater “Tamar,” where the main repertoire of comedies or detectives was mixed with episodes of the Pathé magazine shown as a special program. This refers to the legendary Charles Pathé, the pioneer of French film production, whose company covered all moderately significant events from 1908 and created an information stream for virtually the entire world. It is noted that “films are shown in the summer section of the theater in good weather and in the winter building during bad weather.”

It’s quite interesting to observe the cinematic history of Kutaisi at the beginning of the 20th century in the pages of Colchis. For example, in the early issues of 1912, the advertisement for “Tamar” disappeared from the front page of the newspaper and was replaced by an advertisement for the “Radium” electro-theater, which was newly opened in the city and equipped with the most modern technology of the time.

The owners of “Tamar” introduced a rather unusual method to compete with rivals. The following statement suddenly appears alongside the names of the movies in the theater’s repertoire: “After every performance, women’s French wrestling. The championship features 10 female wrestlers. Each bears the name of the world’s first wrestler.” Given that information about women’s wrestling graces the front pages of many more issues, it seems that in Kutaisi at that time, this spectacle, with its certain erotic undertones, was considered very interesting.

However, later, the owners of “Tamar” seemed to have found a simpler and cheaper method to compete by simply making the font of their advertisements twice as large as that of “Radium” or “Mon Plaisir.”

But “Colchis” didn’t limit itself to advertisements; it also covered many socially significant topics for Kutaisi and Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century. Regarding cinemas, we read in one of the issues: “Kutaisi spotlights (don’t be surprised, cinemas at the beginning of the century were also called spotlights). Currently, there are three spotlights in Kutaisi; nearly every day, they show Russian-European films, which are quite popular. The managers and owners of all three spotlights are Georgians. However, despite this, Georgian films are not shown at all, and the Georgian community is not involved. Even though the spotlights were established through private initiatives, they are maintained by the society, and their owners are morally obliged to showcase films from Georgian life, where 99% of the population are Georgians, which would greatly benefit and attract more people. Isn’t there enough material and wonderful facts from our history in our literature?”

“Later, ‘Colchis’ very actively covered the first Georgian documentary film, ‘The Journey of Akaki Tsereteli to Racha-Lechkhumi’:

‘During the poet Akaki’s trip to Racha-Lechkhumi, we were told, the directors of ‘Radium’ will presumably assign a knowledgeable person to accompany him, who will make cinematographic shots.’

‘The young artist K. Kavtaradze also wished to accompany the poet if circumstances allow.’

‘As we wrote, the poet Akaki and his entourage arrived in Kutaisi at seven o’clock the evening before last. Akaki does not feel tired at all and thinks with great admiration of Racha-Lechkhumi.’

It is quite amusing to read the polemic with Mr. Silovani on the pages of ‘Colchis,’ which was prompted by his letter to ‘Kartveli Kalebi,’ where Mr. Silovani criticizes his contemporaries for their poor knowledge of the native language.

Reading the feuilleton ‘Our Entertainment,’ one realizes that Georgian society a hundred years ago was not so different from today:

‘Our entertainment is truly a wild pastime. How else to describe the endless drinking, bizarre grunting and spinning, senseless gossip, coarse jokes, and fun?

Our laziness is the result of idleness. Only an idle person can sit at the table day and night, dedicating so much time to meaningless pastimes.’

Yellowed and faded newspaper pages, bound in a cardboard cover, record concerts held in Jikhaishi and ‘Medea’ performed by a Georgian troupe on the stage of Kutaisi theatre, where, according to the author, only Nutsa Chkheidze’s performance was noteworthy, concern for the Simoneti and Sviri Libraries to foster education in rural areas, the schedule of entrance exams to the St. Nino school for women, and a literary evening planned in Samtredia, featuring Akaki and David Kldiashvili… and many more stories. Reading them makes one feel as though they are traveling through old Kutaisi at the beginning of the 20th century, warmed by the May sun and filled with the joy of senior students, and you see all this as if it were right before your eyes. You read the pages of the newspaper, and upon raising your head, you are surprised to find yourself still in the Ilya Chavchavadze Public Library on Ilya Nutsubidze Street No. 1 in Kutaisi, in a storehouse of time.”