This intimate city was the capital of the Caucasus, the Tsars wild, mountainous viceroyalty between the Black and the Caspian Seas, a turbulent region of fierce and feuding peoples. Golovinsky Prospect seemed Parisian in its elegance. White neo-classical theatres, a Moorish-style opera house, grand hotels and the palaces of Georgian princes and Armenian oil barons lined the street, but, as one passed the military headquarters, Yerevan Square opened up into an Asiatic potpourri.
Exotically dressed hawkers and stalls offered spicy Georgian lobio beans and hot khachapuri cheesecake. Water-carriers, street-traders, pickpockets and porters delivered to or stole from the Armenian and Persian Bazaars, the alleyways of which more resembled a Levantine souk than a European city. Caravans of camels and donkeys, loaded with silks and spices from Persia and Turkestan, fruit and wineskins from the lush Georgian countryside, ambled through the gates of the Caravanserai. Its young waiters and errand boys served its clientele of guests and diners, carrying in the bags, unharnessing the camelsand watching the square. Now we know from the newly opened Georgian archives that Stalin, Faginlike, used the Caravanserai boys as a prepubescent revolutionary street intelligence and courier service. Meanwhile in one of the Caravanserais cavernous backrooms, the chief gangsters gave their gunmen a pep talk, rehearsing the plan one last time. Stalin himself was there that morning.
The two pretty teenage girls with twirling umbrellas and loaded revolvers, Patsia Goldava and Anneta Sulakvelidze, brown-haired, svelte, with black eyes that expressed youth, casually sashayed across the square to stand outside the military headquarters, where they flirted with Russian officers, Gendarmes in smart blue uniforms, and bowlegged Cossacks.
Tiflis wasand still isa languid town of strollers and boulevardiers who frequently stop to drink wine at the many open-air taverns: if the showy, excitable Georgians resemble any other European people, it is the Italians. Georgians and other Caucasian men, in traditional chokhatheir skirted long coats lined down the chest with bullet pouchesswaggered down the streets, singing loudly. Georgian women in black headscarves, and the wives of Russian officers in European fashions, promenaded through the gates of the Pushkin Gardens, buying ices and sherbet alongside Persians and Armenians, Chechens, Abkhaz and Mountain Jews, in a fancy-dress jamboree of hats and costumes.
Gangs of street urchinskintosfurtively scanned the crowds for scams. Teenage trainee priests, in long white surplices, were escorted by their berobed, bearded priest-teachers from the pillared white seminary across the street, where Stalin had almost qualified as a priest nine years earlier. This un-Slavic, un-Russian and ferociously Caucasian kaleidoscope of East and West was the world that nurtured Stalin.
Checking the time, the girls Anneta and Patsia parted, taking up new positions on either side of the square. On Palace Street, the dubious clientele of the notorious Tilipuchuri Tavernprinces, pimps, informers and pickpocketswere already drinking Georgian wine and Armenian brandy, not far from the plutocratic grandeur of Prince Sumbatovs palace.
Just then David Sagirashvili, another revolutionary who knew Stalin and some of the gangsters, visited a friend who owned a shop above the tavern and was invited in by the cheerful brigand at the doorway, Bachua Kupriashvili, who immediately offered me a chair and a glass of red wine, according to the Georgian custom. David drank the wine and was about to leave when the gunman suggested with exquisite politeness that he stay inside and sample more snacks and wine. David realized that they were letting people into the restaurant but would not let them out. Armed individuals stood at the door.
Excerpted from Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore Copyright © 2007 by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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