Aida Shiolashvili, 85 years old, Tbilisi

”I worked in the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra for 62 years. When I left I was 80 years old. My character helped me a lot since I always try to overcome every obstacle in life. When I left the orchestra nobody could say I couldn’t handle it anymore. Even though I was 80 years old, I still learned every day to get better. My colleagues told me it was a clever move leaving when I was at the peak instead of being let go. I answered it was self-respect instead of playing games. You should know your strengths and respect yourself. Of course, leaving was hard; anyone who’s fulfilled professionally and loves her job It would be a hard decision. But I’m still happy – where else would I be able to work until I was 80? I told Vato Kakhidze, ”Mr. Vato, you know, there’s a new retirement age regulation – don’t get arrested because of me”. He said he’d take care of it and didn’t let me go. Then my children told me that if I didn’t want to die on the stage, it should be enough.

You know, there was a time when I worked two jobs – at the Symphony Orchestra and at the Opera Studio. My youngest child told me that when everybody was coming home from work, I was leaving for my second job. But do you know how it works? If you love your job, your family and your children, nothing’s impossible. Sometimes I dream about how I hurry up to work. I know that Jano (Jansugh Kakhidze) is already there, upset. Meanwhile, I’m looking for the violin but I can’t find it. Something always hinders me in my dreams from going to work.

I’m very grateful that I got the chance to meet and work with a person like Jansugh Kakhidze. He was a genius and could move to any country as many others did, but he always said he could never leave his homeland. I remember there was trouble; attempts to bully him, but who can actually bully a genius?! By the way, I didn’t leave my country either. When Liana Isakadze’s orchestra was leaving the country, I also got an offer. My husband didn’t get a place so he had to come as a family member. It was unacceptable for him. So if I went I had to leave my family here. I didn’t go. I remember, during the civil war, we were in England. They told us whoever wanted could stay there. Nobody did. You know, I believe you shouldn’t leave your country in hard times. At this time everyone should look for ways to help their country. I always thought like that.

While my children were little, there were no tours in Europe and we only visited Soviet countries for 1-2 weeks. My husband and mother-in-law were very helpful. My trips were never a problem for my husband, he too was a musician and understood how much it meant to me. Now, when I think about it, he was from Khevi, a man from the mountains and his way of thinking was another great motivation for me. When we got a chance to visit FRG for the first time, I told my colleague to find the best shop. We went to a huge mall and went to the seventh floor – that’s where the food was. Suddenly I sensed an outstanding smell of German sausages. This was a time when we had lines to buy bread in Georgia; nothing was available. I told my colleague I wouldn’t come up, I didn’t want to anymore. I remembered how, during blackouts, in terrible cold, we played with our hats on and gloves with holes cut for fingers. It was too emotional for me and I started crying.

I have to say one more thing. For the first time we went to Germany, I hated them – I was raised up thinking all of them were fascists. But when I actually arrived there, I saw it in a different light. And I think that they’re the most distinct people in Europe. They realized their mistakes and apologized to the whole world. Which nation did the same thing? But I don’t know… Nowadays there’s still a fascistic inclination around the globe. Take Russia as an example…

There’s a funny story. During the war, my grandson was working in Moscow and asked me to send a Georgian flag. It coincided with the time when Georgian people were being expelled from Russia. I didn’t send it. I thought something bad could happen, he was still a kid and didn’t understand everything; he could get in trouble because of it. Instead, I hanged the Georgian flag in my yard and said the Russians could come here to see that. My neighborhood was very happy about it. My Chinese zodiac sign is a rooster and as I found out in Japan roosters are very respected, because it was the rooster who rescued the sun from the Minotaur’s labyrinth and helped humanity survive. So somehow I’m not afraid of anyone or anything. My grandmother taught me, that I should never seek revenge. For example, if you have an enemy, you should go to the church, light up a candle for his health and say to god, ”you know better”. Therefore, I believe that God is love. Sometimes, in the church, they say that God will punish us. But I believe that God is not a punishing kind of father. I believe that every person has his own worth in this world.

Do you know what makes me proud the most? I’m the only woman who received the title of Honored Artist. What better recognition could there be?!”

Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili