Natia (Frida) Bolkvadze, 36, Batumi
“I’m in the café with rakushkas (“rakushka” means a “shell” in Russian) at Frida’s” – a client of ours told a friend on the phone. Since then our café has been called Rakushkas and I’ve been called Frida. The colors – yellow, blue and white – in the café that I’ve painted and designed with my own hands are Mexican. My braids and flowers adorning my hair – do resemble those of Frida. This is what my little café on the Kvariati beach is famous for, and it has become an inseparable part of the lives of my sister and me.
Recently I’ve been known more as Natia, and I approve of it. I feared that I had been too lost in Frida. People close to me warn me not to seek resemblance with her; she was a tragic, adventurous woman, they say. I think, considering the reality of Georgia, I could qualify as a rebel on par with Frida. Working in a café in Adjara is not easy at all. They think I am not educated and from a low social class. My café is special because I am not only the owner but also a host, meeting the clients, serving and sometimes going in the kitchen to prepare orders. Some people are not used to such down-to-earth treatment. Once a politician told me: “I heard that Trotsky has been your guest”. He hinted that as a girl from Batumi, working in a café, I might not have known anything about Frida.
My family comprises women only – my mother and three sisters. Only our cat is male. My mother is a true rebel. She became a widower in a difficult time. You need to be a rebel to open a groceries booth beside a road from Batumi to Gonio in the dark 90s and involve your teenage girls in the business. We put up a wallpaper and decorative tiles in the booth and scribbled poems all over it. We had one battered tape recorder with two cassette tapes. We would light fire in the wood burning stove and make coffee. The whole neighborhood would gather there. That booth was the only light in those dark times and I think it helped us all to survive. This is how we started out as business-women. Now I have my Rakushkas. My life is like a movie, I see and hear so many stories and so many people visit my café that if I was a decent writer, I would publish a book.
In my café, everything is made with my hands. I have preserved its simplicity and decorated it with interesting and colorful hand-made items. A few years ago, I hung a mirror that still bears the scrawl “Show me my tan”. It is fun watching clients posing before that mirror. The menu for the café is feminist too. All the dishes are named after women. Only one table carries a male name – I converted a sewing machine into a table and called it Shukri, after my grandfather.
It is impossible to run business from an office. If you don’t know what it’s like to work as a waiter or a cook you will never be successful. You will often find me behind the counter. I made a symbolic window to create a barrier between the sea and me. You might not believe me but I have not stepped into the sea for years. I can’t even swim. When I don’t feel like watching the sea, I draw the curtain down, and when I miss it, I just have to open the window…
As the café is a seasonal business, my major occupation is working at school. I teach arts to young children – together we paint, sculpt and have fun. Once, in late spring, when we were all sick of endless rain, I went into the class and told the kids to draw a wild spring. Some of them drew the Sun in a colorful dress like the one I wore, some drew an evil monster that had swallowed the Sun. Children develop through fantasies that is why I enjoy my work as an arts teacher.
I am not thinking of getting married. The independence I have obtained is very dear to me. In our culture, men tend to try to make you dependent on them, so getting married is risky. By the way, men seem to fear independent women, they must be thinking that they cannot control such a woman, so their masculinity is threatened. I think if obedience is not an inherent trait of yours, you will never be able to pretend. Sometimes I decide to become tender, agreeable lady, or pretend that I am scared of spiders. It doesn’t work, I am NOT scared of spiders.
I have to do something like a homework now. The summer season is approaching so I am preparing new conceptual decorations for the café. If you happen to be passing by, drop in. Natia-Frida will be there.“