Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bigger Things

Last Thursday night was Thanksgiving. On Wednesday we packed up a few things and left Tbilisi for Sighnaghi. Back in the States, after K. and I discovered that we were going to be living here, P -- K.'s mom, decided to extend her stay a couple extra weeks, and celebrate Thanksgiving with us.

About two weeks ago, our painter-friend J., who also lives in Sighnaghi discovered that the day was going to be considerably bigger for him. After the Russian ban on Georgian Wine (which is primarily from this area), there's been a big push to find new markets. The Georgian gov't had put together a press tour for a handful of freelancers and journalists from big-time european and american media (bbc, washington post) and was bringing them through the region. On Thursday, they wanted to have a big supra, and wanted J. to host it. All the food and wine would be brought in -- J. just needed to provide atmosphere, and Tamada duties. So we were invited, by J., as guests. Whoo!

This would be much more exciting than a traditional thanksgiving dinner, plus it would have all the same trappings -- too much food, lots of conversation, family (not all of them, unfortunately), and news. Although, instead of just having people talk about current events, we got to have journalists.

I haven't seen the articles -- I'll link to them if I see them. But the day was...surreal.

Although everything was supposed to start at 10:30 sharp and end by 1:00 pm (the junket was on a tight schedule) they didn't actually arrive until a quarter to noon (nothing is on a tight schedule in Georgia) and didn't leave until three or four o'clock. The supra was going to be held in J.'s basement -- a huge, stone room with a fireplace that had been roaring for two days straight to get it warm enough, and a long table that filled the whole room. An outer room, with stairs that led up to the street, was outfitted with a traditional trough for a grape-pressing demonstration. The press arrived, and a couple people jumped into the grapes and started pressing, with a couple journalists eventually joining them. As this was clearly a photo-op, lots of pictures were taken. Then the press drank some "professional" wine -- bottled by a local company. Afterwards, we retired to the room with the big table for the meal, accompanied by copious amounts of "peasant" (traditionally made) wine.

It started off fun enough. By now, I'm used to the traditional fare at Georgian supras. There's always fresh tomatoes and onions, shish-kebab, hot cheese-bread, these little pickled greens, which I love, called jonjoli, and strips of fried chinese eggplant rolled up with a walnut sauce and pomegranate pips. This stuff is so good, I could eat it for hours. In fact, I have.

And the company was nice. I enjoyed talking with the lone american (wash. post) and a couple of the brits (bbc, guardian) and made encouraging gestures at the spanish/italian/german press that was present. One guy from the bbc got drunk and made kind of a fool of himself, in a very endearing way. The rest of the reporters, who had not yet filed their stories, stayed sober, as they were working. But our host got drunk in a less pleasant way. And, after the journalists left, when the local and regional governmental officials returned, we had another supra, this time with a much more visibly sloppy host. But then, they made their excuses, and left.

and there was another supra, with just a small amount of friends. And a very, very sloppy host. Who stumbled and fell. Who kept drinking. Even after we left.

To be honest, this was the first time I'd seen this kind of behavior from anyone here. Georgians drink a lot -- but you rarely see a Georgian, even in the city, so publicly drunk that he's unable to walk or stand. Typically, people get expansively drunk, celebrating life, and friends. You never see anyone drinking alone.

It was a big day. Sighnaghi -- a tiny little town of maybe 8,000 people on a hill, with a great view, is getting a reputation as one of the cultural centers of Georgia. Millions of dollars are now going to be pouring into the city for renovations, and soon it will be restored and rebuilt, and made ready for tourists interested in woodcarving, and winemaking, and rugweaving, as well as painting, dance, music, and (hopefully) poetry. A lot of this has to do with P. and with J. and their work. It's heady getting to see all this. But it was also kind of a weird day. I don't know if J. is under more stress than usual, or if this is a side of him I just haven't seen before. But I found it oddly incongruous amidst all the positive signs.

Or maybe it was just more of Thanksgiving, shining through.

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