In Georgia the Supra is both a feast and a cultural tradition. I had the pleasure of attending two Supras this past week. One was American, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. The second was Georgian and I’m still not sure I’ve fully recovered.
An early Thanksgiving celebration is a Peace Corps tradition here during the November in-service training as it’s the only time all year when everyone is together. Unfortunately I was sick for the first two days of the training (and also feeling sorry for myself, missing my own Peace Corps group, and wondering what the hell I was doing in Georgia), but luckily my self-pity went away along with the flu just in time for the celebration. I was finally able to enjoy some Georgian wine (my first since arriving—it’s pretty good) and meet some PCVs—there are around sixty of them in Georgia so names were hard to remember. But I did pick up lots of practical advice as well as a few “invitations” to visit sites. I was targeting PCVs near protected areas for November visits—before it gets too cold.
After the Peace Corps training, I called a Georgian friend (Dito) of a Miami friend’s friend (the Danas) who invited me on a trip the next morning to attend a kid’s dance festival in a town whose name I didn’t really process. What I did understand was a mention of vineyards and to be ready at 7:30 am. I might add that Dito speaks excellent English so there was really no excuse for my ignorance.
It took a while to explain my plans to my host family that night as the son who speaks English seemed unable to properly answer his phone (due, I believe, to his being in the midst of his own Supra—I heard laughter and clinking of glasses in the background). But I think my host family’s daughter eventually got the gist of my plans. I woke up before anyone else in the house and had a bad moment wondering if I could even get out the front door or gate since I didn’t have a key to either, but it turned out I could get out just fine. Just not back in.
So off we went (me, Dito, a ten-year old boy, and Dito’s two female cousins, one of them pregnant) winding our way through the woods and over a mountain pass, toward a spectacular view of the northern Caucasus mountain range. Along the way, right around the time Dito started talking about encroaching Chechens, I began thinking maybe a responsible traveler would care where they were going. Especially in this part of the world. So I pulled out my guidebook and map and was proceeding to get carsick trying to sort it all out when the pregnant mother of the kid beat me to it and we had to stop the car so she could throw-up.
We eventually ended up in a pretty little town called Telavi in the Kakheti region of Georgia, with a requisite crumbling ancient castle and fortress. As there’s some sort of crumbling monastery or castle on every hillside in Georgia it’s all becoming quite humdrum. I mean I can’t pull out my camera for just any old pile of rocks—the ruin really needs at the very least a thousand-year patina.
Luckily the Telavi crumbling castle wall included a breathtaking mountain backdrop. Plus kids. In folk costumes! They’d come from all over the country to perform regional folk dances in an afternoon show but since it was still early they were just wandering in picturesque fashion around the town and through the castle. Mountains and castles and kids in costumes! I managed to take a few hundred photos.
Then along came Dito’s friend (family actually) to invite us to tour his new country house in a vineyard just outside of town, the dramatic view of the mountain range still in the distance. And being Georgian and lovely, he of course had to feed us. “A little BBQ,” Dito said, and so I’d have to eat meat (details on that coming in another blog), but in the meantime we went off to tour a famous Georgian writer’s house, have a glass of wine with a famous Georgian soccer player, wander past a few members of parliament and then watch the kids dance. (Check out the video clips below. It was fabulous.)
When we returned, it was no longer a simple backyard BBQ. They’d set up for a Supra, with a table covered in food and wine. More people arrived and the Tamada, or toastmaster, took his place and the first toast began sometime around 3 pm. The Tamada’s job is to introduce each toast, keep the guests entertained with his wit and rhetorical skill and consume vast amounts of alcohol without passing out. Since tradition includes finishing off your full drink with each toast this is not an easy task. I tried to sip at first, since we were starting with vodka, until they wouldn’t let me sip and I began to forget why pacing was at all important.
And so it went, for several hours, eating and toasting and laughing and around six I started worrying about having to go to work the next morning, and the Peace Corps rule that we weren’t supposed to travel on the roads after dark, not to mention the mountain pass and insane Georgian drivers, and how was I going to get into my house once my family went to bed, and did they even know where I was? I mentioned leaving soon but Dito said we couldn’t yet, that the Tamada thought I wasn’t enjoying myself enough and had invited musician friends to join the feast. Oh well, I thought, it’s still early and took another drink.
And so the musicians came and we ate and drank and toasted more, always with a haze of smoke over the table, and the pregnant woman nearly fell asleep on said table and her son began mixing wine and cognac and vodka all together for his own amusement or enjoyment. The musicians ate and drank and toasted and played and people sang and danced. And I, thinking I knew just how to work this sort of thing, eventually suggested to Dito that it would probably take a long time to leave so maybe we should start making our departure around eight on the assumption we probably won’t get out the door until nearly nine, which meant we’d still make it back to Tbilisi around eleven, just before my family went to bed. Dito said, “Sure, sure,” and made another toast.
Finally, around nine, under more prompting from the woman, Dito said we had to leave soon. “Just two more songs, the musicians they came just for you,” came the reply from the Tamada. And so we stayed, not leaving until a little past eleven. Eventually we made it back to Tbilisi sometime after two in the morning, after more toasting in the car on Dito’s part and a short pit-stop in Rustavi to drop off the sleeping kid and pregnant mother, who of course had to feed us and offer us more wine. And so ended my eleven hour Georgian Supra, a grand feast in which the men have livers of steel and the woman the patience of a thousand Georgian saints.
But it was a great day. A toast to Dito and his cousins and the Danas for making it happen.
Regional Georgian Folk Dances (by kids)