Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Georgian New Years

I have survived Georgian New Years, after four supras and more wine toast than I really care to think about. Is it possible to die from eating too much? I think I came close to finding out this week. All things considered, the holiday was an interesting experience, and next Sunday we can do it all again for Orthodox Christmas!

The Azeris come to Gori
Since it’s the holidays, almost everyone has left the country for a vacation. Here in the Caucasus, this seems to mean you move the next country west. So, the majority of the Georgian volunteers went westward to Turkey, and a large contingent of volunteers from Azerbaijan came over to Georgia. I don’t know what the Armenian volunteers did—come to think of it, I haven’t met any volunteers from Armenia…are you guys out there?

I played host to four of these volunteers and tried to show them a good time in Gori. They got to enjoy the fine amenities of the Intourist Hotel—unfortunately that did not include heat. They were lucky enough to get an English-speaking tour guide in the Stalin Museum. We had a mini-supra at Orbis, our favorite restaurant in town. It’s not uncommon at Orbis to have Georgians from neighboring tables buy us drinks. That night was no exception as one Georgian brought a pitcher of wine and sat with us. He attempted to communicate with his limited English and seemed a bit confused when the other volunteers spoke some Azeri during the toasts. Our friend didn’t want to leave after the wine was finished and became a bit sloppy, so I discretely told the waitress to deal with him. When the man’s friends came to carry him off, he shook his thumb at me for telling on him (that’s the Georgian equivalent of the middle finger). Very un-Georgian…I wasn’t too concerned since his friends seemed very apologetic. I think he also realized his gaffe because he returned about ten minutes later with another pitcher of wine and hugged me. The Azerbaijani volunteers seemed unfazed—apparently stuff like that happens all the time in Azerbaijan.

The next day, we went to a cave city outside of Gori. Uplistseke is an ancient city that was built into the sandstone cliffs. A large portion of it was rediscovered in 1920 when a large earthquake sheered off a hillside. There are large underground rooms and the remains of ornate arches and pillars. Walking through Uplistseke, I was reminded at the age and resilience of Georgian culture. Some things continue through to today—in Uplistseke archeologists uncovered a wine press and cellar. Of course, some things do change as an Orthodox church now stands on the site of a pagan temple. Here is a picture from Uplistseke:

The Main Event
After the Azerbaijani volunteers returned to Tbilisi, I went to Khashuri to celebrate with my training host family. On the morning of the 31st, we visited my host father Zura’s cousin to mark the anniversary of Zura’s uncle’s death. Supra #1 followed…

By the time I recovered from the first supra, it was 8:00 pm and time to start the New Years festivities. It is traditional at a New Years supra to slaughter and roast a large pig. The pig’s head serves as the centerpiece. Thankfully, my host family skipped that tradition (the thought of being served pig snout didn't really appeal to me). Instead we had mtsvadi, or pork kebabs, and a table full of sweets. By 10 pm, much to his wife's dismay, Zura brought out the hanchi (the horn) and passed it around the table for a toast to the new year. Its a Georgian tradition to shoot off fireworks at midnight, and everyone in town had bought some. As the clock struck twelve, we ran out and shot off about ten Roman candles. It was quite beautiful as all of Khashuri erupted with fireworks and rockets.

Another important Georgian tradition is the mekvle (pronounced: mek-vlay)--or the first guest of the new year. At about 12:15, after the fireworks ended, the host family and I walked across the street to be the mekvle to our neighbors. Supra #3 began and didn't end until 2:30. Surprisingly, I managed to wake up and make it back to Gori by noon the next day. Unbeknown to me, I was the first guest for my Gori, being their mekvle, I was treated to supra #4. Nothing quite like starting off your morning with five wine toasts.

Gilotsavt all...I wish you the best this new year!


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