Easter Supra

David Loses Egg Duel to Regina
ZUGDIDI, Georgia
April 25, 2011

I crossed out of Turkey just in time for Easter--my first day outside the Muslim world in half a year.

I crossed into Georgia just in time to attend a supra--a traditional Georgian feast.

At a supra, participants gather around a table in somebody's home. Covering the table are a spread of small dishes which are shared amongst the guests. Too much wine is poured throughout the night. Though this supra was held in recognition of Easter, they take place frequently throughout Georgia, even without the excuse of any major holiday. The last time I was crossing this country I attended another supra at the home of a friend's family: I don't think that one was keyed to any special occasion.

This time, I pecked mostly at the dishes containing cheese and pork: ingredients that have been rare to impossible-to-find in the countries along my route preceding Georgia. I didn't need any convincing to share many glasses of Georgian wine. Though alcohol was legally available in the two countries I last came through (Turkey and Iraq) as opposed to the two prior countries I crossed (Iran and Pakistan) these were the first glasses of red wine I'd drunk in six months. It was better than I'd expected. I recalled Georgian wine as being sweet and syrupy. But, the many bottles we drank up all tasted similar to something I might buy in the West.

Even more central to the Georgian supra than the sharing of lots of food and wine is the tradition of making many rounds of toasts. These are always prosaic, earnest, and flowery--delivered without any hint of irony. A new toast comes every few minutes. Though heartfelt and delivered differently by each speaker, the topics tend to be formulaic: To friendship. To health. To life. To women. To...

By the time it was my turn to present a toast, all the standard topics had already been taken. I improvised a toast "to nourishment", elaborating on the different meanings that could take. There was the base, literal meaning of sustenance from the food we were sharing, but also the connotations of what we could take from the shared camaraderie of the evening. As I spoke, my toast was translated into Russian by one of the hosts, Regina. Somehow my sentences grew twice as long in Russian, but it seemed that she was delivering the meaning more articulately in the context of a supra. It was well received. A few of the local guys around the table expressed approval and clapped me on the back after the toast.

More fun than the rounds of toasts was a non-traditional twist to the drinking throughout the night. Variations on how wine was to be drunk up varied from round to round:

  1. Place your hand over the top of a wine goblet. Flip the stem upside-down so the wine is still contained in the goblet but now rests on your palm. Arch your hand just enough to let the wine start flowing out the side of your hand. Suck it all up without spilling a drop.
  2. Hold the stem of a funnel in your mouth while somebody else empties the contents of your glass into the mouth of the funnel.
  3. Drink not from a goblet, but from a small wooden bowl without using your hands. Clench the bowl between your teeth and leverage it just-so to swallow down the contents.
  4. Drink the wine from a long, flat serving saucer.
  5. Lap up the wine out of a goblet using a teaspoon--in under one minute.

Though my family gatherings back in America would seldom involve alcohol, I think I need to introduce these games, maybe substituting soft drinks, whenever I next gather with Dad, all the siblings, nephews, and nieces.

Dion and David
Another fun task everybody engaged in last night was the egg duel. Rules:

Before peeling any of the red-dyed, hard-boiled eggs lying next to tufts of grass on the table, challenge another guest. Select your egg then clutch it in the best way to keep it from cracking when knocking against your opponent's egg. Winner is the one holding the unbroken egg after bashing the two together. Re-matches are possible using the opposite end.

All of this fun took place at a fledgling hostel not yet officially opened. Zugdidi Hostel's owners are a young couple, Regina and Gyorgi: friends of friends of Dion. I met Dion when she hosted me the first time I traveled through Georgia. She's carried on working in the region over the years since we last met.

Dion is no longer based in Tbilisi but running an NGO up in Abkhazia--which is either a renegade region within Georgia or a separate independent nation, depending on whose perspective you take. Our timing coincided well: she happened to be taking her long holiday weekend here in the western part of Georgia just a couple hours down the road from where I crossed the Turkish border.

We're planning to cross another "border" up into Abkhazia together, tomorrow.

Next stop: Abkhazia.