Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tchatcha Benders, Marshrutka Ghvino, & Tsudi Ludi

German Paul and myself doing our best to extinguish some wine on a Marshrtuka. It's a tradition, don't mess with tradition

So I’m in Bandza for the weekend, which gives me plenty of time to “get some shit down on paper” as Black Jack said in High Fidelity. Amazingly, this is the first weekend that I’ve spent completely in Bandza since school started. I started to get the feeling that my family thinks I don’t want to be here since I fly the coop come 2:20 p.m. every Friday. So I’ll stick around and see what they do in Bandza on Saturdays, but based on what my students tell me (How was your weekend? Good. What did you do? Nothing), it’s not exactly a bee-hive of activity. Maybe I’ll go cow-tipping, because God knows there’s enough targets around here.

This is Pauli and myself drinking the way Georgian men drink, arms locked in an intense stare.

Ati – First things first, because I’ve been getting a lot of flack from my family members recently, let me say that I am not an alcoholic and that, yes, I do know denial is the first sign of a problem (which I never got, because then everybody’s an alcoholic; even Gandhi would have probably said he’s not an alcoholic, although who knows what Gandhi did in his spare time). I guess sometimes I come off as some SEC Frat Boy on this blog (just substituting home-made vodka and wine for kegs of Natural Light and handles of Rebel Yell). But the truth of the matter is I don’t drink all that much. I guess the issue is when I do drink, it’s with reckless abandon (after typing that, I realize that maybe I do have a problem).

This is one of my favorite pictures of me drinking in the streets of Kutaisi. This was one of those rare instances in which a cold Kazbegi tasted damn good.

Otsi – But in all seriousness (if there’s such a thing at GNJB), the only time I drink is when I meet up with other volunteers (often on the weekends), or special occasions (if the family has a visitor, I visit another family, or a suphra). But it’s not the frequency or even the amount of alcohol, it’s the way we drink in Georgia that throws me off. Really, I’m surprised it took this long to get to drinking, because although I’ve mentioned it sporadically, I’ve never devoted much time to the topic.

Another popular way to drink in Georgia, out of a husk. This is me at my Babua's birthday suphra taking down some wine out of the Gabunia husk

Otsdaati - Anyway, Georgians are constantly asking us what we think about: 1) their country (dzalian lamazia = it is very beautiful); 2) their food (dzalian bevri khatchapuri, magram me miqkhvars khinkali = too much khatchapuri, but I love khinkali); and 3) their alcohol (tchatcha da ghvino arian kargi, ludi… ara = tchatcha and wine are good, beer… no). And that’s the truth. I never liked vodka before I came here, not even with mixed drinks (I prefer gin [white drink] in the summer and scotch or whiskey [brown drink] in the winter), but there’s something to that whole “When in Rome…” saying. At first, I could barely stomach tchatcha (which, at the time, resembled a concoction of moonshine, lighter fluid, and pepper-spray), but over time I’ve come to really enjoy it (in moderation of course). It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even wince when taking a shot, which makes quite the impression on Georgian men (despite my age, I’m a teenager in that I still drink to gain popularity).

Me and my buddy Bill. I swear that's me somewhere behind the jug of wine

Ormotsi – But even if I can take tchatcha like a champ, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hit me hard at times. Usually, someone brings out an entire bottle and either you drink until the host says no more (which hasn’t happened yet), they see you’re drunk and peel back (also has not happened yet), or you stop drinking the tchatcha remaining in your glass (and… also hasn’t happened yet; which means that in my experiences, we’ve drank until there’s none left). Just like wine, you toast before every shot of tchatcha (very fun word to type by the way), and just like wine, you don’t need to actually drink after the toast (and if you do drink, you don’t have to finish the shot).

Bill and I doing the Georgian double, arms linked and drinking out of husks. Boom!

Ormotsdaati – But I point to the great maxim of Bill Brasky, Always leave things the way you found them. So I tend to finish my shot unless I clearly feel myself slipping away. But tchatcha doesn’t work that way; you feel fantastic and then all of a sudden you wake up naked next to a gored antelope wondering what happened the previous evening. So I’m working on pacing myself when it comes to tchatcha, because much like Yeager in college, it can do a number on you before you know what’s what.

We met this guy at a cigar bar in Tbilisi, his name was Tomaz, and much like many other Georgian men, he was an engineer and loved to buy other people shots (this one was Tequila if I remember correctly, which I probably don't)

Samotsi – Wine is different, as it’s not as strong, but sometimes it can have the same consequences because if there’s one thing Georgians do well, it’s wine drinking. So you have to pace yourself when drinking wine with Georgians (really, probably a wise sentiment to pace yourself when drinking anything with anybody) and also try not to outdo them because you can wake up the next morning with photos of you dancing without a shirt on (happened to me on my second night here, although that was during a suphra, which is a legitimate excuse [much like weddings in America, you cannot blame anyone in Georgia for getting too drunk at a suphra]) or, in rare occasions, you can possibly insult the host by drinking more then them (men in Georgia share the trait with the men of the world in that they don’t want to be outdone by anybody, especially at their own dinner table).

This was me taking down some French Brandy at the Tbilisis Reservoir. SFP

Samotsdaati – But the wine drunk comes on slower than tchatcha and I can handle it better. More or less, I’m much like everybody else is when they’re drunk on wine: red-lipped and happy, ready to spill my guts to any open ears, and extremely fuzzy. So for the most part I’m harmless, coherent, and—I’d like to think—enjoyable to be around. But my friends and I now have somewhat of a tradition that on long marshrutka rides (and by long, I mean anything over an hour), we bring along a jug of wine (the best 10 lari you can spend), and pass it around like a peace pipe. But that’s only on special occasions. More or less, this is just a heads-up to anyone thinking about visiting me; there will be a jug of shavi ghvino on the marshrutka from Tbilisi back to Bandza; so either don’t come or deal with it! Just kidding (kind of), please come visit me.

Otkhmotsi – The beer here sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But that’s just one man’s opinion, although a majority of Georgians I meet seem to agree with it. Mostly we drink Kazbegi or Natakhtari, which are malty beers that remind me of the forty-ounce beverages the older kids would buy us (and sell at a ridiculous mark-up price) when we were sophomores in high school. And much like Hurricane, Olde English, and Mickey’s, the beers of Georgia make my stomach ache, taste like the remnants of a bar-rag, and give me a hangover that resembles my head being put in a vice Casino style.

Here's another picture of Bill and I doing the Georgian double. Now that I think of it, many of these pictures are of Bill and I, which means that either him or myself are each others 'enablers'

Otkhmotsdaati – So I try to avoid beer, but sometimes it’s the only thing at hand, and it’s also a whole lot easier to drink in a park (no matter how much I may miss certain aspects of America [free wireless internet, a good cup of coffee, the English language], there’s one thing that Europe will always get right: the legal right to drink in public). It’s still a cheap way to drink (although that’s a terrible excuse, and really, it’s tough to find an expensive way to drink in Georgia), and sometimes when served from the tap in an ice-cold mug, Kazbegi can really hit the spot (but to be fair, that was mostly when I first got here and it was hot as the seven levels of Hibernian Hell, we were stuck inside listening to lectures all day, and a seventy cent beer was as close to relaxation as you could get). I guess the lack of quality comes back to supply and demand. Georgians, or at least the ones I’ve met, prefer wine or tchatcha and usually make it themselves (I have yet to meet a Georgian with a home-brewery kit). Or perhaps I’m spoiled having lived in Charleston (surprisingly solid micro-brew scene) and Pittsburgh (my buddy Brody makes the best beer East of the Rockies) for the past six years.

This is me and the family cheers-ing to something or other... do not remember this all that well

Atsi – So I just spent 1300+ words explaining the topic of Georgian drinking and instead of dispelling the notion that I drink too much, I’ve probably convinced most that I should book a room at Betty Ford. But in a last ditch effort to quell any despairing friends and family, I will say that the one thing that’s always kept my drinking in check is responsibility (hangovers and sleeping in/wasting half the day coming in at a distant second and third). I’m responsible for the education of hundreds of children from age eight to eighteen, and I don’t want to show up unprepared or lacking full capacity because I felt like tying one off the other night. Maybe that’s a terrible thought process—that I need a reason not to drink. But I guess it’s better than a reason to drink. Although it’d be nice not to have either.

I’ll leave you with a short passage that I think fits the topic at hand. It’s from All the King’s Men, which I finished earlier this week and already ranks at the top of my all-time list. I won’t go into detail as I hope to have a post up about the books I’ve devoured while here (I’m reading at a very un-Max like pace, which means that I’m actually finishing books after I start them), but All the King’s Men is filled with goodies like this:

There is nothing women love so much as the drunkard, the hellion, the roarer, the reprobate. They love him because they—women, I mean—are like the bees in Samson’s parable in the Bible; they like to build their honeycomb in the carcass of a dead lion.

Out of the strong shall come forth sweetness.

(Again, sorry for the lack of pictures, but my internet, and Opera have been acting up; so you'll have to wait for pictures of me chugging wine in a moving vehicle. SFP)

UPDATE: As an added bonus and a way to freak out my family members, I've added only pictures of me getting blitzed Georgian style. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Good luck! I hope you will have amazing time in Georgia, coz we, Georgians love our guests and do everything to please them :)) take care