A Georgian Family Excursion
Staring down the triple barrel of a glass of wine, an ounce of 55% home-brewed cha-cha (think grappa), and a 20 year old 73% home-brewed brandy; I begin to wonder how things got to this point. Then I remember the simple answer. I’m in Georgia.
Our friend Andrea has been teaching English in Georgia for the last four months, and it was with her host family that we’d begun our little adventure, or excursion as they kept referring to it. The plan was to drive around to a few cultural sites (churches), drink some wine, and to have a nice quiet picnic in the Kakheti countryside. Technically, that’s exactly what happened.
Preparations for an excursion moved at a typical Georgian pace, and by noon we were all standing around the car trying to work out the logistics of how we’d get 6 adults and 2 children into a miniature soviet-era jeep along with an accordion, several litres of wine, and a host of picnic supplies. Over the course of the day we’d pile in and out of this thing a dozen times.
Our excursion continued as any Sunday trip to the countryside might. We visited a local church and Sarah had to use a six year old boy’s t-shirt as a head covering out of respect for our host families strong Orthodox beliefs. We walked around the impressive Gremi church and then spotted a poisonous viper just a few feet behind our jeep. We even stopped by a fairly large man-made lake replete with dolphin shaped paddle boats, a bike track, and an odd assortment of children’s playground equipment and adult exercise stations. Every piece of equipment was brand new, and a guess was made that this entire park might have been built by the president of Georgia since his summer home was just around the corner.
Piling back into the jeep, we learned that we’d be walking up to a hillside monastery while the family would stay behind to set up our picnic. The image in my head was of a grassy field and blanket spread beneath one of the tall and picturesque trees that dot the Kakheti landscape, but the reality was a forested dirt parking lot full of cars, vans, and damn near every Georgian within a hundred kilometres. The main picnic area was so crammed with people that our hosts pulled back to the secondary set of tables and fire pits. Upon our return from a somewhat gruelling 1.5 km uphill hike, we were informed that the food was ready and everyone was waiting for it. In all likelihood, none of them had ever been up to the Nekresi monastery and didn’t realize the effort required to grind up the steep road in 30º temperatures.
Mtsvadi is a simple preparation of pork that is cubed, covered in salt, skewered, grilled to a crispy perfection over a bed of grapevine coals, and mixed with thinly sliced onion. This traditional Kakhetian food is is one of the absolute highlights of Georgian food, and to have it prepared for us on return from our hike was incredible. Served with huge quantities of wine, bread, and the ubiquitous cucumber slices and Georgian cabbage slaw, we couldn’t have asked for a better meal to round out our day.
When the first round of eating was done, Nino brought out her accordion and proceeded to belt out a series of Georgian folk songs. Within minutes we had a small crowd of local onlookers gathering round and singing along. Nino is a music teacher, and it quickly became clear that her talents were as impressive to native Georgians as they were to us. So impressed was another table that one of their group came over to toast us. Toasting is a very important part of Georgian tradition (something I’ll cover in more depth in a later post), and for five minutes we listened to this man ramble on in Georgian, seemingly toasting everything he could think of before finally clinking glasses with everyone to signify the end of the toast.
And somehow the sightseeing, the hiking, the eating, and the general atmosphere of eight people packed into a tiny little jeep led to the putting down of children and the introduction of clear spirits in tiny glasses. The night wound down amidst the laughter of awkward translations and conversations that somehow managed to transcend our various language barriers. An excursion we were promised, and an excursion we received. One that left me only slightly worse for wear the following day.