Ben Sweeney’s Weblog

Got a Fulbright, living in Georgia for a year.

Suprajacking: Georgian Hospitality

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So, halfway through last night I had this incredibly strong feeling of really loving this country. I mean, there are things that bug me about this place, but I’m relaxed enough to forget about them, and often they are just the other side of the coin of reasons that make me love it here.

My biggest example is that when visiting Georgia you will get hit over the head with hospitality. All the time, in the most unexpected ways and places. I heard one of my favourite stories when I got back to my house to meet an electrician about a month ago. At the time, we had 3 Americans staying with us. They had gone to Gori for a day or two and had just gotten back at about 4:30 in the afternoon. One of them was sleeping in my room, one was throwing up in the bathroom, and another was about to go out for a bit to walk it off. Apparently, they wanted a drink before bed when they were in Gori but were disappointed with the night life there, so they decided to go to one of the casino/slot club places that are everywhere. Right after they get in some guy comes up to them and invites them back to his house. Meanwhile it is pretty late and they have already eaten, but are practically forced to eat another huge meal and drink enormous quantities of wine and moonshine. The next day, the guy comes and picks them up at the hotel at 9 or 10 in the morning and they go out for a breakfast of soup and cognac. Then they had a great day until they just crashed and headed back to my place.

I’ve started calling this “suprajacking.” Supra in Georgian apparently literally means ‘tablecloth,’ but gets used to mean meal or feast, which take on epic proportions here. Actually, almost every meal here I have had has been a feast. Anyways, the supra has been a bit fetishized by foreigners, perhaps because they keep getting suprajacked by aggressive Georgian hospitality.

So, yesterday after work, I went to dinner with Stefo, his parents and girlfriend Khatuna, and a friend of mine who joined us. Near the end of the meal, I got a call from Dan, the other Fulbrighter in Georgia, who is staying at our apartment now. He was at a restaurant with his real estate agent, who just found him an apartment and was spending most of his commission on a feast. The real estate agent sends his friend’s wife to pick me up.

We stopped to gas up the car, and there was a firetruck and about 7 police cars outside of the restaurant next to us. Apparently Misha, the president, was having dinner there. Our restaurant was a few doors down, this huge banquet hall with musicians at one end and all kinds of wall hangings and mirrors. It seemed a combination of nouveau riche and Soviet. The music was the same kind of mix, half soviet style songs, half popish stuff.

It was at this moment that I had the inexpressible feeling of love for Georgia. It got really weird really quickly though. I go in and meet my friend, who had been drinking (well everyone had been). He asked me if I had gotten his text which he just sent. I hadn’t gotten it yet, and he said “Well, too late.”

I went and sat down next to the real estate agent, Levan. He told me that his friend is the nephew of Ilya II, the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox church, and is going to be a priest in 3 months. The nephew of the Patriarch! That’s essentially the Pope of Georgia. The real estate agent himself almost became a priest once and worked in churches for a while. Around this point, my phone started to vibrate – it was the text message from Dan:

Message 11:
Bware religious
fanatics
From:+995 91 XX XX XX

The real estate agent then started saying how happy he was to have guests like me in Georgia, that “Jews have been guests in Georgia for…”

I had a moment of not knowing why he brought up Jews, but I finished his sentence “for twenty three hundred years.” Every time it comes up that I am Jewish I get this 10 minute speech on how Jews have been guests in Georgia for 2300 years, and that Georgia has some of the lowest rates of anti-Semitism, which is true as far as I can tell.

The message from Dan took on new significance, especially as Levan then asked me “So yeah, you guys killed our Saviour. What do you have to say to that?”

I supposed I should have been really shocked at this whole adventure, but I guess my life has gotten to a point that stuff like this, while not commonplace, is not unexpected. Living in Russia and traveling around the former Soviet Union I really got into a situation where I just have no expectations for what is going to happen. I bet traveling in general would do it, I don’t think it is at all unique to me, but I do think these regions are places where almost anything can happen. Maybe Russia more so than Georgia to me because Georgia has all these traditions and rituals. All of my suprajackings have had an almost routine to them, like the order of the toasts, and the praising of guests. I love them, but it becomes a bit tiresome, so maybe that’s why I was fine with the comparative novelty of being accused of killing Jesus.

I brought up points like the fact that it was the Romans who crucified him, to which Levan quoted the part where Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the killing. Then I brought up how, well, it was not all Jews who did it, maybe just a few bad apples a couple thousand years ago. This satisfied him, and he raised his glass in a toast. The first toast is to guests, so this first toast was to me, and to Israel and to Jews. Every toast afterwards seemed exactly like that as well. They respected that I am Jewish, they thought that orthodox religions could get along fine. They did not know that I am not orthodox, and I don’t think they even noticed that I ate the piles of (delicious, delicious) pork they ordered specifically for me, because they were in the middle of a huge Orthodox fast (although they were drinking and smoking which they aren’t supposed to do – their reasons for them not supposed to be smoking were pretty ridiculous).

I had some more tests on my religious education. For example: why wasn’t Moses allowed into the Holy Land after 40 years of wandering. I started in on the philosophical response about how the Jews who had been slaves in Egypt would not be able to form a healthy society in Israel. Wrong. Levan’s version of religion was based on extremely literal interpretations of the bible, which is what I’ve noticed about a lot of believers here. The soon to be priest, Dato, seemed much more moderate though, in both his drinking and the religious stuff he had, although he had some quirks of his own.  Dan said how he had a girlfriend, but that I didn’t, so they started right away promising to find me a good Georgian girl.  When Dato found out that one of our friends (Stefo) has a Georgian girlfriend, he immediately offered to bridenap her for him.  Bridenaping apparently still takes place, usually with the consent of the girl, but still it seems a bit weird, a bit too Georgian to be true.

Well, after a few hours of drinking and toasting and talking about religion, Levan realized that he had to give his elderly mom some heart medicine. He invited us all back to meet his mom and then we were going to go to Dato’s house for more food and drinking. Apparently it is not ridiculous here to wake up one’s elderly mother and children at midnight for impromptu champagne (which Levan picked up on the way). The mom was pretty amazing, woke up, took her medicine and even had a bit of champagne. She was so thrilled to be talking to Americans (even though they considered me a Jew, not an American) in Russian and Georgian. It was pretty amazing, I could understand the vast majority of what she was talking about, understanding the Georgian from the Russian context.

She pulled out a newspaper clipping which had a picture of her from ages ago, when she was coal miner, taken with Georgia’s most famous modern poet – Galaktion Tabidze. Then she pulled out an article about how Saddam Hussein was Stalin’s grandson.

Eventually we left, we’d been there for a while, and had left the soon to be priest’s pregnant (but still drinking and smoking) wife, daughter, and wife’s friend in the car. We managed to convince Levan to stay home, and just told Dato to take us home.

I went to bed, but woke up early cause of some guy who kept calling for a Levan (it is one of the most common names here), and didn’t realize that not only was there no Levan with me but that I don’t speak much more Georgian above the level of “There is no Levan here, leave me alone!”

In the office today, Dan got a call from Levan the real estate agent. Apparently he is not supposed to drink and has blood pressure issues, although it seems like the necessity for hospitality is a higher responsibility then one’s health.

Hopefully I’ll have a post soon about my traveling, my birthday celebrations, and what I’m up to for the holidays (besides watching Pineapple Express a few more times). I do know already that I’m going to be hosting a Christmas brunch on the 25th although there is orthodox Christmas here as well. I also know that I will be cat sitting in an apartment that has heating, satellite TV, the internet, and well a cat, 4 things that my apartment is lacking. Actually 2 rooms in our house don’t have lights, so I really should go out and get light bulbs, see if I can fix that.

Written by bensweeney

December 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Suprajacking

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