Ben Sweeney’s Weblog

Got a Fulbright, living in Georgia for a year.

Orthodox Christmas Eve

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Well, my last posts have been so upbeat, I really feel I should report on the dark side of Tbilisi. However, I have not yet encountered this dark side too much, maybe next time I’ll have some grim news or be depressed.

At the moment I am cat-sitting in Saburtalo (a neighbourhood of Tbilisi – it can be a bit rough, but I am in a posher part, near Hotel Adjara), but last night I went back to the apartment where I normally live to clean up a bit (from Christmas even!) for a dinner we had tonight with my roommate. We invited this wonderful lady Tsira who runs a guest house here. Both my roommate and I have stayed with her at one point. He was kicked out for some kind of hanky-panky, but Tsira doesn’t hold any ill feelings. I stayed with her just after I arrived here. She owns (with her husband Boris – who does hold ill feelings apparently) a house with a full courtyard and a number of bedrooms surrounding this yard. The courtyard is one of the most amazing places I’ve been, filled with plants and Boris’s ceramic art. Apparently I was the first American to stay with her. During Soviet times, the house was made communal, and families were given different bedrooms, and only recently did ownership revert to Boris and Tsira.

Anyways, we promised to invite her over to our place, along with some people I met who stay with her, and finally we got around to it. I got home about 2 hours before they were supposed to come and started peeling potatoes and cleaning. Somehow I managed to cook up kasha with chicken, some soup, and latkes (драйники in Russian), all without tasting it as I went along. I was so afraid that something would turn out wrong but everything went quite well. By the end I was so hungry that I would be satisfied with almost anything edible. I guess my cooking was on auto-pilot, but I’m still amazed that everything turned out pretty well.

I invited Tsira as well as Volf and his wife. Volf stays with Tsira, and was there when I lived there. He is German, and his wife, Mari is Georgian. He is in Georgia teaching German at a public school, while Mari is in Germany studying. It is great that they are back and together, and it was really great to have them together with Tsira at my place. When I was staying with Tsira and first met them, I just spoke Russian with them, that is just what we spoke there. Since then, it has been really interesting, seeing how we switch between common languages depending on the circumstances, even mid conversation depending on personal whims.

Luckily everyone turned up half an hour late for the dinner, so most of the stuff was prepared, I only had to fry up the latkes. It was a scene reminiscent of our Christmas brunch with our guest drinking in the living room and me standing over the stove frying up potato pancakes, swearing loudly at the inevitable cuts from grating potatoes and the oil burns from flipping the latkes. It is a little silly, just as my thumb regrew skin, and the burns on my other hand went away, I get the same injuries again. However, they are completely worth it – even just the few latkes I will eat are worth the whole process.

The dinner was amazing, such a nice meal, really Russian and Eastern European food (that is what I can cook I guess), along with s bit of Georgian touches, like some nice cheese, some wine from the corner store, and some pastries from the shop down the street. Shaman even showed up. I know I’ve mentioned him before and haven’t really told much about him, but I’ll give a fuller story later. That guy shows up every Sunday like clockwork, and will also come to every party we have even if we don’t invite him. Somehow, he just knows when there will be food and company.

The dinner ended with mint tea with honey (with a splash of cognac in it), and after Tsira left. Ian (my roommate), decided to get out a bottle of vodka, too ashamed to drink in front of her after the kerfuffle that led to him being evicted. Then most of us headed to this bar which I’ve been to a few times, enough to know the owners, and even though it has changed its name, we still call it Traffic. It used to be under renovation, but people would still go, buying drinks from the nearby grocery store. Even after it opened its doors as a real bar, people would come with non-sanctioned booze. It attracts mostly young expats, and the foreign community being small and tight enough, we all know one another.

I made a mistake a few nights ago, offering some of my non-bar purchased Ukrainian pepper vodka to one of the owners. He got a bit angry – “You are cool, but that is not cool – this is a bar, you can’t do that here. You are a guy like me, I would sneak alcohol into bars, just don’t show it.” It really cast a shadow on my evening – I was a bit stupid in doing that (I had been drinking a little), but I managed to avoid bad feeling (as Shaman would say).

A few days later (early in the evening when there weren’t any customers) I brought a bottle of cognac infused with chipotle peppers as a present for the owners, who are adventurous barmen. We each had a sip, fire running down our throats, and they approved. When I went back tonight, which is Orthodox Christmas Eve, Mark (one of the owners), mixed up a cocktail consisting of the chipotle cognac, some coke, a bit of tonic, and a slice of lemon. It was delicious and had a bit of a bite after you swallowed it. I forget the name of the cocktail that the barman made up, but it involved my name and then some SAT word. It was pretty good. I also gave them the idea of making cayenne salt for putting on the rims of drink glasses.

I gave my friend Aleko a call. He’s half British, half Georgian, very Orthodox apparently. Every time I call him, I start speaking in Georgian to see how long it takes him to realize its me, and to see how long I can hold up a conversation in Georgian. This time he was in Church, and not really in the mood for going to a bar.

Tano, a DJ and a good friend was there. He is now the bar’s Saturday DJ, and always a good guy to talk to. Apparently he has one of the largest collections of vinyl in Georgia. He came over to where we were and greeted the friends I brought, hugging Volf, who he had met before. We had some drinks and danced a bit, and I feel that’s about where the story wraps up, especially because I’m getting a little tired and I should get to bed. My right thumb has a pretty deep cut but, but I think it will be ok in the morning, and my left hand has a few big burns on it which I’m sure will be fine tomorrow as well.

I probably don’t have to go to work tomorrow seeing as how it is Christmas, so I’ll be able to sleep in. I still plan on tomorrow being productive – I’m working on creating an annotated bibliography of documents on IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) which is quite interesting, and I’ll do some Georgian language work. We’ve gotten to verbs, and it is one of the most interesting patterns I’ve ever seen. Taking Georgian really is reigniting my love of language and linguistics, I just hope that I’ll be able to get a critical mass of vocabulary and grammar so I’ll be able to use it and learn from conversations with people.


Written by bensweeney

January 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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