Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wedding Season

One of the most important things to know about Georgian weddings is that there is not one, but rather two receptions following the wedding. This detail is particularly helpful when you’re trying to find the balance of how much to drink. “Phew,” you might think. “I made it through that supra without being in danger of a hangover, but I still drank enough so as not to look like a complete wimp.”

But then you will notice the car you thought was taking you home has suddenly veered into a driveway leading up to yet another banquet hall. “#%&$,” you might think. “Here we &$%@ing go again...”

And so the supra begins anew. Same food, worse wine, more unintelligible chatter (for me), huge speakers blaring Russian pop songs, old ladies tugging at the skin on your neck telling you what a good boy you are, etc. Round 2, ding!

Georgian weddings (and funerals) are judged by how many attend and how much wine is consumed. Very little attention is paid to the actual ceremony. I was the only one (bride and groom included) who was listening to the priest during the ceremony and I understood almost none of what he said.

This was not my first Georgian wedding, but it’s the first one I’ve been to where I recognized anyone. The last one I attended was for the son of the gym teacher at the school where a friend of mine is Peace Corps volunteer. Despite this distant connection, it was imperative that I came. A good demonstration of how much Georgians desire even total strangers to attend their weddings was at this one. During the reception/supra, the groom and the Best Man, both of whom served in the Georgian army in Iraq, came over to my table to toast me. Me. I’m the guy who did not serve in Iraq, but simply crashed the wedding.

Having missed the past few host family-related weddings I really had to go to this one, even though it meant missing a day of school. Missing a day of poorly attended lessons is no big deal at my school. We sometimes end school an hour or two early if any of the faculty are having a supra at their house. Partying comes first in Georgia. You have to grudgingly admire this.

While the wedding for her husband’s second cousin once removed’s wasn’t till Tuesday, my host mother began preparing food on Sunday. She baked a dozen cakes and a half-dozen trays of achma khatchapuri. The wedding was all the talk in the neighborhood. Of primary interest was whether the bride’s husband-to-be was taller than her. She is a tall girl by Georgian standards.


On the morning of the wedding I put on my suit and walked down the dusty road with my host family. A passing relic of Soviet engineering picked us up and drove us to the bride’s house in Kutaisi, the nearest city.

I mingled with a bunch of Georgian men as they smoked and played cards. Soon the groom arrived, the bride's father cried, we all shook hands and toasted the bride and groom. At this one, no plate was broken so those of us unmarried people could pick up pieces to put under our pillows so we could dream about our future spouses.

After this, everyone piled into cars to drive to the church. Georgian tradition requires everyone to form a caravan, drive at a high rate of speed, honk incessantly, and brake suddenly. This may sound dangerous, but there were only a handful of near-wrecks. the most frightening part was that my host sister was holding her 1-year-old baby in the passenger seat and when her husband had to slam on the breaks, she would just barely hold onto the baby, narrowly keeping it from hitting the windshield.

The ceremony was performed by an orthodox priest in a roofless 900-year-old church called Baghrati. It was very warm and most of the attendees hung out in the yard smoking, while a few dozen others stood in the church, idly chatting on their cell-phones. The bride and groom put on crowns, exchanged rings and circled the altar. Then they were pronounced husband and wife and out came the cell-phones. We all headed back to our cars, resumed our honking caravan and headed for the supra. The 1st supra it turned out.

At the supra, the main tamada (toast master) appoints little tamadas to head each of the tables. Our table didn’t get one, so we were spared a rambling presence calling on us to drink. I was seated next to my host brother-in-law Dato. He is not a typical Georgian man. He does not like to drink and actively avoids it with amazing dexterity. Sitting beside Dato in the sweltering heat of a crowded banquet room, we skipped over various toasts, drinking only when my host father was looking.

After three hours of feasting and dancing, we moved on to the next supra. I had consumed only five glasses of wine, something akin to a gross injustice by Georgian standards. Small children drink more than this at supras.

At supra number 2 I was not so lucky. The wine had loosened up the guests and they’d become interested in the American with the camera. Soon I was holding a horn full of wine and drinking it to the bottom. After that I was pulled over by various groups and urged to join them in toasting to America and Georgia’s friendship. Glass after glass we drank to the bottom and I began hoping for escape.

Thankfully, 15-hours after the wedding festivities began, we headed for home. I was probably the only person there that rode home in a car driven by someone passably sober. Overall, the wedding was good fun. I highly recommend attending one if you get the chance.


Blogger john said...

Hey Ryan,
This is a great post...looks like I'll have to give my liver a rest before I arrive...but I just can't stop drinking this NW Beer!

2:23 PM  

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