Georgia: The Greatest Hosts in the World
I was in a dream: “……under a bridge made of old bricks spanning a sandy ditch with no flowing water. At the flea market sandwiched there, I picked up a bejewelled Georgian dagger, haggled with the old vendor for a mere 5 GEL. Then I came onto a side-street with a leaning tower with a clock stuck in the middle. Unlike the tower of Pisa this one was more sectionally distorted, but joined together, and then held up by a slanted iron beam. Fast forward….soon I was raising a toast with a ram’s horn cup filled with Amber wine to a group of people. I was speaking animatedly about Dostoyevsky and his banishment, of Stalin and his failed farm experiments, of Georgian independence from Russia… and then I was dancing vigorously with Georgians in wine-induced camaraderie.”
I woke up…only to realize that it was a vivid recollection of my trip to Tbilisi. I had been to that flea market under the famous Dry Bridge, and did buy a dagger. The Tower of Tbilisi leans quaintly against a puppet theatre, crying against urban linearity. But why was I speaking animatedly?
I was role-playing a tamada or toastmaster. There is no other tradition that can compare with this unique social ritual. The Georgian Supra (feast or banquet) where guests are plied with copious amounts of food and drink in limitless hospitality, requires a tamada. If two people are drinking wine, one serves as the toastmaster. At a home-meal, it is usually the host; but on ceremonial occasions professionals are invited.
The first sadγegrdzelo (toast) must be raised by the tamada. Typically, he should be a good speaker, be respected by all, be knowledgeable about various subjects, and must be able to drink in fair measure! There is an order to the topics for each toast, but in informal situations these can be relaxed. The topics cut across life-lessons to home-grown philosophies, from family to god, from politics to literature. That’s why I was expounding on these subjects in the dream.
As for the dancing: the aggressive folk rhythms of Georgia, when matched with eight or ten slam-dunk toasts, can galvanize any gentleman into twinkle-toed exuberance. Watch me on Video!