I anticipated that it would be one of the best that I have been to; I was not disappointed. I think that Zanavi Village will never be the same -- nor do I think there have ever been so many foreign guests there at the same time.
I left Tea's house at 7:45 a.m. on the first marshutka out of Shamgona. In Zugdidi, I hopped the bus to Tbilisi, got off in Khasuri, found a marshutka on its way to Akhaltsikhe, then got the last marshutka to Adigeni where I called James and was directed to the dirt road that would lead me up the mountain to his host-house. It was about 5 p.m. when I headed up the road, iridescent purple umbrella raised to shield me from the blazing sun. By 5:45, I was greeting James on the balcony and being ushered into the main room to greet my friends and meet James' host family. Katherine and Maria were there -- our Belgian friend, Mattias who we met in Kazbegi was there along with James' host family and some extended family. I put down my backpack and joined the suphra, already in full swing.
After an hour of eating and drinking, we took an hour pause in the festivities for James and Katherine to go down the mountain to pick up the last guest for the weekend, Katherine's hostess in Tbilisi who also made the trip out for the celebration. In the meantime, I meandered around outside, shooting photos of the beautiful countryside and picking wildflowers for James' host "mom."
Once we were all gathered anew, the tenor of the party changed. It felt more relaxed. I don't know if that was because the rest of the relatives had left so all the toasts were now given in English, or that the immediate family (the women) had finished serving so they were able to sit with us and enjoy the rest of the night. Regardless of the reason, it was very nice.
As Georgian as the birthday suphra was, there was something unique about it -- at least, compared with any of the other suphras I have been to. The main difference was the toasts.
Toasting is what makes a Georgian suphra, a Georgian suphra. There are rules to toasting regarding the order, who gives them, when each person speaks, what must be in the glass with which one is toasting, and how much should be drunk. I've become accustomed to the rules, and I know which ones can be broken without offending anyone. Since I have figured that out, I have enjoyed being at suphras (I really disliked them before my revelation). But none so much as last night's. I was trying to figure out what it was that I liked so much -- and finally I realized what was so special about this one: the toasts (most of them) were given in English.
Men usually give the toasts, and I had not been to a suphra with an English-speaking man as "tamada" (toastmaster). So when the toasts are given at those suphras, I either glean what little I can from my Georgian knowledge or ask Lika or Tea what was said. It's always the same translation, "This person wishes whomever the best in everything -- health and happiness and success and long life...." Bland, generic, and vanilla. No poetic, flowery language. No heartfelt words of affirmation.
But, toasting in English to those who have become near and dear to me is quite another thing. James' host speaks English well, as does Katherine's hostess, so the two Georgians who were involved in the toasting (once the extended family had left) switched to giving their toasts in English. For me, it changed everything about toasting. It made it meaningful and pertinent. Sometimes it was difficult to think of something meaningful to say, but since we all participated in each round of toasts, we could play off of each other's words, echoing the sentiment, or building on what the previous person said. It was a wonderful time to tell each other how much we all mean to each other.
No wonder the Georgians have kept this tradition for centuries.... maybe for millennia.
In American culture, we don't often tell each other why we love, respect, and admire each other. We don't express our feelings about and connection to things like family, school, country, history, culture, or God. But when surrounded by people who can share (in a common language) their thoughts on the meaning of life and each other, hearts are filled and spirits are refreshed.
I think that we all felt that way last night. I sure did.
|At the suphra-table -- James' hosts, Kate, James, Mattias, and Kate's hostess|