Friday, November 18, 2005

Supra Star

At this rate, I fear that tomorrow I will be blogging a requiem for Jason, my poor hapless guest.

Two nights ago was his first Georgian supra.

It's hard to find a fitting analogy for the place of the supra in Georgian life. It's the conviviality of a summer barbecue mixed with the regularity of your morning Starbucks mixed with the blood-alcohol level of Christopher Hitchens celebrating Mother Theresa's death.

Or to put it more clearly, it's the dinner party that celebrates birthdays, deaths, marriages, arrivals, departures, harvests, raises, whatever. The table buckles under tiers of dishes and wine and wine and vodka. One person is designated tamada, or toastmaster, and he leads all the invocations to love, women, Georgia, the friendship of nations, our departed, etc. One can obtain permission to offer a return toast, but generally speaking this is the tamada's territory.

Another rule, that in retrospect I probably should have mentioned to Jason, is that you only drink when a toast is being said. This is pure self-preservation: men take measure of one another's manhood by their ability to pack it in. And if you are drinking wine instead of vodka, and you are a man, you are expected to finish your filled glass at each toast.

Jason was drinking wine and stressing his 110 pound frame to the limit. My alarm began when our tamada leaned to Jason and asked, "Jason, how is your beef stroganoff?" and Jason's eyes rolled wild and in an absurdly theatrical British accent he yelled, "It's like a god-damn bloody fountain of youth! It just keeps re-filling!" Once you can't tell the difference between your entree and a glass of wine, we're in trouble town.

When in short order Jason started to list to and fro, like a reed in the wind, I whispered to him, "Nobody will notice if you only drink a part of your glass at the toasts. You don't have to impress anybody." So naturally, he took my crap advice and after sipping a conservative swallow to, say, the glory of friendship, two accusing Georgian fingers shot towards his offending glass from across the table. "There is something wrong with your glass. Why is there still wine in it?"

"Please," I pleaded, destroying with my mothering the last remaining shreds of Jason's masculinity. "He is planning to go to Armenia in the morning." Why oh why I thought that invoking an impending trip to Armenia would gain him reprieve is beyond me. Hoorah, hands were thrown in the air, the wine filled up, and now he won't be able to go to Yerevan!

We hadn't even reached supra halftime when Jason took up residence in the loo and wasn't seen again. Our tamada shrugged apologetically. "But it was only one bottle of wine he had!" "In some countries," I helpfully instructed, "that's a lot of wine for one hour and 52 kilos." Try to remember, if you can, your freshman year in college and let that be shorthand for the kind of night Jason had. Keep in mind that taking a taxi home on Tbilisi streets is akin to driving across a giant cheese grater.

Well he's got himself a little reputation now. When next we encountered this gang of bandits I call friends they slapped poor J on the back and announced for all to hear that they were in the presence of the greatest drinker in all of Georgia. I suppose it is all part of the checklist for a proper Georgia visit: Have you puked up your supra? Have you received a marriage proposal? Have you been robbed actively? Have you been robbed passively? Have you shouted down taxi drivers? Have you had taxi drivers offer a marriage proposal? How many cars have you push-started and how much time did you spend shivering in a power outage? I suppose if I put him on that plane next week, toothless, liverless, robbed of cash and dignity, then I'll have done my job a-okay.


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