You know that place that your 50-kg bags of Georgian sugar come from? Agara, an hour or so west of Tbilisi as the autobahn flies? That’s the scene of our story. It starts sweet but turns rather sour.
A friend of mine was having his 65th birthday there, in his wonderfully grapevine-shaded yard. He’s a nationally famous tamada, or toastmaster, and had borrowed my pair of kudu horns to use as drinking horns once before. He asked for them for this occasion too, so I dragged them from our house far away in Svaneti across the country to his place for the special event. The supra, or feast, was a little underway when my friends and I arrived from our mountains in the early evening. Tables invisible but practically groaning under the loads of plates on plates of Georgia’s most delicious foods; business as usual. Complete with live music, a microphone and speakers so that the 65-odd guests could hear the eloquence.
No one introduced me to the man sitting next to me, although within seconds everyone knew that a foreigner had joined the fray. A shame, perhaps, as my neighbor turned out to be the ex-president of one of Georgia’s brutally bitten-off regions, the places receding farther and farther from reach. Still, it was perhaps refreshing not to have to think about how to relate to such a personage as anyone more than just another Georgian, which is what I did.
Profound words were said; the horns made their appearance, long, spiral, possibly unique in all Georgia, holding about a liter of wine each. Most people seemed too awestruck to imbibe from them, which gladdened me I must admit, as I would have hated to become the accessory to a drinking and driving incident if not worse. They did, however, pose for photos with the things held up, at least pretending to use them. Until my host tried one and a few others followed his example. But no one was going to be allowed to drive away drunk.
The mood seemed mostly happy, the dancing giving me a revelation that even without national costumes and stage, Georgians in traditional motion will do just fine. They always make it look so easy, including improvization; but I know that here as with all art forms, you can only be so free to play around if you really know what you are doing from years of practice. Then and only then are you free to break the rules successfully! Otherwise, you’re just a buffoon who might get it right for a short spell but won’t be the monkey hammering out complete Shakespeare on a typewriter.
The crowd thinned a bit as the evening continued, some people going their ways near or far. My friend with whom I had driven for the party, wanted to get as far as Kutaisi that night, bed down there, then continue to Svaneti the next day, which suited me fine as I felt that we had done our part sufficiently to leave without causing offense.
Offense, however, seemingly wasn’t ready to part with us. The tamada, in his cups a bit by this point, began demanding over the speaker system that I leave behind my precious kudu horns as a gift for the family! Neither the host nor I had had this in mind; he knew I wasn’t prepared to part with something which had actually waited for me in Zimbabwe for seven years until my successful attempt to fly out with them.
At this my Svan friend became so enraged he was practically sputtering, and once the horns were located (someone had joking suggested stealing them, which hadn’t helped), we jumped in his car and drove off. The host called the next morning to apologize and make sure that all was OK, and we put the incident behind us. But I am realizing more and more that being the owner of perhaps Georgia’s single pair of kudu drinking horns is not the cool thing it might seem; if all they cause is envy and obsession, what’s the point?
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 1900 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:
By Tony Hanmer
14 June 2018 21:02