Postcards: No.1 – A Day Of Toasts

March 12, 2009

Georgia

A good friend of Test Pressing, ‘The Correspondent’, has recently moved to Georgia, a small country located between Europe and Asia. It is bordered by the Russian Federation to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia to the south, and Turkey to the southwest. We asked him to keep a diary for us covering his new life, the situation over there, and the people that he meets along the way. Over to ‘The Correspondent’…

“Today is the eighth of March, International Women’s Day, and I therefore propose the first toast to all the women in the world”. Spartak raises his glass with home-made wine and the rest of us at the table join in. As is customary in Georgia – according to some sources the birthplace of wine making some 7,000 years ago – the glasses are downed in one go, and almost before they are put down on the table again they are refilled by our friendly host. I take a quick look at the table: bread, cheese, sausages, omelette with a special sauce made of plums, small fishes from Batumi down by the Black Sea, and pickled vegetables of all sorts, including jonjoli, a delicious flower-looking one that I’ve never seen outside of Georgia.

Suddenly the sound of an explosion penetrates the air and with South Ossetia only a few kilometers away I do feel a bit uncomfortable and look nervously at Spartak. But he just puts on a slightly sad smile and sighs: “nothing to worry about, we hear that more or less every day. Probably some kind of exercise. Or just bored soldiers.”

Perhaps he knows what he’s talking about. In 1985 he did his military service in the Soviet Army and was stationed near Lake Baikal in Siberia, where the temperature by the way goes down to below -50° during the long winters. As many Georgians, Spartak speaks Russian as his second language. So do I and that’s the reason why I am in Georgia since about a month ago monitoring the situation after last summer’s war with Russia.

Spartak is a big, good-hearted farmer in a remote village up in the mountains near the administrative boundary line that now divides South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia and because of the war he can no longer sell his products in the market that is on the wrong side of the line on the map. “Life’s tough, but we’ll survive.” It didn’t take long after we arrived in the village until we met Spartak, who almost immediately invited us to his home, “a much better place to discuss things than out in the rain”.

It’s rude to not accept an invitation in Georgia and even worse to not participate in the toasting that plays such a big part of the Georgians’ well-known hospitality. Luckily I manage to just sip on my glass when the next toast comes, this time for peace. Spartak tops my glass up and we have another toast for our health. We talk about the conflict and how life in the village has changed, then have a toast for children all over the world. And another one for my little nephew who was born just the night before. And of course one for our friendship. Then one for ourselves.

There are a few more before Spartak reluctantly accepts that we have to leave and continue our work. I’m glad I’ve managed to just sip my way through the last few toasts and even more so that our driver managed to persuade Spartak that he could only drink lemonade. As we drive away on the same dirt road that took us to the village I can’t help thinking about how unnecessary conflicts like this really are. I study the amazing landscape and think about how beautiful it will be when spring comes in a month or so. I’ll definitely try to go back then.

[The Correspondent]

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