“We were out collecting grapes all day. Now all we have to do is press them and then we’ll have a nice get-together. I came back especially for you. Really! Come!” Irakli was the owner of the guesthouse where we were staying in Sighnaghi. Like most Georgians I've interacted with Iralkli was incredibly friendly and hospitable. I didn’t want to get wasted on homemade wine (which would be guaranteed) but, I did want to gain a little insight into a local way of life, so, I accepted the invite.
When I arrived Iralki's friends were right into pressing the grapes into a large metal container. I was told that the fermentation process takes 20 days. Irakli's brother-in-law, whose house the whole thing was taking place at said "Our ancestors would be ashamed if they saw that we're not using the traditional clay pots, but, such is life."
If anyone met me for the first time over the past couple of weeks they wouldn't believe that I don't care much for alcohol. I've had to drink much more than usual. I've done it to connect with people. If you don't drink – you miss out. Yeh, I know, excuses. What I was really excited about was a chance to have some home-made shashlik. People of the Caucasus were famous around the former USSR or at least Belarus for their shashlik-making prowess. I realised that this would be the first time that I'd get to see if the hype was for real.
Above is Irakli (right) and a friend who was put in charge of the fire.
Irakli's friends were 50 years of age and older. Some were nostalgic for the USSR (a common theme) for past glory, for days when work was plentiful. Iralki who was a little over 60 seemed content with his life today. He had the guesthouse and Sighnaghi has become one of the top tourist destinations in Georgia. A relatively easy life.
Shashlik didn't take long. It was a very simple operation and didn't seem promising. However, it did live up to the hype. The meat was incredibly succulent and had just the right amount of salt. Went really well with the Georgian Tkemali sauce!
The drinking began with a toast to the ancestors. Who can resist drinking to the ancestors? Then to the men who worked all day. Would be disrespectful not to drink to them. Then we drank to the little ones. To the house owner's grandson and my daughter, Mia. Obviously I can't not drink to that.
My glass kept getting filled. After a few more toasts it wasn't completely clear what we were toasting to. The themes ranged from international friendship to indirectly – Stalin??? I don't remember the specifics, but it was another proof that history's biggest tyrant still lives in the hearts of those who haven't quite adapted to or accepted the post-Soviet era.
I find these moments during my travels incredibly weird and at times morally challenging. On the one hand, I despise much of what the Soviet Union brought and I can never ever agree with those who paint it in such rosy colours. I'm definitely not a fan of Stalin, to put it lightly! In a neutral setting it would be easy to call these people mad. However, here I was – a guest in their country, a stranger who was being treated like an old friend. This wasn't the place nor the time to argue about our different views. Instead I toasted to these men, to their generation and to their warmth and hospitality.