I’ve been catching up on my Parts Unknown shows. I loved the show. It took me to places that are off the beaten path…..not in the mainstream. Bourdain’s conversations and interactions with different cultures were so interesting and captured a more human side, versus just a typical travelogue. The episodes were always filled with a lot of characters, but characters in a good way. We experienced the unexpected!
Photo by CNN
I ran across a show that was taped in Tbilisi, Georgia. It struck me that Bourdain was able to bring all the warmth and friendliness that I encountered when I traveled to Georgia. The people were so welcoming, and I still talk to many of them to this day. Facebook makes it so easy to stay in touch with people from all over the world!
I was able to travel to Georgia through a partnership with the US Department of Energy and the State of Kentucky. Georgia needed expertise in developing their natural energy resources, such as hydropower shown below, as well as management of consumer issues. It was a reciprocal arrangement, we went to Georgia and they came to the United States.
While traveling to Georgia we had a layover in Munich, Germany. The trip was in late September, around the time of the annual Oktoberfest. On the flight to Tbilisi, many people boarded the plane in Germany that had been to the festival. They served beer on the flight, even though it was 6:00 AM. I will never forget that…..and, it certainly foreshadowed things to come!
When we arrived at the Tbilisi airport, I was struck by the warm greeting we received from our energy industry counterparts. It was gratifying and reassuring to be welcomed by people who were genuinely glad we were there and appreciated our willingness to share and exchange our knowledge with them.
Georgia is a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia, and their neighbors include Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The population of Georgia is about 3.7 million, so as a whole its population equates to that of Oklahoma and geographically is about the size of West Virginia. It’s a former Soviet republic state that has mountains, the Black Sea, and a mix of the old and new country.
Photo from Thewaywomenwork.com
Tbilisi, which is the capital of Georgia, is known for its diverse architecture, high-tech features, and its traditional cobblestone streets. I believe the photo below well illustrates the old and the new of Georgia.
Georgia and Russia have a long history of disputes. The latest conflict happened in 2008 and as you travel through the country you can still see the ravages of the war. Bombed out buildings and bridges remind you of the tumultuous history the two countries share. The United States came to the aid of Georgia to the tune of $1 billion, and to this day they are extremely grateful and appreciative. Georgians love Americans.
As you travel into the city you can’t help but notice the high-tech designed bridge that connects old Tbilisi with the new city. It’s a very modern suspension bridge that is called the Pedestrian Bridge of Peace. It has glass panels and is shaped like a bow. At night the bridge lights up with many different colors. Every hour 30,000 bulbs broadcast a message in Morse code. It is said that the message is composed of the names of the periodic table of elements that make up the human body. According to the architect, “the message a hymn to life and peace among people and nations.”
The bridge is not the only modern twist to the city. Public art installations are located throughout the Tbilisi. It was awesome to travel to a city that has such strong beliefs about the benefits of public art.
The statute below is in honor of the “tamada”. A tamada in Georgia is the assigned toastmaster for formal dinners. This is a very important function in Georgian hospitality. Every formal dinner has a tamada that is chosen to preside over the toasts of the evening. It’s not uncommon to have a 4-5 hour formal dinner with numerous toasts. I didn’t keep count at our dinners but there had to be at least 25 toasts, and probably more. The tamada is also in charge of hospitality. They make sure that everyone is having a good time and has enough to eat and drink.
The tamada begins the toast and then each man at the table is responsible for a toast throughout the evening. These toasts are very emotional and heartfelt. It’s not unusual for there to be tears of joy, laughter, and sadness. There are toasts to family, Georgia, and during our dinner, to America. I believe there was even a toast to President George Bush! Only men in Georgia drink to each of the toasts. Women are not expected to drink each toast (that’s a good thing!).
I recently read an article on Georgian toasts that described the 10 basic toasts that are traditional to formal banquets. I remember that most of them were included in our dinners. According to Transfersgeorgia.com, the toasts include:
- To our meeting- this includes celebrating the event that brought everybody together.
- To our parents- this toast thanks parents for life and raising.
- To those that passed away- good qualities are toasted and their souls are wished peace in Heaven. It is customary that during this toast, everyone dips a piece of bread into their wine and then puts the bread on the edge of their plates.
- To the children- this is a toast to the future of families and the country.
- To Georgia- Georgians are proud of their country and always toast to it. It always includes any countries of foreign guests at that the table as well.
- To women- thanks are given to the women that have prepared the food on the table. Georgians hold women in high regard and are treated as special creatures to be admired and respected. I was very impressed with their courtesy towards me.
- To Peace- peace is very important to Georgia due to their long history of conflicts and wars. Peace is treasured by Georgians.
- To someone celebrating a special occasion- birthday, graduations, anniversaries are all highlighted in this toast.
- To those who could not be at the table, but are present in everyone’s thoughts- if someone is ill, or unable to attend, they are remembered and toasted too.
- To the host family- this toast usually signals the end of the dinner.
For special toasts, there’s an item that is brought out that is called a Khantsi, which is a ceremonial drinking horn. This is an important accessory in the culture of ritual toasting in Georgia. You have to drink it all, it’s considered rude not to finish the wine. Georgians only toast with wine, not beer.
Photo courtesy of En.wikipedia.org
I really enjoyed my trip to Georgia….we experienced such warmth and genuinely friendly. Tune in next week for the Georgia food and wine blog post! Until then xoxo.