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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings From Georgia

The holiday season in Georgia means eating piglets and drinking October’s grape harvest. It means New Year’s on Rustaveli swigging champagne from the bottle and dodging fireworks aimed at your face. But above all, the holidays mean experiencing family intimacy on a level totally obscure to those from the West, whose holidays often mean having to be with the family, or in other words, experiencing an inconvenient necessity. Georgians undoubtedly find that concept inconceivable, yet it is a reality in some American households.

I was at one American Christmas gathering that ended up in a fight, where one woman got her face slapped by a brother-in-law, who in turn got kicked in the groin. The kind of language that has no business being uttered in the worst Skid Row dive – let alone under the mistletoe – was being slung at every member of the family before they even had a chance to pour their eggnog. This was just an ordinary, suburban, Anglo-Saxon family (unlike mine, who are just a bunch of crazy Mexicans). My family doesn’t drink eggnog or hit each other (at Xmas), but they do yell. My favorite comments occur as the ever present multitude of children rip their gifts open, sending wrapping paper in the air.

“Oooh, ughh, this is ugly!”

“You better like it, it was expensive!”

“Shut up or I’ll smack you!”

“Where’s the receipt?”

Meanwhile, the males sit on the sofa and watch football with beers between their legs. It has been like this every year for as long as I remember.

But then, what is the holiday season if not a time of year steeped in tradition and routine?

Take Nick Ponti. As an Italian, his family did not possess the exuberance of my Anglo-Saxon friends and Latin American relatives. Christmas with them was a spaghetti dinner, whiskey and watching a documentary about Charles Manson. While Nick’s mother did rag about Nick not having children yet, it was done very quietly.

I’m all for tradition and high spirits, which is why I find Georgia particularly endearing. And as I enjoy yet another Tbilisi Christmas, I have developed a new routine, a kind of family tradition: drinking the holiday chachatini.

For some of us foreigners, chacha - Georgian grappa - is a stinky poison to be avoided at all costs. To others it is a kind of exotic hazard. For me, it is my drug of choice. Like wine, I prefer homemade chacha to the bottled variety. Of course you need a good source – it’s much easier to get bad chacha than good.

While I’m not opposed to drinking down the hatch, it is pleasant to sip a cold chachatini in the warmth of one’s home, in the pleasant company of friends, films or books, or simply alone in the dark, and get slowly throttled. To make this delectable butt-kicking treat, you need nothing more than the basics: a shaker, ice, green olives and a bottle of vermouth. Personally, I prefer the Luis Bunuel method of mixing extra-dry. First you shake the piss out of some chacha and ice, pour it, then hold the bottle of vermouth up and let a ray of light pass through the bottle into the glass. In the evening I use the light from blinking Xmas lights. This guarantees not only a perfect taste, but eventually the sound of sleigh bells, whether Saint Nick is there or not.

We all have ways of celebrating the holidays, some of us more or less sober than others. It’s called holiday cheer for a reason.

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