Thursday, October 22, 2009

Running Georgian Style

A Georgian friend and I decided to start running in the mornings. This lasted all of three days, I'm afraid I have to report, but our first run out was so funny from an American viewpoint that I just have to share.

For comparison purposes, here's what I typically do when I go for a jog: I try to run more than I walk, and I give myself time limits on how long I can walk. At my peak, I was running a good 10 or 15 minutes before walking 2-4 minutes, then repeating. The time I spent out rarely exceeded about 45 minutes.

We decided to go running on the Boulevard, a stretch of path running several kilometers along the coast of the Black Sea, which turns into a track in the early hours of the morning (although it's mostly men, and mostly older men, who are running). We met at seven and headed out, our walk to the Boulevard taking about twenty minutes.

My friend has long been off the workout wagon, and I haven't been doing too great myself, so we decided to start slow, alternating three-minute jogs with walking periods. The morning sea air was fresh and invigorating, and it was motivating to see so many other people also out exercising.

About six minutes into our exercise, which means we were already walking after an initial jog, my friend saw someone she knew, and we stopped to talk for about 10 minutes. We kept going, running three minutes at a time, but walking at least 10 minutes in between, aiming to get a total of 20 minutes of running in. We did eventually reach that goal, but it took an hour and a half! This is why even though having a workout partner is a great motivator to get out of bed in the morning, sometimes it's hard to run with a partner - if your goals or abilities are too different, you can be left feeling like you haven't worked at all, or it can take waaaay to long to reach your relatively modest goals.

The biggest kicker? On our way back, we were passing by my friend's godmother's apartment, and she decided we should stop by. The walk up to the sixth floor was a great workout, but when we arrived, we woke up her godmother, which I felt bad about (but is totally normal and acceptable in Georgia - the random stop by is the preferred method of visiting). We ended up staying there, drinking coffee and eventually eating breakfast, until almost noon... when they gave us a ride home in their car! It was nice visiting, her godmother and her husband and daughter are lovely people, but it was definitely not what I was expecting from a morning run. Especially riding home in a car afterwards....

Anyway, this was an interesting insight into Georgian social patterns and their take on fitness culture. I'd still like to go running in the morning with a partner (because I really don't seem to be able to get out of bed otherwise), but I need one who is similarly focused. Reziko has offered to go with me countless times, but this offer has the caveat that I have to wake him up, which defeats the whole point of my workout partner motivating me to get out of bed because I know they're making the effort for me, too. It's so much easier when the alarm goes off to just snuggle back in and doze off than to climb out into the cold air and try to convince a happily sleeping husband that he, too, should brace for the cold and go exercise. Just doesn't happen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Georgian Wedding

On October 7, Reziko and I had a BIG party to celebrate our union. Well, it seemed big to me, as we had about 100 invited guests, but Georgian wedding receptions often run 300 or even 500 guests.

You can see pictures of the event here.

The morning of we were still running around, picking up sweets and khachapuri from the bakery and delivering them to the reception hall and attending to a thousand other details it seemed like we should have thought of before. At one I was dropped off at the salon to get a mani-pedi and my hair and makeup done, which took a good couple of hours. The girl who did my makeup spoke a little Russian, but everyone else was almost completely Georgian-only, so that was kind of awkward. They dressed me right there, which is good, because I couldn't have gotten into that dress without help. I was then whisked home in a taxi, where I sat very still and straight, because it's painful to slouch in a corset.

Everyone had gone to the reception hall except me and Reziko and our mejuarebi (best man and maid of honor) Tamazi and Irma. The reception started at 4, but apparently it's normal for the bride and groom to come a little later than that, so that the guests are all seated and waiting by the time they make their grand entrance. This was sort of a bummer for me because I was starving, but finally, at about half past four, the car showed up to ferry us to the event.

As is traditional, Reziko and I sat with Tamazi and Irma at the table of honor on a raised stage. However, the layout of the room was such that I couldn't see all of the guests. At the table closest to ours sat my parents with Eliko, who was interpreting, and my mother-in-law, Inga, and Gela, who was our tamada, or toastmaster.

I didn't have the benefit of the toasts being translated for me this time, but I think Gela did an excellent job of shouting over the guests to deliver his toasts. The first toast, naturally, was to me and Reziko and our happiness, and Gela toasted us with a khantsi, or bull's horn. Khantsi come in many sizes; I think the one at our wedding was a one-liter, and it was clear crystal, rather than a natural horn. After Gela toasted, other men who can handle that much wine at once also took their turns toasting us with the khantsi. Every time we had to stand up and hold our glasses, which at first were connected to each other with what looked like Mardi Gras beads (to symbolize everlasting union?). We quickly removed the beads, as they were a spilling hazard (our table, like every table in the place, was loaded with food), and we thought they looked kind of dumb anyway. Once everyone who wanted to toast with the khantsi had done so, Gela moved on to other toasts: to Reziko's parents, to my parents, to our mejuarebi, etc, and these were done with regular-sized glasses.

The party went on for a good three or four hours. There were mostly men there, people my father-in-law Basa knows from his job and neighbors on our little street. Reziko and I danced to a couple of slow tunes at the behest of our ever-more-drunken self-appointed DJ, and my Dad tried out his variation on traditional Georgian dancing (think doing the twist only real low). The Georgians just went wild over that. Dad also danced with Inga, which left her breathless and, I'm sure, will be fondly remembered for years to come.

The food was prolific and fantastic. One of my favorite dishes were these absolutely delicious, plump and juicy roasted mushrooms, prepared on traditional Georgian clay cookware. So yummy! There was roast suckling pig, beef dishes, chicken dishes, eggplant dishes, khachapuri, tons of other stuff. I even asked that they just bring me out a little plate of tomatoes and cucumbers, so as not to make myself sick eating just meat. One interesting tradition that I didn't anticipate is that the wedding cake is not cut on the day of the reception, but rather just sits in front of the table of honor, looking sparkly and pretty.

At the end of the night a couple of especially drunk and especially happy for us guys came over to personally give rambling (but heartfelt) toasts in Russian, wishing us long life and millions of babies. As the guests left, the food was packed up for day two (yes, it goes on!), and I finally got to go home and take my beautiful but heavy dress off.

On day two we prepared our living room for about twenty guests, serving some of the massive quantities of food that remained from the day before. I spent the morning cleaning chairs that had long been stored in a dusty attic and helping to put together an extended table. In a smaller room, the toasts seemed even louder than before, and I had a harder time staying smiley on day two (Georgians are very good at celebrating until it's not actually fun anymore), but they didn't stay too long, and we got to cut the cake this time, so that was good.

And then the wedding stuff was over at last! Now I've got the rest of the weekend to spend with my parents, who fly out on Sunday. It's been great to see them!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wedding Reception Planning

Basa and Inga are throwing me and Reziko a wedding reception. Normally this would have been done right after the venchanie at the church (which we had July 26), but we wanted to wait so my parents could be present. And now I'm learning lots about wedding planning in Georgia!

Clothes: Most wedding dresses in this part of the world look like Disney princess gone awry. Here's a sampling from the first couple pages of a Google search; these are very representative of what's available in the stores around here:

Basically, they're way not my style; many of the dresses I saw here could easily be confused for the wedding cake. If I'd been more on the ball, I would have picked out a dress I liked from the internet and had someone custom make it for me, but since it didn't occur to me early enough, I was limited to what was already on the rack. Fortunately, we did find one dress that isn't shaped like a church bell, and even though it's still sleeveless (i.e. it's a corset top - don't think I'll be eating too much!) and covered in strings of blingy rhinestones, it's still a pretty nice dress. We got a little bolero to go with it, so I won't be cold or feel so naked. I also bought my very first pair of peep-toes, so it's a good thing that my salon work-up includes a pedicure (along with manicure, make-up, and hairstyle).

Of course, I'm not the only one getting a new outfit. Reziko bought his first suit and dress shoes (do you know how hard it is to find a coat and pants for someone as skinny as he?), Gogi got a snappy new shirt, pants, and dress shoes, and lovely Inga got a new haircut and a dress, and will even be wearing heels!

Food: Basa, Gogi, and Tamazi set off at about 4 AM yesterday morning to the villages in the mountains to buy meat. They came back with about 30 kilograms of cheese, an entire cow, hacked up and stuffed into grain bags, four live piglets and about twenty live chickens. Our courtyard has temporarily been turned into a barnyard. The animals are cute but stinky; the chickens are constantly knocking over their water, and one of them is an escape artist, always squeezing out through the wire. We eventually just let her roam; she can't get far anyway, as the yard is fenced. Butchering time is scheduled for four o'clock; I'm not sure yet if I'm going to watch. I'm half grossed-out and half curious, since I never have seen how animals are butchered before. So maybe I'll watch one or two and then skedaddle. All of this food will be taken to the chef at the reception hall tomorrow morning so they'll have time to cook everything by 4 PM on Wednesday.

Clean-up: We've been scurrying around getting the house guest-ready, which has involved a lot of sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, etc. I try to stay out of the way and stick to what I know how to do, which has been mostly dish-washing and sweeping. I had a little battle of wills with Inga this morning as she physically tried to stop me from moving the couch with Gogi, saying, "You can't do that, Alli! You're a WOMAN!!" Which, I know, is just how she was raised and is used to looking at the world, but it really pissed me off. And I moved the couch anyway, and explained to her that in the US I don't just wait around for a man to show up to move something marginally heavy for me, and fumed about it for awhile afterwards, and now I'm mostly over it. Most of the time I can deal with this gender-role stuff without much trouble, but when the reason why I can't do something is not because I'm not strong enough or not tall enough, but specifically because I'm a female, that irks me. Anyway, in the end we've got the house pretty presentable, which is good, because my parents arrive tomorrow!

I hope Mom brings her camera, because I don't have one, and I'd really like pictures of us looking all spiffy, and of all the food, and of the party in general. Georgian weddings typically run to 300 people, sometimes even 500, but we're keeping ours to about 100. Still, it's going to be raucous. Stay tuned for updates after Wednesday.