The familiar sensation, dry mouth, body on fire and caked with sweat, my head being pounded from the inside by a sledge hammer. I gingerly raised my head off the pillow. An irresistible force, pushes it back down. The weight of a bellyful of alcohol, which clouded my mind, rushed up through my body…
The supra is an integral part to any Georgian gathering and consists in part of consuming a vast quantity of sweet wine and food. The word supra derives from the tablecloth upon which all supras are eaten and is led by the Tamada (toastmaster) who introduces a series of toasts during the feast. The range of formality varies depending on the situation but the supras are divided into the festive supra, the Keipi, and the solemn post-funeral supra called the Kelekhi.
Our first experience of a supra was in the beautiful Georgian town of Sighnaghi, in the foothills of the Gombori Range and in the heart of Georgia‘s wine making region. We had hitch-hiked into town and found a charming and reasonably priced guest-house, and set out to explore this tiny place on foot. Sighnaghi has been recently renovated with a view towards attracting a larger share of the ever increasing number of tourists to the region and whilst some people might view the shininess of the town as in some way forced, we were won over by the town’s stunning views over plains stretching to the sky and the unrelenting kindness of Georgian hospitality.
It was whilst drinking a few quite beers with some fellow travellers we had encountered in the town, that we were approached by the waitress who communicated to us that the noisy group of Georgians, who had obviously had a bit to drink, were inviting us to join them at their table.
All supras, regardless of the size or formality are headed by a Tamada, who is chosen by the host and whose job it is to lead the table through the evening’s festivities. A good Tamada must be an eloquent speaker and capable of drinking a large amount of wine without showing any sign of drunkenness, a tough ask. The order of the toasts is hugely important and always begins with a toast to peace. The chilled red wine must be drunk all in one and the glass is immediately refilled. The second toast is to the reason of the gathering and the third to the party’s host, both cheered with wine that slips down the throat a little too easily.
By the time we joined the supra, I suppose we were on the fourth toast to parents and ancestors as our glasses were filled with wine and our plates with food while the Tamada, speaking in Russian for our benefit, made a rousing toast to the families of all present. Despite the language barriers, the wrecking ball of wine broke down the dividing line and the mutual fascination helped the conversation move along as the Tamada made a solemn toast to those no longer with us. While seemingly morbid to the uninitiated, the toast is actually remarkably moving, with the Tamada close to tears as he eulogises the passing of friends and family, and the temporariness and finality of our short existence.
The Tamada who had to drink double of what was expected of everybody else, began to slur. I marvelled at his ability to continue standing as I tried to decipher his strange mix of Georgian, Russian and bab-fab-rab. More toasts followed, to Georgia, to Poland, to England, to women and to children, my own speech began to slur as my control loosened. Wine was spilt among roars of laughter and the glass instantly refilled. Shot after shot of glass after glass of wine.
The last toast to a safe journey home must have passed me by as I could be found, far away, in the middle of the sleepy night, hugging my stable porcelain friend.
written by: Jon