My First Georgian Wedding

At the registry office.

At the registry office.

On Saturday I went with Sian to a wedding of two colleagues of her’s from HSBC, Misha and Tamuna.  The ceremony took place in a church in Mtskheta twenty minutes or so north of Tbilisi, which was attended mostly by close family.  Everyone else gathered at the registry in Marjanishvili for the civil part of the wedding.  It was blazingly hot on Saturday, the kind of heat that I remember from visiting my brother in Texas one August when the sun seemed to exert an almost physical, tangible pressure.  Thankfully the registry office and later the restaurant were both air-conditioned.

First dance, co-yoked.

First dance, co-yoked.

It was a busy day for weddings, and the building was full of different wedding parties.  One group would wait in the large entrance hall of the building while a previous marriage was being officiated in a small adjacent chapel-like room (the one in the picture).  When this was finished, the newly married couple and their group would sweep through the foyer past the next party in line and presumably off to their supras, while the next group filed into the chapel and their place was in turn taken by yet another party.  All of these movements were accompanied by Mendelssohn’s wedding march, since the exit of one group was the entrance of another.  The ceremony took no more than 15 minutes: a few words from the official; the couple and their witnesses signed; a brief dance on the dais while a t-shirted assistant sprinkled confetti from a balcony above; a ceremonial flute of champagne downed in one with arms hooked together.  The looped Mendelssohn was turned up again, and everyone swept out of the chapel, past the expectant-looking bridal pair next in line and into waiting cars to the restaurant.

The wedding tables, Georgian style.

The wedding tables, Georgian style.

The tables had been loaded with traditional Georgian appetizers as we entered the large hall of the restaurant, with probably more than enough food for everyone already set out.  But, in Georgian fashion, the waiters kept bringing more food at intervals for the next three hours.

Appetizers.

Appetizers.

There was, of course, no free space on the tables, every remaining inch of visible table-cloth being covered with mobiles, cigarettes, keys, and other pocket detritus.  So the waiters simply put one course on top of the last, plates of chicken, pork, beef, and even soups balancing precariously on the dishes of the previous course.  By the end of the meal 3-4 hours later, one could descend, archeologically, as it were, through the courses from the mtsvadi—usually brought last—to the cold vegetable antipasti.  The food was generally quite good; Boris, an enthusiastic Russian sitting on my left, exclaimed that one of the things he loved most about Georgia was the food, and that he’d miss it when he eventually went back home to Russia.  However, around two-thirds of the dishes, in their respective strata, were still uneaten a few hours later, and I wondered what they did with it all.  One girl told me it’s traditionally taken home by guests; one jovial and corpulent fellow with his eyes in a pleasurably boozy glaze smiled placidly and said the restaurant refrigerated what remained and served it the next day.

The wedding dance.

The wedding dance.

At a certain point Misha and Tamuna rose to perform their dance, a traditional Georgian dance in which the woman glides gracefully about the room, while the man executes a sort of virile quick-step shuffle somewhere in her vicinity, arms outstretched with one fist at the shoulder and the other proudly in the air.  As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, while no connoisseur of dancing of any kind I find Georgian dancing quite beguiling, including the tentative and more amateur exhibitions at parties.  Just about everyone seems to have had lessons at some point, or simply absorbed the steps as they grew up.  There were, in fact, a number of young children, who would romp about the floor smiling self-consciously and performing exuberant but passable approximations of what they saw the older people doing.

Misha with us at the colleagues' table.

Misha with us at the colleagues' table.

The whole table was occupied by his colleagues at HSBC and their partners, all of whom appeared no older than 29, and most of whom spoke decent English.  All of them were friendly and warm and welcoming, as usual in Georgian gatherings.

Sitting across from me.  Unfortunately I've forgotten most of their names.

Sitting across from me. Unfortunately I've forgotten most of their names.

Even though most of the people at the table were HSBC employees, there was an interesting variety of people.  The couple on the left were pleasant, quiet, mild-mannered, intellectual in appearance, and neither appeared to be older than 25 (Sian told me that in fact he was 22 and she 20, and they’d already been married two or three years).  In manners, temperament, and disposition they resembled one another almost perfectly, as though cut from the same cloth.  The guy in the black t-shirt–it was he who had speculated with heavy-lidded jollity about the food recycling–was more in the traditional Georgian male mold: stocky, at ease, thirsty.  The girl on the right–whose name, Eliso, I happen to remember because of its rarity–was quite pretty but also quite shy; she seemed to be out of her natural environment and was quiet much of the time.

The party livens up...

The party livens up...

After three hours or so people would nibble at various dishes as an accompaniment to their wine, and manners began to relax.  Groups of men would stand up, one would earnestly propose a toast, as earnestly seconded by those around him, at which they’d gulp their glasses empty, followed by a bite of boiled beef or salted radish.  The women tend to be more moderate, but not all of them, particularly as the evening progressed; frequently three or four, with heads straining together in a confidential conference, would chatter and then explode with shrieks of laughter.  Or, as here, perform their own versions of party tricks with glasses of wine.  This one (name forgotten) was initially seated across from Sian and me, and was especially lively: pretty and amply conscious of it (she strongly resembled Buffy the Vampire Slayer), she’d flit from one group of young people to another, chattering, giggling, sipping from people’s glasses and flirt with exaggeratedly girlish coquetry.  At the start of some favourite song, usually a house remix of old disco classics (I recognized a few Abba songs), she and her friends would jump to their feet with whoops of excitement and scurry to the dance-floor, and afterwards collapse slumped into their chairs with flushed cheeks and a sort of frown of exhaustion to write a message or two on their phones.

Dancing.

Dancing.

Misha, Tamuna & co.

Misha, Tamuna & co.

A general toast.

A general toast.

There was, of course, a principal tamada (toast-maker), and while at most of the toasts only the men would stand with glasses in hand, on this occasion the toast included everyone.  This was another remarkable feature of the evening: the toasts, proposed at twenty-minute intervals or so, were invariably declaimed (through a microphone) in extraordinary, aggressively exhortatory cadences; it was like an apoplectic officer whipping up his command to storm the opposing trenches, or an inspired dubbing of a particularly fierce harangue at a Nuremberg rally.  Really.  Sian and I would ask to what he was proposing his toast, imagining all sorts of juicy and vehement jibes at Russia, before the usual inoffensive toasts were explained: to our parents, to the couple, to family, to beauty, to our homeland, etc.  Remarkable.

No wedding is complete without a rendition of the national anthem.

No wedding is complete without a rendition of the national anthem.

So an enjoyable, interesting evening.

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