Tale of Two Supras: Marneuli/Tbilisi


Continuing my couple of weeks’ break from faraway Svaneti, a last fling before going home to the gorgeous burning colors of autumn now in full swing.

One supra (feast) was with four other men in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere in Marneuli region, no women cooking or even present at all; the other, one night later in Tbilisi, was with about fifty other people in one of many rooms in a posh Georgian restaurant. Both had exactly two Svans among the guests, as well as me. I would be hard pressed, though, to say which was the better event, despite the humble simplicity of the first and the many-course magnificence of the second.

I was driven to both in the evening after dark, visiting each for the first time, so was unable to fully take in the surroundings as well as I would have liked. The first hosted me for the night, but I broke off early, not feeling great. Plus, I had urgent business the next morning and had to tear myself away before starting to respond to what could have resulted in hours of photographs of the rustic sunrise-lit surroundings and gorgeous decay. The second I also cried off from early in the evening, knowing that next morning I faced the eight-hour minibus slog from Tbilisi back home to my wife in Svaneti, leaving at 7 am.

The first featured a former chef of a Georgian restaurant in Moscow, so, a guy who knew his stuff; a massive brick corner fireplace lit for much needed comfort; a wonderful display of harvest fruits, especially local grapes and gourds, hanging from the ceiling; walls well-patterned by damp mould; the first time I’ve ever seen a Georgian, unprompted, use wine IN cooking (adding it to roast pork shish kebabs); few but delicious dishes; and exactly the right herbal tea to stop the cough which was threatening to ruin my night. Its location was deep in the scene of more than one ancient historic Georgian-Persian battle, and no doubt many bones still await discovery in its fields. Oh, and walnuts the size of tennis balls made me wonder even more where I was.

The second had, no doubt, legions of cooks; beautiful décor; many dishes, all good but typical Georgian fare (which was fine!); and my own-bought cough syrup, which did much less to help the problem than the tea had. Being in the capital, it too would have witnessed some of the many times of complete destruction in its 1500-plus-year service. Here, too, I learned of an Arab who is deemed the protector of the city for his conversion to Christianity from Islam and the important role this played at a crucial time.

I took photographs at both, for contrast, and would still say I’m at a loss to say which was better. Both were with a few people I have known for years and others I had just met, and some good, important, memorable things were said at both sets of toasts. Both easily passed my main test of a good Georgian supra, which is a gauge of its total summed-up MOOD more than anything else. Some are full of interpersonal conflicts which surface and can ruin everything. Others end up with a lot of drunkenness which can lead anywhere, usually nowhere good, as useful inhibitions are cast off. As I missed the ending of both, these things may even have resulted, to my blissful ignorance. A useful tactic, take note: leave supras early! These two were both just happy events, farewelling me as I left the area for home.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1700 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


Tony Hanmer

19 October 2017 19:18