The old man’s face, rosy with the glow of alcoholism broke into a big smile as he saluted in greeting, then clasped his hands in a prayer like display of welcome and promptly dragged me into the cellar. Immediately a traditional drinking horn of wine was thrust into my hands, his stream of speech easily outpacing my mental dictionary of a dozen words in Georgian, but I grasped enough to say, “English” back to him. Effusive but unintelligible praise of unknown English things follow, along with another horn of wine which must be downed in seconds to keep up with his years of undoubted dedication to piss artistry. I was then hurriedly whisked off to the back room where two plastic barrels, each big enough to drown a fat teenager in, had their lids whipped off with a flourish to reveal, surprise surprise, wine up to the brim. As one contained a sweeter red that we had not yet tasted, another horn’s load was dutifully required. By this time my nationality had obviously slipped through both his remaining brain cells and he was heaping copious praise on Italy. Somehow I managed to extricate myself without causing offence and wobble out into the sunshine.
So began my introduction to the concept of the homestay in Georgia, a sort of informal Bed and Breakfast arrangement. Beds are crammed into a bedroom or two in a dorm like fashion and Mediko, the lady of the house heaps never-ending piles of delicious home-made food in front of you at breakfast and dinner time, with as much wine as you can possibly pour down your throat. All this for the outrageous sum of twelve english pounds – no more than $18. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more generous, out came the home distilled chacha, a grape based spirit often exceeding 60% alcohol when it’s not purchased from more reputable vendors.
I slept well the first night.
Mediko puts many hours in each day to keep her guests happy and ate with us, happy to entertain, inform and demonstrate why I will never master pronunciation of her language, where English transliteration will never do justice to it’s selection of clucks, clicks and throat manglings. It would be wrong to describe her and her husband Suliko, the sozzled pensioner in the cellar, as a team, since his passionate commitment to the task of wine tasting precludes much other activity and by the evening the handful of cellar stairs are an Alpine obstruction to his movement. The most eloquent testimony to the man came from a japanese visitor’s remarks in the guest book:
“You are a very problem man!
but very very lovely man!
No more drink! Little little”
On the following page read a guest’s simple epitaph, “my memory”, followed only by a drawing of a drinking horn.