We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to document a kidnapping. Today, Nino and I were pulled from school for a day trip into the country.
Our destination: Tamazi's home village, Patarzeuli (პატაზეული).
The reason: the annual pig slaughter and subsequent mtsvadi cookout!
I never really figured out the exact reason why we were killing said pig, but Nino said that it happens every year at this time. Never one to question tradition I was happy to go along, and it's not like I had much choice anyway. Tamaz had told me on Sunday that a sudden "virus" was going to grip the household on Tuesday, incapacitating Nino and I, and making us "too sick" for school. (The coolest part...he said all this in Georgian and I understood it! Progress!) Thankfully no lie was needed to get us the day off, just a phone call from Eka to the school on Monday afternoon to say that we wouldn't be there. There is a 3-day Turkish holiday going on this week which means half of the students are missing anyway, so it turned out not to be a big deal. So a win-win situation for me: a free day off from school, a journey out into the countryside (which I've been longing to see) and all the fresh meat roasted to perfection on a skewer I could eat! Win!
We left the house at around 11 and made our way out to Kakheti (კახეთი), the region in Georgia where Tamazi's village is. It was only about 25 minutes away but it didn't take long for the landscape to totally change. Living in the city I haven't really seen a whole lot of trees and countryside. I know that its autumn because it's November, but I didn't realize that I've sort of missed out seeing the changing colors this year until we started driving through Kakheti. It was really beautiful. Rolling green hills dotted with orange trees; clear blue skies and grey mountains in the distance. And the crisp cool air made for a perfect fall day.
Before going to the cookout we stopped by to say hi to Tamazi's mother. Stepping into her house was like stepping back in time. The more and more I see life in Georgia the more it reminds me of everything that I have read about life in the 18th century. It's not to say that they are "behind," they just don't have all of the extra amenities that we usually associate with "modern" life. And Tamazi's mother was awesome. She came to greet us from the garden, where she had been taking care of the chickens. (When we came back to say goodbye on our way back into town she had killed and plucked two of them for us!) She was like those women that you always read about in books or see in National Geographic pictures; weather-worn by years of hard work but clearly a strong woman, full of love and still beautiful (even at 80).
By the time we got to the cookout they were already well underway. The pig had been killed and the men were busy cutting it up. (Warning: if you are squeamish move on to the next paragraph.) The head was hanging by the stairs up to the balcony, and the liver, lungs and other vital organs were suspended nearby. When we came into the gate a jiggling wheelbarrow full of intestines was being pushed away. I'm still not sure where that ended up and I had know idea that pigs had that much intestine!
They were finished the butchering in less than 15 minutes after we arrived. Then it was simply a matter of skewering the meat and putting the mtsvadi over the hot coals. What wasn't skewered was put in a huge pot over a roaring fire to be boiled in a traditional Kakhetian dish called hash lamba (ხაშ ლამბა). In minutes we were eating some of the best meat I have ever had! I knew that freshly killed meat was supposed to have a better flavor than the stuff you get at the store but I never realized how good! And seeing as the only things seasoning this meat were a touch of salt and the smoke from the coals, that's saying something about its natural flavor. We ate and ate until we couldn't eat anymore...although the cooking continued.
In the midst of all of this I had moved in status from stranger to guest and was being encouraged to tend the meat on the fire and drink toasts to homeland, friends and family! (My protests against drinking Georgian vodka...which I'm sure is wearing a small hole in my liver right now...that early in the day, fell on deaf ears.) It was little wonder that after all of this, when I sat down on a bed in the house I was asleep in just a few minutes.
I can't think of any other way that I would rather spend a perfect fall day than by gathering around a table with family and eating a great meal! My only regret is that it only happens once a year!