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Issue 59 - The curiosity of travel

Whisky Magazine Issue 59
October 2006


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The curiosity of travel

Jefferson Chase on the drinking culture in Georgia

Good travel writing makes you curious about places you'd never want to go to. In Wendell Steavenson's Stories I Stole, that place is Georgia – a den of lawlessness full of boozing, jesting, musical, gun toting, and not quite likable hillbillies.

Lest there be any misunderstandings, the Georgia we're talking about is not the American state of Ray Charles fame, but the former Soviet republic in the Southern Caucasus. And the author, despite being called Wendell, is a female Time magazine reporter who spent two years based in Tbilisi for reasons not entirely clear even to herself.

The first trouble Steavenson gets herself into is the tamada, a drinking ceremony intended to welcome guests and allow the hosts to show off.

It was a kind of aggression. When they did not know you well, they filled your glass and filled it again and carefully watched how you drank it. This was their measure of you; this was done to disarm you. Georgian to Georgian, between friends and family, at funerals and birthdays, for meeting and for parting, the toasting was less belligerent. The quantities, however, were still fairly large and could provoke either love or violence. This was the Georgian way, friend or enemy with nothing in between. History was lost in tradition, drinking a way of remembering and forgetting.

Steavenson has a keen eye for the subtexts of social rituals, including drinking sessions. You can almost feel the hangover coming the morning after this one.

Unfortunately for Steave...

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