Friday, February 25, 2011

Kickin' It Old School

It's going to be another food-related blog. And I've also been wanting to write another blog about Georgian food in general. Sorry about the food theme I've got going lately. And sorry if it makes you salivate or, conversely, loose your appetite. Not a whole lot happens during the week, but there's always food to be had. And, as I'll explain in my Georgian food blog that I have yet to write, it's usually an adventure. So here goes. Another food blog...

This evening was very reminiscent of my high school Russian classes. For those of you who don't know- I took Russian for five years. Unfortunately, I haven't remembered a whole lot (sorry Mr. Hennessy). But I chock that up to the fact that I'm not very good at languages (said the English teacher). Thankfully my Russian classes contained a lot of Russian culture (which is probably one of the reasons that I find myself in Georgia today [I know, Georgia is NOT Russia. But it started my love of Eastern Europe]). One of my favorite field trips was when we went to an Armenian/Russian restaurant. That was where I first had stuffed grape leaves. I have a sneaking suspicion there were also stuffed cabbage leaves because when I had stuffed cabbage for dinner tonight it tasted so good and threw me back to high school. I was in that little restaurant in one of the yuppy neighborhoods of Boston. There were pastoral murals on the walls. And all of my classmates were too scared to order in Russian. It was comforting and reminded me of home. Not in a homesick sort of way, but rather a I-remember-this-and-it's-just-great sort of way.

The other reminder of my Russian days is not quite as pleasant. There is an excellent movie called the Barber of Siberia. It's absolutely fantastic! Truth be told I can't fully remember what it's about, but there are Victorian dresses (but it takes place in Russia, so would they be Alexandrian dresses?) and it's very beautiful. There's an American woman in pre-Soviet Russia, she falls in love with a cadet. I forget the specifics. But one lasting impression is the depiction of Maslenitsa, or in the western world- Fat Tuesday (masla is Russian for 'butter'). There's a big roller coaster, bright lights, and everyone is drinking (kind of like New Orleans without the warm weather or beads). In the morning there's a sweeping panoramic of people asleep in the streets, collapsed in heaps of drunken lethargy (those are the best kind of heaps). And one man is still drinking. Vodka straight from the bottle, of course. Every time he takes a swig he opens his jacket and takes a deep breath of the musky fur lining- his version of a chaser. Now, vodka is considered a "neutral spirit." It is supposed to be odorless, tasteless, mixes with anything. I have always thought that was a giant lie. Odorless? Tasteless? Are we talking about the same hell fire liquid? Or at least that's what I thought until I tasted cha-cha. Let that name sink in: Cha-cha.



Are you with me? Okay. Cha-cha makes vodka taste like the sweetest nectar or the gods. When they called vodka a "neutral spirit" they must have been comparing it to cha-cha. Cha-cha is the Georgian answer to vodka. It is made from what is left of the grapes used to make wine. How it becomes clear is beyond me- clearly it's proof that it's a substance volatile even to itself. But for some reason I always forget just how bad cha-cha is when I start drinking it (the first time I had cha-cha was the last time I was in Georgia when someone bought a little old lady's homemade cha-cha. You knew it was homemade because there was a fly floating in the bottle). So this evening, as I sat down to my delicious dinner of stuffed cabbage, I foolishly accepted the shot glass handed to me by my host grandfather. And as I poured that poison down my gullet I was once again thrown back to Russian class, watching a lone man on a Russian street breathing the fur lining of his coat to take the edge off of his morning drink. At the time my young mind couldn't understand how a drink could be so foul as to induce such a reaction. But this evening's cha-cha had me wishing to take huge whiffs of a big, ol' fur coat.

Also, a very strange coincidence, I just found out that my high school Russian teacher broke his ankle. So this blog posting is dedicated to Mr. Hennessy. I hope you are quickly on the mend!

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