Wedding Crashing in the Republic of Georgia – Tbilisi, Georgia

Wedding Crashing in the Republic of Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

The Georgian giant and his beautiful wife
The Georgian giant and his beautiful wife
It’s 3 p.m. and sunlight still makes me dizzy. There’s vomit on my shoes and an empty pack of smokes in my pocket. I don’t recall vomiting, and I DEFINITELY don’t remember smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. This is the brutal aftermath of a Georgian wedding.

24 hours ago —

So there I was…27 k.m. outside of Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, in a small little town called Mtshretka. It’s considered to be a spiritual nexus for all things Georgian, and it’s home to a number of 10th and 11th century churches, one of which is believed to have the robe of Jesus buried beneath it. The most famous of all the churches, the Jvari church, isn’t in the town itself — it looms regally above on this violent bluff overlooking the valley.

In order to get there, you have to take a taxi, which is an experience in and of itself. Four tires and a half sober driver is about all you can expect. When we arrived at the top of this hill, I gave the driver the equivalent of five dollars. The guidebook said two dollars was standard, and I waited for change. He didn’t offer, so I started gesturing. He shook his head and said, “Petro, Petro, Pricey!” In very erudite terms, I explained that his extortion would not stand. We stared each other down for a solid minute before I caved to the pressure. I can only imagine how I would fare in a Georgian Interrogation room.

Pissed that I had to pay three extra dollars, I hopped out of the taxi and slammed the door. He took off with squealing tires and I found myself alone, on top of this extraordinarily picturesque Georgian hillside with a UNESCO World Heritage listed church to myself. Then it dawned on me — I had no way down. In hindsight, I believe that my money was for the ride down as well AND a dollar for him to wait. Which was fair. For the price of a Big Mac, I had stranded myself in the middle of nowhere. I made a mental note to never let principles stand in the way of self-preservation ever again.

So I toured the church and walked about the surrounding grounds and eagerly awaited another taxi or someone else to come. But no one did. I was stuck like a plant in a pot, and it looked like a rain storm was coming. Absolutely wonderful. I cowered for shelter beneath a lonely tree and chastised myself for naively wanting to visit this forsaken land.

Half an hour passed and by that time I had sworn off international travel, cobbled together a letter to my parents saying goodbye, and vowed to attend church more regularly. Then, as if by divine providence, I saw a car, and another and another. There was a veritable convoy of BMWs, Mercedes, and some random Peugeots rallying up the road towards me! With horns honking, and pink streamers and ribbons tied to antennas and bumpers, it was a far cry from the rescue party that I expected. The motley parade came to a screeching halt at the church and out of the first car popped out a bride and groom. The Good Lord sent a wedding party to rescue me. As I sprinted towards the convoy, I thought, yes, I would definitely start going to church more.

Desperate, cold, and determined to get the hell off this hill, I approached a group of guys and did my best to explain my predicament. Unfortunately, my meager grasp of Kartuli vocabulary prevented me from expressing concepts like “stranded”, “will perish without assistance”, and “I’m really scared.” Their English was just as bad as my Kartuli, but they stunk of booze — these were my people! They were unbelievably friendly, and oddly fascinated by this random American and why he was here, with no ride, by himself. After some time, they figured it out, and we had a swig of champagne to seal the deal.

First Drink: 2:45 p.m.

Elated, I jumped in the closest car, only to be literally ripped back out by this huge Georgian monster with cauliflower ears. In broken English, he said, “better car, for you, better car.” I was confused and thought I did something wrong, but he kept patting me on the back and smiling so I followed him towards the back of the caravan to a little VW rabbit. He opened the back door and I saw three drop dead gorgeous Georgian girls in the back, and another hottie up front.

They saw me and started clapping and giggling. “American!! American!!” and they gestured for me to jump in. The Ivan Drago-looking Georgian gave me a hug and said, “You like?” I believe my voice cracked when I said “Hell yeah!” but I didn’t care. I hopped in and one of the girls jumped on my lap. I blushed and tried to make a joke about a roll of quarters in my pocket but it didn’t translate…at all. The guy who was holding the bottle of champagne in the group jumped into the driver’s seat and the parade began charging down the hill.

When we hit the highway…safety and caution were tossed out the window with cigarettes and they drove into Tbilisi like they had just robbed a bank. Weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the break down lane…of the OTHER SIDE of a four lane, undivided highway, these men were mad! It was sheer terror for 27 km. My obvious terror was a huge source of amusement for the other passengers, and I think only inspired more daredevil driving.

Fortunately, I had some distractions, namely the chick with the perm sitting on my lap. Yeah, I know, she had a perm, but you have to remember, these people were communists ten years ago, and Guns N’ Roses was still an “It” band.

We began a conversation of gestures and they managed to ask, “You, job, what you do?” Since I’ve been traveling, I’ve given up trying to explain my summer job, and there’s no sexiness in being “unemployed” so I did like I usually do: I lied and told her I was a journalist.

“OHHHHHH! A writer?”
“Yes, writer.”

They smiled coyly, giggled, and whispered to each other, all the while shooting naughty glances over at me. I looked out the window and gave myself a mental smack on the ass. Forty minutes ago, I was writing my will. Now I was wondering which girl to pick. Talk about a shift in fortune.

me and the perm girl
me and the perm girl
Then they asked where I lived. Homeless is not in the lonely planet phrase book, so I thought for a moment. Where do I really live? Boston? Northern California? No, I thought, I can’t tell them that, they’re both boring. I needed something exciting, and since I had already started building this relationship on a foundation of lies, there was no reason to start telling the truth now.

“I live in Los Angeles. LA. You know LA?”

Their eyes lit up after hearing it, and they asked something in Kartuli which was lost on me.

“That’s right ladies, California!”

LA baby. They ate it up. I was giving them pearls.

When we reached lulls in the conversation, they would make me smile and tap my teeth and giggle. I was an international journalist from LA with a Colgate smile. I was so in.

Once we arrived in Tbilisi proper, they popped the question that I’d been praying to hear. I had heard stories about Georgian weddings — how epic and debauched they were — though I never reasonably expected to attend one. Then the chick with the perm delivered my wish.

“You, come to reception with us?”
Now I wanted to go to the reception more than anything, but I didn’t want to appear over anxious, so I played it cool.
“No, no I don’t have a gift.”
“Ok, it ok!”
“But I’m not dressed well enough!”
“Ok, no problem!”

I was making these girls beg me to come and I was reveling in the power. I was Japeto the puppet master to their Pinocchio. I finally agreed to go and that just made their day. We stopped at another church before the reception (Georgians go to every single church in town on their wedding day) and it was then that the inevitable question came up.

They asked how old I was.

Telling them my age wasn’t a problem. I just didn’t want to hear how old they were. Plausible deniability was the defense I was preparing, and I wasn’t sure if 16 was the age of consent in Turkey or Georgia. Yeah yeah, keep your moral condemnation to yourself. If you saw these girls, you’d think a year in a Georgian prison might be a fair price.

They were 17 and 18. I cringed. I knew they were young, but my guess was 20 or 21. I wasn’t even close. But I was relieved when I found out that the bride was 16 and the groom was 22. I did the math twice to be certain and I liked what I came up with: 6 years. Just like 18 and 24. The preemptive rationalizing had begun.

After more NASCAR-racing through downtown, we arrived at the wedding reception hall and I was amazed by what I saw. Every square inch of table space had been covered with some sort of food dish or pitcher of wine. It was a feast of epicurean proportions, and I doubt that I will ever see such a lavish and extravagant dinner again. You had to eat through the table in order to make space for a plate, and that’s what we did. As we began eating, I noticed that every guy around me was young, jacked, and had messed-up ears. It turns out these guys were all free-style wrestlers, groom included, and I think they said they were training for the Olympics. Apparently drinking wine by the gallon is part of their training regiment.

While we ate, there was a horn (from an animal) that was being passed from table to table. One person from each table would fill up the horn with wine, stand up, give a toast, then slam the horn and hold it upside to show it was empty, after which a huge applause would erupt and the horn would be passed to the next table. I was able to avoid it the first round, but after more wine, the guys at my table and those at the other tables thought it would be hilarious for me to give a toast. I resisted at first. I mean, it was bad enough I had crashed this wedding, and my presence alone attracted much more attention than I would have liked. But I started getting catcalls and hollers from the entire party! The groom himself stood up and gestured for me to do it. Shit, I thought, it’s his party, if its cool with him I’ll do it. So I stood up and the place erupted with cheers. The guy to my left, Gorky or Georgi or something gave me a quick little Georgian one liner toast, and I did my best to repeat it, though the symphony of laughter that followed led me to conclude that I wasn’t even close. I slammed the horn, people cheered, and in hindsight, I believe this is when I crossed the threshold from happy-go-lucky drunk to sorority-girl sloppy.

Fortunately, every one else was pretty much as cocked as I was, and so the dancing began. The traditional Georgian dance is very…flamboyant. With accentuated and exaggerated arm gestures and swoops, the footsteps are like a waltz spiced up with salsa. Bizarre I know, but it is truly beautiful and graceful to watch, and I don’t do it any justice by describing it with words.

With everyone dancing and mingling, my fate was sealed. I was pulled down to sit at what felt like every table, wine was poured, they made me slam it. Then we would hug, and someone would fill my glass up again, and the drinking didn’t stop until someone from another table hustled me over to sit down with them and do the same thing. I finally broke the cycle by grabbing the aforementioned chick with a perm and running off to the dance floor. At this stage in the game, the liquid courage was coursing through me and I was as confident as I have ever been in my life. It might as well have been my wedding. After a few numbers, I saw another one of the girls from the car so I kicked aside Big Perm and grabbed the other one. Rude by American standards, but these girl loved it! I could do no wrong. Everyone loved me. I was popular! Then it happened.

I saw the bride.

My self-control had gone the way of the Dodo, and now I was a man of primitive impulses.

Yes, Michael, of course you can dance with her! There was no question in my mind! So I did. For a lot longer than I’m sure was appropriate. But like I said, I could do no wrong and my crowd of admirers loved it!

After I attempted to explain the principle of primo noctris in Georgian to her and failed, I was whisked away by a horde of Georgian wrestlers to do this strange Georgian dance. Groups formed of guys who all locked arms around each other’s shoulders to form these impregnable rugby style scrums. With the group locked into place everyone began alternating kicks into the center, and we spun like dervishes across the dance floor, slamming into other groups that were doing the same thing. It was wild.

And that’s all I remember. I woke up this morning with a splitting headache and no recollection of how I got home, or even leaving the party. My map of the city has my hotel’s location wildly circled with HOME chicken-scratched above it. There’s a vomit stain on the corner. My voice sounds like it should belong to a Long Island grandmother.

wedding party overlooking the bluff
wedding party overlooking the bluff
While I was having the time of my life at this Georgian Wedding, my hostel room was broken into. The guy in the next bed over had his entire backpack stolen. Pack and all. While my pack was in plain sight, no more than fifteen feet away from his, and the packs of others, it was the only one that wasn’t touched. Amazing.

Now if I could somehow find a way to get the girl with the perm’s address…

This is Georgia.

This is what happens when you’re bored and unemployed.