Westward, Ho!: Angela goes to Zugdidi
Poor Angela! First of all, she’s sick this week. Second of all, she’s from group five. And third of all, group five lives nearly entirely in Tbilisi. While I spent last semester gallivanting about Samegrelo and Guria, Angela got her social kicks going to the Hangar Bar and hanging out at chic Tbilisi Cafes. A nice lifestyle, to be sure, but one that discourages any exploration of Georgia.
With that in mind, I invited Angela to accompany me to Zugdidi for the St. Patrick’s Day get-together. She’d never taken such a long-distance Marshrutka before (my continued insistence on capitalizing “Marshrutka” baffles even me) and was quite wary of the prospect.
When it looked like she was going to be late and miss the Marshrutka’s departure from Vagzlis Moedani, the driver, upon learning where she lived, offered, “Hey! We drive right past there on our way out of town! Tell her I’ll just pick her up.” Sure enough, minutes later we pulled over on Tsereteli Avenue and Angela hopped in. By this time, I’d already made friends with the half-dozen older ladies on the Marshrutka and the driver took to calling me “America!” when he needed to get my attention.
We whizzed through the countryside, passing landmarks like Mtskheta and Gori, and quickly reached the furthest extent of Angela’s Western ventures. Sure she’d been to Batumi before, but on a night train. That hardly counts!
I felt like quite the tour guide, pointing out things like the Gori Fortress, scattered military bases, and good spots for viewing the mountains. When it was time to leave the rest stop past Khashuri, the driver shouted for us to get back in the Marshrutka. “America! Tsavedit!”
As we approached Kutaisi through the winding mountain roads, clouds began to fall over the mountains to the north. Angela had/has never properly seen the Caucasus Mountains yet. This made the clouds all the more disappointing. Nonetheless, the Lower Caucasus remained visible and Angela fell in love with Kutaisi. “I could live here!” she eagerly repeated, noting that Kutaisi reminded her a lot of Detroit, a comparison that does neither city any favors.
As we got closer to Zugdidi the clouds failed to lift. Poor Angela was robbed of any opportunity to view the snow-covered peaks in all their glory. That’s okay! To make up for it, I brought her to City Bar!
City Bar, as I may have mentioned in the past, is the Zugdidi hang out spot. It’s a poorly-lit café-bar below ground. The first time I ever went there, there was a toilet explosion and me, PQ, and Tall Paul gave ourselves cake-induced comas. It was a good time.
The first time Angela went there, we were exhausted and in need of a beer! Joanne, Kate, and several others were already there, enjoying the afternoon together and waiting for us. Once we got there, it was just a short hop, skip, and a jump to the (what turned out to be terrible) Ukrainian restaurant. Had we but known! Ah well, we had a nice bottle of Medoff Honey Vodka to split between the eight of us!
After falling asleep in one giant bed watching Dexter, Joanne, Angela, and I got up the next morning, ready to go! Okay, so we probably lounged for like an hour, but you know, whatever!
For the sake of narrative simplicity, I’m gonna go ahead and skip most of Saturday and Sunday and get right to the end of the day. Angela, Marissa, Joanne, and I took a languorous stroll through the botanical gardens of Zugdidi and found ourselves some awesome bumper cars! These bumper cars were out of control! We bruised ourselves and nearly broke some spines, the whiplash was so bad! They were easily going twenty miles per hour, top speed, and when you get nailed from three sides by three different women all at once, man do you feel it! (Go on, you’re all thinking it! [And, of course, I did it on purpose!])
We returned to our Tbilisi-bound Marshrutka and chatted most of the way from Kutaisi to Tbilisi (napped beforehand). One of the best results of the weekend was that Angela got to meet some of the “characters” she’s known for so long and spend quality time with them. If I recall correctly, her exact words were, “That was awesome! I see why you go to Zugdidi so often: these people are so awesome!”
While she had spent some limited time in the company of Joanne, Helen and a few others, this weekend had been Angela’s first real introduction to the bulk of group two, and she loved it! So much so that when she bemoaned the fact that she had to miss “Girls’ Weekend” in Zugdidi today due to illness, her primary complaint was, “I was really looking forward to getting closer with Joanne and Marissa and all the other girls!” It puts a smile on my face!
I read a great book for college once. Just once. (Just Kidding.) It was called Hungering for America and had a subtitle that I forget. Francis Diner was the author. Okay, so Francis might be wrong, but I remember the author’s name was Diner. It seemed too appropriate. It basically chronicled the American Tale of three major immigrant groups to America in the first half of the Twentieth Century through an exploration of how their national dishes evolved and changed. We had the Italians, who had been poor farmers in Southern Italy and who fled poverty searching for the promise of riches and contentment in America.
Speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that my own Great-Grandfather Vieto Nuzzi emigrated from Grumio, Italy, near Bari (It’s at the base of the boot’s spur) when he was about ten. When he left Italy for New York City, he imagined that Americans all owned flying cars and that the trains could take you anywhere nigh instantly. Unfortunately, it’s 2011 and neither of those things is true today, much less in 1908. Incidentally, when I first learned about my Great-Grandfather’s migration I was on a childish Titanic kick (loved movies and children’s books about it) and I thought to myself, “Woah! That’s only four years before the Titanic sank!!”
At any rate, when he arrived on Ellis Island, Vieto Nuzzi (VEE-toe NEW-tsi) changed his name to William Nuzzi (WILL-yum NAH-zee) as Italian Immigrants were not popular with anyone at the time and it was easier and safer to try to blend in when possible. Pop Pop (as we called him) became a butcher’s apprentice in NYC and gradually saved up enough money to bring his father and brothers over. Probably his mom and sisters as well? I’m a little shakey on this part of the story.
I do know that he served in WWI at the age of twenty or eighteen or something so that he could fast-track his citizenship. He was a cook on a US Navy ship trolling the Atlantic and bringing troops back and forth to France. He became a US citizen right after the war, giving up his Italian passport (Though he likely didn’t have one and was a true WOP) and fathered my grandfather a few years later. This part’s tragic because apparently through a loophole of sorts, I could’ve been a retro-active Italian citizen had Grandpapa been born before Pop Pop was naturalized. Drats! Missed it by a few scant years!
Anyway, when the Italian farmers came to the big city, they discovered that meats and cheeses were plentiful and delicious. They enriched their local cuisine by adding peppers, sausages, vegetables, beef, and all the goodies that you know Italian food for. Pizza went from tomato spread on flat, round bread to the cheesy, topping-y goodness that we all know and love today. Yeah, yeah, the North Italians of the wealthy cities had fine cuisine this whole time, but “Italian food” as we know it came from America. (The book had a nice anecdote about how poor Italian immigrant families would infuriate their IRS caretakers by spending their welfare checks on really good olive oil. I mean really, how can you eat if the oil’s not good?)
The next American Tale came from Eastern Europe and was Jewish. It’s maybe better known as Fieval: An American Tale (Bet you never thought about that before, eh?)
Always a resilient bunch, the Jews changed very little about themselves when they came to America. Okay, yes, they started learning English and integrating into the American way of life, but other than freedom from persecution, there was little they needed from America. Many Jews we lured by the idea that there are no Cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese, but that was as untrue as the flying cars of Pop Pop’s imagination. And so in a lot of ways the Jews remained unchanged; especially in regards to their diet.
According to Hungering for America, Jewish cuisine didn’t change because it didn’t need to. There are all sorts of dietary restrictions that come with Judaism. As such, you can’t really spice up matza or gefilte fish much. The sausages that the Italians came to love were verboten for their Jewish comrades and so, Jewish cuisine, though certainly distinctive and meritorious, remained largely as it had for the past two millennia.
And then we have the Irish. The bulk of the Irish immigrants to America arrived in the wake of the Potato Famine. We always give Joanne shit for being a potato-head (Though much of the momentum has shifted to Yevgeniy after a study came out showing that Belarus consumes the most potatoes worldwide!). Truth be told, there’s a good deal of validity to the stereotype regarding the Irish and potatoes.
Potatoes come from Peru (though, incidentally both the first potato and the first Peruvian both came from Georgia) and were not introduced to Europe until the conquest of the Incan Empire. Spanish conquistadors and gold and silver miners didn’t really like the hardy tuber, but it was a staple food for their native slaves. It’s quite nutritious, in fact! So, despite their distaste for it, the Spanish would often pack it on their ships for the journey back to Spain—it lasted pretty well and kept everyone fairly healthy. Besides, even when you’ve got scurvy you can probably still eat a potato!
Though they didn’t catch on in Spain, potatoes took root in northern Italy and the corridor of trade leading north to the Netherlands. These areas were constantly ravaged by war and marauding French and German armies constantly seized supplies of grain and livestock from the local populations as they stomped across Lombardy and the Rhine River Valley. A good solution for the set-upon peoples of Central Europe (Read: Between-France-and-Germany Europe) was found in the nutritious, tasteless, unappealing potato! One family could grow enough potatoes to sustain itself on a very small plot of land. Plus, armies wouldn’t be interested in such a boring crop, right?
Well, somehow the root found its way to Ireland where it really caught hold. The land was, apparently, not that great for growing more traditional European crops. And yet, for some reason the English simply had to have it. The Irish could grow potatoes in the boggy regions that they were forced into by English incursions. The Brits took all the choicest wheat-land first, after all. One can easily, if somewhat boringly, survive on Potatoes and Milk alone and get adequate amounts of nearly all the necessary vitamins and minerals humans need to survive! Cah-razy!
The Irish came to rely exclusively on the potato and so, when disaster struck in the mid-nineteenth century, it struck hard. The Potato Blight (Or the Great Belorussian Potato-Gobble, depending on where you get your facts) ruined Ireland and countless died of starvation. Countless more fled across the Atlantic where they were told that there were no English and that the streets were paved with potatoes.
The Irish that came to America left behind their culinary traditions and kept the one that was most important to them: Beer!
How many times have you gone out to eat at an Irish restaurant? Raise your hands. Okay, put your hands down. Now how many times have you gone to an Irish pub? Yeah, I see a lot more hands up this time.
The Irish brought their beer culture with them and left their food behind. After all, their food had betrayed them, so why would they want to treat it to a free ticket to America! So, with that history out of the way, let me tell you about the Irish Cuisine that we cooked for St. Patrick’s Day!
We started off the day with a delicious Irish Fruit Salad pictured above. As we sliced green kiwis and orange…oranges we realized that we already had two of the requisite colors for the Irish flag. “If only we had a white fruit we could use as well!”
Q piped up, “Would apples work?” “Oh my god, yes they would!” Qwenchia saved the day and busted out some apples, dicing them and providing plates and bowls. As Joanne finished the kiwis and Angela struggled with a particularly difficult (but eventually delicious) orange, I arranged the fruits on the dishes to best honor Ireland!
And that was just on-the-fly improvisation and faking-it! The real Irish meal was yet to come!
Joanne had big plans for Irish Stew, as she called it. As such she had me pick up a few ingredients in Tbilisi such as Bouillon cubes and, surprise surprise, Guinness! (The surprising part is that I could actually find some, and it was on sale!) Next we went to the Bazaar, in the rain, to find the remaining foodstuffs we needed, primarily a shit-ton of beef and some carrots, onions, and, you guessed it, potatoes!
I negotiated with a butcher for an entire calf’s leg for a good price and we headed back to start cooking. I dallied a bit to get a shave and a haircut from a nice old man who hated Russia. The woman who worked there was Russian and hated the man, but it was all in good fun! When I got back, things were well under way!
Different people had different tasks—chopping veggies, cutting meat, getting the stew-y part ready. After four hours or whatever, it was effing delicious!
Joanne, the only Irish person with whom I have ever celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, played the part beautifully, getting all decked up and putting on the biggest smile ever!
We finally sat down to eat and man oh man I—well, let’s just say it was one of those meals where you couldn’t help but overeat.
Even the “Vegetarians” amongst us couldn’t help but enjoy the delicious, tender beef. It was to die for.
As much as I joke about potatoes, there was no joking when it came to this dish. Unbelievably good.
A Cavalcade of Irishness
You may have, in looking at some of the above photos, wondered where Joanne got that shamrock on her face? Well, let me tell you! Joanne had wisely brought a set of facepaints back from Ireland when she returned to Georgia this January. The package showed a group of children done up as clowns, tigers, butterflies, and, worrying, a menacing skeleton. Clearly the one kid didn’t get the cuteness memo—it made him look rather maladjusted and misfit-y.
The upshot of the scary package was that we had a full eight colors at our disposal! Almost the entire rainbow’s worth! (Any of you counting the letters in ROY G. BIV will be reassured to know that black, white, and pink made an appearance in the kit, but not in the real rainbows.) While the stew was in its final stages of cooking, Marissa, Joanne, and I retreated upstairs to prepare further for the evening.
Marissa was the first to get painted—the result of which was a lovely cheek-sized shamrock!
Next up was Joanne. My meager artistic skills were put to the test as I began to scrawl a mediocre shamrock on her face.
Joanne, being Irish and special got to have both cheeks painted! She wanted an Irish flag on the other side, and so I obliged, after she showed me how it was done, of course. The only tricky part was having to create orange. Luckily we all remembered our color wheels and the result was Ire-tastic!
At dinner we showed off our faces and informed everyone that they had no choice but to submit to the harsh paintbrush of Raughley. They approached with various requests and I encouraged creativity and Irishness. The result? Leprechauns, Pots o’ Gold, Rainbows, and a half dozen flags!
I did Courtni and Q simultaneously. It was better that way because I could create and use necessary colors like orange without having to do it twice. Also, I had to clean the brush fewer times. Besides, their rainbows turned out great! Courtni’s was admittedly far more ambitious and spectacular. It looked like warpaint at first when it was just red and orange, but as the project went on (and I started to run out of face space) it all fell into place. The cloud was just a nice afterthought!
I walked to Rick’s house with Courtni for the St. Paddy’s Day Party and she kept forgetting that she had a giant rainbow plastered across her entire face. She got stares and continued to draw attention to herself in shops by scurrying all about looking for the right products. She came out of the store, having charmed everyone within with her rainbow-smile, with a packet of Skittles. Her plan, which I may or may not have had a hand in, was to go up to people at the party and very creepily whisper “Taste the rainbow…” and brandish her skittles at them. It worked.
The final result of my handiwork was, if I may say so, rather impressive. My artist’s portfolio has increased tenfold. Almost all of the paint sported at the party was my own design. Here’s a brief showcase of my efforts.
And lastly, what Irish party would be complete without a healthy dose of American Patriotism provided by none other than the all-American girl herself, Marissa Needles?
And for good measure let’s throw in an irreverent photo of Rick.
And a scholarly one of myself, because I can!