It’s a reasonably safe bet that our comprehensively educated masses have never heard of Batumi. It’s even a safer bet that they soon will.
And I’m sure that even many of those boasting public-school credentials have never heard of chacha. It’s time they did.
For Batumi and chacha have come together to produce a tourist attraction that will revolutionise foreign travel. Especially of the variety preferred by British comprehensively educated masses and even some of those boasting public-school credentials.
But before you move Batumi and chacha to the forefront of your vocabulary, you must learn what they are. Aren’t you glad I’m here to plug such gaping gaps in your education?
Batumi is a port on the Black Sea. It’s the capital of Adjara, which is an autonomous republic of Georgia. The term ‘autonomous republic’ is a Soviet throwback, and typically a geographic area thus designated is neither autonomous nor a republic. Its relation to the metropolis is akin to that between Surrey and the United Kingdom, and no one has ever suggested that Surrey be called an autonomous republic. So let’s more accurately call Adjara a province of Georgia and leave it at that.
Chacha presents another terminological difficulty, especially for Russians. Unlike most Brits, most Russians know what chacha is, or think they know it. In fact, if asked, they’ll say it’s grape vodka (no one will say it’s a dance).
But then the Russians tend to use vodka as their frame of reference for all alcoholic beverages, and often for non-alcoholic ones as well. Hence the Russian proverb ‘tea isn’t vodka, you can’t drink a lot of it.’
Ask a Russian what whisky is and he’ll tell you it’s barley vodka. Slivovitz would be plum vodka, and beer an underachieving vodka that has failed to reach its full potential.
The Russians may be forgiven for thinking chacha is a vodka for it’s usually, though not always, water-like in appearance, and ‘vodka’ derives from the Russian for water. Chacha offers a wider range of strength than vodka, reaching as high as a most satisfying 70 percent.
This occasionally plays nasty tricks on Russian visitors who guzzle chacha like vodka without realising they’re in effect drinking twice as much. This often leads to unpleasant consequences which for decorum’s sake I’ll refrain from describing in every Technicolor detail.
Let’s correct the misapprehension: chacha isn’t vodka. It’s a brandy similar to its Italian cousin grappa or its French relation marc. Like them, it’s made of – are you ready for some technical details? Well, you’ve asked for it.
Chacha is made of must, which is freshly pressed grape juice soon to become wine. To be precise, chacha is made of pomace, which is the solid contents of must: grape skins, seeds, and stems. A simple distillation process produces chacha, a spirit that tends to be less refined than most grappas but tastier than most vodkas.
So now you know what both Batumi and chacha are. What you don’t yet know is how the two combine to offer you an exciting, nay intoxicating, holiday experience. Is that what they say in brochures, a holiday experience? As distinct from a holiday? Nothing like the use of an industry term to give one an aura of verisimilitude.
By way of empirical observation, no holiday experience will ever be complete for many British tourists without them remaining in a state of perpetual drunkenness. This is usually accompanied by the kind of conduct not seen in Europe on such a scale since the dying days of the Weimar republic.
In broad terms this behavioural mode could be described as puke on pavement, to single out one salient characteristic. Furniture-destroying fun in bars and restaurants is another essential feature, one that has made many Prague bars display ‘No British Stag Parties’ in their windows.
Prague, with its beer at 50p a pint now tantalisingly out of reach, has thus created a void in British culture tours, and it’s this void that Batumi is about to fill. Its mayor Jemal Ananidze has just presided over the opening ceremony for Chacha Tower, an 80-foot-high fountain jetting not water but chacha into Adjara’s sultry air redolent of the aroma of cypress trees.
The Russian TV announcer commenting on the big event confirmed the stereotype to which I referred earlier by describing chacha as a ‘grape vodka’. He then presciently predicted that, at a meagre construction cost of $490,000, the chacha fountain will more than pay for itself by attracting brisk tourist trade.
The unsophisticated Batumi city council, which financed the project, probably pictures foreign tourism the way it comes across in James Bond films: elegant men and fragrant women touring the Côte d’Azur in Ferraris and sipping Krug on a seafront terrace. However, given the nature of the beverage serving as the main attraction, one fears that the reality may prove rather different.
If they advertise the project properly, their town will soon be overrun by British stag parties zigzagging through the streets to the tuneless accompaniment of the great classic ‘Ere We Go, ‘Ere We Go, ‘Ere We Go!’ Batumi denizens will soon learn that “wha’ you lookin’ at, mate?” is a rhetorical question best left unanswered, what with ‘mate’ not quite being a term of endearment. They’ll also have to realise that ‘You what, sunshine?’ isn’t a request for meteorological information, and that the colloquial word for pudenda can profitably if metonymically describe a man.
In short, Batumi’s mayor ought to have been careful what he wished for. He might soon get it, with his city turning into an Ibiffa, as it’s properly pronounced.