I arrived in Georgia in the middle of the night on January 10th, 2005, and three days later my friends Paata, Berucha and I (that's us, from left to right, in the first photo) were off on our first fieldtrip of the year, to the province of Pshavi. Last year, Pilip'e Baghiauri, the xevisberi of Gogolaurta commune, had invited us to welcome in the new year at his shrine (remember that 1 January OS = 14 January NS). It was cold but sunny as we drove up the Aragvi valley to Pshavi. After nightfall, we hiked up to the shrine, where Pilip'e and several neighbors were making candles, by holding chunks of beeswax near the campfire to soften them, rubbing the wax onto string, then cutting them into candles of varying sizes. Over a hundred candles were prepared, and lined up along the walls inside the shrine. By midnight it was bitter cold, probably -20 C. Pilip'e entered the shrine, lit the candles & pronounced an invocation to the patron saints, angels and deities of Pshavi, Xevsureti and all regions of Georgia. Afterwards, we feasted by the shrine, then -- protected by our guardian angels -- miraculously negotiated the icy, narrow mountain path back to the village at about 2 AM , despite the alcohol intake, lack of sleep & pitch darkness. On arriving at Pilip'e's home, I was accorded the singular honor of being chosen mek'vle, the ceremonial first visitor, who is believed to determine the family's fortune for the new year. I rolled a small round loaf of bread three times across the threshold: it landed face-up two times out of three, for a winning score of 2-1. My fingers are crossed that the Baghiauris will have a good harvest and no major illnesses affecting people or livestock, lest somebody else be chosen mek'vle for 2006.
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