Monday, August 4, 2008

Night 4 (Chios): Wait, There Was A Wedding, Wasn't There?

Saturday evening in the town square the men congregated at long tables, perhaps drinking or perhaps telling stories about the groom, or perhaps both. The women gathered at the bride's house, ostensibly to help her get ready. But she was already ready when I arrived, and those who weren't eating were fawning over her. (It's always about eating, isn't it?) Watching the bride being bounced from one cousin/aunt/friend to the next was like watching someone being passed around a mosh pit with different but no less harrowing potential consequences, e.g. her dress being stepped on and dirtied or torn, tears ruining her makeup, someone's dress getting stuck to hers and causing a run (this actually happened), etc. The flower girls darted around the room, rambunctious little things who sat still long enough to have a photo snapped but not long enough to coordinate synchronized smiling. After about a half hour of this commotion, a collective excitement overtook us as someone shouted, "The men are here!" The congregation of men filled the narrow alley leading up to the bride's grandparents' house, fronted by a three-piece band and the eager groom, who was holding her bouquet to offer as a gift.

The serenade begins

I had been prepared by the bride for this but seeing it happen was really thrilling. All the women gathered on the two balconies -- except the bride of course; she had to remain inside playing hard to get -- and smiled and waved down as the band played and the groom stood in front smiling optimistically. (The point of the serenade is to convince the bride to come down to join him, but she doesn't show herself to the groom until she gets to the church. He stands at the entrance waiting for her, not sure until he sees her that she'll actually show up.) After about twenty minutes of serenading, the groom and his entourage "gave up" and started for the church, which was about a half mile away. Once they were gone, the bride and her family descended and the rest of us followed her.

The scene at the church was unlike anything I'd ever seen at an American wedding. The church itself was tiny, accommodating the the bride and groom, their families, and about 15 or 20 other people. As the entire village showed up, it meant most of us remained outside (a blessing anyway, as it was about 100 degrees inside) while the ceremony was broadcast to us. It was entirely in Greek and I had no idea what was happening, but that didn't stop me and a friend from perching on a ledge and staring in at the proceedings through a small window. Other guests milled about, socialized, snapped pictures, and explored the surrounding monastery. No one seemed to pay any mind to the wedding ceremony going on (I think they were anticipating their favors).

Waiting for the ceremony to finish

After the ceremony was the receiving line. (Entering the receiving line also entitled you to your wedding favor of Jordan Almonds and an almond-flavored cookie, so this was mayhem.) It seems a wedding in Greece is as much about getting face time with the bride and her family as it is about celebrating a union. The poor girl didn't get a break.

The tail end of the receiving line

Between the ceremony and the reception we had a couple of hours to kill and spent them in stressful search of gas to fill our empty tank. According to the conversion given to me by one of my friends, gas came out to be about $8.50 per gallon on Chios. (I would check this but I'm terrible at math.)

The reception was as I expected: delightful. An entire seaside village was shut down and tables were set up in front of the harbor. The bride herself arranged for the lamps and candles that served as simple decor, and we couldn't have asked for better weather. The first dance lasts forEVER, as anyone who wants to dance with the bride takes a turn doing so. A group of us took our turn together, and while I had no idea what I was doing attempting to follow the traditional dance of Chios, I sure enjoyed making a fool of myself trying. I loved hearing the Greek music and watching the traditional dances. After more wine came more dancing, and the 450-person-strong party was still going when we left a little before four.

A video of the first dance between the bride and groom:

After waffling on whether or not to go (no surprise here), I'm so happy I was there to wish my friends the best and have a blast doing so. There was every opportunity for cliche (I am very much avoiding the words "big" and "fat" here) but the whole experience felt so authentic and laid-back that I think even the bride was satisfied.

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