And looking round, he met her eyes, and from their expression he concluded that she was understanding it just as he was. But this was a mistake; she almost completely missed the meaning of the words of the service; she had not heard them, in fact. She could not listen to them and take them in, so strong was the one feeling that filled her breast and grew stronger and stronger. That feeling was joy at the completion of the process that for the last month and a half had been going on in her soul, and had during those six weeks been a joy and a torture to her […] “The servant of God, Konstantin, plights his troth to the servant of God, Ekaterina.” -Lev Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)
Almost every month, I come up with some kind of grand blogging plan; on Saturday I will write about Syros; on Thursday, I will tell you about my discovery of mujadara; on the following Monday, I will finally post about the Grand Canyon…and then, inevitably, something happens that blows this schedule to bits and pieces. Sometimes it’s amazing things like apple picking or working my way through pounds and pounds of peaches, but, these days, it’s piddly things like negotiating the flower arrangements for the wedding celebration in Pennsylvania (15 days!) or stressing about the platters and trays we will use for the insane amount of cookies (25 recipes and counting!) that my grandmother and grandfather have been painstakingly baking since they got back from the Greek wedding. Even, in some cases, hunting down guests who don’t see fit to RSVP–despite the simplicity of checking a box and slipping a card into a pre-stamped envelope–just to make sure that, should they actually be coming, you have a seat for them. It’s hard to say what’s actually worse: those who don’t respond to an invitation after providing their address or those who don’t give you their address in the first place. I realize that it’s probably best, and definitely healthier, not to spend too much time contemplating the strange behavior of people, though it isn’t always easy when you consider these people friends. At times like these, I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and to repeat to myself that things like vendor meal preferences don’t matter that much; that it’s the taste of the cookie, rather than the tray it appears on, that counts; that even though you’ve never planned an event of this magnitude before, all weddings are basically a variation on a master theme and that it will all be fine, fine, fine.
More importantly, I know, from the simple fact that this isn’t my first rodeo (it is, after all, the Year of Weddings) that it’s not so much the details that count–really, nobody will remember or care. It’s more about sharing your union with the people nearest and dearest to you. To keep this rather sage advice at the forefront of my thoughts, I’ve decided to revisit the Greek wedding* and to remind myself of what really matters.
*While I realize that sharing personal photos violates one of the central tenets of the blog, there are certain events in life that invite a certain flexibility to even the firmest of rules.
One of the best things about this day, besides the absolute luxury of being pampered in the “Empress Suite” at the Makedonia Palace, was getting to hang out with my college friends. I don’t think we had spent this much time together, sans boyfriends and husbands and in one room, for several years; they were my honorary bridesmaids, or, as we decided, “handmaidens.” Throughout the day they helped to instill a sense of normalcy, to keep me calm and to support me when I ran into some linguistic troubles with the very Greek hairstylist and makeup artist. Though she had told me to leave my hair “dry, very, very dry,” when I emerged from the shower with dry hair, she immediately demanded to know why my hair was dry. Ever the pacifist, I apologized and said that I must have misheard, but one of my friends went to bat for me, insisting that the mistake had been poor Athena’s as she had heard “dry” instead of “wet” too. Despite one shower too many and a minor flooding of the bathroom (call it the American inability to handle European showers), Athena did a fantastic job of taking my shorter, thicker and more unruly hair and giving it the Alicia Vikander red carpet treatment, although you had better believe that I had to fight for the bangs to be left as they are.
When the photographer in charge of me, Dimitris, eventually joined us and started snapping photos of my sparkly heels and sneakers (I may be fairly low maintenance, but I do like my sparkles), he also encouraged us to take a few shots that were “age appropriate” and on the silly side. Ever the fan of classic Zoolander, I call this look Bridal Blue Steel.
Of course, there was also time for a few “serious” portraits with my family. Most of these had to be taken indoors, though, since it was absolutely boiling (105 F!) outside; in fact, it was so bright outside that the curtains couldn’t even be opened in the room, or the light would have been too harsh.
While Dimitris and I were taking tons and tons of photos at the hotel, the Greek was back at his family’s house, getting ready and performing the Greek ritual of receiving guests–mainly family and close friends–at the house. Even though I had been at the house that morning, I wasn’t entirely aware of all that would take place in my absence: that mastic (or tree resin from the island of Chios) -flavored (and perfectly white) meringues would be offered, that family members would bring gifts and that it would all be as joyful and noisy as movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding would lead us to believe.
This photo is particularly poignant as both this dress shirt and these cufflinks were never to be seen again after the wedding. Either they were absorbed into the bowels of the Makedonia Palace’s vast laundry room, or they were sacrificed to some pagan wedding god or spirit with an eye for fine cotton and good silver.
But material goods aside, the lovely people below, on the right, the Greek’s cousin (who shares the same name) and his wife, our koumbaroi (kind of like the best man and woman, although they were really like our sponsors) and, on the left, one of the flower girls (who shares my name), helped to make the day special by standing up with us at the church.
The church itself, Agios Demetrios, is one of the most important (and beautiful) churches in Thessaloniki, as it not only highlights the city’s history (from Byzantine-style church to Ottoman temple and back again), but is also devoted to its patron saint, St. Demetrios, who is also buried in its crypt. As you can imagine, this church has seen a lot in its long and varied history, so it’s hard to believe that our own story, however small it may be, is now rooted within its walls.
What I didn’t necessarily know beforehand, but discovered only a few days before the wedding, was that, unlike the custom in the United States, brides and grooms meet, with all of the guests there to witness it, outside of the church and then walk down the aisle together. Here, the Greek stands with my bouquet (the groom gives the flowers to the bride) and seems to be calm and collected. Little did he know that only a few blocks away from the church, the little white SUV with me and my grandfather sat waiting until it was appropriate to pull into the church parking lot. Those 7-8 minutes sitting in the car and watching the time pass by ever so slowly, with passersby peaking into the back windows so as to get a look at the bride and other cars beeping as they passed us by, were some of the longest of my life. I was supposed to arrive at 6 and, as a fairly punctual person, I wanted to arrive at 6; however, the driver, accustomed to Greek time, believed that only a few minutes after 6 would do–that is, until I told him, in a very authoritative tone, that it was time to go: “Ade ade.” Let’s go. Honestly, how was I expected to wait another moment?
There were people to see, faces in the crowd that I hadn’t seen for more than a few years, and I was more than a little eager to get things moving.
My adorable flower girl-attendants were only too happy to help me move along; believe me, without them, I would have ended up in a tangle of lace on the stone stairs.
Though I had read the many books that I had been given explaining the ceremony to me and also knew of Orthodox marriage rites from my former life as a Slavist, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of it all. Even if my Greek were perfectly fluent, I am certain that I would have understood very little of the priests’ chanting besides the refrain of my name “Kathryn Marie,” slurred repeatedly into Ketrinmari, Ketrinmari…It is, in truth, the strangest feeling; you are there, but you are not there. All eyes are on you and you can hear and see things, too, but it is hard to recall any given moment. You may know that you made eye contact with friends in the crowd or that you sipped from the glass of wine, but it is almost like an out-of-body experience. One could say that this was a religious epiphany of sorts, but, even though I swore that I could feel a cool breeze emanating from the robes of one of the three priests marrying us, I would argue that this was more the result of being the focal point of so much attention and of participating in an ancient ritual.
Both magical and prosaic, it is all over in the blink of an eye.
And then you will be pelted with rice, so much rice that whenever you move for the rest of the evening, you will feel little grains hitting the floor. It may not be the most pleasant sensation (believe me, rice hurts!), but it’s tradition and is believed to bestow fertility on the couple.
You can’t help, when all is said and done, to feel somewhat euphoric: it’s over! You’ve done it! No more rice! But the ceremony, even if the most important part, takes only a small portion of the day.
You may want to collapse with a glass of punch, or at the very least to have a small rest, but there are photos to be taken, rounds to be made, dancing to be done. Even if done badly and, at a certain point half-heartedly (that is, after having your bare pinky toe crushed by the heel of a fellow merrymaker), dancing is required.
You will be congratulated hundreds of times–“Na zisete!” Live happily!– and kissed even more. In all possible ways, it was a joyful celebration and a veritable feast. Not that I, as the bride, had the chance to partake in the deliciousness of all the Greek dishes that I normally so love eating: tzatziki, taramasalata (cured roe dip), melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), gigantes (lima beans braised in tomato sauce). There was no time for feasting, nor, truth be told, was there much room in my dress. As the Greek’s aunt commented to me when we returned from our honeymoon: “If you even gained one kilo, the dress wouldn’t fit! Brava!”
But if you’re as lucky as we were, there may be a few slices of cake waiting for you in your room at the end of the night, to be enjoyed on your balcony with the sound of the sea gently rising and falling below you.