We went to a wedding in Crete recently. Basically, five years ago Harriet did an archaeological dig up in the mountains of Crete and made a couple of really good archaeologist friends. One of them, Heidi, started seeing one of the village guys working at the dig, Dimitri, and when the two months of dig ended, she just…stayed. And she’s been there ever since. I completely understand why: the village of Kavousi is a big sunstained olive grove on the mediterranean. You get to eat great food, swim, and drink wine and raki all day long. We went back for their big fat Crete wedding last weekend. By all technicalities they’d been married for a long time already, since in order for Heidi to stay they had to do a civil ceremony (and get her a “Greek Card”? Am I allowed that pun?) but this was the “official” wedding. So the whole thing was a triple purpose of reunion with friends/Crete village wedding/swim a lot as a way to escape the rapidly dying English summer.
- Heidi had to get baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in order to get married in the Greek Orthodox church, despite, y’know, not believing in any of it…but also that meant she had to get a new name from a saint. “I’m not going to be Greek, ever,” she said. “I’m always going to be Australian. I didn’t want to be another Maria.” The Orthodox priest who’d been working on it though wanted to accomodate, and went around and dug through the archives to find an appropriate German saint name: Athelheid! She had to get dunked in a pool and kiss a bible a lot while some bearded dudes chanted in Greek. We, sadly, were not around at that ceremony to delight in her confusion.
- About two hours before the wedding, the relatives of the groom (or some randos? unclear) press-ganged me, Harriet, and Emily into assembling centerpieces made from olive branches and other local flora jabbed into firm wet foam blocks. I had a pair of secateurs and just had to lop off branches of various shapes and sizes from a pile of olive trees they’d thrown on the ground. There were about a hundred tables and they’d made…maybe six centerpieces, and were veeeeerry unhurried about the whole thing. We had to leave to get ready after about an hour of that.
- The wedding was at a little one-room church down by the shore. Honestly, if you weren’t looking at the sea, the church and courtyard looked like they’d come out of a set for a western.
- Lots of the old men at the wedding looked like John Wayne, even. The ceremony was outside in the courtyard. It was so windy that one of the little decorative posts on either side of the altar got knocked over, and one of the guys in the wedding party LUNGED over the priest to grab it. The candle globe on top fell off and broke, but the post was saved. Hooray.
- First the groom’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking. Then everyone milled around for about a half an hour until the bride’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking.
- At the ceremony, (which involved a lot of bible-kissing and bearded dudes chanting in Greek) I got an extra handful of rice and put it in my front pocket, so I could ambush Dimitri and Heidi.
- After the ceremony we went down to the outdoor taverna for Wedding Stage II. It was set up in kind of a horseshoe — a bunch of tables on either side, and a big dance floor in the middle. A raised stage was at the front. Wedding Stage II was huge platters of slightly cold meze — tzatziki, some very funky village cheese, fried pie things. Oh, and village wine. And raki. I was trying to pace myself. For those of you who want to know — the wine tasted like Georgian village wine, the raki was much more like Georgian chacha than Turkish rakı. Oh dear.
- Our table was the archaeologists/random English speakers table. This was a self-selected arrangement. Everyone else at the wedding was Greek. It was a strange combination, but pretty fun.
- The wedding cake (really small, for four hundred village guests) was sitting in the middle of the dance floor on a little table while we waited for Heidi and Dimitri to come back from taking pictures. Some little kids were running around in the middle of the dance floor danging to the Greek pop/folk/whatever it was on the speakers. Everyone was kind of distracted, talking to the people at their tables, not really paying attention. One of the girls ran up to the cake and stopped, looked at it, and then jammed her finger right into the bottom layer. She took her finger out, licked it, and then ran back to her mom with a big smile to tell her what she’d done. Almost nobody saw it, but our table just erupted with laughter. We could all see the mom and the kid talking from across the circle and while we had no idea what was actually said of course, the mom had this great expression of being simultaneoulsy amused and a little alarmed.
- Wedding Stage III was the arrival of the bride and groom, the musicians, and platters of goat meat. There were five musicians and all of them had different shapes of guitar-y instruments played with different kinds of things — picks, fingers, a bow. It was time for circle dancing.
- Wedding Stage III lasted for SIX HOURS.
- I kept thinking something else would happen, some other element of ceremony, but. The cake-cutting part lasted about two minutes. (Someone had turned the cake around so there wasn’t an obvious finger-hole facing the audience.) Then it was BACK TO THE CIRCLE DANCING.
- I’d worn flip flops, stupidly, so I had to take them off to dance, and it is only now (more than a week later) that my feet are starting to feel normal again.
- There was one dance which seemed to go on forever — I noticed that the same song was just unusually long, and I felt sweat falling off my forehead in great big drops, and I actually had to excuse myself in the middle of it to pee, and sometime during the dance an old man stood in the center of the circle, pouring shots to every dancer as the passed him. I was later informed that this was the famous Cretan “Dance of Death”, and that all of Dimitri’s friends kept popping up to the musicians and putting in a few Euroes into their tip box to keep the song going, like a perpetual live jukebox. It lasted around 45 minutes. Every foreigner in the circle, including me, was just shambling around in exhaustion by the end of it.
- That was when the whisky came out. Dimitri’s friends all sat down for cigars. I think there was some drama where Heidi’s mom had tried to go home, but the cigars were in her car, so Heidi had to get a ride back up to the village to get them back. I have no idea. I was full of goat. This was Wedding Stage IV. Emily was about to die. We started walking home and a guardian angel gave us a ride back to our guest house.