Dear Family and Friends,
This is the latest installment of my Serbian Chronicles. As always I hope you enjoy and look forward to hearing what you think about my experiences. Please feel free to ask questions or respond with your own thoughts or feelings. I love hearing from you.
On February 14, 2009 Alex and Danica were married. This is the Serbian epic with all the details from an American point of view.
Although February 14 is a day for lovers in America, it is the holiday here for the patron saint of wine. Either holiday is a good holiday for a wedding and the combination of the two is very appropriate for a wedding here in Serbia, were the love was being made legal and the wine was flowing to celebrate!
Because I am a close family member, I was involved in much of the set up and preparation, made slightly difficult at times by my language barrier. I really enjoyed doing it and it passed the days before the wedding in a fun productive way. I love being creative and I got to experiment with bows and ribbons and learn new ways to make them. It was a blast! Some of my ribbons are on this beautiful wedding arch.
Thursday at the reception hall.
The wedding party or reception was held at a hotel here in town. It is one of 2 or 3 humble hotels here in Knjazevac. The reception hall, located in the basement of the hotel, was a bit of a mess Thursday when we arrived to decorate. At first it was just Milan, Milica, Danica and I who were there. We started by blowing up balloons with an air machine Milan borrowed. Thank God he had that! It would have taken forever without it. And I was the only one tying the balloons so my fingers were soon raw from the rubber pulling on my skin. Danica and Milica were in charge of tying them together and sorting out there they would go.
Just as we were getting a good amount of balloon bouquets put together more people began to arrive to help decorate. Things moved along much faster with more hands. Before long there were balloons and steamers hanging from the ceiling. It drastically changed the look of the place from dingy hall to festive reception setting. This is how it looked when the day arrived.
I know I am always telling you about bathroom experiences, but they sometimes define a culture or setting in such a way that it seems only appropriate to include, so here we go again. While we were setting up I had the urge to hit the ladies room. All the lights were off in this area and I wasn’t sure where to go. I finally found the toilets with a little searching and flicking of light switches. I went into one of the stall and saw that the toilet was a ceramic hole in the floor and there were no lights overhead. I decide to wait til I got home.
The day of the wedding I did use them, with Mama holding the door slightly ajar because the overhead lighting was still not working and it was difficult to see what you are doing while balancing over the hole and lifting your dress at the same time. It is a delicate process. That's all I need to say.
Friday: making bows folding napkins… setting up tables and preparing plates of food.
I was never given a real itinerary so I just followed along as I was instructed. First on Friday, I was making bows and blowing up balloons that would adorn the cars in the wedding party, and the wreaths that go over the gates and the doors of the houses.
I was quite busy and happy to be. The day passed quickly and of course I got to see the dynamics of the family. Weddings are not easy on families in any culture and it seems this one is the same as in the US. There are always lots of disagreements and misunderstandings. Fortunately I was not a part of any of that, I watched, as if through a window. I am enjoying being on the outside. The view is better from this perspective. Sometime the language barrier isn't such a bad thing.
There were large tables set up all through the house and someone explained there would be about 40 people sitting down to celebrate here before going to the city hall and the church. These wedding traditions take the entire day, and I am starting to understand why at this point.
Later in the day I folded napkins and set up plates for the guests. Everyone was working, even the neighbors pitched in to help. I had a great time getting to know Baba and Deda’s closest neighbors.
My favorite is a little girl named Gabby, who, ironically, is so shy she barely speaks. As gabby is an English word and doesn’t translate here, the irony os lost on everyone but me. She was my companion for most of the preparation and even after the wedding. We sat in silence most of the time and it was fine with both of us.
While I was working on ribbons and tables, everyone was busy with other stuff, in the kitchen and dining room, there were about 10 people preparing the food for the next day. Trays of food were being beautifully arranged and put aside for easy service on Saturday.
Sat early to the village
I got up around 7 AM Saturday morning to get ready. We were to leave the house to go to the village of Vina and await the grooms family and do a little last minute prep. When we arrived all the tables that we had prepared with plates, napkins and silver, were laden with food and drinks awaiting the guests to arrive.
Serbian Wedding traditions
The grooms family all drove to the village in a large procession. They waited at the gate for everyone to arrive. There is only a small village road so everyone was parked in the lane, but it didn’t matter, there is not much traffic and everyone in the village new about the wedding. An accordian player arrived with the family and the great outdoors were soon filled with traditional music. As the family way about to come into the gate some one shot an apple over the grapevine in the front yard and the drinking and music began.
The Grooms family made their way up to the door to find the bride….
It is the custom here for the Grooms family to come to the Brides house to “Buy her on the day of the wedding. It is customary for the grooms brother and the brides brother to agree on the price to be paid and then the party before the wedding begins. Danica’s brother, Nikola is in the US now, so Milan stood in for him and "sold" her to the Grooms family.
When the money is exchanged the grooms family and the immediate wedding party sit down to eat a little, drink a bit and celebrate. While that was going on, the cars in the wedding party were decorated with ribbons and balloons. It was freezing, there was a light snow falling and it made for great pictures and cold hands while fixing up the cars.
After some time of hearing accordian music from within and the country shrills and yelps not unlike you may hear in cajun music the wedding party was ready to move onto the next stage. But before left there was still some time for dancing in the street. It was a grand old time.
We all piled into our newly decorated cars and headed to the Knjazevac city hall to make the marriage legal on paper. All the cars honked and tooted as they went in a merry line holding up traffic on country roads and drawing stares from random dogs watching from the fields. Once in town the busy Saturday morning was interrupted and people on the street sometimes smiled and waved. No doubt, they new Alex or Danica or both, it is a small town.
At city hall all the cars in the processional just parked on the side of the street and rushed in for the proceedings. The bride and groom sit in front of the city official who makes all the paper work legal. I am fuzzy on anymore of this. I was way behind everyone and of course I still can not understand much Serbian. At the finish lots of pictures were taken and outside the accordion player stroked the black and white plastic keys again.
Next we moved on to the church.
At 1:00 Danica and Alex were married in the Church. It was a traditional Orthodox ceremony, the first I have witnessed. It was very lovely and the church, looking ancient and breathtaking in the sunlight streaming through the windows was a perfect setting. The priest chanted the entire ceremony, also the custom for all the services as well. He had them light candles, out crowns on their heads, and they all walked in circles while their hands were symbolically tied together and they drank from the communion cup at the end of the ceremony. The bride and groom were followed the entire ceremony by their Kuma and Kum, respectfully, our equivalent to best man and maid of honor.
When the ceremony was over congratulations were again given to the couple and everyone filed out side for the bride to throw the bouquet. This was the first time following my wedding that I was not one of the maids in line for the flowers. A bit of a relief, I have caught enough of those for a lifetime.
The Music classical Serbian patriotic and traditional music, it sounded like Gypsie music to me. (Sorry) Most of the people here don’t like Gypsies and make fun of their music, but I personally can’t tell the difference between traditional and Gypsie. I am sure there is a difference, but I am a foreigner, my ears are not he same.
Most of the dancing done but the wedding attendees was a traditional circular dance. I can’t remember the name and there are different dances, but they all pretty much look the same from my untrained eye. I did join in and I think I did well, but I also think it can’t be that hard if most people are really drunk while doing it.
The dance looks like this… standing side by side everyone holds hand and takes a few steps in one direction and stays in one place still stepping, but standing still. Then you take a few steps in the opposite direction and repeat. This goes in a circle and can go on for some time.
On a side note: There was no “Electric slide” at this wedding or “Shout” song played… that was kind of refreshing!
Let me explain the sound of the traditional music or try… It has a mixture of sounds, there is the ever present accordian, trumpets and percussion. with the sound of belly dancing music, mixed with maybe a German drinking band. It is a strange mix and it has an ancient kind of ring to it. That along with the circular dancing makes me think if the medieval times and the size of the hall and the amount of drinking did get me thinking of Beowulf.
The music was much different than the music played at the engagement party, there it was much more romantic, this may have had to do with the difference in the band and the loudness of the music. Even Milan said it was much too loud, his throat hurt from yelling to try to speak with people.
I don’t know the name of the band, but Danica’s new husband’s band is my all time favorite here in Serbia! They play great Serbian rock and roll and some English music too. It was so nice to hear some music even for a short time during this long wedding with such loud awful traditional music going most of the time. The old people loved the traditional stuff and the young people danced to it, but I get the feeling that they had the same idea as me, Alex’s band was the favorite!
The other band played again for way to long after Alex’s band left the stage, after so many hours of this music I was ready to go. But Milan was having a good time with friends he had not seen in years so I just sat and watched, hoping it would end soon.
Around midnight, I drove everyone home. I hadn't drank and I was the only sober one. Soon I got into my precious bed. Not long after I was up sick, I think it was something I ate, Milan was soon sick as well. Though that was because he was drinking. A lot.
The really strange part of the story
The next day Milan and I slept and recovered. That night we were fine and had been invited back to Vina to help eat the leftovers. We were both fine, but I was a bit crampy from the female type of sickness. We went first to Mama and Papa’s house to pick them up and take them with us. Mama’s friend Sladunka the doctor was there to. As I came in Papa asked me how I was feeling. I gave him the so-so hand gesture, thinking there is no need to say I have cramps…
Mama and Sladunka take me into the kitchen and I think at this point they want to give me an examination. And then it gets weird! Mama fills a cup with water and gives it to Sladunka who is opening up the stove to get out some coals from the fire and puts them in the water. When I ask what they are doing, Mama just says Doctor. Not a good answer, this is not modern medicine!! Milan comes to the door just then and I tell him they better say what they are doing or they cannot touch me. He asks Sladunka and she tells him to shut up. Just as she puts her finger in the water and is about to touch my forehead he grabs the water and throws it in the sink. He kicks her out of the house and yells at his mother. I do not know until much later what was going on. The two women had been talking and thought I got sick because too many people had been looking at me the night before. Milan told me this after dinner that night once we were home. He said that if I was to get sick from so many people looking at me then the bride would have certainly been dead, though I think that Mom and Sladunka were talking about the power of the evil eye, which I have heard about from Bulgarians I worked with in the summer.
I know that this sort of practice is not uncommon in many parts of the world, but I am continually amazed at how medieval this part of the world is turning out to be. Even more, by the fact that this would be practiced by a medical doctor. My faith in medicine here continues to fail. And I assure you, I will do all in my power to stay out of the way of Sladunka’s medicine.
That is the somewhat shocking conclusion to my story, no one could have been more shocked than me. It was seriously weird!
Hope you have enjoyed as always!