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How I Got Married
Roman MALKO, a journalist, professional photographer and a regular contributor of articles to WU, whose editorial staff consider him to be a good friend (and behind his back call him “a great guy with a keen sense of humor”) tells the true story of his tying the knot.
The idea of taking the plunge came sort of unexpectedly. There must have been some chemical processes going on and brewing in me that eventually resulted in my matrimony. I can’t say it was the first time such a crazy idea came to my head, but there had always been too many other things to do, plans to carry out — and no time to give a thought about marriage any serious consideration. But then, all of a sudden, from something vague it became very concrete and urgent.
In fact, at that moment there were several trips planned — one, the most important, to Venice, to spend there some time, to get to know the place really well. Then to Amsterdam to have a beer or two — I know a cheap pub there that serves excellent beer. On the list there were also Georgia in the Caucasus, and Turkey — and a couple of other exotic places like Ethiopia.
And then all of a sudden — a drastic change of plans. Of course, theoretically, one could make a proposal in Venice, or in romantic and aquatic place like Egypt, or… but in reality it all turned out to be rather different.
We just went and had our church wedding — just like that, like the snap of fingers.
And why not? I had been in various situations, I had tried various things too, but not that. There are always people around you who provide all sorts of advice, but in marriage you have to learn whether it’s any good. And I find it’s the worst thing to be living in a state of indecision. Some do it, and it takes them a long time and several marriages to figure out they’d rather stay single, and others understand it a day or two after walking down the aisle.
Anyway, several factors combined to push me into deciding I wanted to take a step towards a happy future in matrimony. It was not my sole decision either — you have to get consent of the other party too, you know.
The decision taken, it turned out that getting married is not as simple as I had thought. First of all, we — that is, my fiance’e and I — had totally different views of what kind of the wedding party we should have. I, for one, imagined a wedding reception on a grand scale in the countryside with a tent to retire to, with musicians playing wild Ukrainian traditional music, with the newlyweds wearing gorgeous Ukrainian traditional dresses, with lots of things on the tables for guests to eat and drink, with dogs running around in a happy expectation of the choicest morsels being tossed to them by the frolicking public, and so on. My fiance’e’s vision of the occasion was that of a sort of royal wedding with her being the princess — her white dress trailing a train of many feet, a veil over her head, trumpets — and so on — I hope you know what I am talking about.
Besides, there were friends and relations who had to be pleased with wedding arrangements as well. All of these seemingly unsolvable problems pushed us into deciding to have a two- or even three- stage wedding.
Stage One: we go to a small church somewhere in the boondocks, have a church wedding and a wedding reception with only the closest relatives and friends to attend.
Stage Two: we go to wilderness, find a nice spot on the bank of a river with the densest of forests stretching into infinity, have a wild party with all sorts of viands, Ukrainian cuisine style, lots of beer and true Ukrainian horilka (vodka), salted cucumbers and dancing until dawn.
Stage Three: we go to a marriage registry office and have our marriage registered by a state official (in Ukraine, to make our marriage fully legal, the church wedding is not enough).
Surprisingly enough everything went almost according to the plan. They say that if you want to make God laugh, make plans. Probably God did laugh when we were working out our plans, but He did not abandon us and provided help.
A small church in the middle of nowhere in reality proved to be a newly built wooden church in the middle of the city of Ternopil in Western Ukraine, and a “small” reception had to be held in a restaurant with quite a few guests present.
It would be too long and tedious to explain why Stage One suffered considerable changes — let me tell you there were supposedly good reasons for that.
My fiance’e’s wedding dress was one of the reasons. It was a really great dress that took a long time to find — but when she did find exactly what she wanted, it immediately got me thinking — wait a minute, a dress like that to be seen by nobody in the boonies? Only closest relatives and friends? No, it did not seem like a good idea — people must see the dress like that, the more people the better.
Then — “a small reception” that we had originally planned. It turned we had too many relatives and friends who simply had to be there — and so we had the reception moved to a spacious restaurant. There was a hitch though — it was darned hard to find such a restaurant available on a Saturday — and Saturdays are considered to be the right time for weddings when people are getting married like crazy. So we moved the wedding to Thursday, with a host of relatives and friends in attendance.
The ceremony at the church took a much shorter time than I had expected it would. Nobody had even the time to cry happily or grow faint. The icons and wedding loaves were there, displayed on time, the priest knew well what he was doing, and everyone left the church satisfied and glowing.
I admit I was sort of nervous before the ceremony. Not so much because of having finally to say “Yes, I do,” but because of having to stand still for quite some time and not being able to scratch the itching places, or blow the nose or anything. But everything went smoothly with everyone being friendly and supportive, the priest included (I have known him for ages — we had walked many a mile in our hikes across the Carpathian mountains).
Stage Two of our original plan proved to be great too. When we started to look for a place we wanted — quiet, safe, picturesque, a brook in the vicinity, access good enough for buses to pass through, and so on, we soon realized it would be very hard to find a place that met so many tough requirements.
Fortunately, a friend of a friend helped us out. He told me where to go and where to find a glade with a small wooden hut and a lean-to in it, with apple trees around, and stacks of firewood neatly piled up. It belonged to forestry and we managed to talk them into letting us use it. Musicians were much easier to find though the right ones had to be imported from the distant town of Kosmach. No canned pop music at my wedding! And the musicians did play superbly, and almost nonstop, may God grant them good health.
We warned the guests that they would have to stay until the next day and advised them to take sleeping bags with them if they were not sure of their endurance. Some of the guests in possession of cars were instructed how to get to that glade in the forest, and those who did not have cars were to be transported by a hired bus. The bus got busted and it took some time to get it fixed — just in time.
When we arrived, the tables had been laid, and everything was ready to start partying — but in accordance with an ancient Ukrainian tradition I was demanded to pay “a ransom” for my fiance’e to her relatives. I offered them a bottle of horilka — and they brought out a girl who was supposed to be my wife — but she wasn’t. In fact, it was a bearded friend of mine whom they dressed up like a girl. I had to shell out a full handful of ancient coins and a necklace of corals to be allowed to join my true wife.
While everyone was sober, photographs were taken. When the guests found their places at the tables, the priest blessed the food and invited everyone to join him in prayer. And then the guests eagerly fell to. There was a lot of singing, story- and joke-telling going on — and a lot of toast making, well-wishing, drinking and eating.
Once in a while, the guests shouted, “Hirko (“It’s bitter — make it sweet!)” I’ll explain, just in case if you are not sure what that means. It’s an ancient Slavic tradition to encourage the newlyweds to kiss by shouting “Hirko” and toasting the couple. Kissing is fine with me but if they make you do it too often you don’t have much time to eat. But I obliged the guests and honored the tradition without trying to shirk the duty.
The musicians proved their mettle and stopped playing only in the early morning when everybody was pooped out.
Silence descended upon the glade, broken only by snoring and thuds of apples falling and hitting the ground.
So far, we have not gotten to Stage Three — we have not registered our marriage in a registry office yet. But we promise to do it at our earliest opportunity. I can’t promise though that you’ll be invited to attend. I know for sure it’ll be just another occasion for celebration. We sort of enjoyed this thing of getting married. If I knew it was such fun, I would have done it earlier!