The Religious Ceremony

We all got up again about two hours after they went to sleep and three hours after I did. Rodica had carefully wrapped her hair before going to sleep and with all the hairspray, it would have taken a lot to dismantle it (and apparently, it did. I slept through that portion of the saga), so after we had some breakfast (with Marcel, who had shown up by that point), I fixed up her makeup and pinned on her veil, we both got back into our dresses, and we called a cab to head off to the church. Oh, Ioan was back in his suit, but most people wore more casual clothes for the second day. Marcel amused me immensely by wearing a khaki green sweatshirt that said "Fishbone" in large, funky letters. My brother has subsequently informed me that Fishbone is a ska band, and in fact one I might like, but at the time, I didn't know if it was a band, a movie, a fashion line, or one of those T-shirt slogans that you see in countries that don't speak English but find it trendy, like "fish smile happy chocolate."

The religious service was set for 11:30, and we got there almost exactly on schedule. There was a little church with a blue onion dome. We had to wait outside (I told you there was a trend) because the normal Sunday morning service hadn't ended yet. Had I realized how casual everyone was going to be, I think I would have brought my fleece jacket, but as it was, I was wearing my sleeveless dress and silk blouse and by the time we got into the church, I was quite chilled. I really don't know how Rodica did so well the first day -- her dress had short, gauzy sleeves and the gloves were not exactly warm. The second day, she wore a coat.

Only about fifteen people came for the religious service. There were also six or so people there for another wedding. If you can't afford to pay for a service, you can tag along with someone else, apparently. I'm afraid that the other couple took most of the fun out of the ceremony, although that isn't to say that I blame them for it. It's just that they had cleaned up so carefully and ironed everything and I'm sure she was in her best dress, and Ioan and Rodica got everything first and the vast majority of the attention. Ioan and Rodica promenaded around the altar in full wedding regalia (three piece suit, elegant tie, wedding dress with a train, veil, gloves, sparkly jewelry -- you know), then this poor couple followed. Our videographer didn't come, but the photographer did, and our select group of close family and friends. They had themselves, the nanashi, and one or two friends/siblings. Rodica and Ioan had fancy, swirled, white and gold candles tied together with an elegant ribbon. They had the church candles you buy to put in front of the icons. And the worst part was that I couldn't even feel good about feeling guilty. It was so condescending, and there wasn't anything we could do to make their wedding as exuberant as ours without insulting them and ruining it anyway. I did ask them to pose for some pictures after the ceremony, but that's not much.

I don't believe in fate. Standing in an Eastern Orthodox church completely painted with saints and with candle stands glowing in front of silver-framed icons, though, is a pretty good place to think about it. I couldn't stop sneaking peeks at this other couple. I didn't understand much of the service anyway, and the priest mumbled. So I stood there and thought about my sore feet and snuck glances at Marcel in his sweatshirt and leather jacket and snuck glances at this other couple and thought about how I don't believe in fate. Sometime fairly late into the night before, Marcel and I had a heated conversation about God and faith and belief and reason and morals. He crossed himself several times during the ceremony. I didn't. Maybe if I believed in fate, I would have been able to ignore the other couple. As it was, I thought about how I couldn't pinpoint the moment that meant I would be standing there for Rodica, showering gifts upon Rodica, flying eleven time zones away for Rodica -- and not for this other bride. It wasn't the moment we met Rodica in the Anchorage airport. It wasn't the moment we were whispering into the night even though we had school the next morning, and in between tickle fights and speculation about boys, I promised her that I would buy her wedding dress. If it was any time, it had to have been long before that, when the two girls started first grade, perhaps, and Rodica made it into the English-speaking lycee. After the ceremony, Rodica and Ioan spoke with their nanash, and he said the bride was an orphan. Maybe that was it then, the moment her mother got cancer and her father drank himself into an accident, or they were killed for their jewelry on the street one day, or she grew up parentless and never had a chance to get good grades, let alone earn a place in an exchange program to the States. I don't believe in fate, but I believe in the past. Something in that past meant that Rodica would have people to take care of her, job opportunities, poise and grace, and an American standing behind her at her wedding. It wasn't fated, or even necessarily earned. It was just luck. And I felt sad, and a little at risk, to be standing in the same room with a couple who was unlucky. That's what I meant, I guess, when I said they took most of the fun out of it. Had there been some way to go back and befriend her early enough that I could have bought her a dress and veil out of friendship, not pity, I would have gladly done so. But there wasn't and there isn't, and pity isn't valid currency in any bank I've ever seen, and certainly not when pride is what keeps you from crying with jealousy on your wedding day.

Anyway, to go back to the wedding I was skimming over with these thoughts, the ceremony was in Romanian. The priest wore a purple and gold robe, talked fairly quietly, and didn't seem too enthused about the whole event. Rodica's mother had brought special cloths for Marcel and I to hold the crowns over Rodica and Ioan's heads with, since apparently we're not supposed to touch them. The priest plunked the crowns down on their heads, to everyone's partially concealed surprise. He fed them wine (three sips), lit the candles (which the nanashi held, the ribbon draping gracefully across the couple at about knee height), gave them an icon to kiss, asked them questions (? Da. ? Da.), led them around the altar, had them put the rings on each other, and pronounced them married. I'm not sure about the order of all of that. It didn't take very long. We posed for some pictures, met up with a third bride in the courtyard, and then headed home. Except Marcel, who headed off to the train station to take a dirty, seventeen hour train back to school. Ordinary seating, not bunks. I really think my trip may have been easier.

While we were off at the service, one of the neighbors came over and got the food ready, so when we came back (fifteen or so), we all sat down to eat and toast and drink and chatter. A lot of the food was leftovers. Around three, all the guests left, and I lay down for a short nap before the next set arrived. I missed two sets of guests and left Rodica's hair for her mother to undo, but when I woke up twelve hours later, I felt a lot better. Unfortunately, the apartment doors all have glass panels, so I couldn't turn on the light to read without waking people, so I lounged around in my room daydreaming (I wouldn't go so far as to call it thinking) until six or so when her mother got up.

And that was it, really. When we were walking up the stairs to the apartment on our return from the church, I remember thinking, "Not with a bang but a whimper," but I was too tired to remember exactly from which Eliot poem it came. I left Tuesday. Rodica and Ioan left Thursday for Turkey for their honeymoon, which is actually closer to a crescent moon, making their destination oddly appropos.