Today's the day!
Trip Start Jun 20, 2005
10Trip End Jul 07, 2005
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Well, today's the day. Arguably the most important day of my life. And it's raining. Ironic, don't you think? It's not like it's a shower either. This is grey sky as far as the eye can see, no wind, here for a week, persistent drizzle/rain/drizzle/rain. The locals think it is going to rain until Wednesday. The best we can probably hope for is that it stops for a while during the outdoors bits. Jane and I were somewhat disconsolate but her mum predicted the rain would stop early in the afternoon.
Sure enough, at 1:35pm, things started looking distinctly brighter, particularly the sky. The cloud lifted a bit, the rain stopped and there was almost the chance of some blue sky. We drove to the castle to get changed. I was in one little room to get myself gussied up, while Jane had the larger room. Everything seems fine now, including my nerves. I have slight butterflies but it still doesn't really feel like it is me getting married. In about 20 minutes we'll go for our photos, then head down to the Penzion Quattro for the Odbierka. The Odbierka is a traditional ceremony in which the parents give the bride and groom away to each other.
The photographer was very excitable as we took plenty of shots around the castle. She would scream "Super!" and "Ya, ya!" and "Yes, Jim!" with great gusto, like a female, Eastern European version of Austin Powers. Jane looked beautiful in her dress, which had been made just the way she wanted it. I looked pretty smart too, in my three-piece suit, gold tie and buttoneer. The weather had cleared up very nicely too.
Jane and Maria then took off, leaving me at the castle with our 'best man', a guy named Marek. (The best man in a Slovak wedding is more of a ceremonial position, something like an MC, rather than the best friend of the groom.) He referred to himself as the "Lord of the Castle", which sounds pretty cool. He walked me around the castle grounds, making small talk and I really had no idea what was going on. I got the feeling he was just killing time. After a while, we got to the front of the castle, where Janko met us and drove us to the Penzion Quattro.
When we arrived, all the guests were standing there waiting for us (well, for me I guess). Marek explained to the crowd that Jane's parents would now give her away. Louise appeared from a doorway and Marek asked me if she was the one. I said 'no'. Then Jane appeared from the same doorway and Marek asked me the same question. I said "yes, she's the one". Jane then kneeled in front of her parents and repeated after the Lady of the Castle how she was excited about exploring the world, etc, and asked their permission to marry me. Jane and her dad cried during this bit, as did a few of the guests.
Then it was my turn. I kneeled in front of mum and dad, thanked them for their guidance and support (repeating after Marek of course) and asked them for their permission. Fortunately, they granted me the permission.
Once that was done, Marek said a few words and the whole group walked through the town to the castle. Jane was in front, holding Marek's hand, followed by the kids, then me and the Lady of the Castle, then everyone else. The gypsy band walked ahead of us all, playing all the way. By now it was a very hot day, especially wearing a black three-piece suit. The people on the square watched us as we went by, some calling out well wishes (I presume).
By the time we got there, we were a bit early so Marek killed time by talking about the castle and the opera that was going on later that night. Quite a few people took photos and we chatted a bit. Then we all went out of the sun for a quick drink.
At 4:30, everyone went into the 'ceremony hall', except me and Jane and Rosscoe and Maria (our witnesses) and the kids, who filed into a little office. We went over the plan, signed some documents and then went into another room. Then, as the organ started to play the bridal march, we filed into the ceremony room. Jane and I stood in front of a big desk-like thing and various officials, including the town's vice-mayor, were assembled. Most of the ceremony was in Slovak and the important bits were translated rather poorly into English. It was rather funny at times because there was a lot of talk about "being aware of each other's medical conditions" and contracts and "searching a partner". We said the "I dos", had a kiss, signed a book to the strains of 'Ave Maria' and it was done.
On the way up to the restaurant for the reception we did a bit more traditional stuff - throwing the bouquet and consuming salt, bread and slivovica before entering. Up in the restaurant, someone smashed a plate on the floor and I had to sweep up all the pieces (another tradition). Once that was done, I carried Jane over the threshold into the restaurant proper. The room was beautifully laid out, with all the trimmings, including a pianist who played upon our entry.
Speeches were the first order, followed by a rather good dinner, interspersed as it was with people coming up to see us. The evening then progressed very nicely as the alcohol flowed and the traditional games took place. They almost followed a story, as narrated by Marek, with an activity for each part of the story. Most of the activities involved me being embarrassed in some manner. The first tradition was dancing - Jane and I had to kick things off together, then we each danced with the Lord and Lady, then with our mothers/fathers and by that time other people had mercifully joined us on the dance floor. This is proper dancing too, by the way, not nightclub dancing, so all the Slovaks were experts and all the westerners were rubbish. I was much more nervous before the dancing than I was before the ceremony, but it didn't turn out too bad.
The gypsy band was just brilliant, worth every koruna. It was so wonderfully authentic, fantastic musicianship, showmanship and danceability. Everyone commented on how good they were, so we couldn't have asked for better.
We drunk some more and people started to mingle. The next tradition was a game involving swords. I was a bit worried when Marek poked a sword in my chest in front of everyone, then tossed me one. I played along, for the crowd's benefit naturally. Marek said "of course, we will not fight", to which I responded "okay, but just for the record, I would have kicked your arse". The actual game involved Jane tossing wreaths about two metres and I had to catch them on my sword.
After another period of drinking and eating a table full of cold cuts and potato salad, it was time for another tradition - the removing of the garter. For this I had to stick my head under Jane's dress with my hands behind my back and remove her garter with my teeth. Like the sword-catching, this was something I had not had a lot of practice doing but I managed it in record time apparently. I then had to flick it behind my head to a lineout of all the unmarried men.
The next game comprised teams of me and Jane versus Tim and Jess. The boys stood on a chair and the girls had to manoeuvre an egg up one leg of the guy's trousers and down the other in the quickest time. Somehow Jess just threw the egg up Tim's leg and it dropped down the other leg before Jane had even reached my knee. None of the locals had ever seen anything like it.
At midnight, Jane disappeared and returned wearing traditional Slovak clothes. Everyone formed a circle around her and she danced with whoever put money into the collection bowl. This continued for probably a good 20 minutes so Jane must have been exhausted. After she had danced with everyone, I had to fight my way into the middle and match the contributions in order to win Jane back. I hadn't brought my wallet with me so I had to borrow Jon's. I made a big show of dropping his bank card, visa card and, of all things, library card, then the whole wallet into the bowl.
After that, the night continued but it's hard to distinguish any hour from any other hour. Tom, a former professional double-bass player, joined the band for one set. They played 'Summertime' and a couple of other jazz tunes and Tom fit right in, which impressed a lot of people. The only problem I had with the band was how they kept hard-selling everyone to get them a tour to Canada. I didn't think that was really appropriate. My only other regret about the night was that I didn't get a group photo of everyone together.
People started to drift out at around 2-2:30am. My parents stayed till 3am, which was a big achievement for them and something they hadn't done for "about 20 years", according to my dad.
The hard-core party people stuck around though. I started doing some brandy shots at about 3:30 or 4am, on Leon's request. Up until then I had been surprisingly sober, despite having quite a few beers over the course of the night. It started to get light outside at around 4am, which was a little weird given that it had only really gotten dark at around 10pm.
By 6am there were about 15 of us left, drinking and basically getting a bit messy, falling over and so on. Some castle guy came in and told us that we have to go, so we staggered out. Jane and I staggered faster than the others, down to our hotel, and were almost in bed when we heard the others crashing along the square. Our suite was awesome - huge and modern, with all sorts of rooms, a flat screen telly, etc, but we just wanted to go to sleep, so we did.
Overall it was just about a perfect night, every bit as good as I had ever hoped for. Guests had fun, people got drunk, the music was fantastic, there was plenty of food, Slovaks mingled with English speakers, the traditional games were really fun and we have plenty of stories to tell.