As a published commentator on Russian weddings, I suppose it was high time I actually attended one. On Friday, Kostia served best man at the wedding of one of his university roommates. I would have enjoyed the festivities a whole lot more if I had been dressed more warmly and comfortably, but one should look all glamorous at a Russian wedding, even if it isn’t your own, so I spent a day shivering in a sleeveless dress and shawl, and found myself underdressed the next day in Staraya Ladoga, where it turns out a turtleneck sweater and leather jacket aren’t enough to keep you warm on a sunny September afternoon. From now until next May, it’s going to be hats, mittens, and at least three layers, lest I get any more sore throats or runny noses.

But anyway. Here’s the overview of the day.

11.20. Arrive at the wedding palace. Meet up with other guests. After awhile a Soviet-bureaucrat-looking middle-aged woman announces that everyone for the 11.40 wedding should go into one of the waiting rooms. I meet Pasha, one of Kostia’s friends from college, and his very sweet girlfriend Olga. Waiting in the waiting room I have time to look around at the wedding palace and see that it really IS a palace. Very elaborate in the St. Petersburg style. I suppose a bride could imagine that she is a princess in this place, but for the assembly-line way the weddings are conducted.

12.00 or so… We are invited upstairs by the bureaucrat lady. We form two lines along a carpet in a hallway. The doors on either side of the hallway open and the bureaucrat lady announces the beginning of Vanya and Olga’s ceremony. We go into a room with chairs on either side. A fairy godmother stands at the front, dressed in lavender, with a kind of intentional calm and pleasantness on her face which must be assisted by pharmeceuticals. I mean, she has to do this same thing over and over, day in and day out.

The ceremony is mercifully short compared to American weddings. The fairy godmother doesn’t know anything about the couple, she just says some pre-prepared stuff and then the couple says “Da” and they sign a document, and the best man and maid of honor sign the document, and then it’s over. We line up to congratulate the bride and groom.

12.30 ish… We go out into the stairway and wait some more while the insane wedding photographer photographs the couple and parents and honor attendants in various positions. Then we go outside and wait in the freezing cold while he takes some more pictures inside. We’re supposed to throw rice and small change at the couple when they emerge from the palace. But they don’t come out for a long time. Finally we go back into the building for awhile so the insane photographer can finish his thing without us freezing. Finally we go back outside the couple comes out, we throw shit at them and open champagne bottles.

At this point I lose track of time… Now is the part where the couple and wedding party go to various places around the city to lay flowers, drink champagne, and take pictures. As the girlfriend of the best man, I am somehow entitled to ride in the limousine, rather than in the marshrutka that has been hired. So we go to the Strelka, the Bronze Horseman, and the Hermitage, being herded by the insane photographer and freezing in each location. Also we are hungry, so we eat the wedding candy.

The limo departs and Kostia and I are downgraded to the marshrutka. We are to head to the bride’s hometown, Staraya Ladoga, founded 1250 years ago, the first capital of Russia. It’s about 120 kilometers away; not that far. But first you have to get out of the city, a feat which is hampered by rush-hour traffic and the fact that we were following another car whose driver had no idea of the most efficient way to get out of the city. I mean, I’ve lived here, well, if you total it all up, a year, and I could have gotten us out of the city twice as fast as this guy.

Anyway. We get to Staraya Ladoga around 7:30 p.m. We do some more waiting in the chilly outdoors for the bride and groom to arrive at the reception restaurant. When they get there, they each take a bite of a big round bread, and the bride tosses the bouquet, which her mom happens to catch. I should mention that the bride’s mom is like super nice and outgoing and excited about this whole thing, almost frighteningly so.

We go inside and start on the salads and alcohol. And, The Wedding Entertainer. This is apparently a Russian cultural institution, and he isn’t simply a DJ-slash-one-man-band. He organizes games and dance contests, exhorts people to make toasts, and generally keeps the party going by force. In a certain way it’s a nice idea, but it’s also a little much.

Around 10 p.m. I was ready to fall asleep, but the main course wasn’t served until 10:30 or so, when most people had already stuffed themselves with appetizers and were super drunk. Finally, though not before I managed to have an emotional meltdown from exhaustion, the party was over, and we went to a nearby hotel, where Kostia and I shared a room with two of his other university roommates, one of whom puked spectacularly in the middle of the night, though to his credit, he cleaned it up before anyone besides me noticed. I busted his cover the next morning.

We slept late, went to the bride’s mom’s house for breakfast, took a walk through the very lovely little town, and had a shashlik cookout on the river bank. There the groom’s cousin approached me and said “Is it true? You’re a real American?” I said, “Uh, I guess so.” He asked me a whole bunch of questions. In St. Petersburg I don’t often run into people who’ve never met a foreigner before, so it was pretty amusing. There were times throughout the two days that I did feel like the token foreigner, though.

Anyway, the question of the day was, how were we getting back to St. Petersburg? Missing several opportunities to catch a ride, Kostia and I and a few others wound up getting driven to a nearby town to catch a commuter train back. Only, we missed our train by seven minutes and had to hang out for another two and a half hours. Then we got to spend two hours in the freezing electrichka, at the end of which I was tired and cold and cranky and had a sore throat and headache. Kostia and I got home and I took the hottest shower ever, officially inaugurated radiator season in the apartment, and slept for eleven hours.

That was my first Russian wedding.

Advertisements