Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Wedding of Modestas and Jolanta – August 19, 2005

Gearing up for a wedding in a foreign country can be somewhat stressful. It is especially so here. First of all – we are the only people invited who seem to be from the Groom’s family in Kaunas (aside from Jane and Beruta – his grandmother). Secondly, because of the first reason – we are not sure how we are going to get there – even as we get up on the morning of August 19th and prepare for the wedding!

When we first spoke to Modestas about this earlier in the trip – he told us not to worry that he would take care of us. That was over a week ago and we have not heard from him since. We consider calling him and decide that is not a good course of action as we are certain hat he is swamped with last minute details. Just as we make that decision – the phone rings and it is Modestas. With a flurry of apologies he quickly explains that he has been swamped with planning and last minute details – Lisa’s father does his very best to calm Modestas and assures him that he need not worry about us – we will be there and get there under our own steam.

With the fears of Modestas assuaged we now must focus our attention on how to get to the wedding – a mere three hours away at this point. Without a second thought, we blow a call into Gvidas who, without any hesitation, tells us he will be there to pick us up at Noon! Good Ol’ Gvidas – our savior and frequent guide on this trip – we owe him a great deal of gratitude!!

So now, with the ride taken care of and three hours to play with – we walk down to Maxima where the restaurant Viva Kolduni is located!! A brief 45 minutes later – our faces stuffed with Kolduni and Beet Soup – we are walking the calories off back to the apartment to change and wait for Gvidas – who, much to our surprise, arrives over an hour early having had nothing else better to do!!

Scrambling to finish getting dressed – we run around the small apartment like the proverbial chickens with our heads cut off. Last minute ironing of pats, a suit coat and a shirt all attempt to derail our agreed upon Noon departure – but luckily we have every under control and we are headed out the door to enjoy a Lithuanian Wedding on this bright, blue, sunny day!

Weddings are celebrated here in shifts. Back in the old days the celebration would stretch for days – often five or more – with sleep being the only time that you would not eat or drink (or passing out for that matter). We had been warned by several people here in Lithuania to be prepared for a hard party that will last until the wee hours of the morning. We were warned back in America that it would be boring as all you do is sit, eat and drink. I am happy to report that neither assessment was correct. We in fact had a blast and had that fun in just the right amount of time (for us in any case).

We start at the town Wedding Chapel, located in the center of Kaunas. A large, white building, looking rather church like and currently under renovation – is the first stop for all wedded couples. The state does not legally recognize a church wedding as they do in the US – instead, a couple must first be legally married by the government and then married by the church. Today there are more than several wedding parties lining up to wait their turn inside the chapel. The square is a sea of flowers, dresses and suits. Limousines line the outskirts of the square – Cadillacs, BMWs and even a Hummer await the exit of their guests. Wedding party goers wait outside the chapel for a glimpse of their party and the chance to heap flowers and well wishes upon the bride and groom. It is not an insult to not be invited t the wedding chapel, the church or the reception. Everyone understands that money is limited and sacrifices need to be made – so instead, those that are not invited to any of the festivities show up at the square and wait for the bride and groom to exit. There they are greeted by an impromptu greeting line where they offer flowers, gifts and wedding cards to the bride. Photos are snapped, champagne is popped and the party starts before even the church wedding has had a chance to take place. Today, with the sun smiling down on all of these happy couples, one can feel the energy of love as it permeates the air.

Children mill about the limos – several boys – more brave than some of the others – peek their heads inside looking for candy and treats. There is another custom of driving through the home area of the bride and groom tossing out candy to the children as they pass. The boys are rewarded as the various drivers, groomsmen and bridesmaids happily give them treats. One little boy – the obvious Spanky of the group, happens upon a bottle of left over Champaign, tipping it he finds that there is some left and helps himself to a glass! Twisting his face in disgust he tosses the bottle aside only to have a driver notice him and reprimand him as we stand by laughing.

The wedding party of Modestas and Jolanta finally arrive to the square; their 1:00 pm start time nearly here. Jolanta is stunningly beautiful – her strapless white dress flowing out from behind is a wave of taffeta. Ornate, white sequins decorate her bodice and skirt, her hair up in a pretty pile and her neck bordered with a lovely diamond necklace – she is the prettiest bride there today. Modestas is right beside her in a tuxedo of cream linen with matching shoes. Perfect for his darker skin and hair color making him look almost Italian! The groomsmen are dressed in dark suits and the bridesmaids are in matching pink strapless cocktail dresses with pink and purple flowers tastefully patterned throughout. The dresses are pretty and can be used at a later date – that is how nice they are. So far, today, this is the only wedding party that has matching bridesmaids – which is unusual for a Lithuanian wedding. Again, this is Jolanta’s take on mixing the traditional with the contemporary. Everyone is quite stunning.

The other difference – it is Lithuanian tradition to have Matchmakers as well as the maid of Honor and Best man. The Matchmakers perform the same duties as the Maid of Honor and Best man in the US. Normally, the male and female Matchmaker would wear a sash that would identify them as such. While Jolanta has opted to keep the Matchmaker tradition, she has decided to do away with the sash – much to Gvidas’s disapproval we find out later. Change, it seems, is a universally painful thing!

We are invited in lone with the wedding party to take part in the civil ceremony within the chapel – an honor we are eager to see. Entering the building we are taken by the beauty inside. Trim of red oak and a large red oak stairwell that wind gently up to the second floor fill the view as you walk in. To the wait is a waiting area that has a large sculpture of Adam and Eve against the far wall. Another wedding party snaps pictures in front of it. Jolanta and Modestas along with the bridesmaids and groomsmen disappear into a back room to receive their final instructions while the guest invited in wait in the Adam and Eve room.

Up at the top of the stairs – before you enter the main hall – a string quartet is playing wedding music and an organist is belting out the Wedding March. Outside there are occasional bursts of applause as couples emerged, married and excited to share the day. It is truly a magical place, filled with emotion and happiness. Our bridal party emerges form the backroom and we use the opportunity to snap some quick pictures before being called upstairs.

Once upstairs we are directed into a large, open ballroom. High ceilings make the room enormous. A red carpet splits the room down the center leading up to a grand oak desk. Behind the desk is a regal looking gentleman in a dark suit with a red sash across his chest festooned by medals. Obviously someone important…

The bridal party marches in line with Modestas and Jolanta in the lead up to the desk. The bow tied gentleman begins to read from a book on his desk. Modestas and Jolanta exchange what I assume are their vows and they are then invited to sign a book – which I assume is their marriage license – or something similar. The bow tied gentleman then introduces Modestas and Jolanta to the room followed by thunderous applause! With the Wedding March thundering through the cavernous room – they are lead out to the hallway for more pictures before heading downstairs to greet the anxious family and friends waiting outside.

As they step through the grand doorway at the street level, Modestas and Jolanta are treated to a shower of flower petals and applause. Well wishers approach with fresh, beautiful bouquets of flowers, gifts and cards. They are kissed and congratulated by people we know and people we do not. Once the line has ended – they are lead off by the photographer for pictures in the square and by the fountain in the square. On the way to the church ceremony – only 45 minutes away at this point – they will stop at the forest for some nature shots. We use this opportunity to head to the church at a leisurely pace – something not at all familiar for Gvidas!

We arrive at the church with time to spare and since it is such a beautiful day we sit on benches outside and enjoy the sun and warm breeze. Beruta and Jane are already there as is Modestas’ father and step-mother. His uncle and aunt from the country are there as well, so it is a nice time for us all to visit. Soon the limo arrives with the wedding party and we head into the old church.

The church is like most in Lithuania – ornate, with large open ceilings. No sound system to speak of and even with sitting near the front we struggle to hear the priest. Although, since we do not understand Lithuanian, it does not really matter. We simply look for the rings to be placed and the kiss to be made to know where we are at in the ceremony. The priest has a lilting, sing-song voice that rises and falls with each emphasis of words he uses. We don’t have to understand what he is saying to know that he is beginning to ramble. Gvidas, Jane, Beruta and Alberti all leave out “tsk”s and huffs at various points in the priest’s sermon – just enough apart that we giggle and the time passes quickly.

Soon the bride and groom are facing the congregation and receiving applause once again! They are lead down the aisle by a little girl tossing rose petals in their path. A few more pictures and then they are on their way to some traditional events and pictures:

Modestas will now have to carry Jolanta across a bridge (of her choosing)…

Jolanta will have to change the diaper of a baby or doll….

Modestas will have to chop some wood to prove his strength…

And more pictures before heading to the reception…

Wanting to give the happy couple some time to do this on their own – and because Gvidas has a dental appointment – we head back to the apartment where we are planning to hook up with Vile and Edmundas who have graciously volunteered to drive us to the reception (after which we will take a taxi back home – it is fairly close by in either case).

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