Whilst I’m not one to make excuses, my blogging absence over the summer is less to do with the unusual summer’s heat, or ‘writer’s block’, and more to do with a momentous family event.
So I’ve decided to do a minor detour and share the most memorable of performance pieces right here. Like most performances it required considerable planning.
Our eldest, our only daughter Kate and her husband Lloyd, decided that they wanted their wedding celebration to be in Greece in the village of Rovies, north Evia. No ordinary village to us and one that many of the Collective members have visited.
My Greek mother Eleni spent many summers as a child and teenager in the area with family friends who owned an olive estate in the north of this very green part of Evia. When she finally built a house there in the 1960’s I started to spend my childhood summers there and built strong bonds with many people in the village who have remained life-long friends. Kate first visited when she was just 5 months old and was so excited by the experience she barely slept the whole holiday. It was ‘love at first visit’. If it hadn’t been for my dear mother who rescued us every morning from sleep deprivation we would probably not have survived to tell the tale. As the years went by all our children began to look forward to those summer holidays in Rovies with family or with friends. It seemed no surprise that when Lloyd started going it was hard to drag him away.
The ‘performance’ wasn’t a typical Greek wedding and it wasn’t a typical English wedding. Somewhere in between the two cultures melded to produce the most memorable edition of a wedding. And if anyone is thinking “isn’t this Mama Mia being played out in real life?”, the answer is “no”. There was only one father and we didn’t sing along to Abba music.
The setting for the wedding ‘ceremony’ was the ruin of the village’s 13th century Medieval tower. Still standing next to the Greek Orthodox Church after more than 700 years of Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman occupation (and not withstanding earthquake tremors and weathering) it finally came to Greek ownership in the 19th century.
History doesn’t record whether any wedding ceremonies had ever been held within the grounds of the tower since the time it was built. In recent years the idea that an English couple were going to exchange rings in the shadows of the tower surrounded by a spread of English and Greek friends and family never entered anyone’s thinking. When our Rovies florist, Iota, said “when I came to look at the place I could not imagine how you were going to have a wedding ceremony here” – she had a point! I couldn’t imagine a bride walking through the scrub and weeds to the main door of the ruined tower either. But it did happen and after some hard work to clear it and Iota’s creative input, it proved to be the most magical setting, worthy of its long history.
The bridal procession to and from the tower led by a violinist and a clarinetist is an entirely Greek tradition, the ceremony itself much less so. Led by our celebrant Miko, readings at the ceremony came in English and Greek, with the love poem by Greek poet Odysseas Elytis being read by Annoula, the grand-daughter of my mother’s closest friend. Two generations on, with grandmothers absent, the grand-daughters still hold a key to our life-long connection with Rovies and family history. The Greek custom of throwing rice at the couple after the ceremony was abandoned in favour of more gentle real petal confetti. A fusion of English & Greek that typified this performance throughout.
Greek musicians are an essential ingredient to a Greek wedding and as we gathered under the pine trees of our good friend Maria’s taverna, nestled by the calm sea at sunset, Greek music welcomed our wedding goers. What wasn’t expected was the huge response to the music and the urgency with which our English guests clamoured to the dance floor to join the Greek dancing providing their own interpretation of what was required. There were enough Greeks present to help with dance steps but there was no stopping the English desire to express themselves to the live Greek music as they only know best. Zorba himself may have welcomed such creative interpretations.
The Greek musicians were so overwhelmed with the response of the English guests to their playing that they played on longer saying “the English know how to have a good time”! Gratitude flowed both ways well in to the night and an array of unusual Greek dancing was celebrated.
An English wedding would not be a proper wedding without the series of speeches that weave themselves in to the meal from Father, Best Man and Groom but are quite unexpected in Greek weddings. The surprise was the learned Greek words that were read out at the start of the speeches to include our Greek guests, who were quite happy to shout out any corrections as the words unfolded.
A few days later my sister met a local friend in the village who said “Thank you for choosing our village to have the wedding” . The choice was an easy one and we thank everyone there, and those who came, for helping to make it such a truly memorable occasion.
Good performance art “creates a mood and a moment to collectively take an audience to a space where we consider the edges of our expectations and our highs and lows,” There were no lows and all expectations were exceeded.
A very special Greek edition of a English wedding.