Adrian and Carmen’s Wedding

This was a day like no other.

The wedding was filled with activity for us from the moment we got up, to late in the night. We have been in Europe for almost a month now, but the impact if this event hit us like nothing else!

I took a lot of pictures and Rebecca wrote a lot.  Between the two of us, we’ll try to capture the magnitude of this event.

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Adrian, called “Ady” by everyone here, is the son of Cornel. I met Cornel in 1974 when I traveled to Romania for the first time. Later, Cornel came to live with us and work in Winters for six months. His son’s wedding notice came as a bit of a surprise to us. We rerouted our trip so that we could attend this wonderful occasion.

The first mission for me on Saturday morning was to find a jacket for the wedding, which I had not brought. Second, we needed to find a bank.  The night before, Cornel handed me 300 Romanian Lei, just to hold us over.  I wasn’t sure how much they were worth, but we needed to get some cash to pay him back and have for our own use.

We set out from the hotel at about 9:30.  Cornel and Adi had given us directions. We found the bank, just two blocks downhill from our hotel.

Both Rebecca and I had remembered the directions differently. Where Cornel had said left, I remembered right. Where Rebecca had remembered “near the bank” I had remembered “continue past the bank.”

We were getting pretty lost. This was our first test at using what little Romanian we had learned on an online app, and it was apparent that the words we had learned were not making sense. I was getting concerned that we would not find a place to buy a jacket, when we found a long, glass fronted strip-mall of small shops on the main street. I spotted “imbracat copii” which I thought meant “children’s clothing.” I figured that if they had children’s clothing, they might have men’s clothing as well.

We climbed up a set of stairs to the second level and found that it was a thrift shop. We decided to give it a try. We found a small rack of men’s jackets ranging from five to about 20 Ron (the new Romanian Lei–1/1000 the previous currency). Ok, after a little computation at 4.5 Rom to one Euro, and 1.2 dollars to the Euro… Um that’s about a $1.50 for the cheapest to about $6.00 for the most expensive.

I found a nice, brand new-looking jacket that fit for 19 Rom. I tried to pay for it with a 20 Euro bill, and the young lady at the counter pointed out my mistake and took out my Romanian money. It came to 24 Rom (about six dollars) for the jacket and the tie.  I put the jacket on and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the pre-wedding party.

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My five dollar jacket.

After a short walk to Cornel and Aurelia’s apartment, we were exactly on time, but awkwardly early.

We weren’t sure exactly which apartment it was, but they made obvious once we got there–tulle bunting and a silk flower arch over the doorway. 

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Rebecca, as we entered Aurelia and Cornel’s place. It was clear where the location of the before wedding party was to be, once we rounded the bend in the apartment complex.

The bunting showed us the way up the stairs, around the handrail, right up to their door.     

At first, just Auralia and two photographers were there to greet us, we grappled with our lack of Romanian for a few minutes until Cornel emerged, smiling and looking relaxed, for what was to come later.

Aurelia greeted us.  She hasn’t changed at all.  She had a mint green brocade jacket dress and high heels–quite high.  She had a small spread of food and we ate a little–petit fours and cheese and ham.     

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Aurelia and Cornel with Adrian (Ady) between them. It was clear that they were bursting with pride for their only son, soon to be a husband.

A few good men…

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Adrian with a few of his closest friends at Cornel and Aurelia’s house
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Cornel, getting his corsage pinned on the big day.
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Toasts all around

We hadn’t seen Aurelia since they had come to visit us in 1998. Auralia was dressed in a fine green brocade jacket dress,  and looking not a day older.

Ady lived in this medium-sized town all his life, until he left for college and moved to Cluj, about 100 kilometers to the south, which is the third-largest city in Romania. Cluj is where he met Carmen, and they have been together for five years, now.  His sophistication shows in the way that he seems to know about the latest technology and urban words in his English language. He described one of the hotels in town as “nice, but a bit kitschy.”  It’s a word that I know, but had to check the spelling of when writing this.

He talks of life and the opportunities that he and Carmen have there.  They saved and bought an apartment on the fifth floor of a nice new complex at the edge of town.

Both Carmen are Ady are young professionals, she is in a management position for a large firm, and he majored in engineering but is now in Information Technology.  The couple has a bright future and they have a large group of college friends who have joined them here for this pre-wedding event.

Gradually other guests arrived and I found myself talking intermitantly to Ovidiu, a photographer who had worked in the military for several years and was stationed with American soldiers as a guard. We talked about photo equipment, techniques, and I shared some photos I had taken through some files I was able to download from DropBox.

 

We felt privilidged to witness the inside workings of a distinctly cultural event. Who I thought was the bridesmaid, turned out to be the wife of a “godfather” of Ady. Godfathers and godmothers have a different role here. A godfather is someone of a child’s own age. More of a BFF. They are selected to be each other’s godparents, and become a sort of “best man” for life.

Toasts, and greetings all round, and gradually the small apartment began to fill. After various formalities, it seemed that the short pre-event was ending already.

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At some point, everyone started to stir and we knew it was time to leave. Cornel motioned to us to follow him out to his car. We noticed that there were two attendees that grabbed trays of pastries and goblets and a bottle the local firewater, “palinka.”

They have a tradition that people gather at the groom’s house and at the bride’s house and  then walk them to the church.  On the way, they offer drinks to neighbors and tasty bites as they leave the apartment complex.  An old man was sitting on a bench as we passed by.  He took the palinka and toasted us as we left.

 

 

 

We didn’t walk, though.  Cornel told us to ride with him, so we did.

There were photographers recording everything.  Two followed the groom’s group and two followed the bride’s group, so at the church, there were four people all snapping photos and videoing everyone. 

People milled about and eventually sat in pews.  The church is painted with amazing detail!  Saints and others looked down on us from above, each with the requisite gold halo.

The wedding started–Cornel and Aurelia walked Ady down the aisle, the four “god parents” (what we would call bride’s maids and best men) walked down the aisle. There was a couple on Ady’s side and another couple on Carmen’s side.

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The three priests prepare for the service while Ady and his “god parents” wait for the bride to arrive. Aurelia on the right and saints looking down.

 

 

 

Photographers were abuzz everywhere.

As we entered the church, it wasn’t clear where we were supposed to sit. Cornel told us to sit wherever we wanted. People seemed to gather in small groups and soon activity at the altar signified the beginning of the celebration.

With initially about 60 people in attendance, everyone looked back expectantly toward the entrance of the bride. Before she entered, she was preceeded by two photographers and a vidiographer, all finding their appropriate station for the bride’s entry.

I was astounded at the boldness of the photographers who seemed to take no notice that they were in others’ way as they stepped in front of, behind and got up close to the bride, the groom and the priests. The audible shutter clicks seemed to be very different from any other wedding I had ever attended. Besides the paid photograpers, everyone else had their cell phones out, also snapping away, me included.

I wondered what the priests thought of all this technology going on among the ancient chants and readings from the holy books. It reminded me of the church celebrations I had attended here, 44 years ago as a young man. But then, I remember that I was actually asked to stand up in front then by the priest in order to record the funeral of Gheorghe’s mother. I was the only on in the church with a camera.  Now,  the cameras were everywhere!

Soon, the bride entered to Mendleson’s Overture recording.  The four god parents and Ady and Carmen stood together at the altar.  The two couples held large candles and all six held one white ribbon among them. 

 

 

The three priests then conducted the ceremony with lots of melodious chanting. 

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A cantor sings back responses to the priests’ envocations.

Interesting differences: the bride and groom wore crowns; the couple next to Ady put his ring on him and the couple next to Carmen put her ring on her.     

I had been wondering if Leonica or Gheorghe would come to the wedding. Leonika is Cornel’s mother and Ady’s grandmother.  These were the two that we stayed with when I visited with my parents in 1974.  We stayed for two weeks in their humble house in the small village of Margine.  We saw how they made everything from chicken-feathered pillows to homemade palinka. That’s where I met Cornel as a 13-year old.  Later, Cornel came to the United States and lived with us in Winters for six months. working and saving money to go back to Romania to build a better life.

Later, when I visited a second time in 1977 with my two sisters and parents, we first met Dona Mica, (Little Dona) named after my older sister, and perhaps partiallly in honor of my dad (Don Fridae) who was regarded in Margine as a sort of hero who had managed to escape Communist Romania and come back to give others hope.  In those days, Gheorghe and Leonica rarely left their village.  I imagined that if Leonica did come to Zalau, it might be a rare event for her.

Cornel told me that Gheorghe’s health was not good but he expected his mother to come with Dona Mica.  I kept looking around the church, hoping to see her come in.  I wondered what Leonica would think of this modern wedding. I wondered about her health and if she would remember the close bond that we forged in previous visits with my parents, and again in 1994 when we brought our boys to visit and they had played together.

Some photos we would show Leonika:

 

 

During the ceremony, Dona Mica and Leonica came in. She looks way older.  She has lost teeth, uses a cane and has cloudy eyes. I smiled at Dona Mica but she didn’t recognize me and gave me just a faint smile in return.

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Leonica came in and sat opposite us in the church. She didn’t seem to recognize us. We would try to talk to her later at the reception.

After the ceremony, people gathered in various groups for photos behind the altar.  We went over to Leonika and tried to introduce ourselves, but our age and inability to speak Romanian was confusing to her. We thought that we could take more time to talk, show some photos, and have someone translate at the reception.

Still abuzz with photographers, people gathered in various groups for group shots both inside and outside the church.  There was even a drone operator, filming the exit of the newlyweds.

 

 

After the ceremony, we headed in a van up to the hotel that was higher up on the hill than ours and much more opulent.   

We sat outside with Leonica and tried to communicate.  Eventually, after I mentioned Andrew, Dona Mica remembered us { she had fallen in love with Andrew when he was four, when we were here in 1994, and carried him everywhere.}  We looked at pictures that Woody had on his phone, but that didn’t work too well because of the glare.         

I decided to walk back to the hotel to get the printed photos I had brought of our trip in 1994. I was able to make it back before most of the guests had been seated.

We went inside passing a “candy bar” piled high with sweets of all kinds.  More petit fours, macrons, cheese cake pieces, chocolates, mini eclairs, and fudge. Amazing spread.           

The tables had been pre set with a large amount of food piled high on the plates.  I told Cornel when he stopped by for a short visit that I didn’t think I would be able to eat all on my plate.  He chuckled a bit and said, this is just the first course.  There will be “much, much,” more, just wait.  I realized that he meant special emphasis by the way his eyebrows went up on the second “much.”

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We were seated at the head table, next to where Cornel and Aurelia were to be seated, but they were still at the hall entrance, greeting guests then.  Woody decided to walk back to the hotel for a folder of photos to show Leonika, so I sat at the table. The plates were all set up with an amazing spread of food. I looked around, some people were eating, most were not. I snacked on a few things.  A bit later, a couple came in and were seated next to us.  They spoke no English and not seem interested in communicating and sat stiffly the entire evening.

A bit later, Woody came back and more people were arriving.   There are over 400 guests, Cornel told us.  I think that fewer than 100 were at the church.

We had a fabulous waitress.  She was observant and filled our glasses smoothly, whenever they appeared below half full.  She also spoke somw English and told Woody that it was OK to start eating, but most people waited ’til the priest said grace.

The band was setting up with a big structure with lights and other equipment. Auralia and Cornel came to the table.  Auralia had changed from her green brocade dress to a bright red flowing dress for dancing. 

It was time to eat.  This was the first of five courses.  Woody had interesting meat treats, meat inside other meats, like a roll. What I had was simpler,  and no meat. I am sure I am the only vegetarian here. 

 

 

It was about 5:30 when the first course was whisked away.  Time for the first dance.  This was a choreographed affair with Adrian ana Carmen dancing in the fog from a fog machine. Then the parents joined them and the couples from the bridal party. Quite enchanting. 

The fog cleared and other people got up and danced, the music was mostly English and American pop songs.

 

The dancing went on for nearly an hour.  I was struck by what good dancers they all were, and that the men loved to dance- waltzes, modern, traditional;  they liked it all.  My dancing friends at The Palms would have been delighted.  Then we sat down for the second course.  They they had fish and rice and broccoli.  Then more dancing.  This time, it was some different Romanian dances that older people knew best.  Then the third course–soup.

During one of the breaks, we were able to sit with Leonica and show her some of the photographs we had brought.  When Rebecca showed Dona Mica the photo of her holding our son Andrew, (when we were here in 1994) the full impact of who we were and our connection to the family came alive for her. She in turn, explained to Leonika, and the light in her eyes began to sparkle.  Rebecca was able to show Leonika some other photos from our phones and she loved seeing current photos of Andrew and Markland. 

The band was adept at playing music from many different genres.  Most of it was modern, English popular songs.  The amazing thing to me was that almost all the people on the dance floor were singing along with the lyrics.  They knew the words in English better than we did to almost all the English songs.

 

 

Then a surprise!  Aurelia belongs to a dance troupe and had changed into a traditional costume. About eight couples in red and white blouses and skirts of red, black, and white with colored aprons danced. The men were in tall straw hats and had red and white costumes.

 

 

At the end of the traditional dance, it was obvious that Ady and Carmen were very touched.  It was a surprise, Cornel said, to them and almost everyone there.  Ady gave his mother a big kiss and the crowd was touched.

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It was now about 11:30 and Woody and I were getting tired.  We talked to Leonica and Dona Mica and hope to visit them later.  We had fun, we even danced some.  I ate a few of the tiny cakes from the “candy bar,” but we couldn’t stay for the last course. Ady and Carmen gave us hugs goodbye and a gift–we found out later that was wedding cake in a box and a bottle of palinka.

We walked down the hill to our hotel.  The wedding had started at noon and we were in bed about midnight.

An amazing day.  We were privileged to see the scope of a Romanian wedding up close and personal.  I was amazed at how genuinely happy everyone was, coming together in support of this young couple. I remember watching one older, teddy bear of man dancing–he knew many intricate dances. While twirling his partner and a doing a sort of promenade, I watched the enchanted expression on his face.  The way he seemed to savor this night told me that this is what life is all about–that life could not be sweeter. I wanted to capture that expression, but the light was low, and, well… I felt it would be an intrusion. But it was,  I think, what this event was about.  The community feeling here is rich and abundant–so full of life and hope.

And one other wonderful gift–were able to talk with Leonica and reestablish the kinship we shared with her when we visited in 74 with my parents, in 77 with my sisters,  Dixie and Dona, and in 94 with Rebecca and our boys. And it was another gift to watch her be there for her grandson’s wedding.  We hope to be able to visit her in Margine, soon. Truly an amazing day!

 

 

 

           

  

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