Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The funeral of the bride

I attended a wedding on Sunday – a London Cypriot wedding. I call it a London Cypriot wedding because these weddings are distinct from those that take place in Cyprus nowadays.

London Cypriot weddings reflect the compromises that have to be made by an immigrant community – for example, much of the Greek Orthodox church service was in English as was the exchange of wedding vows – English being the first language of the happy couple and much of the congregation – though, paradoxically, London Cypriot weddings also retain many of the more traditional aspects of Cypriot wedding rituals now abandoned or dying out in Cyprus.

Among these traditions are the series of dances that take place, between the bride and groom – including the money dance/the pinning of money on the happy couple; followed by the koumbari (best men) dancing one by one with the groom; then the koumeres (best women) dancing a kalamatiano (a circle dance) with the bride; the fathers sharing a dance; the mothers doing the same, and so on. Weddings in Cyprus nowadays don’t go in for all these village-type festivities; they are much more businesslike. Church, buffet, congratulate the happy couple, hand over to them tens of thousands of pounds in white envelopes, go home.

On a more general note, I don’t like weddings. This is not because I am opposed to marriage in principle or believe in free love; it’s just that I’m not very good at jollification. My temperament is more suited to funerals than to weddings.

Indeed, ever since I read Rush Rehm’s Marriage to Death: the conflation of wedding and funeral rituals in Greek tragedy, I have become convinced that the marriage ceremony is in fact a death ceremony, symbolising and reflecting, particularly for the bride, not the beginning of a new life, but the death of a previous one – and therefore a reason for sadness and mourning.

So it is, thanks to the ancient Greeks, I now attend weddings with the attitude that I am in fact attending a funeral – the funeral of the bride.

Of course, during the special day, I keep this knowledge of the true nature of the marriage ceremony to myself. I congratulate the bride on this the happiest day of her life, tell her she looks lovely and wish her all the best for the future. I would like to commiserate with her on the occasion of her death and tell her of my deep sorrow at her tragic demise but, of course, I am not mad. I am someone, however, who has read too much.


Margaret said...

This is so funny. I'll try to think of a proper comment, but right now I'm laughing too much. I'm still very much alive after all these years.

Hermes said...

Marriage is death for the groom. It is not natural for man to come home from work and plonk himself in front of a couch and hear from his wife about daytime talkshows, soap operas and gossip small talk. Men are more suited to the creation ideas and their implementation. We are imperialist. We tend to look outwards, not inwards. But one of the paradoxes of life is that the creation of offspring is the best way to creation small empires.

Two interesting Greek Patriotic Left blogs which have made me think about things differently lately.


Red Pepper

Stavros said...

Marriage, now there's something I know nothing about, even after twenty years of married life.

As for Hermes and John, brave words, but they are living on borrowed time.
As Cavafy says: "Ephialtis will turn up in the end, the Medes will break through after all."

Margaret said...

I've thought about what to say, on and off, all day.

I don't think marriage is intrinsically, necessarily, good or bad for a husband or a wife since we know from those around us that it can be both, and I suppose there are as many descriptions of an ideal marriage as there are couples.

Mine is the description in Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet because it highlights the difficult tension between separateness and togetherness, freedom and fusion, with an implicit fundamental equality without which it would indeed be a living death.

I think my husband would see marriage for him as death if it was as Hermes describes. But, then, so would I if my life comprised only of daytime talk shows and soap operas.

Hope. I think that is what marriage is about when everything else is stripped away. Hope that together we can lessen our existential loneliness. My experience is that it works better than the alternatives, but that is only my experience.

Hermes said...

Don't get me wrong...I support marriage and will get married one day. Also, my mama would kill me if I didn't.