Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Polish Wedding !

Weddings are always exciting. It is a place where you meet new people, make new friends and reconnect with old friends/relatives. But this wedding I attended for me was an entire new world! I am just back from attending my first European wedding and it was a Polish wedding, right out of the traditional book. There was no dragging, no bored moments, no unpleasantaries and no panic. It was smooth, like cutting the perfectly baked cake with the right knife! The wedding took place in Damesławek, a small village in the Paluki region of Poland, 20 Km from Żnin. The bride was Marianna Adamska and groom, Krzysiek Hoffmann.

Agnieszka invited me for this wedding and I was excited about this even 6 months before the wedding date! Probably as excited as the couple when they decided on their wedding date! And even from months before, Agnieszka began her coaching for European dancing, for my legs yield only to Yuvan, Rahman, Harris and Deva! Ok, enough of prelude. Here starts my experience journal…

The flight was from Dortmund. The nearest airport is Bydgoszcz, but there were no flights available for our travel itenary. So we flew to Poznań with an airtime of just 60 minutes. Agnieszka’s father and brother came for us at the airport and we drove to Żnin, 95 Km from Poznań. On the way we stopped at a highway restaurant for “Pierogi” and ice cream and finally reached Żnin at 10:30 PM. It was already dark and I could not already have a glimpse of the city where I would stay. In the house were Agnieszka’s mother, grandmother, uncle and aunt. They welcomed warmly with “Dzień dobry” and showed me to the room where I would be sleeping. After slipping into comfortable shoes, I went upstairs to the living room where the table was set with finger food. Tido also welcomed me by smelling me around and trying to climb on.  He was always licking my fingers, guess the Indian spices were still on! After exchanging pleasantries, I was taken on a tour of the house by Agnieszka. Then back to the living room and this time I was greeted by a large bottle of Polish vodka and Agnieszka’s father and uncle were smiling at me and said, “son, we need to train you for tomorrow! Are you up for the challenge?!” It felt a little strange to be invited by a family for alcohol, but when in Rome, there is no shame in being a Roman. Else you are just an observer, not a player! And for them, alcohol is not offensive; it is how you are judged as responsible. So, I was up for it! Discussions, juice and 8 shots of pure vodka was what followed. In between Agnieszka’s cousin joined us after his long drive from Warszawa. He is a vegetarian by choice and it felt nice to have a fellow herbivore nearby! After sometime, Piotr (Agnieszka’s brother) introduced me to his fabulous hobby of reconstructing 14-15th century battles and showed me his collection of armour, weapons and materials. It was really fascinating and I salute the effort. Then Agnieszka’s parents gave me memorabilia from Żnin (set of old pictures, playing cards and maps) and it was the most thoughtful gift! I gave them a collection of 8 Indian recipes, Cooking Indian with easy ingredients. I had written them in English and Agnieszka translated them in Polish. I referred to it as gift for the mother, punishment for the father and brother! At 2.30am, we decided to call it a day.

I was woken up by excitement and the sunlight piercing through the curtains. I opened them to discover that my room was overlooking the lovely garden! Apples, pears, cherries and walnuts all stood tall and colourful. Eventually the house woke up too and preparations for breakfast started. I and Agnieszka went into the garden to harvest fresh cucumber and onions. There was also cabbage, kohlrabi, beans, peas, carrots, marjoram, some spices and tomatoes. And in one part stood many rose shrubs with wondrous blossoms. The breakfast spread consisted of home made bread, variety of cheese, sausages, scrambled eggs, fresh tomatoes, cucumber with yogurt, tea and coffee. Immediately after breakfast Agnieszka took me outside to the city. We ran into her best friend from childhood and spent some time over cake and coffee. Then began my city tour. It is a very well planned city centre. The houses are with gardens and some with farms, 3-4 Km from the city centre. The centre has all the essentials with a little dash of modernity. There is no hurry and people know each other. I could see people giving me second looks and probably I am the first Indian to have set foot on Żnin! We visited the city museum and saw collections of traditional dresses, paintings and printing machinery. The first magazine for women was started in Żnin in the early 1800’s. There were also collections from local artists in painting and wood work.
We reached the church at 15:50. The bride and groom stood in the entrance and welcomed the guests. The bride was dressed in white and the groom in a suit with a black bow. Exactly at 16:00, the bride and groom walked in to melodious live organ music. The priest blessed the couple, announced the gathering, read some psalms, the couple exchanged the rings, the priest blessed the couple again, gave communion to the couple and the gathering and the couple walked out married at 17:00! Once they walked out of the church, people threw rice and coins on them and the couple had to pick up the coins. Then we started out in our cars to the reception hall which is a few kilometres away from the church. The children from the church’s vicinity blocked the roads with ropes and let each car only after we gave them some coins and or chocolates!

The couple entered the reception hall and the live band began to play. The guests followed in pairs, gave their gifts and wished the couple and took their places at the table. After everybody assembled, they sung the traditional “sto lat”, which means 100 years together and the couple kissed to a joyful cheer. Everyone toasted with Champaign and the couple tossed their glasses behind them and broke it. After this they cleaned it together symbolising the hard work that needs to be done after marriage!  The couple took their seats along with the guests. Traditional chicken soup was served first. The table already contained salads and fruits. The salad was traditional polish, consisting of boiled vegetables cubed into small pieces, with pickled cucumber and mixed with little mayonnaise. The main course was an assortment of dished cooked with pork and for me, there was special vegetarian mini pierogies garnished with garlic-butter sauce. There was then coffee and cakes for dessert. Most important of all, there was incessant supply of vodka and the crowd raised a toast every few minutes! The toast was always followed by a chant of Gorzko! Gorzko! (bitter bitter) and the couple have to kiss. The entire song translates as “The vodka is bitter, bitter, bitter, and you need to make it sweet.” Hence the couple kiss to make the vodka sweet! After food, the couple came up to the stage for their first dance. The bride looked very cheerful and happy and I could sense the tension in the groom. Guess it’s the same everywhere, the men are always tensed!

I finished applauding their dance only to find the bride run up to me ask me to dance with her. This was not what I was expecting; nevertheless, I like the centre stage. So I stumbled across and danced what would have been the best entertainment for the guests. But I had a nice interaction with the bride and thanked her for inviting me and told her how much of a learning experience it has been. She was really nice and spoke good English to respond to me. The rest of the night I spent talking with Agnieszka’s cousin, some curious relatives and toasting with vodka to cheers of Gorzko! Gorzko! Exactly at midnight, the couple took centre stage again and sat on a chair. The young unmarried girls walked around them and when the music stopped, the bride tossed behind her veil and the girl who caught it took centre stage. The guy now did the same and tossed his bow behind and fortunately I was not the person who caught it. The guy who caught it took centre stage and the new couple opened the dance again. Now everyone started to dance together and go around in circles around the bride. After half an hour of intensive dancing there was slow music again and out came the wedding cake with fireworks! The couple cut the cake together and all the guests received a portion from it. I already began to feel sleepy and retired to an adjoining room where two little children started to teach me polish! We started back at 2:30 and reached home at 3:00 am in the morning. The longest party I ever attended.

There was absolutely no hangover the next morning and after yet another tasty breakfast spread (this time with krokiety), Agnieszka took me around the region. First was to her grandmother’s house which has a huge garden and a small chicken farm. We strolled around the garden eating cherries and smelling the roses and let the 10 chicken and one rooster out from their pen. People always speak about contentment but seldom realize it. But looking at their houses and life style and their city, I guess this is where it lies. Żnin is sandwiched between two beautiful lakes and every year in summer, boat racing championships take place here. Żnin is the capital of the region called Pałuki and there are totally 130 lakes. Poland owes its origin to this region and the first church in Poland was built in Poznań. The first place we visited was a narrow gauge locomotive museum and the ruins of a castle in Wenecja. There is a legend that the cruel count of Wenecja who terrorized nearby villages during the medieval times can still be seen sometimes in the night! Then we went to Biskupin which is an archaeological excavation site. The civilization existed 5000 years back and the site has preserved an entire part of their community with original excavations and some reconstructions.  

We came back home at 16:00 and got ready to attend the “after party”. This was a get together only for close relatives and friends. Before we started out, Agnieszka’s grandmother (who took a special liking to me), asked us to return home by 21:00 and help her put the poultry back and that she would show me her house. It was a very sweet invitation and so we returned home at 21:00. The party was a smooth get together and the couple spent a lot of time with me discussing different things about India. When we went back, grandmother was already ready. She showed me her garden and her roses and figured out that one chicken had strayed into the neighbour’s garden. 75 years old and she still chased down the chicken and caught it! Then she took us inside her house and showed me her favourite room with heavy furniture, piano and books from 1875! All conversations were translated to and fro by Agnieszka and I was amazed by her grandmother’s energy!

After coming back home, we spent the evening looking at childhood pictures and discussions about marriage traditions. The final day, we woke up early and after a quick breakfast, went to Lubiestroń. It is a small palace which now hosts concerts. Unfortunately it was closed but we walked around in the gardens identifying some plants and trees. Agnieszka’s parents drove us to the airport and we encountered a fine ice cream break and a tense traffic jam before we reached just 2 minutes before the gate could close!