The first wedding I ever went to was my own. It took place in Tallinn four years ago almost to this day. The only people there were myself, my wife, and the Tallinn city official that married us.
When we went to get our license to marry, my wife was informed that, because of my Italian heritage, she should know that it was entirely possible that I had another family somewhere near the village of Pacino or Corleone in Sicily, with little Ninos and Nunzios running around.
Anyway, we stood there and the official went through a semi-long statement, which included a poem. I understood about 5 percent of the ceremony, but when she looked at me and asked me a question, I said “jah”. Then I signed a sheet of paper, put a ring on my wife’s finger, kissed her, and … congratulations … I was married.
Since then our marriage has outlasted marriages by respectable and very much in love people. For example, we have been married longer than Lisa Marie Presley was to Michael Jackson, or Nicolas Cage was to Lisa Marie Presley.
Anyway, enough about us. Last weekend, we attended a “real” Estonian wedding. It occured in Tartu, and this time I understood a full 65 percent of the ceremony. I also got to meet “real” Estonians. Did you know that there really are Estonians with names like Sigrid and Birgit? And I thought they just put those on the name days calender because they ran out of names!
Anyway, after the ceremony — to which everyone brought flowers — ribbons were tied to our automobiles and off we drove, honking through red lights into the manure-rich fields of Põlvamaa, which is the county directly south from Tartumaa (for you geographically challenged people).
On the ride to the turismitalu, first the bride and groom stopped at some random place on the road to have their picture taken. I have seen this before and I have no idea why they do this, perhaps only to piss other drivers off that are not in the wedding party.
Then at another juncture, we all stopped our cars and got out as one of the groom’s friends began to play Estonian folk songs on his accordion. Apparently, in Estonia everyone knows someone that can play the accordion. Even if you were born in 1985, the year of compact discs, Nintendo, and the personal computer, if you are Estonian than you can play the accordion and sing songs about fishermen.
The groom was given an axe and made to chop wood in front of the applauding crowd, ready with digital cameras and digital recorders to capture every humiliating moment. For her part, the bride then peeled a potato, which she held up to the partygoers. A random car came down the road and honked in appreciation of how tubli the groom and bride were. All travelers in the car were smiling; an unusual occurrence in Estonia.
Finally, we stopped at a building right outside the turismitalu where atop a tall chimney was a huge stork’s nest, complete with stork sitting on top of it, guarding its eggs. The groom climbed up and tied a ribbon to the building; a symbol of fertility, I guess.
At the party, we dined on potatoes, garlic-laden leib, and marinated chicken and fish. I ate way too much, but it was so good and I am not that overweight, so I figured what are three more oil-soaked slices of leib between you and me? Different members of the party were assigned roles: photographers, drunks (technically “noh, mehed” — guys that say “noh” (well) to remind people to keep drinking).
Then there were the shouts of “kibe”, to which the groom and bride had to instantly lock lips and make out in order to prove their love to the crowd. Then the crowd would count in earnest the seconds of tonguing — “üks, kaks, kolm … kaksteist, kolmteist, neliteist.”
There were also tower-building competitions and, of course, more accordion music. I like Estonian toasts. They are simple and to the point. The ones I heard were “thank you very much, it’s very nice to be here, good luck, lots of love,” and that’s it. There was no grandstanding, as far as I recall.
As we ate, they played dreamy ballads by guys like Uno Loop in the background. I heard “Mis värvi on armastus?” (what color is love?), what basically amounts to Estonian elevator music, at least three times. Then we sang songs together with accordion and guitar backing. Songs about postmen and fishermen, and things of that nature.
After I staggered off of my bench, my gut filled with potatoes and hapukapsas and pork, I went down to the lake for a walk. At that point, the band they had hired, which was really quite good, began playing Elvis covers. When I got back, they started asking around in the crowd for Heiki.
“Heiki, Heiki, kus on Heiki?”
An upright looking gentlemen with spectacles look puzzled and answered that he was said Heiki.
Then they told him they were going to play a song for him, “Heiki Breaky Heart.”
The band then launched into a rocking version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 hit, which was 110 times better than the original. And you know what? It’s Tuesday, and I still have “Heiki Breaky Heart” stuck in my head.