The heavy showers that relentlessly hit the windscreen on the drive from Katowice Airport was a fading memory as the bus soared through the beautiful, golden countryside of southern Poland. Faded billboards and Eastern European architecture were scattered by the roadside. There was a strong Catholic influence with giant crucifixes randomly appearing in the window every few minutes and colourful graveyards decorated by hundreds of flowers. Having just come from the concrete jungle of London, it was surreal driving through infinite countryside and then suddenly appearing in a hidden village. The town would soon disappear from sight and the green countryside would present itself again.
The one thing that all these villages had in common was the giant church right in the heart of town. As the bus pulled into Nowa Cerekwia it was no different as the steeple towered over the other buildings. This is where one of my childhood friends, Chris, would be getting married.
Inside the majestic church, I took a mid-range pew seat with my new friends of Conor and Genna to get a view of all the action. Chris and his groomsmen of Euan and Rob were already at the end of the aisle awaiting the bridal party to arrive. There appeared to be some type of commotion when the priest walked up to them. Some words were exchanged and Euan’s expression changed to dread as he fled the scene. Euan did not have the rings and needed to hunt down the bridesmaids to find them. He had one job as the best man, one job!
With the rings accounted for and with the pews filled with a mixed Welsh/Polish congregation, the wedding had the green light for starting. Two adorable flower girls opened the show, tying their best to carry out their petal throwing duties. They were followed by the exquisite bridesmaids and then finally was the bride. I had met Damiana a few years back and instantly liked her. She is always happy and enthusiastic about what life offers. Chris had made a fine choice in his life partner to be.
What followed was a traditional Polish wedding with a full Catholic service with the traditional exchanging of vows and rings. The priest was highly animated throughout and at one stage did what I believed to be an acting out the future life story of bride and groom. My Polish is terrible at best so let me break down his performance to my own personal translation:
Priest shouting and cheering – Chris and Damiana getting married
Priest jumping up and down – The honeymoon
Priest pretending to be pregnant – Self explanatory
Priest complaining – Damiana getting mad at Chris’ obsession with rugby
Priest walking around with an imaginary cane and arched back – Chris and Damiana in their elderly years
From my interpretation of the priest’s homily, my conclusion is that Chris and Damiana are due for a life of happiness with a with a mere few bumps on their marital road. Marriage is always best when described as a romantic comedy rather than a drama or disaster movie.
Chris and Damiana emerged from the church to the bombardment of cheers, confetti and even coins. Coin throwing is the first of many quirky Polish traditions that were to follow. The newly married couple squeezed into a tiny vintage auto-mobile and rolled down the street waving goodbye to their guests. They would have made their escape if it was not for the firemen and a fire truck blocking their path. There were two firemen in particular who had their hoses flowing and making an obstructive arch of water. They would not let the couple past until they paid them off with bottles of vodka.
Polish tradition states that if you obstruct the leaving groom and bride, they have to pay you in vodka for them to allow you to pass. This struck me as being quite peculiar. That was until they reached another point further down the road and were confronted by some youths dressed in make-shift Halloween costumes. That is when the stereo started blasting the “Harlem Shake” and the gang broke into improv freestyle to the music. They too had to be paid off with vodka.
The bus dropped the rest of us at a huge country manor surrounded by a moat, gravel road with all types of wildlife on the perimeter. Even a donkey. Kto wpuscil tego osla?? Inside there was a dance floor set up with with wings to either side that accommodated the dinning table and chairs. After the group toasted the happy couple with Champagne flute glasses we all queued to pay our individual respects. After insisting they should visit me in my new home when everything settled down, I scanned the tables for where my name would be on the seating plan.
Making myself comfortable between Conor and Charlotte on one of the elongated tables close to the bride and groom. I picked up one of the menus near by and was in store for another shock. The amount of food that was going to be served that day was astounding. Eight meals served from 3 pm for the next ten hours. These were not small portions by any means, giant platters of meat, vegetables, soup, potatoes, cake, fruit, etc. Conor is a vegetarian and where as everyone had the luxury of sharing the giant platters amongst themselves, Conor was given three platters of the meatless option for just himself. The rest of us laughed at the mammoth task that lay before him but to Conor’s credit he gave it a good go.
The clinking of a glass stole our attention from the mountains of food to the direction of the groom. Chris was about to deliver his speech, the thing he was most anxious about leading up to the wedding. Chris started in Polish that drew wild applause from the other half of the room. There was much laughter and more cheering so I was assuming he was nailing the pronunciation. Then there was the switch to English and I could finally understand the jokes. It was touching when I had my own personal shout out for making the trek to Poland from Mauritius. The highlight was at the end when Chris said the last three years he had been with Damiana were the happiest of his life and I almost lost it.
As well as the spectacle of girls dancing with fire and Chris firing off a cannon, there were many Polish wedding games to get involved in. First, Damiana would sit on a chair in the middle of the dance floor wearing her veil. All the single women circled Damiana to protect her from Chris, whose mission was to claim the veil. Unfortunately for Chris all the ladies were armed with wooden spoons and planks. They would hit him repeatedly to fend him off. He most likely had many bruises by the time he stole the veil. There was a reverse of this game that I had a chance to join in with the other single men; the aim – to protect the groom from all the wild single ladies trying to capture his tie. I was throwing away three girls at a time. The game ended prematurely when one of the Palfrey twins stole the tie to the astonishment of the Polish men.
Later in the evening I was introduced to Justyna, bridesmaid and sister of Damiana. She was curious on what the British consensus was on the hospitality and eccentricity of the wedding. I assured her that I was having the best time and had never been to a party quite like it. I questioned her about all the traditions and was quite curious about the vodka. Each table had numerous bottles of vodka and there were many shots taken through the night. Many shots. Many many many shots. Justyna taught me the best method of dealing with it was to eat a lot of food, shot of vodka, dance it all off and then repeat the cycle. Seeing all the hungover Welsh guests the next morning it was some advice that should have been taken more seriously.
There was nothing left to do but dance the night away to the band who played a variety of hit songs in both English and Polish. The outline of the trees were becoming visible in the brightening night sky and this signalled our time to leave. We pulled Euan up from his slump in the garden and made our way back to the hotel. The party was not over as Polish weddings last two days, we would have to get as much sleep as possible before heading into Round 2.