Thursday, September 17, 2009

Three Weddings and a sugared almond!

Did you know that Evelyn has been on a river cruise in France? She came to tea yesterday, full of enthusiastic reminiscences.

What impressed me was the educational aspect of these cruises. You probably know all about them, but it was news to me. Apparently, they come complete with lecturers and guides and, from what Evelyn tells me, you could almost call them The Open University Afloat.

I found myself looking back on my own travels a trifle ruefully. Somehow, they seem to have lacked this edifying element.
Plenty of unexpected experiences . . . . ? Yes.
Education . . . ? Alas, not much. Or at least, not in the way that Evelyn acquired it.

Have you a moment to hear about a so-called cruise of many years ago? It was, I'm afraid, in a totally different league to Evelyn's beautifully managed experience!

My mother loved to organise what might be called slightly unorthodox holidays. These were often spent, very enjoyably, on cargo boats. To be specific, she and I travelled on the Adriatica cargo boats that ferried their shipments between the various ports on the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Aegean.
Dependent on how much cargo needed to be offloaded and taken on board, so your visit to a port could last for either a matter of hours, or for several days. The majority of the passengers - never more than a dozen in all - used the boats as a means of travelling between the ports. Invariably, we were the only ones doing the round journey. Equally invariably, we were the only British on board.

This particular story, which I hope will make you smile, took place at Pireus. Our boat had berthed in Pireus harbour prior to going through the Corinth Canal. It would, we learned, be in port for several hours, allowing us ample time to explore the town.
Not speaking any Greek, we found exploring a little difficult. Shopping presented few problems, but what of the nature of the various official buildings? Were they open to the public? Were they strictly private? With no knowledge of Greek, it was impossible to tell.
The one building that offered no such ambiguity was the church. The church in Pireus (or was it a cathedral?) commanded a dominating position above the town. In the confidence that it would be open and welcoming, we headed happily up the hill.

It was, I remember, a particularly beautiful building. We sat down quietly at the back and looked around. Whilst sitting there, we were interested to notice a small crowd of people entering through another door. All of them were very smartly dressed and the reason for this soon became apparent. We had unintentionally gate-crashed a wedding! Nudging each other with pleasure and surprise, Mother and I craned our heads to watch.

The wedding ceremony was rich in symbolism. From our seats in the shadows, we gazed in fascination as it unfolded before of us. What a bonus, on our first visit to Pireus, to have the privilege of witnessing an authentic Greek wedding!

The ceremony over, the bride and bridegroom, together with their guests, filed out of the door through which we had entered. About to follow, we noticed that each guest was being given a gift by the father of the bride. Better, Mother decided, to wait until they'd all departed and then slip away quietly. We resumed our seats.

But, barely had the last guest left through the door on the right than another small group started filing in from the left. To our considerable surprise, we realised that it was a second wedding party! What was more, the door on the right had now been closed. We could no longer escape.

A second Greek wedding in one morning rather lacks the novelty value of the first. Nonetheless, we appreciated this chance to absorb the details that we had missed on the original occasion. Once again, as it came to an end, we prepared to make good our departure . . . once again we were thwarted by the gift-donating father of the bride!

Nor was this the only complication, the second bridal party had not fully departed when yet a third wedding party started to file in! Only later were we to learn that, in those days, weddings in Greece only took place on one day in each month. In consequence, on the appointed day, every church in the land was fully booked for a succession of wedding ceremonies that continued from early morning until dusk.

Trapped unwillingly amongst the wedding guests, we had no knowledge of this fact. What we did know, and it was becoming increasingly urgent every minute, was that if we failed to make a break soon we would miss our boat!
Yes, I know, we should have explained our presence and gone in search of help. But when you're in a different culture, and you don't speak the language . . . well, we were cowards, and cowardice kept us frozen to our seats.

Finally, at the end of the third wedding we hatched a desperate plan. Mother was to make her way to the right of the bride’s father . . . . I was to approach from his left. Whilst the poor man was thus confused, we would, or so we intended, simultaneously bolt through the door.

We had under-estimated the dexterity and generosity of this particular Greek father - he caught us both!

Do the Greek gods bestow gifts on all their visitors? As mother and I rushed down the hill, back to the harbour and the waiting boat, we carried with us two treasured bags of sugared almonds.
But what would last far longer than the almonds, long enough to be shared with you all these years later, was the unforgetable memory of three Greek weddings!