Despite the fact that I have lived in Greece for 14 years I only recently had the opportunity to attend a traditional engagement party: Apparently they have been out of fashion and are now making a comeback.
The lucky bride to be was one of my husband’s myriad cousins.. My husband has more relatives than a stray dog has fleas! No stone had been left unturned in the search for second cousins three times removed and looking round I had to commend them for the thoroughness of their search: One or two of the older guests looked like may have been dug up just so that they didn’t miss out. As a result it was quite a big celebration and an entire restaurant had been booked for the occasion
I was a little dismayed to be seated at a table with a couple of these death defying ancients and it was therefore something of a relief when we were joined by an accountant and his wife. Wine was served and not wanting to drink on an empty stomach I took an almond cake from a plate in the middle of the table and commenced nibbling and sipping while things got underway.
The happy couple got up to dance drawing my attention to the area which had been cleared for this purpose. It was festooned with pink and white balloons which clashed unhappily with the orange and green décor of the venue. The balloons formed an arch over what appeared to be a premature wedding cake, but what do I know?
The couple were joined by a priest who sang something unintelligible which was greeted by a round of applause as the groom placed a ring on his intended’s finger. Meanwhile waiters served all the guests with a glass of opaque white liquid which tasted of almonds
It was time to present our gifts, always jewelry on these occasions, so each guest went up in turn and fastened their offerings on the appropriate part of the couple’s anatomy. Seeing the plethora of crosses, rings and bracelets appearing I started to have doubts about the gold, diamond studded padlock I had chosen but reasoned that it was only fair that somebody should warn them...
My misgivings evaporated however when I returned to our table and was greeted by a curt nod from the ancient aunt accompanied by the comment “A good wife should always obey her husband”. My husband nodded in apparent agreement and took a sip of his almond cordial while I gave some thought to other things that taste like almonds and the waiters obligingly presented us with dishes of the damned things, sugared!
Just as I was beginning to wonder if it was a marzipan flavor theme party the waiters reappeared with salad, chips and tzatziki. This is a sure sign that real food is on its way and I perked up a bit. “Real food” arrived in the form of something that looked like a doughnut but tasted of cheese and some little pies….
…cheese pies! I suspected that definite pattern was taking shape; my suspicions were soon confirmed by the arrival of a platter of mixed cheeses.
Ancient uncle Apostolidias was turning out to be quite entertaining, in distinct contrast to his self righteous and obedient” wife who kept up a steady stream of complaints about everything from the heat outside, the air conditioning inside and the strong smell of cheese.
Apostolidias had joined me in battling the cheesy odors and his wife’s whinging by burying his nose in a wineglass. He was also attacking every plate of food with the gusto of one who knows that his future meals are numbered.
The next dishes to arrive were spit roasted pork and pork sausages. No surprises there then. I nibbled here and there wondering if there was any more pork in the offing and marveling at the capacity of Apostolidias’ stomach as he tucked in and ignored his wife’s mutterings about cholesterol, salt and high blood pressure, he was a man on a mission and didn’t so much as pause for breath when presented with a pork chop.
The waiters were having a hard time finding space on the table and their juggling was fair entertainment in the circumstances. Most of the guests were so full that they couldn’t even look at the chops let alone eat them. The wine on the other hand was disappearing faster than water in an African drought.
At this point the newly engaged couple got up to make a champagne toast and cut the cake which was then deftly removed so that they could dance again. Before long some jolly “let’s all join in” types started bustling round the room dragging reluctant, overfed guests from their seats before herding them onto the dance floor. Even my husband who has two left legs didn’t escape their enthusiasm.
When we returned to our table we found that the waiters had taken advantage of our absence to serve the cake. Completely undaunted by the lack of space they had balanced plates of cake on top of our uneaten chops. Barely able to see each other over the mounds of uneaten food most of the guests, myself included, returned to the dance floor where the effect of the steady stream of wine meant that hair was let down and shoes were kicked off and everybody, including the grumpy aunt but excluding my “I don’t dance, you can’t make me “husband, got down to getting down in a way that only the Greeks can.
As I sashayed past uncle Apostolidias making a death defying leap into the air and kicking one leg up higher than his head I made a mental note to seek him out at the next family gathering and ply him with alcohol. The resultant geriatric acrobatics were a sight to be seen and almost made the combination of almonds cheese and pork worthwhile.