Sunday, September 13, 2009

A wedding story

I had the most lovely time with Polina and her tribe this weekend as we went camping in Barryville, NY to celebrate her sister Ella's wedding. I've heard much about Ella, but have never actually met her until yesterday, her wedding day.

I arrived at the campground around noon on Saturday and had a nice reunion with Polina - we hadn't seen each other for a month and it was wonderful to hold her and kiss her again. She helped me set up my tent and we socialized a bit and helped set things up. Here's a photo of Yoshi and my brandy-new tent with my air mattress and sleeping bag (which I bought last year for a trip to Assateague Island that got cancelled due to a bout of food poisoning):

Green van, green tent

The campground was called Luke's Landing, and it sits on the upper part of the Delaware River, an area with lots of river rafting outfits. The campground is the home of a music festival organized in part by the groom, Sasha, so it's an area with lots of good memories for both families. Here's the gorgeous view from just outside my tent at my campsite - you can hear the gurgling of the river very clearly:

View of the Delaware River

At around 2 p.m. Polina and I went to get changed into our party clothes and put on some makeup. I wore a diaphanous beaded orange and yellow dress with a silk wrap, an outfit that has an interesting back story. After the fire of 2005, I found this dress at a Lohemann's store in Houston, so it was one of, if not the first dress in my current wardrobe. One of the straps was damaged, and it's a braided string of beads, so I had to have my tailor find the same beads and rebraid the strap. Then, a year later, I was visiting Mandy and Colleen in Columbus, Ohio and we went to the Columbus Fine Arts Museum. I saw the orange silk wrap, so the wrap and dress were bought separately and are a perfect match, even down to the pattern of circles on both. The dress survived the second fire in 2007 since it was in a protective bag, but I had never had an occasion to wear it until now - yesterday was the first time it's ever been worn in public.

Speaking of perfect matches, you can see from the photo that Polina's bangs, which had previously been colored a deep shade of red, have faded to a light orange and yellow blonde, which we took great delight in pointing out that it matched my dress perfectly:


The wedding started at 3 p.m. with some games presided by Polina's eldest sister Sophie, where Sasha was given several tests, such as guessing people's hands while blindfolded, and picking out his bride's lipstick mark from several others in the wedding party. Each time he guessed wrong on the latter game, the woman he thought was Ella would get to place a lipstick mark on his face. He only had to endure this twice (Polina was his second wrong guess) before he successfully recognized his bride's lips. After completing all the tests, he was allowed to go find Ella, who was hiding on the other side of the campground near my tent, and together they walked back to the party to start the wedding ceremony.

The wedding took place under open sky outside the main tent under a huppah, which symbolises their home, and the house they hope to build someday. The families of both bride and groom are led into the huppah and several rituals are performed of walking circles clockwise and counter-clockwise, sharing wine and exchanging rings.

The wedding party

Once the rings and vows are exchanged, the newlyweds are wrapped into the talles of the huppah, where they share their first kiss as a married couple and Sasha breaks a glass to remember the fragility of our world:

First kiss

After the wedding recession, everyone gets to throw rice on them and the feasting and drinking begins in earnest. There were lots of toasts (Polina and her family sang a song in Russian about how the couple met that reminded me of the Brady Bunch theme) and as night fell, even a heavy downpour did not dampen our spirited dancing, nor the determination of a fellow named Roman who managed to start a bonfire.

We gradually migrated to the bonfire, where we sang songs (Sophie played many songs on guitar) and talked until the wee hours, until people started drifting off and it was just me and Polina, her sisters, mom and grandmother. We sang lullabys, showtunes and Beatles songs, and I managed to play and sing "All I Want Is You" by U2 and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by John Denver on the guitar. Around 2 a.m. we decided the fire was low enough to leave for the night, so we said good night and I dropped Polina, her mom and grandmother at their tent and retired to mine (which luckily was not too wet because I'd stupidly left only the bug screens closed when I left the tent that afternoon).

In the morning we had some breakfast and chatted a bit before breaking down campsites and starting the cleanup. Polina had to leave early to catch her ride back to Stony Brook University, so we had a nice goodbye before I finished packing up my tent. I asked Ella if I could take some of the extra mugs (they were used for coffee and tea during the wedding, but some people didn't take them home) so I could finally replace the mugs I've been using since the 2005 fire, which were part of a china set that someone donated to me. It's nice to have mugs that remind me of happier things than the fire, and this weekend was certainly one of the happier times in my recent memory.

On the way home I stopped at High Point State Park, the highest elevation in the State of New Jersey, just south of the New York border, and visited the Veteran's Memorial obelisk at the summit. It was a beautiful day after the rain and clouds of the two previous days, and it was wonderful to feel the wind whipping through my hair at top of the mountain. Here's the view of the glacier lake in the park:

High Point State Park

Tomorrow after work I'll head to Poly Cocktail Hour for a bit, then to Diana and Kerry's viewing party for the MTV True Life premiere. But I will certainly remember this weekend for a long time to come, not just for the fun I had, but also as a milestone in my relationship with Polina where we officially were recognized as a couple by her family and close friends. The way I was accepted as Polina's girlfriend, with such warmth and open-mindedness, was both humbling and gratifying, and I hope to see many of those people again soon.