Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Olly Olly Oxen Free!

By the dinner time on Sunday most of the guests had said their farewells. Stauber and Cousin Sam had taken a taxi to the Vilnus airport for their respective flights, and the Lithuanians had hopped in their cars, headed for home. Only later did we find out that poor Sammer had confused his flight dates and would actually be staying in Lithuania another night or two, which meant he'd need some more funding. Ha!

Those of us who remained got back in the van, carrying our wedding favors (a bottle of Vodka branded with--you guessed it--a photo of Nate and Lina). We left the newlyweds to enjoy the lodge for one final evening. As thrilled as Nate was to have had such a gorgeous and memorable wedding, one thing loomed over him: there was yet another physical challenge he would have to undertake. Apparently, Lina was supposed to hide somewhere really sneaky and he had to find her. He was just so tired at that point that he wasn't sure he could get into the game.

As it turned out, Lina gave him a pass on the hide-and-seek challenge, and they snuggled in for their second night together as husband and wife, exhausted. Whether Nate will be able to keep her warm this winter, however, will remain to be seen. Perhaps, as a PhD and all, he'll be able to figure something out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Morning After

The warning Nate got about his inlaws turned out to be fair--they were indeed up partying all night. However, no Eastern European--not even a Ruski--has anything on Stauber. When I came down from the bunk room the next morning, I found him asleep on the table where we had been eating dinner the previous night. Apparently, he had just "gone to bed."

While Stauber slumbered in the dining room, the rest of us hung out on the grounds of the lodge where there was a sauna, a lake, a swing, and various other lounging aids. After a while, I noticed that a group of people had gathered near the picnic tables and made my way over. There, was Lina's grandmother, who was addressing the small crowd as Mendogas and Lina translated.

It turned out that she was talking about her experience as a Lithuanian who was deported to Siberia in the early 1940s. Along with 12,000 other "enemies of the people," she had been arrested and moved to a Soviet work camp. Together, she and Lina's dad explained what it was like to be a Lithuanian before, during and after the Soviet occupation from 1939-1990.

While they tried to make their accounts as educational as possible, it was clear there was a lot of emotion behind their stories. Living under Soviet occupation had been financially devastating as well as demoralizing for most Lithuanians. As I listened to Lina's family members tell their stories, I got my first glimpse into this country's fierce sense of national pride.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cousin Sam

As the evening went on, it became evident that the singer of the band spoke perfect English and knew quite a few English-language songs. Cousin Sam, a passionate musician, managed to convince the band to take a break from Lithuanian music and play a song or two in English. He even volunteered to pick up a guitar and play along.

Before anyone knew what was happening, the band was rocking to AC/DC and Sam was basically head banging. One minute people were dancing to Hava Nagila-style wedding music, and the next, well, um, Who Made Who was blasting from the small stage. After a few songs, the band switched back and Nate's mother and uncle let out a big breath. Man, do I love weddings. I also really like Cousin Sam.

Ay, Ay, Captain!

At last we were able to take a break from the photos, the posing and the feats of strength and kick back with the other guests. It's unclear if Nate officially passed his challenges, but judging by the warm welcome Team Americanas got from Lina's friends and family, I'd say he made the least informally.

At this point, the beer started to flow and the reserved, buttoned up Lithuanians began to unwind. Many of them spoke beautiful English and were able to help Lina and Mendogas with all the translations. After an hour or so on the patio, we moved inside to the lodge where we were seated at a large, wooden table. It looked like something out of a cartoon, where intoxicated Germans might congregate, holding frothy beer steins that spilled their contents with every belly laugh. There were even animal heads on the wall behind us. Awesome.

The table setting was elaborate, with all sorts of special decorations in celebration of the newlyweds. Not only were there custom-made embroidered wall hangings, but there were personalized candies, complete with photos of bride and groom. The best part was that each section of the table was assigned a Lithuanian captain who was to be in charge of vodka consumption. In this important role, any time he or she felt as though a member of the table section was slacking on consumption, the captain would join them in doing a shot. Genious.

Throughout the evening, we were served all kind of traditional dishes while an accordion player and singer rocked song after song. The Lithuanians belted the words to each number in a drunken delight as they swayed in unison, encouraging the rest of us to sway along.

Here we are, just getting started:

Feats of Strength

After a stop at a vista point for additional photo opps and a drive through some quaint little towns, we arrived at the reception site. The minute we stopped, a young boy darted onto the van and handed out candy to each of us. We never did find out why.

Before we had time to unload our bags, an accordion started playing traditional wedding music and Nate was directed to the lawn area. Relatives had started to gather and we joined them in a circle around the bride and groom. Poor Nate looked like he needed a minute to gather himself, but again rose to the occasion and began clapping along to the music.

What happened next felt like a scene from Something About Mary. Nate was handed an ax and instructed to chop a piece of wood, to demonstrate that he could keep his bride warm during the long Baltic winter. Not having had much ax experience, Nate shrugged light heartedly and took a swing. While he did hit the piece of wood, it didn't quite split in half. Errr...

As if on cue, Lina's dad then stepped up and picked up the ax. Let's just say his family would be warm and toasty all winter.

Finally, Nate had to pick up his bride one last time to carry her across a seesaw. Not kidding.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blue Steel

After the bridge-crossing feat, we made our way to a picturesque home in the woods that seemed to belong to the wedding photographer. The living quarters hinted of a fairy tale where one might expect to find a despondent Baltic maiden with some kind of magical pet who helps her to overthrough her evil oppressor. Did she live here for real or was the property only for photo shoots? A lot of questions went unanswered that day, but I was OK with that as it made things seem even more mysterious and exotic.

The next question had to do with costuming. Why was it that members of the wedding party were being photographed with various unrelated props? I was pretty sure Nate was no sax player and that his sister, Amy, had nothing to do with the navy (above). Was it some kind of Baltic tradition? This went on for at least an hour while the rest of us snacked on pickled vegetables and salmon tea sandwiches.

After a few more series of curious photos, we got back in the van, unsure of what would come next. The Lithuanians seemed completely at ease with all the posing and shuffling around whereas the Americans were bewildered as to why they weren't drinking yet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Over the River

Back on the foreigner van, we discussed what the rest of the evening might hold in store. Nate had warned us of his inlaws' proclivity for heavy drinking and tireless dancing that often lasts past noon on the following day. But these people seemed so stiff (not in a stuffy way, but in a crisp, Baltic kind of way). It was difficult to picture them slamming drinks and shaking it on the dance floor to George Michael...or even Journey for that matter.

As I was flipping through my mental catalogue of "that-would-be-funny" wedding song selections, the van pulled over. We were in the middle of nowhere. What was going on? The driver motioned for us to get out and when we did, we noticed a bridge stretching out ahead. OMG, was this really happening? As we walked toward the the bridge, I glanced at Nate's mom who looked more than a little nervous. This bridge was no tiny brook crossing--it was long.

One of the relatives signaled Nate to pick up his bride and carry her across. Stauber immediately took out his camera and began grinning ear to ear. And me? I just hoped that nothing happened to Lina's dress. Or Nate's back. OMG.

The next few minutes seemed unreal. As if it were nothing, Nate scooped up his gorgeous, 6-foot-tall bride and whisked her across the bridge, with the river beneath. The moment had the feeling from one of those 80s movies when the lovable protagonist accomplishes the seemingly impossible, like when the Nerds beat the Alpha Betas to win the Greek Games in Revenge of the Nerds (not that Nate is a nerd, but he does wear glasses). He carried her the entire distance with confidence and grace. Everyone cheered on the side of the road, in a mix of Lithuanian and English.