Wednesday, January 26, 2011
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
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
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:
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
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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.