Simon Green

Sometime around last Christmas, Mavluda, who often helps me with cooking at home, and her mother, Gulya, announced to me while I was depleting a bottle of Chianti, that she was to get married in the summer. I must confess I choked on my wine a bit as she was but 20 years old, and I said: “Aren’t you a little young?” She replied in the negative that she wasn’t and that he was ‘the real deal.’ I met said ‘real deal’ yesterday and was duly impressed; that, coupled with the happiness etched all over her face while getting ready for the ceremony, told me the prognosis was far from bleak.

The wedding party was to be held at their house in a village about 100 kilometres from Moscow, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a ride with some people going there. I was beginning to feel slightly uneasy as the M8 motorway, a.k.a the Yaroslavski Shosse, displayed signs to far away cities such as Arkhangelsk which by now had reduced to 1150 kilometres, and Yaroslav itself by now a mere snip at 150 k’s. Suddenly we turned off on to winding country roads and finally to a village with an unpronounceable name which I couldn’t find again in a month of Sundays!

With welcomes and introductions made, the ladies set about assisting others already hard at work slicing a mountain of carrots for their illustrious Plov. The floor, as is the Tajik tradition, was bedecked with various salads, breads and fruit plus liquid refreshment ā€“ it was suggested I bring my own to ensure good quality, plus some extra bottles ‘just in case.’ It’s as well I alluded to this concept as the ‘just in case’ element appeared almost immediately and in no uncertain terms! Meanwhile the other guests had arrived and a traditional beef, potato and chickpea soup was served which got the ball rolling. There were 100 guests there with an equal male/female split (though I suspect the ladies outnumbered the men). As protocol dictates, the men were to celebrate in another venue, and I was asked to party with the ladies as a sort of guest of honour. This gesture was akin to waving the proverbial red flag to a bull, and as I was seated among some 15 ladies in one room who were busy getting their hair dried and styled along with make-up being liberally applied, I couldn’t help but notice some disapproving looks from some of the male fraternity who had just arrived and were sequestered away in the next door room, with some of them muttering dark oaths as to why I was afforded this special treatment. Indeed, it’s fair to say I was surrounded by pulchritude and loving every minute of it!

Meanwhile, steaming hot bowls of delicious Plov were being served to all and sundry and gobbled down with alacrity. The bride and her entourage had at last got their cascading hair to their liking and were ready for action which came in the guise of dancing. A startling metamorphosis had taken place, and jeans had been replaced by psychedelic outfits, ready for any required action. Officialdom happened later and was a brief affair, and the pronouncing of ‘man and wife’ was delivered in whatever language that was deemed appropriate.

I tried after the party at 9pm to order a taxi in vain. I was told that I was out of the service area, and I found myself assuming the role of ‘a damsel in distress’ much to my consternation. Rescue by two ‘knights in shining white armour’ ā€” or should it be amour?!! ā€” came in the guise of two lovely ladies, the driver of which took the aforementioned pulchritude to a whole new level, as well as reducing the number of prey for the by now baying pack of metaphorical hounds that signalled the arrival of the rest of the men ready for action. I had plenty of time to reflect on a thoroughly convivial and hospitable evening due to appalling roadworks which increased our anticipated hour and a half journey time into over double that. I realized at this juncture that this was precisely why I had declined so many dacha and subsequent ‘shashlik’ invitations entirely for this reason. This in no way detracted from the lively and lovely celebrations, meeting new people and enjoying a new cultural experience that I could have only found here in Russia with its rich tapestry of lifeā€™s many aspects permanently on offer.

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