I’ve been to many weddings around the world, but maybe the worst and weirdest was one in Cyprus.
Now, I don’t mean to insult you if you’re a Cypriot – mainly because Cypriots are scary and keep a grudge, and I don’t want to have to nervously watch my back every time I get into a lift and see some swarthy, scowling Eastern Mediterranean dude – but honestly, you guys need to do better.
The wedding was in July this year, just outside Larnica, and I bought a special extra-lightweight cotton jacket for the occasion, just in case it was warm. By the time I’d walked down the dirt road to the fruit orchard where the wedding was happening, my jacket was ten kilograms heavier with sweat. It was like wearing a live walrus. I had to take it off and leave it draped over the branch of a tree to dry.
“I don’t know,” said my partner. “The invitation said formal.”
“Oh, please,” I said. “We’re obviously experiencing the heat-death of the universe right now. The sun is clearly engulfing the Earth! The very air is on fire! No one’s enforcing a dress code!”
“I don’t know,” she said again. “Cypriots don’t feel heat like normal people.”
I rolled my eyes dismissively. The bride and groom were her friends, but that didn’t make her an expert on Cyprus.
We walked into the little clearing, all hung around with pretty yellow lanterns, and I turned to the nearest guest to say, “Phew, pretty hot, am I right?” but I noticed he was cheerfully wearing a heavy woolen double-breasted suit with all the buttons done up. He was also wearing a tie, and even the tie looked like an extra thick winter tie.
I glanced around. I was the only one not wearing his jacket. Everyone else seemed to be attending some sort of formal ball beneath the northern lights on the frozen Canadian tundra. The groom was dressed like a Vicorian dandy in waistcoat and frock coat. As I watched, one woman shivered and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. What I learnt that night was, it’s never hot enough for a Cypriot. They aren’t content until the thermometer climbs above 45 degrees. This explained the confusion at the hotel the night before, when I asked them why the lowest setting on the air conditioner was 27 degrees. I don’t know how the priests scare Cypriot church-goers, but it certainly isn’t with the fires of hell. Hell for a Cypriot is somewhere with a breeze.
Miserably, I managed to inch back into my sodden jacket, like a man putting on a wetsuit two sizes too small. We looked at the seating map for our table.
“Oh, there I am,” said my partner. “Table 4.”
“Let’s go,” I said. I needed to sit down before I fainted.
“No wait,” she said. “You’re Table 17.”
What? But it was true. Partners at this wedding were not seated beside each other. Or even at the same table.
I took my seat at a table of strangers. They all yelled happily in Greek to each other, roaring with laughter, kissing each other’s cheeks, slapping each other heartily on the back. It’s possible that they all knew each other, but it’s equally possible that’s just how Cypriots do small talk.
It cast a bit of a dampner when they realized I don’t speak Greek. They looked at me pityingly. Who is this strange underdressed barbarian? And why does he sweat so much, like a malaria sufferer under police interrogation? But they are kind and warm people, and they kept trying to talk to me, so I kept pretending I sort of understood them, and nodded and smiled and laughed when they laughed.
Eventually they found someone who could speak a bit of English and made her sit next to me, and that just made things worse, because now my bad time was becoming contagious. We mangled out some conversation about the economic health of the EU and whether or not octopuses are the most intelligent animals, and then I made a joke about Turkish Delight which involved humorously speculating on what Greek Delight might be, which upset her so much she instantly developed a migraine and had to leave.
As evening fell, I became surrounded by a small cloud of mosquitos and midges as well as a third tormentor, some sort of diabolical mutation of the two, the product of some fiendish Cypriot gene-splicing biological experiment that had gotten dangerously out of control.
No one else seemed to be bothered by them, but they orbited so tightly about my head that I could barely see through them, like I was Lady Gaga in a meat dress, wearing a veil made of flies. I sat there swatting and flapping like some lunatic, enacting a scene from the Karate Kid happening entirely in my own mind. They would land on my face and drown in the sheen of my sweat, and when I slapped at an especially bitey one they would be crushed into an accumulating paste.
Finally the speeches were over – I don’t know what they were about, but people kept crying and singing and yelling what sounded like revolutionary threats to bring down the government– and it was time for dancing. At last! I could communicate with my fellow wedding-goers through the universal language of dance!
I don’t mind telling you, I have enlivened many a wedding dance floor in my time. I am sinuous and rhythmic, like a snake with hips. I bring sexy back and forth and sideways, all at the same time. When people see me dancing at a wedding, they are reminded what it’s all about: the joy of life, the continuation of the species.
But I don’t know, I’d become dehydrated with all the sweating, and I’d tried to compensate by drinking loads and loads and loads of wine, but maybe I hadn’t drunk enough, I was up there, throwing down my moves, all hips and shoulders and wrists, and I noticed a space clearing around me, which I thought might be to allow people to watch in appreciation, but actually it was a kind of protective demilitarized zone so as to avoid physical injury.
I tried to wave to my partner to join me, but she was pretending that she had come to the wedding alone. The only way to save this situation, I decided, was to dance even harder.
I don’t know what happened after that. I woke in a bathtub inside the house, packed like a salmon in ice-cubes from the bar. All through the evening, people came in from outside to check on me, and patted my hand reassuringly, and took photos of me to post on their Facebook pages. The bride and groom came in and posed for pictures beside me, and smilingly told me that they would never forget what they had seen that night, not as long as they lived.
They are kind people, the Cypriots. They know how to live, and how to love, and they are welcoming to strangers, even wet, bug-covered, stumbling strangers who develop heat stroke on the dance floor and knock themselves senseless while undertaking ambitious dance moves. I would go back to a Cypriot wedding any day. So long as it’s not in Cyprus.