Sunday, May 27, 2012

`In a Valley or Among Green Hills'

A carriage drawn by two horses carried the bride and groom to the church. The band – two violins, accordion, string bass, two female singers – rode in another horse-drawn carriage behind them. Family and guests followed on foot. The church is in the town, Polnice, where the bride was born and where her parents still live. Neighbors stood in their yards and waved, blew kisses and threw flowers. Someone stuck sprigs of lilac under the horses’ bridles. The sky was deep blue and cloudless. Cows grazed on the shining green hills. 

The church, built of stone and mortar, stands on a hill. The pews and kneelers are old, wooden and creaky. Above the altar is the image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. One of the transepts is filled with sunlight, and at its center stands a tall candle and a lectern holding an open bible. On the wall hang three framed pictures, left to right: John Paul II, Jesus, and the Black Madonna. Mass was in Polish except for the gospel -- 1 Corinthians13:4-7 – which was read in English. That evening I asked the Polish woman who did the reading why she chose English and she said, “We want to welcome people.” 

After the service, as the bride and groom stood in front of the church having their picture taken again and again, I saw the priest preparing to close the tall front doors of the church. I walked up the steps, shook his hand and said, “Thank you, Father.” He smiled and said in perfect American, “No problem.” 

On the ride from the church to the hotel where the reception was held, we passed townspeople who cheered and sang and waved Polish flags. Using their hoses, the fire department shot arches of water over the procession. I hear the reception was still going strong after 3 a.m. I left at 10 p.m. Two bands performed, including the folk musicians in costume who had accompanied the wedding party. The other group played generic rock/pop/disco sung in Polish. I recognized two songs, a medley of “By the Rivers of Babylon” and Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.” We were given photocopies of the music and lyrics to Sto lat,” an all-purpose toast and salutation, and virtually the informal national anthem of Poland. Every Pole in the room knew the words. In English: 

“A hundred years, a hundred years,
May he (she) live, live with us.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
May he live, live with us.
Once again, once again, may he live, live with us,
May he live with us!” 

With the Germans, Canadians, English and Peruvians at my table, I helped mangle the Polish lyrics with gusto. Much beer, wine and vodka, and a meal of endless courses. Adam Zagajewski writes in Epithalamium” (Eternal Enemies, translated by Clare Cavanagh, 2008): 

Only in marriage do love and time,
eternal enemies, join forces.
Only love and time, when reconciled,
permit us to see other beings
in their enigmatic, complex essence,
unfolding slowly and certainly, like a new settlement
in a valley or among green hills.”

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