THE ARMENIAN WEDDING

July 1, 2009

Back in January of 1999 I met Claude as he carried boxes through the hallway of our dorm. We were about to start the spring semester at Humboldt State University in northern California and it was the first day for transfer students to move in.

“Are you 21?” I greeted him as he walked by visibly exhausted.

He looked at me incredulously like I had insulted a family member. It seemed like a fine enough question to me. At that stage of my life I possessed a vigorous curiosity of peoples ages and I didn’t know how old he was. Simply a question.

“Hey man, I just drove like 12 hours. Let me get my car unloaded first, okay?” he replied a bit agitated.

Once he settled in he was more open to talk. Claude, as it turned out, was twenty one or over. He was also from San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles and  is the first Iranian-born Armenian I have ever met, which being from Maine should surprise no one. (Maine’s diverse ancestry hailing from France all the way over the channel to England and Ireland). Claude is part of the Armenian community in Los Angeles and speaks with a lot of pride about his Armenian friends and family.

DSC05979Back in college whenever Claude got homesick for LA we gave him these 3D glasses that made everything look like a club full of pretty Armenian girls with shots of Patron listening to Carlos Santana.

There were a dozen or so people placed in the overflow dorm which served as a holding pen for transfer students until something opened up in the proper dorms. The upside was there were no RA’s to oversee our actions and because of this there really were no downsides to living there. Claude and myself, as well as some of the others became close friends over the next few years. Through living in the dorms and renting houses and apartments together a good core of friends and fond memories developed.

Years later news came in that Claude was getting married. My longtime college roommate and friend Adam Hudack and I drew up plans to head to Hollywood, California to help Claude celebrate this special occasion. Leading up to the trip we joked about possible toast themes for the wedding and prospective wedding attire. Hudack talked me down from wearing my small 1987 Larry Bird replica jersey with dress pants to the posh Armenian wedding and offering my five all time great Celtics memories as the wedding toast. Hudack is a good friend.

DSC05484Adam prepares for the wedding.  Back in the days when we had a house in Humboldt I’m confident that neither of us could even spell the word ‘iron’ .

I met Hudack at the baggage claim at LAX and had a laugh about the time a few years back that he had, during the course of his flight, forgotten what his luggage looked like when he got to the baggage claim. That was back when in-flight beer was only $3 and mixed drinks just $4.

I steered our golden Mitsubishi rental car onto I-405 to head to our hotel in North Hollywood , a mere 20 miles away. Two and a half hours later we arrived at our hotel. There we met up with our friend Charlie and his wife Melissa and their baby girl. After cooling off from our crawl from the airport and a few old school laughs we set off for Claude’s place where we met up with more friends from the college days to fetch up plans for the night.

It was decided that we would head to a small Argentinian grill/bar for the evening. Claude warned us that he would call it an early evening because he was getting married the next day. We laughed and wished him luck with that dream.

We piled into the restaurant, which was nice but not too formal for the likes of our crowd. Apparently, singer/philosopher Jessica Simpson was eating dinner there when we walked in but no one seemed interested enough to do more than say “Um, okay, whatever, what do you guys want to drink?”  The place was nice but if she was eating there you must be able to order items by number or the menu must have little pictures of the food so she could just point.

It was there that I met Claude’s best man Art. Meeting him it became apparent why Claude always seemed so disheveled after returning back to school from his friend’s weddings. Art had no shortage of ideas for toasts and kept the staff busy behind the bar.

The next day we met at the parents home of Claude’s soon to be wife, Mary.   I had not yet met Mary, though we had spoken on the phone a few times. After meeting her later on it’s obvious that Claude is a very lucky man. She is very pretty and very much down to earth–I couldn’t imagine a better match for Claude. According to tradition of the Armenian wedding, the groom and his groomsmen to go to the house of the bride’s parents, where there is a reception with food and drinks and a bit of music and dance. From there they pick up the bride and all travel together to the church for the ceremony and then to the reception.

Hudack, Charlie, and our friend Jack and I arrived at Mary’s house to find three very well dressed men standing in the driveway with very grim expressions. As we walked up the driveway smiling, trying to fit with the same grace a nun tries to fit in at a frat party, I kept expecting Tony Soprano to come around the corner smoking a cigar wondering who the hell the clowns were that just showed up.

Claude’s brother, Chris (another in the long list of quality people we met), explained to us later that the grim expressions were a common gesture when the bride was ‘taken’ from the family for the wedding. Thinking about it, if I were a father and Claude came up to ‘take away’ my daughter I might be rather grim, as well. But that is most likely because I have vivid memories of the places that we lived during our college years and how close they teetered on the edge of being condemned.

The stretch Hummer that housed Claude and his groomsmen arrived at the house and as they filed out of the vehicle a small band started playing. Slowly Claude moved up the driveway dancing with friends and family members. We clapped in rhythm along with the music as the group slowly entered the house to meet the bride. Inside the living room they continued to dance the same way. The mood was festive, the food was amazing, and it was increasingly hard not to smile at how it was an real celebration happening around us. Adam and I remarked at how senseless it was in weddings we’ve been to where the bride and groom shouldn’t see each other before the wedding.

Just as things were wrapping up at the house, Adam and I noticed a small boy with a large shiny knife.  As Claude and Mary were leaving the boy jammed the knife into the side of the doorway stopping Claude in his tracks.  Apparently, at this stage Claude needed to bribe the family member to be able to take Mary with him.  So, the child was given a pretty good slice of cash and they were on their way.  My thoughts on seeing that was if they pull that when I get married they better send a bigger dude or a bigger knife to get that kind of money from me.

We left and headed to the ceremony, which was held at an Armenian church. The service was completely in Armenian, so we took seats in the back standing and sitting when everyone else did, trying not to be too late in doing so.  Someone up in the front sang hymns in a very high pitch, which I strained to listen to for any Tool lyrics that Claude arranged to be spliced in.

After the service we headed to Hollywood for the reception, which was held at a very nice reception hall.  The wedding party stayed behind at the church for another round of photos because apparently the photographer was paid by the photo and not a flat rate.  There were nineteen tables scattered around the room, lavishly set up with appetizers and big bottles of vodka and whiskey.

DSC05492

We had been at the reception hall for about an hour when the wedding party arrived.  Keeping busy with the food and drink we had almost forgotten about the wedding party.  Charlie, who was in that mix slid over to our table.

Man, I’m starving.” he said with a tired smile.  Naturally, we poured him a drink.  He was most appreciative.  Dinner was a five course (maybe more, maybe less, I lost count after two, or so) affair.  The food featured a lot of Armenian fare and very well put together.  The Armenians have food and drinking down to a science.

There were toasts, our favorite being the one from Art, which after some words about being ‘happy forever’ and ‘being lucky’ and ‘great girl’ and ‘great man’ and so on, left everyone with “Okay, now everybody….DRINK!” It was all laughs and revelry from that point on, and I’m confident that nobody let Art down.

DSC05536_2The happy couple.

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3 Responses to “THE ARMENIAN WEDDING”

  1. K said

    Swaheet, Joe. Sounds good. Friends are good. Drinks are too. Is Hollywood good?

  2. Amity said

    glad you went, celebrated, had fun!!

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