Cul­tures col­lide at a Rus­sian wed­ding in Bali

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KEREN LAVELLE

IT is a steamy night and I’ve fled the tourist hordes in east Bali to stay at Puri An­yar, the 17th­cen­tury an­ces­tral palace com­pound of a once-no­ble fam­ily. My host is Anak Agung Ngu­rah Oka Si­la­gu­nada (Oka for short, thank­fully).

So far this trip, I am sur­prised to find Rus­sians out­num­ber­ing other tourists (I have dodged the Aus­tralian colony of Kuta).

I have come across Rus­sians bast­ing in the sun, ar­gu­ing in five lan­guages about the price of a tat­too, and gaz­ing mes­merised at tele­vi­sions show­ing bliz­zards and snow­drifts back home. Now I find my­self gate­crash­ing a tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese wed­ding re­cep­tion for a hand­some young Rus­sian cou­ple.

I’m not re­ally gate­crash­ing. I have been in­vited by Oka to at­tend the cel­e­bra­tions for travel agent Daniel and his bride, Kata­rina. But my pres­ence is prob­a­bly news to the bri­dal party.

A game­lan orches­tra strikes up and Daniel and Kata­rina emerge, glit­ter­ing in bor­rowed fin­ery. They look gor­geous. It’s hard to dis­cern where the bride’s fair hair ends and her golden head­dress be­gins.

We take our seats at ta­bles on a pavil­ion, fac­ing the mu­si­cians. Fes­tive food is served to us on raised plates carved out of wood, tra­di­tion­ally the pre­serve of no­bil­ity. If Ye­lena, Kata­rina’s im­pos­si­bly young-look­ing mother, is sur­prised to find her­self sitting next to an Aus­tralian stranger, she gives no sign of it. She is jet­lagged af­ter the long trip from Moscow and I’m prob­a­bly just one sur­real el­e­ment among many.

Ever since Mick Jag­ger and Jerry Hall had a Ba­li­nese Hindu wed­ding cer­e­mony in 1990, tourist nup­tials have been big busi­ness here. When they split, Jag­ger claimed the cer­e­mony was only a re­li­gious one, and hence not legal. (Lo­cals who’d been scep­ti­cal of his claim to have con­verted to Hin­duism felt jus­ti­fied.)

Oka tells me this is not a real wed­ding cer­e­mony, just a re­cep­tion. It’s im­por­tant to him to feel that he is not com­mer­cial­is­ing the Ba­li­nese re­li­gion.

Anna, the ma­tron of hon­our, trans­lates Oka’s flu­ent English for the oth­ers. Daniel speaks Rus­sian and In­done­sian, while I speak a bit of In­done­sian. We mud­dle through, ex­cept when I try out some Rus­sian phrases on Ye­lena. Anna pa­tiently ex­plains: ‘ ‘ She doesn’t speak English.’’ So, ob­vi­ously, my Rus­sian is hope­less.

Af­ter a po­lite in­ter­val, the Rus­sians ask if they can break out their al­co­hol. Vodka for the gentle­men, Ir­ish whiskey for the ladies. I am still ad­just­ing to the heat and the thought of fiery spir­its is abom­inable. I stick to wa­ter.

The toasts and long speeches be­gin, each end­ing with cries of ‘‘Gorko!’’, a cue for the groom to kiss the bride. Anna ex­plains that this tra­di­tional Rus­sian wed­ding toast means bit­ter, to be as­suaged by the sweet­ness of the kiss. Ye­lena, a sin­gle mother, makes a heart­felt speech and cries a lit­tle. I feel like cry­ing too.

Be­fore we leave the pavil­ion to watch the evening’s en­ter­tain­ment of tra­di­tional dance, Kata­rina gets ready to toss her bri­dal bou­quet. Ye­lena and the maid of hon­our line up to catch it, each as­pir­ing to be the next to get mar­ried. West­ern and East­ern tra­di­tions clash some­what when the lilies bounce off the elab­o­rate head­dress. A sec­ond at­tempt sees the brides­maid tri­umphant.

To join this tiny scrum would be to push the bounds of hos­pi­tal­ity. I feel priv­i­leged enough, en­joy­ing the si­mul­ta­ne­ous cel­e­bra­tions of two cul­tures. The plea­sures of watch­ing tal­ented dancers, and of see­ing the new­ly­weds take off in a gilded horse­drawn car­riage, are yet to come.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.