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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Finding Bliss In Marriage At Any Age




Over the years, several children in Moscow have come to call me Tyotya Lena, or Aunt Helen. Dima, whom I have known since he was 10, is 19 now. Recently, he told me he was marrying a girl called Tanya, and he invited me to the wedding.


I was touched but also uncertain. Dima's parents were recently involved in a bitter divorce and I felt the party might be a tense affair. But he said he wanted me to be there, so I accepted the invitation.


There is a Russian folk song in which a girl begs her mother to wait before sewing her a red dress, in other words to delay before giving her away in marriage. In practice, most Russians still marry at what seems to Westerners a terribly early age.


Separately, both Dima's mother and father had advised him not to rush into marriage. Tanya's parents had said the same. This was another source of tension underlying the wedding - the adults disapproved. But the young people were in love.


Dima is in the army now. He is luckier than other conscripts in that he sweeps floors and peels potatoes at a base in Moscow and can come home at weekends. His superior officer had given him 10 days off for the wedding.


The ceremony was set for 3:30 p.m. I thought I was going to be late. I was having trouble wrapping my present - a set of six crystal goblets. Russian shops do not seem to trust citizens to buy paper and wrap their own presents. The assistant must do it for you - and she was out to lunch.


Finally, with present wrapped, I arrived, sweating, at ZAGS, the registry office. I need not have hurried. Dima and Tanya, being inexperienced, had failed to hand in their passports, so other couples in the queue had overtaken them. Their wedding was reset for 5:30 p.m.


Weddings were taking place at 15-minute intervals. Brides in white chiffon and grooms in black were coming out of ZAGS like meringues and liquorice sticks off a confectioner's conveyer belt. At last, Mendelssohn's Wedding March sounded for Dima and Tanya, and they made their vows before the registrar.


Afterward, we repaired to Tanya's grandmother's for the reception. In a one-room flat, this super babushka had put on a spread for 30 guests. We were packed in like sardines for the feast of red fish and Russian salads, washed down with vodka.


First, though, Tanya's mother had to welcome the newlyweds on the threshold with bread and salt, the symbols of hospitality. Mum stood at the door of the flat, thinking the couple would come up, while Dima and Tanya waited at the entrance to the building. Finally, Mum descended in one lift while in the other, the couple rode up to the 12th floor. For a hilarious 15 minutes, the bread and salt in one lift and the meringue and liquorice in the other kept going up and down and missing each other.


Dima's divorced parents were put at opposite ends of the table where they could do no harm to each other or spoil the fun. One after another, those who had made messes of their own marriages gave toasts that amounted to moral lectures. When it was my turn to speak, I just said: "Dima and Tanya, you're very brave. I wish you luck."


Four days after the wedding, Dima had to go back to the army. Tanya must now wait patiently for him for another year and a half. If the adults stop nagging them, maybe together they will find a way to survive.