Weddings windows to diversity

San Bernardino Sun (San Bernardino, CA)
July 24, 2004 Saturday

Weddings windows to diversity

Mirjam Swanson said it was going to be her “Big Fat Armenian
Wedding,’ and she wasn’t exaggerating.

Mirjam is the sports editor of The Sun. On Friday night she married
the sports editor of the Glendale News-Press, whose name is Hamlet
Nalbandyan – which is as Armenian as he is.

Hyphenated-American weddings are great fun and of great interest to
the more-or-less assimilated of us as the remarkably successful 2002
film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ demonstrated.

A bonus to living in Southern California: We don’t have to try very
hard to turn up at wedding ceremonies far outside the traditions we
learned in our parents’ house. Mexican-American, African-American,
Jewish-American …

See enough weddings in SoCal, you ought to be able to get college
credit for cultural anthropology courses.

Mirjam’s and Hamlet’s wedding was celebrated at Saint Mary’s Armenian
Apostolic Church, in Glendale, home to some 80,000 ethnic Armenians
which gives Glendale the second-largest Armenian population of any
city in the world, behind only Yerevan, the capital of the nation of

The ceremony was conducted almost entirely in Armenian. Sensibly,
since it was the native tongue of most of the people in the church,
including the men officiating.

We asked directions on where to sit groom’s side vs. bride’s side and
one of the the groom’s relatives said, “Boy left, girl right!’

Armenia was the first nation to embrace Christianity [in the year
301], and its church has been pivotal in the retention of ethnic
identity during centuries of domination by non-Christian invaders. We
now know.

An interesting feature of the ceremony: The bride and groom touch
foreheads for long stretches of it. Hadn’t seen that before.

The reception, at the Yepremian Banquet Hall, was an Armenian
party-down event, and indicated the apparent Armenian preference for
the spare-no-expense celebration.

We arrived to a surfeit of food, so much that the groaning tables
could not accept one more plate. And those were just the appetizers.
Fifteen of them, at the least. Hummus, olives, cheeses, veggies,
salmon eggs, cured meats, everything but a partridge in a pear tree.

Each table also featured a fifth of Absolut vodka [Armenia once was
part of the Soviet Union], a bottle of Hennessy brandy and two
bottles of wine. Which were useful fuels for the dancing that ensued.

The band was made up of a keyboardist, a couple of drummers and a guy
on a violin, and they weren’t shy about performing Armenian folk and
pop tunes at bleed-from-the-ears volume.

Armenian dance features hand movements of the sort you might
associate with India or Iran, even Arabia, and a tendency to arrange
themselves in a circle which you might see at a Greek or Jewish

Mirjam led the way for her family, which was laudably game in the
cross-cultural dance-floor events.

The band and its lead singer mixed in a slow dance or two, for the
old folks, presumably, then would start in with something “everyone’
knew the Armenian answer to, oh, “Shout!,’ perhaps and the crowd
would buzz with excited approval and rush the floor for more dancing.

The dinner courses arrived about 20 minutes apart. Mushrooms stuffed
with meat; seasoned potatoes; an enormous platter of boneless
barbecued meats [chicken, beef, pork]; stewed mushrooms with cheese;
boiled beef with rice; melon and strawberries.

More than a college football team could hope to consume. Our table
had been overpowered way back at the appetizers.

Between the barbecued meats and the stewed mushrooms, three
gypsy-style dancers made their appearance in a flash of sequins and
veils, repeatedly drawing members of the wedding party back out to
the dance floor, tiring out spectators just from watching.

We lasted till 11 p.m., amid reports “they’ll shut the place down,’
from veterans of other Armenian-American weddings.

We left with the idea of how we Americans routinely make cultural
leaps that would never occur in The Old Country. Our colleague
Mirjam, basically WASPy a few days ago, now can present herself as
Mirjam Nalbandyan, if she chooses.

Some of us believe that sort of marital jump is a sign of America’s
healthy acceptance of cultural diversity. We all can agree it makes
for a great show.

Paul Oberjuerge’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and
Friday. Readers may call him at [909] 386-3849 or e-mail him at
[email protected]

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress