Nothing can quite prepare you for an Azeri wedding. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a wedding in Azerbaijan. I’ve always harboured a not-so-secret desire to go back to aincient times and enjoy some king’s hospitality. That is of course never going to happen, but after my first Azeri wedding, I now know what that might have been like.
Vodka,Caviar And Classical Music
Last Saturday, in the late afternoon, we walked down a very long lilac carpet and stood around under the trees as trays of canapés, caviar and champagne were brought to us. (Baku is on the Caspian Sea, the home of caviar). Most of the crowd around us was an intimidating bunch, all over fifty, with dark suits and a serious demeanour, think old school Mother Russia. I’m assured they were all important guests, and I’m not about to argue that point.
Then to remind us that Mother Russia had once extended all the way down to Azerbaijan, after numerous requests for water, we were given shots of vodka. A simple mistake really,when language is an issue; Water = Wota = Wodka. But hey, I thought it was pretty generous of them to bring shots of vodka over before the party had even started.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before a younger, more attractive and eclectic crowd started to arrive. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Then the lovely couple came in, signed the register under a giant lilac dome, and we were ushered inside. The marquee was huge, with about 100 tables on freshly laid fake grass, either side of a stage, and glass runway that changed colour all night. This is where the evening entertainment kept rolling until 2am… but I’ll get to that.
A Feast Fit For Kings
The first overwhelming aspect was the table. Every single one was already piled high with meat, fish, breads, snacks, more caviar and bottles of French wine,vodka, beer,more vodka…and more vodka. There were permanent waiters on every table who wouldn’t allow you to do anything except feed yourself. Seriously. They served my food,changed my plate and cutlery,poured my drinks,pulled my chair out and pushed it back in.You’ve never seen service like it.
The bride and groom had their own elevated thrones off to the side,high enough to look down over their subjects, but luckily for us peasants,they did wander down later to mingle and and take to the dance floor.
A Spectacular Show
As if the feast wasn’t enough, the entertainment was something else.If I had grown up in the region or spoke Russian I would have been even more impressed.There was such a long line-up of famous Azerbaijani and Georgian dancers, singers and the actor Vakhtang Kikabidze from the iconic Russian film, Mimino (who was also singing),that many who had wanted to perform had been politely declined, and the DJ who was supposed to start at 11pm only got onto his decks at about 2am.
And here’s the thing, not once was I bored, nor were any of the people in our party, quite a few university friends who had also flown in for the wedding. The singing was beautiful, the dancers were mesmerising and when the wedding cake came out, even that was spectacular. It was a 10 foot high tower of pillows. I don’t recall anyone cutting it (apparently they did), but we were all given our own baby pillow to eat, and that was really tasty.
It felt more like a cultural show than a wedding,as two giant video cameras on long cranes constantly swept the room,beaming the images to a giant screen on the wall. There was also an army of photographers.When I lined three friends up for a photograph,I was actually physically shunted out of the way by one of them so he could get a good shot. Paparazzi are alive and well in Baku.
Finally, after hours of eating, drinking, dancing, watching and more drinking, we finally managed to pour ourselves into a taxi and head home. And let’s just say all of us spent the next day quietly cocooned in our luxurious hotel rooms with the curtains firmly shut.What a night, what a wedding.To the hosts, and the lovely bride, I have only one thing left to say, chokh sagol (and in Russian, bolshoye spasibo) for an incredible experience. Nazdarovye.