Saturday, February 07, 2015
I am just old enough to remember pale-blue suited and immaculately permed uncles and older cousins entering into the matrimonial estate in the eighties. In furtherance of the ancillary inductive rituals, appertaining thereto, each of these embarked upon their new lives by performing the bridal waltz to what transpired as the Greek wedding anthem of the decade, the impassioned love song by Umberto Tozzi, "Ti Amo." Stumbling woodenly upon the floor, they gyrated, as the Italian lover crooned: "Ti Amo/ un soldo ti amo/ In aria/ Ti amo/ Se viene testa vuol dire che basta lasciamoci.."
It took just the first velvet-lined stanza to alight smoothly upon the eardrums of unmarried female cousins to cause them to turn glassy eyed and sigh, as they conjured up images of their dream lover, Scott, from Neighbours, George Michael or in one very disturbing case, Tzon Tikis. Meanwhile, unconsciously prompted by Tozzi, sundry aunts and uncles who enjoyed dysfunctional relationship would draw their chairs closer, look into each other's eyes, hold hands and smile. The allure of Tozzi's Ti Amo was therefore immense and this despite my iconoclastic grandfather, a self-taught speaker of Italian, pointing out that perhaps Ti Amo, was not the most appropriate bridal song, since it sings not of love requited, but rather, laments love lost and is thus an evil omen: "Ti amo, God how I love you so. My heart just won't let go. Day after day I'm still holding on, even though you're gone. Ti amo, wasn't I good to you?"Pundits by the way are still deliberating the means by which the Italian Chicken Dance also made an appearance at Greek weddings right up until the mid-nineties. A consensus is gradually forming around incidents or communal lunacy, musical aberrations which have quite rightly been consciously buried within historical memory and must never be spoken of ever again.
In those days, great stock was taken of bridal waltzes and their musical accompaniments, also an Italian aberration, since the traditional Greek wedding was lean, simple and without fanfare or under attention upon the couple, a state to which it is gradually returning as an increasing number of young couples dispense with the need to impress relatives they are no longer in contact with, with inventive chair arrangements. Somehow, these were held to be a reflection of the couple itself. A great favourite was Μanolis Mitsias' «Επειδή σ'αγαπώ.» (Because I love you.) Singing of the spiritual rebirth that comes with love, it was widely debated by my elderly uncles. «Επειδή σ' αγαπώ, τα φτερά ξαναράβω στους ώμους,» (because I love you, I re-sew wings upon my shoulders), is easy enough to understand, but rather than denoting an imminent take off (from the airport for the compulsory honeymoon to Greece, there to obtain wedding presents from relatives domiciled in that country - according to my aged great-uncles' interpretation), did this in fact hint at an Icarian warning not to fly too close to the sun, as one wedding guest, recently arrived from Greece, speculated?
And then there were these mystifying lyrics: «Επειδή σ' αγαπώ, ξαναβγαίνω με τσέρκι στους δρόμους, και φωνάζωστους δρόμους, σ' αγαπώ.» "Why he going out into the streets holding a «τσέκι» (cheque)?" one uncle would ask the other. «Γιατί τώρα που την παντρεύτηκε νομίζει πώς κέρδιζε το ταττσλόττο,» ("because he thinks that in marrying her that he has one the lottery,") the other would reply. "You're right, he has," the other would riposte. "His father in law is loaded. There is the shop in North Melbourne, the business, the two homes in.." This interpretation enjoyed such force of authority that when was able later to ascertain that a τσέρκι was in fact a hoop and that the song referred to love being a form of second childhood, enabling one to play in the streets with a hoop and stick, I was generally not believed.
The love song king of the age was however, the great crone and swooner, Yiannis Parios. Getting married to the strains of «Για πάντα μαζί,» ("Always together") was a rite of passage for many an eighties Greek couple, and compulsory repertoire for any self-respecting Greek wedding band. As the couple danced, older guests would pause at the words: «Για πάντα μαζί, σ' αυτό τ' ανηφόρι που λέμε ζωή, για πάντα μαζί κι αν έρθουν καημοί, μαζί θα μαςβρούνε, για πάντα μαζί, » clucking their tongues knowingly and nodding their heads in appreciation as they opined: "Yes life is an uphill struggle, yes difficult times lie ahead, but what can you do, you are in it together. They will see."
Then there was the stirringly powerful: «Να 'μουνα Θεός για λίγο,» (If only I was God for a short while), which was highly favoured by Greek males of more than advanced pirouetting tendencies, for its cadenzas enabled one to literally sweep their partner off her feet in time to the notes crashing this way and that about them. As one young bridegroom, the last of the mustachioed eighties types, tossed his new bride into the air, his old aunts hearkened to the words of the song: «Πώς να σ' αγγίξω πώς; Φοβάμαι τόσο φως. Φοβάμαι τέτοια αγάπη, Θεέ μου τόσο δάκρυ, μη μου ζητάς να πιω. Νά 'μουνα Θεός για λίγο, απ' το φόβο να ξεφύγω...» ("How can I touch you? I fear so much light, I fear such a love. God, don't ask me to drink such tears.If only I was God for a short while, to escape from my fear.") "Ha, I told you!" one aunt crowed triumphantly. The rumours are true. They don't love each other. He is being forced to marry. He's made her pregnant. It's all in the song. There is a reason for everything you know." In this particular case, the ancient aunt made an exceedingly good call.
A similar conversation took place when one couple whose wedding I attended, chose another of Parios' greatest hits as their waltz: «Θέλω να σου μιλήσω μα τρέμει η φωνή μου, λες κι αγαπάω πρώτη φορά στη ζωή μου, θέλω νατραγουδήσω μα δε μ' αφήνει το δάκρυ αχ, αγάπη, αγάπη, αγάπη.» Sadly, the verses "I want to speak to you but my voice trembles, as if I am falling in love for the first time of in my life," were construed by guests as casting an aspersion upon the bride's virginity, the presence of which, at the wedding, was an important concept for Greek-Australians in the eighties. Several blows ensued and even today, some decades later, certain guests present that night are still maintain radio silence with each other.All this seemed to suggest to me, that the addition of the lyrics of a song performed by whoever was the contemporary love god of the age in my own nuptials (which eventually took place in the new millennium), was in necessary keeping with Greek-Australian tradition and the selection of these was exceedingly important, as lyrics confer power. Identifying Lefteris Pantazis as the new Parios, but also enjoying the music of Tarkan, from whom much of his material derives, my original plan was to marry my two loves, if one pardons the pun by entering the reception accompanied by the strains of Pantazis' lyrics: «Με ζηλεύεις για το τίποτα, κι όλα μου τα βλέπεις ύποπτα, μα σ' το λέω δεν τρέχει τίποτα.» until simultaneously raised ominous eyebrows from mother and prospective bride disabused me from that course of action. My next suggestion, making use of the Pantazis' classic: «Μείνε μαζί μουέγγυος είμαι πολύ φερέγγυος,» ("fall pregnant with me, I'm very trustworthy,") almost caused me to become dispossessed of those parts of my anatomy that would have facilitated the execution of my exhortation.
In absence of agreement, we mercifully dispensed with the bridal waltz altogether, though I did include within my wedding speech a reference to the Epirot folk lyrics: «Κι αν θα παντρευτείς, τι καλό θα δεις; Θα φιλήσεις, θ'αγκαλιάσεις, και θα βαρεθείς.» I have been paying for this ever since, proving that deep thought and homages to the long lost eighties, pose no competition to the likes of Ploutarxos and Hatzigiannis, wherein, lies safety.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 7 February 2015