Decin, Northern Czech Republic
A year ago, the unthinkable happened. Marta the Czech seductress, wickedly smart jet-setting party girl, courted by oil sheikhs and private pilots, the same Marta who once took a quick break from being drooled on by a circle of admirers to come over and glass a guy in the face for me, got engaged. Last summer, shortly after getting the call, I went down to see her in Shanghai, partly to verify that an alien cockroach wasn’t wearing her body as a human suit, and also partly to explain the concept of bridesmaids, because I guess in Czech they don’t have any.
On the surface of things, Marta and I have very little in common but a general tendency towards laughing hysterically at dick jokes and a primal urge to roll our eyes at girls who’ve been planning their weddings since they popped out of the womb. JOKE’S ON US. Those chicks got a 30-year head start picking cake flavors or whatever.
“I don’t know how to do this, but I know I want something simple,” she said. A few months later, the multi-page, 6-day wedding itinerary landed in my inbox.
Day 1: Wedding party to meet at 10am for winged griffin rides and trapeze lessons.
Dress code: Sparkles
Anyway, there we are, sitting around the Pudong Hilton, and Marta starts giving me the rundown on Czech wedding traditions, which largely center around humiliating the groom until any subsequent martial misfortune pales in comparison.
[Best read aloud in a Slavic accent] “First, Charles have to wear – how you say? – necklace for the horse.”
“Charles have to wear the yoke. Then he wear the metal ball with iron on his foot, and he let me to cut it off with a saw.”
“And I make Charles to fight a bear.”
The bear fight sadly never materialized, but the bride’s brother-in-laws did adhere to the beloved custom of dressing up as Musketeers and announcing that Charles had violated the local feudal lord’s right of jus primae noctis by banging the bride before the nuptials. And then there was a sword fight.
Dear everyone else: your weddings are lame.
Cutting off the oppression of singledom:
A bride, a horsewhip and a hacksaw:
All the king’s men:
Defending the lady’s dishonor:
The lord’s lackeys vanquished:
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”
Day 2: Bachelorette party
Dress code: Wear your shame like a badge of honor
You know what never happened? A male stripper trying to do a handstand but actually crashing upside down into a table of snacks, that’s what.
Day 3: Making like Strider
Dress Code: sweat, exultation and sensible shoes
The pre-wedding festivities were in Decin, a town of 25,000 souls nestled in some of the prettiest country this side of the Riddermark. The northern Czech lowlands look like The Shire if the The Shire was a yogurt label, and the forests are two parts Hans Christian Andersen and one part Grimm. The hills rose around us as the bus climbed towards the trailhead, past alternating clusters of little German-style Goldilocks cottages and patches of vegetation that can only be called “verdant”. Maybe also “sun-dappled”, but that’s a such a try-hard word. The bumblebees left lazy dotted trails in the air.
Alejo pointed out the sprinkling of fenced-in saplings along the highway. “Those are eco-woodpulp farms. Pretty sure they practice sustainable paper-making here”. Of course they do. It was hard not get all giddy with whatever the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder is; I haven’t been outside that long since I was, I dunno, nineteen.
“This is where they filmed the Narnia movie,” Marta’s younger sister informed us, and Charles is pretty sure he saw the same rock outcrop in “Hansel and Gretel: Witchunters”. Of course he did.
Downer alert, but this has to be said: I believe in the right to die. Nothing terrifies me more than routine and nothing grates on me like boredom. Learning is the best part of being alive, and if your environment is changing, even if just your inner landscape, you’re learning. I told myself a long time ago that if I ever felt like I’d squeezed every last drop of juice out of the orange, if I was ever staring down the barrel of a life that couldn’t be expected to yield up anything to surprise or to study, I’d write a jaunty note (“IN IT FOR TEH LULZ!”) and put a bullet in my head. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
That night, the wedding party ate dinner at a renovated cliffside restaurant with views of Decin castle and a 100-foot drop onto wooded black sandstone. Halfway through aperitifs, a shirtless jumper climbed over the railing and spent a contemplative hour staring down his demons and smoking with the cops. And then he went over. With a perversely quiet rustle, the bushes moved and he was gone.
Standing off in the small crowd of onlookers, I posted a picture of the fireman rappelling down to retrieve the body and immediately felt like an asshole. It came off as opportunistic car crash tourism, when what I wanted was to pay homage to a dead stranger whose statement I didn’t have time to process and whose memorial I didn’t have the background to write. So I say this instead: Dude, I’m sorry. You picked a lovely place to go. Hope that fixed the problem.
Day Who Cares? I’m in a castle
Dress code: Sloppily barefoot black tie
Marta and Charles said their “I dos” at Hrad Grabstejn, a 13th-Century fortress near the present day Polish and German borders, beneath arched stone ceilings and creepy portraits of inbred nobility. The actual mayor was there. Later, under the auspices of the summer moon, and when I was too lazy to keep my heels on, they lit the torches and let us dork-dance in the courtyard. Pure magic.
And now I leave you all with the beginnings of what is destined to become my future digital empire:
CzechPeopleStickingTheirHeadsOutOfThings.tumbler.com. You heard it here first.