A New Husband and Le Charivari for My Eighty-Fourth Birthday

“Come sit beside me at lunch. There’s something I want to ask you.” France, the teacher of French Canadian dances, patted the space beside her on the picnic bench. Her husband Yves, this week teaching Bulgarian dancing, sat on her right while across the table sat Rumen, the drum teacher. The two men were holding their conversation in Bulgarian.

We were at the annual Folklore Dance Camp in the Mendo­cino Redwood Forest.

France started by telling me I didn’t have to say yes to her request. That bewildered me, but she kept talking and I kept listening and nodding while we ate.

Her concern was that come Happy Hour she was responsible for re-creating a French Canadian cultural happening that would include activities, costumes, songs, and dances as well as food and drink. She was focusing on Le Charivari, a noisemaking contest below the bedroom window of a newlywed couple who has refused to invite the rest of the village to their celebration party. The culprits also have to “pay a tax” which consists of hosting a wild party in their home.

What France wanted was for me to play the part of the newly­wed bride. I would deny her nothing, so I laughed when I told her “of course,” thinking of my eighty-four years and white hair, being a bride. Then she whispered that my groom was Rumen, the tupan drum teacher from Turkey, sitting across the table talking Bulgarian with Yves. Young, handsome, master musician, born in a Rom (Gypsy) community in Turkey. I couldn’t help smiling.

Later that afternoon Rumen and I, holding hands, joined France’s committee meeting where we were completing the plans. France explained that the big issue was that we were emphasizing multicultural differences, and the reason this bride and groom did not invite the community to their wedding was that we were diverse nationalities and felt we would not be accepted by the French Canadian community. So what would our nationalities be?

Rumen: I’ll be Bulgarian because I speak the language fluently.

Carolyn: I’ll be Hawaiian. I can say some words in that language.

John, acting secretary: We’ll name you Queen Kamehameha.

Ruman, loud: She should wear a bikini.

Carolyn, horrified: No way. I’ll be an Inuit.

John, writing: Oh, Eskimo. Her name will be Nanook.

France, delighted: Her father was Inuit and her mother was Hawaiian.

John, writing: Her name will be Nanookamahameha.

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When it was time for the party to start someone brought me a red muumuu to wear, and I added my red straw hat. Someone else topped it with a fur cap for the Inuit touch. Rumen wore a red satin Cossack shirt with brilliant blue satin bloomers, and a green turban. A tall demurely costumed woman came to us and told us she was our Guatamalan maid. We three stayed inside the dining hall and waited for the mayor and his wife, Jay and Jill Michtom, (pals from our own Tuesday Gypsies dance group in West Los Angeles), to come and demand we host the party.

In the meantime, outdoors, the crowd assembled and while enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres sang French songs, danced French dances, and listened to the mayor make his speeches. The priest stopped the party to confirm that we had been married that afternoon—the Bulgarian had married the Hawaiian/Inuit. The people all paraded, around the building to the front door of the dining hall where we had lace curtains hanging in the windows, and a bearskin hanging beside the door. They all made noises with any kind of noisemakers they could find or devise and then banged on our door repeatedly.

The Guatemalan maid answered the door and had Spanish/French conversations with the Mayor and the priest. Then they decided the bride should come out onto the porch. We had a French/Hawaiian conversation. The part I spoke was, “Ho’o’malimali, welekahou, kilakila, Haleakala, kuahivi noni oa maui, hana koa Maui, hana hana Maui no ka oi,” Hawaiian words that went with the elegant hula arm movements that I had learned as a teenager when I lived on Waikiki beach. The French they replied was not anything I understood, but I opened the door and my groom, Rumen, met the people inside, and offered them more drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I was surprised and delighted that all the men came in one by one, asserting the ritual of kissing the bride. When everyone was inside I came in to join them.

Rumen lay on a high bed observing the party. I sat enthroned in front of him, holding hands of course. Mayor Jay sat on my left and the Mayor’s wife Jill sat on my right. Eric, the fiddler, played a fancy jig wherein everyone hooked right elbows with the nearest person, swung each other around, and then hooked left elbows with someone else, putting the whole room in a swirl. France then led her students in a couple of fancy jigs, and by then the festive dinner was served.

Later that night at the dance party Rumen came up to me with his arm around a lovely lady and told me, “I want to introduce you to my new wife. I hope you don’t mind.” I stretched my left arm around him and my right arm around her, kissed each of them on the cheek, and then said, “What matters is that we all love each other.”

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For the next ten days Rumen continued teaching tupan drums daily, and performing nightly with different dance bands while I continued my classes in doumbek, frame drum, and playing the clarinet in the Brass Band. Whenever we crossed paths Rumen would put an arm around me, smile seductively and speak to me as his beloved bride. Together, all of our community danced each night away.

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