Family of the bride and groom came from far and wide - Italy, Poland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Switzerland. And many friends from Amsterdam, Eindhoven and elsewhere joined the celebration.
It was a special celebration in many ways - Ruth is the first of our children to marry. The bride and groom chose to give the ceremony and programme its own unique form. Most significant is their choice to marry as an expression of their commitment to one another at a time when it seems marriage is out of fashion and only indulged in by people in their thirties.
It was a civil marriage ceremony according to Dutch law, but around the legal process there were many elements reflecting the diversities of culture and world-views coming together in this union.
For several years both Karwan and Ruth have been active in the International Socialists. The choice of location for the ceremony reflects their world-view and historical awareness. The ceremony opened with an introduction to the building by their friend Maina. Catherine, sister of the bride, was master of ceremonies for the occasion and provided translation from Dutch to English where necessary.
Maina explained that De Burcht had been designed by Berlage at the end of the 19th century for the Diamond Workers Labour Union. At that time the diamond industry was the second most important industry in Amsterdam, with 10,000 employed. However the workers had not been strongly organized, being split along religious, Jewish and Christian, lines. Eventually a general strike took place involving all those engaged in the industry. Out of that strike the Diamond Workers Labour Union was established and Berlage, himself a socialist, had designed this building for them. The building now functions as a museum of the labour union movement.
So the scene was set for the ceremony. We were here in an historical context with an awareness of the continual need for course corrections, reform or revolution to protect those who create wealth by their labour from exploitation and structural poverty.
In the next section of the programme various family members made contributions on the theme of love.
Evelyn, mother of the bride, read from the Song of Songs and Paul's Letter to the Corinthians. Song of Songs urges us to join in celebrating romantic, sexual love as a gift (from God), to be received and enjoyed with gratitude and pleasure. It is a dialogue between a Bride and her Bridegroom the "Beloved" and her Bridegroom the "Lover".
"Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
"He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love."
The passage from Paul's letter describes the ultimate supremacy of love over all things -
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. ..."
Carlo, step-father of the groom, introduced Jasmine's reading. Jasmine, sister of the groom, read from Dante in English and Italian about the love of Paolo and Francesca.
"Love, that excuses no one loved from loving,
seized me so strongly with delight in him
that, as you see, he never leaves my side."
"One day we read, to pass the time away,
of Lancelot, of how he fell in love;
we were alone innocent of suspicion.
Time and again our eyes were brought together
by the book we read; our faces flushed and paled.
To the moment of one line alone we yielded:
it was when we read about those longed-for lips
now being kissed by such a famous lover,
that this one (who shall never leave my side)
then kissed my mouth, and trembled as he did.
Our Galehot was that book, and he who wrote it.
That day we read no further."
"Who is luckiest in the whole orchestra? The reed.
Its mouth touches your lips to learn music.
All reeds, sugarcane especially, think only
of this chance. They sway in the canebrakes,
free in the many ways they dance.
"Without you the instruments would die.
One sits close beside you. Another takes a long kiss.
The tambourine begs, Touch my skin so I can be myself.
Let me feel you enter each limb bone by bone,
that what died last night can be whole today.
"Why live some sober way and feel you ebbing out?
I won’t do it.
Either give me enough wine or leave me alone,
now that I know how it is
to be with you in constant conversation."
And she wished for the bride and groom that they would remain in constant conversation, not only with one another, but also with their family and friends.
So we look forward to that, when they are over the peak of furnishing their home, let the conversations continue ...
'Til my body is dust
'Til my soul is no more
I will love you, love you
'Til the sun starts to cry
And the moon turns to rust
I will love you, love you
But I need to know - will you stay for all
Time...forever and a day
Then I'll give my heart 'til the end of all
Time...forever and a day.
Listen to the original Fisher mp3 here.
Then came the formal part of the ceremony with the declarations by the couple, signing of documents by the couple, the witnesses and the Registrar. And the matter was sealed by an exchange of rings and kisses.
In closing, Laxmi Bipat the Registrar, himself a Hindu, remarked how impressed he was with the couple. At their preparatory meeting he had gained some insight into their world-view and was struck by their concern for their fellow man in an age where there is a strong trend to individualism and the the focus is on "me, me, me".
From the ceremony we moved on, of course, to a party with food, drink, music and dancing. Delicious food was provided by Jalal Haim and Rachid from 'Narbonne' in the Bosboom Toussaintstraat, Amsterdam.
The fathers of the bride and groom gave the traditional speeches supported by powerpoint presentations. I opened with the thoughts:
"We are gathered here in a great tradition. A tradition that stretches through the centuries and across the cultures of human history. A tradition that recognises that one of the driving forces of the universe is love. And in particular that the passionate love between a man and a woman that brings them together in life long commitment is something to be celebrated by all those around them. So it is a great thing that we are here today as friends and family to celebrate the commitment of Ruth and Karwan to be joined as husband and wife."
Carlo, (step-)father of the groom, told of Karwan's interests as a child and young man, showing pictures of his involvement in scouting, music making, rock climbing and sailing, among other things.
Emma, cousin of the bride, sang unaccompanied the traditional Irish song 'She moved through the fair' and tugged at the heart strings of the bride and groom who are suckers for tear-jerking Irish songs.
Pablo, friend of the groom, started by saying he'd known Karwan longer than his own brother and that instead of a best man's speech he offered music - he then lead a band playing traditional Chilean music which got the bride and groom to their feet to lead the rest of us in dancing.
Johannes and Alex, friends of the bride and groom, moved everyone with a surprise rendering of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' and Karima did an acoustic version of the nineties rap-classic 'Push it' by Salt 'n' Pepa, which got everyone on their feet clapping to the rhythm of "push it, uh huh, push it real good", even including the ninety year old Granny of the bride.
Eventually the old people decided it was time to go to bed and the young ones got down to serious partying.
And the family party continued the following day. Many had travelled to Amsterdam from some distance and were still there on the Sunday so in the afternoon we took a trip together on a party boat, Feestboot Neeltje. We were lucky with the weather. The sky cleared and we had a sunny afternoon to sail down the Amstel river via the Oudeschans to the IJ.
So, all in all, the ceremony and celebrations, with their amazing diversity of sources and references were a very fitting launch into married life for a couple who bring together threads of so many cultures, traditions and world-views.
We wish them wisdom, health and happiness on their journey together. We look forward to joining some of the constant conversations and we hope and trust that they will grasp the opportunities ahead of them to make wonderful things from the complexities and diversities of their cultural inheritance.
Link to my set of photos on Flickr.