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In the Newsroom

November 12, 2009
The pitfalls of filming a big fat Greek wedding

Producer Megan Thompson traveled to Greece last June to produce the signature story Ancient Greek values clash with modern treatment of gays. She writes about one notable wedding ceremony.

A long camera crane swings overhead, women and men alike scream, and I’m whacked upside the head by a Greek photographer. I work for a serious news show on PBS. So how did I end up smack in the middle of the mayhem at one of Greece’s hottest celebrity weddings?

Last June, correspondent Lynn Sherr and I traveled to Greece to shoot several stories, including one on the controversy over gay marriage. But only one such ceremony had ever taken place. So how do you film something that isn’t happening?

Lynn came up with the idea of shooting a straight wedding, to show what gay Greeks were missing out on. Our fixer, Dee Murphy, then found an event that fit into our packed schedule: the wedding of two Greek celebrities, Adonis Georgiadis, a right-wing member of Parliament, and Eugenia Manolidou, a concert pianist, turned television talk show host.

But, I asked, could we seriously just walk into this wedding without being invited? Dee explained that Greek weddings are nothing like American weddings. For one, churches are considered public places, where everyone is welcome. That turned out to be just one of many things different about this wedding.

When we arrived, the square outside the small church was a mob scene – packed with guests, press and hundreds – maybe thousands – of gawkers. I nabbed a place on the edge of the red carpet. At first, the other Greek cameramen were friendly, introducing themselves and joking – seemingly amused by the arrival of the random American.

But when the bride arrived, all niceties went out the window. The press surged, pushing and shoving to get the shot – no elbows spared for the only woman in the pack (me).

Greek tradition dictates that the bride and groom meet outside the church and process in together. A frenzied mob of cameras, bride and her screaming assistant slowly moved towards, and engulfed, the waiting groom, then worked its say into the already packed church.

Greek paparazzi enjoy a wild wedding. Photo: Megan Thompson

Everyone stood for the entire ceremony. While the Greek Orthodox service was performed at the front of the church, the back was a free-for-all – people coming in and out, carrying on loud conversations, climbing up on benches to see the action, making phone calls, snapping photos.

Outside, tables had been set up to hand out little bundles of candied almonds (another Greek tradition). People off the streets were practically jumping over the table to get at the little fluffs of tulle. Back inside, women started dismantling the decorative flower stands that lined the aisles and stuffing them in their purses.

The service ended, and the bride and groom were mobbed all the way back down the aisle and out the door, greeted by popping flashbulbs, confetti and television interviewers. And then they stood patiently and greeted anyone and everyone – friends and strangers alike – who wanted to convey their best wishes (and there were many).

Although this was not your run-of-the-mill Athens wedding, I still felt I’d caught a glimpse of something uniquely and wonderfully Greek. The energy, the joy and the delightful notion that marriage should happen in a very public way, for all the world to see and to celebrate. I’m not sure I’ll be able to appreciate an invitation-only American wedding in quite the same way, ever again.

– Megan Thompson

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