The other day I was taking a leisurely stroll along the left bank of the Daugava River, just in front of the Hotel Radisson, when three separate wedding parties drove up in a convoy of shiny black cars. It's a tradition for newlywed Russians to go there and be photographed with a panoramic view of Old Riga behind them.
My God, I thought, as I watched them all, marriage is such an industry. The three couples all took up their positions for the photo, the brides doing their best to resemble brides, the bridegrooms doing their best to resemble bridegrooms, and everyone doing their best to look beautiful for posterity.
But I couldn't help feeling a little nauseous looking at them. Call me an old cynic if you will, but marriage is in so many ways the antithesis of love. And yet still people confuse the two things. Still people don't seem to have learned that marriage is in so many ways a subtle form of suicide.
I saw two films at the Arsenals film festival that both touched on this very theme. First there was the laughably bad "Dot the I" in which a suave Englishman called Barnaby marries a feisty Spaniard Carmen, but on their wedding night she runs off and wholeheartedly shags her Brazilian lover. Later that night she returns, still in her wedding dress, and wholeheartedly apologizes to Barnaby.
The other film was the superb "Head-On" in which Sibel, a feisty suicidal Turk marries Cahit, another feisty suicidal Turk. But on their wedding night (arranged out of convenience) she goes off and wholeheartedly shags a stranger. The next morning she returns home in her rather ruffled wedding dress, as happy as a bunny.
Most people know that marriage is an institutionalized delusion, and yet people still persist with it. Statistics show over and again, from country to country, that it doesn't "work." Yet the churches and registry offices keep churning out new couples.
The idea of marriage, needless to say, is as muddled, confused and contradictory as the many muddled, confused and contradictory ideas that sustain it.
But where in the 20th century marriage was still socially sanctified, since it served as the bedrock of society, a lot has changed in recent decades. Now marriage is little more than a sort of moral Alamo, or perhaps even a Waco, in which romantics can take their last stand againstâ€¦actually no one really knows. And that's precisely the point.
Yes, love, that most lucrative of abstractions, goes together with marriage about as well, to quote one of the worst rhymes ever penned, as the horse and carriage.