Is the wedding cake indicative of the marriage? Does the multi-tiered confection somehow indicate the future of the couple? Or, does it merely illustrate the typical love relationship; the sugar high followed by the crash of tears and indigestion?
The history of cake is an interesting one. It really comes down to being bored with bread and the need to sweeten it up a bit. Again, I see the marriage agreement like this as well. Let’s take a perfectly good relationship and ‘sweeten the deal’ so to speak with gifts, money, and the promise of ‘forever’.
The wedding cake is the traditional cake served to guests after the wedding meal. It is usually a large tiered cake that is heavily decorated and has a statue, or something, representing the bride and groom on the top, and can include a number of motifs like doves, gold rings, horseshoes, flowers, etc. At my wedding we had two cakes, and bride’s cake and a groom’s cake. Interesting how we were separate even then.
Tradition generally requires that the bride and groom together perform the first cut of the cake, often with a ceremonial knife. There is also a tradition, though it has been pretty much done away with in the U.S., that has the bride serve all portions of cake to the groom’s family as a symbolic transfer of her household labor from her family to the groom’s family. And, we have all witnessed some form of the tradition that has the bride and groom feeding the first bites of this cake to each other. In the U.S. you see a lot of couples shoving cake into the faces of each other. I personally can’t remember doing any version of this at either of my weddings. And, of course, there is the tradition that your Grandmother usually reminds you of, where a portion of the cake, usually the top and smallest layer, is stored in the freezer to be eaten by the couple at the occasion of their first wedding anniversary. I did this. It was gross.
The origin of the wedding cake is a bit sketchy. Most cultures use sweets as part of their celebrations. My favorite story comes from the book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. Apparently, there was an ancient Roman practice of dropping a wedding cake on the head of the bride. Perhaps this was devised by the bride herself as she wished to be knocked unconscious upon learning what she had just agreed to.
Artist Ana Rodriguez grew up in the small community of Maywood, California, which is adjacent to the industrial cities of Commerce and Vernon and their numerous chemical plants, refineries, public waste areas and foundries. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
The variety of smells that were ever-present coming from this landscape was a constant source of fascination for her. There was tar, sulfur, the sweet bakery scents from the Sarah Lee plant, the tangy odors from Mojave Spices, the pungent scent of roasted beans from Gavina Coffee, and the repulsive odors from the fat rendering factories that breakdown animal carcasses. Ana recalls being highly aware of the contrast between the putrid, foul smell of dead animals, and the sweet scents from the bakeries and cake shops.
Ana’s paintings are inspired by this landscape and as part of her practice, she also makes 3-dimensional paintings in the form of cakes.
Ana’s contribution to STATE OF THE UNION was a performance, which I had photographed. She brought me a cake that was made of vanilla cream, surrounded by Lady Fingers, and topped with shaved chocolate.
The performance involved my wearing my wedding dress and sitting on the bed while she fed me the cake with her hands, at quite a quick pace, as I recall. As with overdoing any kind of sweet, pleasure turned to disgust rather quickly. I also remember the way I felt violated when we were finished, a violation that I had willingly played a part in. Once the performance was finished, nothing seemed more important to me than getting out of that bed, taking off that constricting dress, and drinking a tall glass of water followed by a deep breath.