The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Nice Day for a White Wedding

I went to a wedding last week. Thought I'd record my thoughts.

I always forget the sensation of driving through winding back roads to a mountain destination. Yet whenever I experience it again, I realize that it is wholly familiar. It is like a shedding of my urban self. Each wind and twist in the road initiates a new layer of oldness falling away until I am raw and open to sudden attacks of beauty.

This time beauty showed no mercy. As I left the relatively bland scenery of the 8 for the contortions of the 78, it began to snow. First more rain than snow—slushy, dirty, heavy, lulling me into a sense that I wouldn't be vulnerable this time. That my armor—my I-don't-go-this-far-east attitude—would remain intact. But as I climbed, the snow became more concrete in the sense that it attained true snowness not that it gained any more heft because in actuality it got lighter, softer, quieter, more ethereal. And in that quiet, the absence of the staccato of the falling rain, I became suspended in time, as lightweight as one of the snowflakes that seemed to hover, frozen in air until the car slashed through its fall.

In that moment of white and silence and stillness, I either experienced a sense of no-time or a sense of being completely in the present. As temporary as a snowflake with no past or future. Only the fall. The here and now.

The lodge has that same sense of the here and now despite the hustle and bustle of the wedding. Or perhaps because of. An active removal from the anxious self, sequestered as it is up a hill, in the trees, down small and gnarled roads. It is the cliché of mountain lodge without the pretensions. In the bar: aged wood paneling, worn paisley carpet that pulls and bunches in the places it has experienced the most traffic, awkward greens and reds and golds like scattered paper after Christmas morning. There's a large stone fireplace complete with the smoke stains and scatter ashes in the grate. This fireplace is mirrored in the lobby/great room. Where the carpet gives way to deep chocolate wood floors that complain with squeaks or celebrate with resonating thunder as I walk over them. The walls are now the whitewashed plaster divided into squares with dark wood beams. The stairs (because of course there's an upstairs) are wide and shallow with the same dark flooring. Almost the entire south wall is windows that are screened the oaks and pines and dogwoods outside. Yet, even with the massing of trees and bushes, I don't feel closed in. Even without an expansive view there is the feeling of space: perhaps this place nourishes an expanse in the soul.

The word to sum up the rehearsal dinner is warmth. Fires, people, food, wine—even music. The best man played flamenco on the guitar for us. Very surprising yet perfectly suiting this place and time. The best man is quiet, unassuming, without the alternative flash and dazzle of the groom's other friends with their scruff, tattoos, and flannels. The best man is ubiquitous nice guy with his dress pants, tucked-in collared shirt (belt!), and close-cut hair. Yet when he played, he became warmth and fire and passion as his finger alternatively flew, stroked, or tapped the strings and board. Watching someone play flamenco is amazing. The passionate mixture of percussion/rhythm with melody. It is plaintive yet full of hope. And vulnerable. The best man became raw and open as he played, causing those who truly listened (as opposed to those who continued chatting) to become raw and open as well. Like good writing, souls could meet where this man played.

The cabin where I'm staying is similar to the main lodge in feeling: iron bed, wall heater, white paneled walls, heavy comforters on the bed, a coathanger made from a twisted piece of wood carved into a squirrel (the cabin is called "Gray Squirrel") with the knots at coat pegs, tiled floors in the bathroom, and an iron claw-foot bathtub(!).

On the morning of the wedding, the lodge woke up slowly and serenely. As I sat in the lounge, I chatted off and on as people came in and out of the semi-dark bar to grab coffee or help or just a friendly ear.

I'd have to say the main idea of of this wedding was to be in the present. A theme that fits nicely with the mood of separation and seclusion. Despite the brides's propensity to find drama and stress in large events, she was able to let go today and just enjoy the last minute preparations we did (folding napkins and putting colored paper rings around them, setting the tables, organizing place cards, etc . . .) as well as the fellowship with her close girlfriends as we got ready for pictures. Amidst laughter, hip hop music, and champagne, the girls helped each other with hair, make-up, and jewelry choices.

The bride was completely relaxed about everything that came up, completely in-the-moment, relishing this time with her friends and family.

The bride's cousin did the pictures. He used to work as a photographer for Victoria's Secret (he never shared what it was). Again, this time had none of the tension or hustle that usually accompanies wedding photography. With glasses of wine in hand, the bridesmaids toasted the bride as the photographer moved in and out of the room, quickly adjusting a smile here, a bow there, the curtain behind us. His mantra was "a little softer" for everything: smiles, head tilts, hand positioning. Pretty soon we were all leaning intently toward the camera, lips moist and slightly parted, our eyes half lidded invitations to sultry nights in revealing lingerie (perhaps he shared Victoria's secret after all).

After pictures, we mingled with guests in the bar (which had opened) for a while before moving to the staging area upstairs where we, at the bride's prompting, linked arms and prayed for this new chapter in her life.

The wedding was gorgeous. I know, I know, all weddings are gorgeous but this one had the added element of combining the unexpected with the traditional. As the groom's best woman said later in her toast, the bride and groom are the perfect combination of unlikely events and traits both individually and together—they are anomolies. Therefore, the celebration of their love would also be the perfect combination of unique yet not disparate things, unlikely yet not incongruous combinations. Sort of like jeans and blazers on the bridesmaids with a delicate lace wedding dress on the bride.

Even during the ceremony, the groom and the bride included a reminder for all to be in the present moment—to forget any stress or fatigue or future struggles and just enjoy the friendship and love that we had all come to Julian to celebrate. The officiant took a moment to ring a tiny brass bell three times. Each time fainter than the one preceding it. In each ring, we were told to listen to just that—the quiet call—and focus only on that instant.

My son as ringbearer was a champ. With the help of bribery and lots of attention, he powered through over stimulation and extreme fatigue and photographed and performed his ring bearer duties almost without a hitch. In a way, he also embodies that living-for-the-moment call of the bell. He expressed unmitigated joy for being with those he loved, but he also didn't hesitate to let us know when his moment changed to hunger or tiredness or just an urge to move around and dance.

And dancing did indeed ensue. After simple time of appetizers (two kinds of soup!!! Gaspacho and potato), the bridal party was introduced. The joy of the groomsmen and bridesmaids was evident. Everyone found a creative way to enter the hall (one bridesmaid rode on the back of her groomsman; my son was my partner-we did a runway intro (blazer flipped off the shoulders and a spin)). Though the bride wanted us to quiet down so that she could hear the MC's (a bridemaid (there were 11 of us!) and groomsman) introduce us, she gracefully realized that the boisterous mood of the party wasn't to be squashed and said with a cheerful shrug, "I'll get to hear it on the video." The two maids of honor, best friend and sister gave their toasts.

Then the groom's best man and best woman gave their toasts. All were heartfelt and full of love for the couple. The best woman made some fun literary references (we talked a bit that morning—she's an avid reader with very diverse tastes in literature. Way fun) of iconic romantic couples: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde (or Tripod and Headcold as I call them), and another tragic pair I can't remember. She talked about how even though these couples represent epic love in our society, she wouldn't choose any of them as a model for love (suicide, death, incest, etc . . .); instead, she would wish a love like Beatrice and Benedict on the happy couple: one where two minds meet, may clash a bit but then are sharpened—where each heart needs the other to be whole—where love is nourished on respect. We then had a casual buffet dinner followed almost immediately by the bride and groom's first dance so that everyone could then party.

Yet another thing so right with this celebration was little stop and start to the party for the things like certain dances or cake cutting or whatever. Everything was seamlessly inserted into the festivities so that there might be a slight pause in the general merrymaking, but never a stop. This flow was greatly facilitated by the DJ. The guy was amazing. He never spoke. He just moved from one song to the next. Most of them were highly danceable tunes. Mostly along the lines of the girls' tastes of hip hop and rap but he did do a few trance and house tunes that I loved. I spoke to him towards the end of the night and asked him if he could play a few trance songs. He got so excited: "Oh yes, I'll squeeze some in. That's what I usually play when I do clubs." The song he picked wasn't that great, but it was still fun.

Not to brag or anything, but the bride's friends dominated the dance floor. The 'maids didn't stop until the DJ did. Even late at night, when most of the other people had retreated to their cabins, I watched during a lull in the music these 10 beautiful women in various shades of exhaustion continue to sway to the beat.

Sunday morning, I woke up slightly worn out but refreshed in spirit. After a shower in the claw-footed tub (memories of my old resident on State Street . . .), I headed to the lodge for coffee and further fellowship. As I entered the bar, I heard the sounds of Spanish guitar playing and thought what a cool music the lodge played. Then I turned the corner and saw the best man playing guitar in the corner. An involuntary "yes! Perfect!" escaped my mouth, causing him to stutter on the strings and blush. While my husband and son played darts, I skimmed Science, sipped coffee, and listened to the playing.

Later, the MOH gathered the 'maids around for our last duty as attendants. Armed with crepe paper, glass markers, and a large sign that read "Just Married/ A and S/ 04-21-07," we descended on the bride's Saturn VUE like 80's-era artists and gave it a thorough makeover.
The morning then peacefully progressed with further fellowship and camaraderie culminating in farewells that were comprised of the certain knowledge that with friendships like ours, farewells are never goodbyes.

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