A Wedding In Spain
Peter’s entire family gets together for major life events; funerals, and weddings. We gathered four years ago for a funeral, this summer we gathered for a wedding.
Peter is an optimist when it comes to family gatherings. He truly believes these gatherings will be full of love and happiness, although there has been no communication, minus the yearly Merry Christmas wish, since the last gathering four years ago.
We flew into Porto, Portugal and rented a car to drive to Pontevedra on the coast of northern Spain, close to the Portuguese border where the wedding was taking place. Porto was hot, humid, and loud, but beautiful. Hills littered with houses and apartments packed tightly, each dwelling different in size and shape. On the first night in Porto we rented an Airbnb. Fifth floor, no elevator. The apartment was large, with huge bay windows overlooking the town, but no air conditioning. I opened the windows wide to let in some form of ventilation. Unfortunately, there were no screens on the windows; within minutes flies filled the apartment. Peter swatted the flies to no avail.
“We can’t sleep with this,” he said.
“But I can’t have the windows closed. I’ll suffocate in the heat.”
“Let me close them and get rid of the flies, so we can eat. Then we can open them for a while”.
He closed the windows and then took the vacuum cleaner and took the end off and held the hose high into the air attempting to suck the flies into the vacuum cleaner.
“There must be a law against killing flies that way Peter. Stop it. It’s cruel.”
“A fly swatter?” He repIied. I had no answer.
That evening a mosquito joined the flies and we attempted to sleep with the sheets over our heads, dripping in sweat as the mosquito buzzed around us.
Exhausted, the next day we drove into Spain passing rolling green hills and large coastal towns on our way to Pontevedra. We finally arrived at the small chic boutique hotel, the bride, his niece, had booked for us. The hotel was an elegant farmhouse with an outside restaurant in the center courtyard, surrounded by plants in full floral bloom. The tables were set with white cloth table clothes, china dishes, silver cutlery and glasses. We had arrived just in time to sit down for a long Spanish lunch. I keep saying to myself ‘no wine today’ but saying no to a glass of local wine with the delicious fresh grilled fish was like saying no to using cutlery. Both are a part of the traditional Spanish meal.
We had expected to see other family members sitting outside enjoying lunch in the garden. There were other people; the hotel was full, but no family members. Concerned, Peter sent a text to his niece.
‘Everyone is at another hotel on the coast. I thought you and Jill would like that hotel,’ she replied.
Yes, it is a very nice boutique hotel. We just thought we were going to be with everyone.’ He paused and my polite husband continued:
‘No problem. We will see you at the pre-wedding gathering tonight.’
We were both surprised and our egos were slightly bruised.
Peter’s second wife, two daughters, his stepmother, who is the same age as Peter and has a hot, cold relationship with him, and his sister, who is always telling him off about something, are staying at the other hotel. Perhaps, under those circumstances, his niece did not want to mix us under one roof.
Regardless, of our bruised feelings and our concerns about the subtext, we were going to have a good time. We put on our cool clothes. Peter had a nice shirt hanging outside of his jeans and a Panama hat while I had my Diana Keaton coastal style; no frumpy, sixty-year-old people clothes look for us. We drove to the evening gathering for relatives and close friends at a bar on a beach. A stone beach, where I had to take off my trendy sandals and put on my tennis shoes to climb over the rocks leading down to the stones. Minus the relatives, the guest were all 30-somethings. The young men were showing their hairy chests with all, but a couple of buttons opened on their shirts. The young women wore tight tiny dresses with very high heels, which left me wondering how they had climbed over those rocks.
We smiled, and were greeted with air kisses on both cheeks; no sloppy wet kisses. We were focused on being cool. When asked, we said how wonderful our boutique hotel was, and restrained from asking which one of your relatives was the one who instigated our banishment.
It was not his ex-wife; she was busy exploring her new life, now her daughters had left home. Perhaps it was his eldest daughter. On many occasions, she had made it very clear that I ruined her life by marrying her father. I’m not sure if his stepmother liked Peter or not right now, as it changes constantly; she’s a possible candidate. The evening continued to be like a Clue game, trying to work out who was the mastermind behind our exile. We never did find out and the following morning, after seeing the hotel where the other members were staying, we decided we were very fortunate to have been banished.
The next day the evening wedding ceremony took place at a historical monastery at 6 pm. The dress code was black tie and evening gowns.
The service was a traditional catholic service, including a full mass and communion. It was long. The youngest angelic member of the bridal party ran up and down the aisle singing throughout the ceremony, while the parents pretended nothing was happening.
At stages, the priest conducting the service appeared to drop his head; I began to wonder if he was taking short naps. He never stopped making sounds and gave the impression he was reciting the service, even if he was asleep. Finally, at 8 pm we got into our cars and drove to the dinner and evening party, starving.
With other starving guests I hovered around the appetizers as they appeared. Fancy delicacies were brought out – oysters, thin slices of octopus, snails, ahi salmon. At 11 pm, a gentleman with Scottish bagpipes began to play, informing us that we could now sit down for dinner. I sat down and grabbed a roll immediately before the speeches began. At midnight, the first course appeared – gazpacho, lite and refreshing. I grabbed another roll. I no longer cared if I had taken someone else’s roll. As I chewed away, I was embraced by Peter’s stepmother who was sitting next to me. A large Romanian woman, the same age as me. She was the self-appointed family matriarch. She’d had an affair with Peter’s father when he was 15. Their. The affair was a German scandal that filled the newspapers because Peter’s father was an established politician, and she was believed to have been a spy during the cold war.
She replaced his mother and had caused tension ever since with her appointed matriarch role. She proceeded to grab my chin, pat me on the head and nod in disapproval as she stared me in the eyes. Her abundance of fake jewelry clattered; thick red lipstick seeped from her lips, and her thick black dyed hair swirled around her face. In broken English, with a heavy Eastern European accent, she commented:
“Jill – I will have to have a meeting with you and Peter tomorrow. What is this traveling thing for a year? Don’t you have a home? You can’t live like that. You must stay in one place when you get old.” I went to reply, but she turned away and proceeded to talk in Russian to the woman sitting on her other side. Although she spoke Russian, I could not imagine her being subtle enough to be a Russian spy and run around in a dark raincoat in the middle of the night spying on politicians during the cold war. I sighed and turned to speak to Peter’s sister, who was now tipsy and wanted to discuss the romance lives of the adult children.
Big plates with small delicate portions of fine dining food appeared in front of us. I searched for more rolls. The dancing began at 2 am. Many tipsy people went wild, jumping up and down, twisting and waving hands into the air. We joined in and danced into the morning hours. At 4 am we found the bride and groom and various relatives, air-kissed them goodbye, and drove back to our boutique hotel. We were exhausted and hungry, but smiling at the fact that there were no inappropriate clashes with relatives at the wedding.