28 May 2008

Sardinian wedding

I want to write about last weekend's wedding, but it seems so unreal to me already, like I lived for a short time inside a novel--one that takes place seventy years ago, peopled with archetypal characters and elemental landscapes--but then I woke up, or the story ended. In the novel, I was a character myself; I spoke halting but lilted Italian with a tiny wizened woman who wore all black and a silver bun (the bride's mother), and I listened to the goats bleating and ate cheese made from their milk, and watched the moon rise heavy and orange over the fields while a bright-eyed boy in a black cap crooned Neapolitan songs on his guitar. But I was also reading the novel at the same time, I was the outsider who awkwardly observed, the foreigner drinking it all in, in order to remember as much as she could.

And because I want to remember it all, and since my memory is unpleasantly spotty, I need to at least get some of the key things down on paper (as it were).

One of those key things was the serenata. At nearly ten pm on Friday night, we arrived in little Alghero airport without a clue as to who was picking us up, what this person looked like, or how to contact him or her. To our utter surprise, the groom himself pulls up (on the eve of his wedding!!) in a tiny car and hurredly introduces us to the other passengers, and we zoom off into the Sardinian night. It transpires that we are smooshed in the car with the Neapolitan musician who will be helping the groom to serenade the bride and thus woo her to the altar (the wooing had I assume already taken place, but not the serenading). We drive over an hour, picking up other carloads of friends at several strategic points, until we are a caravan of some twenty five people, and after pulling onto roads that are increasingly narrow and tiny, we end up on a dirt road in the middle of the island, stumbling up the bride's driveway in the pitch dark, everyone laughing and shushing each other and hoping that no one heard the cars or seen the headlights. I am stumbling more than I might have because the stars are an inverted bowl of brilliance and all I want to do is look skyward.

There is a balcony, and when the singing starts, everything is just as you might imagine it would be. Lights go on one by one, the dog starts barking, heads poke out of windows and doors. Eventually the bride, laughing and surprised, appears, and descends to embrace her groom. With liberal kisses for everyone else as well. We all sing along with the last song, and I do too, though I don't know the words.

Everyone is invited inside and even though it is midnight, and no one has prepared for our arrival (the groom assured me it was all a surprise, a tradition from his part of Italy imported to her part of Italy), out of nowhere appear piles of paper-thin crispy bread (pane carasau), homemade salumi, cheese made from the bride's sister's goats, and bottles of wine. And huge heaping platters of tender almond cookies. Everyone lingers by the door, and back in the yard in the dark, the guitarist starts playing again. My husband sings along, and we watch the moonrise. I have never seen a moonrise. For the first few minutes as it quickly moved up over the horizon, it seemed as bright as the sun, but without the sun's brightening effects on the sky. He and I fall asleep on the drive to the hotel, forty minutes back over country roads.


The next morning, again to our surprise, the groom appeared at the hotel at the appointed departure hour, this time wearing a blue suit and a shirt with brass bells at the collar. Someone handed him a bouquet of red roses. A long line of cars gathered, and bedecked with ribbons, honking all the way, we drove to the bride's village. This time we rode with professors from Naples, and all of us were puzzled when we passed the town hall, where the wedding was to take place, and continued to the same house we had visited the night before.

It turns out that the groom has to show up to collect the bride Sardinia-style, and receive a blessing from the family--the equivalent, I suppose, of a girl's parents/father walking her down the aisle. The roses were to convince her to be whisked off by the bell-rung boy. While we waited for her to appear, the guests mingled about and enjoyed a lavish spread of more of those delicious cookies and a tableful of others, including cloudy almond meringues, and coffee and moscatel and fizzy Italian aperatifs. When I walked into the house I was surprised to see a row of five elderly figures seated on a couch, every one of them in head-to-toe black clothes: four women with severe buns in their silver hair, and a gentleman with a cane and cap. They reminded me of the pictures I'd seen of the Mister's great-grandmothers (black clothes and black kerchiefs on their heads, every day) or of Italian women in the 1930s. It took me some time to realize that one of these ladies, whom I assumed were grandmothers and great aunts, was in fact the mother of the bride.

When the bride descended the stairs, to thunderous cheering and camera flashes, and accepted the bouquet from her intended, he brought her outside, where her mother waited with a plate of rose petals and rice. As we all watched, she recited a blessing, flinging rice and roses over their heads, and smashed the plate at their feet. (More plate smashing was to occur throughout the day: at the town hall after the wedding, and at the hotel before the reception.)

The wedding itself took place in the town hall, a square unlit box with humidity-warped, faded 1970s travel posters on the walls. But the warmth and joy of all the participants filled the room, and the judge (who wore a red sash) made it clear that this bride was a well-loved daughter of the entire village. She is, in fact, the youngest and prettiest of six children, including five other beautiful sisters and one brother, who has severe mental retardation, but who raced around all weekend embracing everyone and hooting out his excitement. He was a part of the merry hubbub, gently watched over by all.

The main focus of the reception, back at the hotel, was the food: no less than fourteen (fourteen!!) courses, and when we studied the menu on our table, we knew we had to take it easy so that we wouldn't miss out on tasting any one of the regional foods. We ate an abundance of seafood, fried antipasti, two kinds of pasta specialties (one of them was gnocchetti, which despite the name are not like potato gnocchi but are smaller curled shells that look like gnocchi), delectable clams, big plates of raw carrot, celery, and fennel (I was skeptical, but these were surprisingly refreshing in the middle of a long meal)... Now I can barely remember it all (I meant to bring home one of the menus but failed to grab one when we left) but I vividly recall the first of three desserts (not including the piles of cookies everywhere): seadas. These are pastry pockets stuffed with pecorino cheese, fried, and smothered with the local honey. Absolutely amazing.

We ate, and ate, and ate. For over five hours, just eating. And talking, of course. Across the table from us, a woman who works at a national archive seemed nice enough at first, but as the evening wore on, got increasingly too-friendly, woozily telling M. how beautiful I was and liberally dispensing cheek-smoosh kisses to everyone who got near her. While we all crowded around to watched the bride and groom cut the cake, I felt someone grab my tush and thought it was the mister because he was behind me when I turned around. But HE had seen, as he walked towards me, that it was Mrs. Too Friendly. Eeek!

Despite this unfortunate incident, I was charmed to pieces by the other company, especially Stefano the singer who had led the serenata the previous night. He was upset that the DJ wasn't letting him play often enough (although he had already regaled the bride and groom several times), and with his injured air, his guitar and smile, he was the classic picture of the underappreciated artist. He and the Mister got to talking about politics, and it turns out that his views are somewhere in the idealist-Marxist-anarchist range, anti-institutional and pro-equality. Somehow this was entirely of a piece with the music and the self-absorption, and I felt that I had just gotten to know one of the people I read about for my thesis on 1930s Spain: the tragic artist, the anarcho-idealist. Lofty pride and political conviction, softened by the romantic strumming and the twinkle of humor in his eyes.

Hours of eating, one spectacular espresso, and a bit of dancing later, the Mister and I decided to retire to our room, thinking that the party was winding down. After a good two and a half hours, we came down to take a stroll, and the party was still going on, our friend Stefano slumped on a bench and strumming melancholy melodies on his guitar into the night air.


I'm going to stop here, but in the next installment, I describe the events of the day after, which in some ways were even more fable-like than the wedding itself. Oh, and I should mention that the pink dress was perfect! I was perhaps even a bit more gussied up than some guests, but as I said last week, overdressed is better than underdressed.


Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

I randomly found your blog through a Google alert but I loved your account of the wedding. Very nicely done. :)

Rocas said...

No joke; it felt as if
I was actually there. Wonderfully descriptive and beautifully done.

Can Bass 1 said...

I went to a wedding once - my own. My wife insisted I attend in spite of my presenting her with a doctor's note confirming my deep-seated allergy to spats.

Anonymous said...

19 luglio 2008 a Napoli Daniele e Laura fanno una festa riunendo alcune persone presenti al matrimonio in sardegna. Sei invitata assieme a tuo marito. ciao

molly said...

I would not normally comment on the blog of a complete stranger, but I am a good friend of Mrs. Too-Friendly. Obviously, I do not consider her too friendly. She is enthusiastic and affectionate, and today she, her husband, and I had a kind and friendly chuckle about your concerns about your tush. People here touch each other more than they do in Nordic climes, and perhaps more than the Spanish do, as well, although my Spanish colleague is also very physical. I am sure my friend did not "grab" your tush, although she thinks she may have tried to get past you to see the groom, whom she has known since he was a child. You are much taller than my friend is. Another cultural heads-up: it is considered good manners in Italy, if a woman is talking one-on-one to a married man, to make some complimentary reference to his wife. When I left my friend's house today, we exchanged lots of cheek to cheek kisses, the kind you find difficult to witness.

Please never underestimate the extension of the world wide web. People will read your descriptions of themselves and of other people. Any insinuation you make will be read by somebody. Intelligent people know that all writing comes from the fantasy of the writer, but you run the risk of hurting people without that intention.