Friday, August 19, 2011
Two weddings I have accidentally attended
I'm 19 and I've taken a train for the day to a small village in Burgundy, France known for its vineyards. My friends and I have purchased a self-guided wine tour, which means we've gathered the skirts of our sundresses in our fists and crouched down the steps into a cellar from the middle ages. It's set up like some rustic, moody video game: the ceilings are low and our path is marked by candlelit oak barrels placed along the dark labyrinthine passageways. A corked bottle of wine rests on each barrel with a description, we take a taste in our tiny silver cup and are meant to write our reactions on a little card. Our companions on the tour, all German and middle aged, are thoughtfully considering each variety. No doubt identifying bouquets and top notes, scribbling thorough notes. Oh, and spitting it out. We are NOT spitting the wine out (see: being 19, just kidding I still wouldn't spit it out) and writing down AWESOME or BEST WINE OF ALL THE WINES. At the end of the tour (22 wines, all said) we emerge into the screaming daylight and check our watches. It is just now noon, and we are properly sauced.
Our afternoon is happily unscheduled and I wander off to be alone with the cobblestone and fruit stands. I enjoy some street gelato (framboise, obviously) and end up at a dead-end in front of an enormous stone church. Someone with a voice like a hurricane is singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (in English) and I just had to hear the rest of the song. In France, it's not hard to develop a habit of popping into giant, opulent cathedrals. I'd done it at Notre Dame and at the cathedral in Orléans, where Joan of Arc used to chill with her invisible friends. Those places are known tourist destinations, where masses are expected to be more or less crashed by people in khaki shorts. This was a cathedral in a tiny village, no martyrs ever called it home to my knowledge, and it was perhaps a little awkward for me open those iron-clad castle doors and stroll in like I owned the place. But that's what I did. Something about traveling, even in countries where I speak the language, emboldens me to be weird. Everything you do, from meals to transit, is slightly off. You are forever spinning your record at a too-low RPM, especially if you're just visiting, so why not lean into it. I sat in the back pew, and took in what I know knew to be a small, beautiful wedding. This made sense of the antique Rolls Royce parked out front with the spray of yellow flowers the size of a Christmas tree tethered to its hood - I think I just chalked that up to France being effortlessly lovely most of the time. No one stared at me, and all faces were shining with happiness. I slipped out before the service ended, into the screaming daylight again.
I suppose if I didn't understand the words to that song, I could see that gut-wrenching melody as being fit for a wedding, too.
I'm 25 and have left the grocery store on foot but can't get excited about taking my handful of purchases back to my empty house. Wandering the brick streets alone in my neighborhood, I am so buried in my thoughts that I make it within 50 feet of a park gazebo without realizing there is a crowd gathered. At first, it looks like a wedding rehearsal. Women in dark dresses and men in shorts flank a couple at the top of the steps. But no, it's definitely a wedding.
The spot is not wedding-y - only a thin line of trees separate it from the roaring highway and its been built so recently that the grass is fine and neon green and there is no mature shrubbery. A dog from a neighboring house trots into the center of the action and and everyone laughs. Finally, everyone relaxes their squared shoulders and applauds over their heads, whooping praise as the couple swaggers down the steps.