wedding

Ejo #104 – LOVE!

This month, I’m keeping things simple. Talking about simple things. In particular, I’d like to talk about love. Not romantic love, but the more general kind. Platonic love, sisterly love, love for humanity. Which, though it might sound like some poor, distant cousin of the love you feel in your loins, can be just as intense, just as unconditional and just as rewarding, if not more so.

But let’s start with my first love. Yes, the romantic kind. Allister was someone I went to high school with. Someone I had an intense crush on for several years. Yep, I was crazy about him. I’d spend hours staring at him in class, daydreaming about him, writing about him in my diary, concocting reasons to talk to him. But he never requited my feelings, and after graduation we went our separate ways for a couple of years, until… a chance encounter at a milk bar (which shows you how long ago this happened). We talked for a bit and then he drove me home in his Datsun 240Z. And in those few minutes, all the feelings I’d harboured for him for so many years erupted, enveloping me in a delicious frisson. Love!!! He must have felt something too because he asked if he could see me again and of course I said yes. And thus began a beautiful three year romance, my first real adult relationship.

The feelings I’d had for Allister in high school may have started as infatuation, but when we became a couple they very quickly turned into real love. And here rests my (long winded, and rather indulgent) point. I was 20 years old. I was truly, madly, deeply in love. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to say it. After a couple of months together we both knew it was love, but neither of us wanted to say the words. As though saying, “I love you” was some kind of weakness. Like it might expose some kind of vulnerability that needed protecting. Why were these three words so excruciatingly difficult to utter?

I grew up in a very loving and expressive family, but even from a young age I was always very reserved. I figured I was just born stoic, and that Allister was too. The word “love” just seemed too heavy for us. Too laden with responsibility and heft to bandy around willy nilly. The word needed metering out. Pacing, like some precious, finite commodity. It needed saving for a rainy day. What I didn’t know then, probably because of my youth and inexperience, is that love is actually a boundless wellspring. That love expands, infinitely, to meet its demand. And that love experienced within, is a fraction of the same love experienced outside of oneself. Unshared love is finite, because the vessel that holds it is finite. Love expressed, love shown, love shared is infinite.

So, I grew up keeping my feelings hidden away and private, and that worked just fine for 32 years. But when my father died, all the feelings were suddenly way too much to contain. The things I felt during the ten months of my father’s illness and devastating decline, the emotions I’d somehow managed to compress, crush and dehydrate in order for them to take up as little room inside of me as possible, suddenly became impossible to restrain anymore. Years of pent up shit just rent asunder, like a nuclear explosion inside my body. Suddenly I had no choice but to show the world exactly how I felt. And I felt like absolute crap, so… hey, it was a hell of a lesson in learning how to express myself. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me that I actually had nothing to fear by showing my hand. The floodgates I’d spent my whole life barricading just burst wide open, and it was OK.

I was once (somewhat accurately) described as an island. Part of me was actually proud of that for a long time. But when my Dad died, I decided that I wanted to build some bridges connecting me to the people I truly cared about. I didn’t want to be alone with my emotions anymore. The burden of love unshared – it’s too much. I used to be afraid of loving, but I’m not anymore. Getting older, losing a loved one, moving away from everyone you care about for a huge chunk of your life – these things distill the fact that the only important thing in life is to love. This might sound a bit airy-fairy, a bit icky, a bit touchy-feely. I’m sorry if you feel that way. I’ve decided that, for me, a life dedicated to love is an excellent life indeed. I spent so many years agonising over what my purpose in life should be, never finding an answer that filled the hole I was trying to plug. I had to hit rock bottom, hating everything and everyone (including myself) after moving to Dubai, to figure shit out. I was so lucky to find an amazing therapist who helped me realise  that my purpose in life is simply to love. That’s it kids. Simple, yes. But not necessarily easy. It’s a purpose that I wrangle with every single day, and one that may never be fulfilled. But in trying, I’ve found that the hole has shrunk, just a little.

I met my friend Natasha in 1999, when we moved into the same share house after my year abroad as an au pair. Let me tell you guys, Natasha is a magnificent ray of sunshine. A gorgeous blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Slovenian goddess with an enormous heart of gold. The kind of girl you would totally expect to be intimidated by, except for the fact that she bends over backwards to make sure you’re OK. She’s self-deprecating to a fault, raucous, hilarious, kind and extremely loving. And I’ve had a massive girl crush on her for the last 19 years. The children of immigrants, we’ve both always shared a loud passion for music, art, travel, laughter, food and wine. We revel in each other’s company, and I’m always delighted when I can spend time with her. This month Natasha was diagnosed with very aggressive, stage 4, stomach and ovarian cancer. I tell you what, friends, news like that freezes everything. Your heart… it just stops. In that moment you realise just how much you can love. And also, just how much you can lose. And here’s where I’m going to get all mushy again – you’ve been warned. I believe that the opposite of love is not hate at all, but fear. I believe that in every moment of every day we have the choice between acting out of fear or acting out of love. And I choose love for Natasha. Sure, I’m scared for her. I’m fucking terrified. She has, literally, the battle of a lifetime ahead of her. But she inspires, and has always inspired, pure love in me and that is what I choose for her now. I choose love.

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So, Natasha and I have this thing (which, of course, is hilarious) where she’s Amy Poehler and I’m Tina Fey – coz it makes total sense (don’t question it). And for a recent gathering at her house, just before Natasha’s first session of chemo, I sent along a cardboard cutout of “myself” to reprazent (totally over-dressed of course)!

I’d like to talk about another friend of mine, my au pair “mother” Kate – a woman who has been (during the 20 years I’ve known her) my surrogate mother, my sister, my master, my daughter, my nemesis, my beloved friend. There is no relationship on earth that exists like the one I have with this woman. It’s almost irrelevant to say that we would do anything for each other, but it’s true. On Sunday, 19th August, against a backdrop of majestic natural beauty, Kate married a beautiful soul called Sheldon, in a ceremony that brought tears of joy to many eyes. And I was lucky enough to be invited, to feel like I was actually an important part of Kate’s special day. It was such an honour to spend the four days leading up to the ceremony with the beautiful couple and my gorgeous kids, Daniel and Holly. It was a love fest of epic proportions because Kate has always loved fiercely and unabashedly. She taught her children (and me) to do the same and I am so grateful that all those years ago I was lucky enough to be placed with her family. I have grown as a person because of her and I will always love her.

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The love was tangible. What an amazing, and gorgeous, couple.*

 

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I find it difficult to express, in words, the love I feel for these three people. *

Not that long ago, I promised I’d move mountains to attend the future weddings of every single member of my second family. I certainly didn’t expect to be called out on that promise so soon, but hey – a promise is a goddamn promise. And I keep my promises. Why? It’s love, folks. I would give everything up for the people that I love, and fuck it, I’d be richer for it. Loving doesn’t deplete me. It strengthens me. My Mum and Dad, my sisters, my husband, my “kids”, my friends, my neighbours, my fellow human beings. I love you all. Hell, sometimes I look in the mirror and can honestly say I even love myself. And isn’t that the greatest love of all?

 

 

 

 

*Photos by https://www.nicoledreon.com

Ejo #101 – Nice Day For A White Wedding

This photo of me was taken on Sunday, 2nd August 1998, just one week shy of my 27th birthday. I was at Melbourne International Airport, surrounded by my family and closest friends, about to embark on an overseas adventure that would change my life. I was off to Connecticut, USA for a year to be an au pair for two little kids I’d never even laid eyes on. I was excited, nervous, and soon to find out that I had absolutely no fucking idea what I’d signed up for.

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Can you see the hope in my eyes? How about the terror? Can you see the terror?

I also had no idea that twenty years later all four members of that family would still be in my life. That they would all hold a very special place in my heart and that I would love them all as much as I do today. They are my second family. Twenty years ago they invited me into their home, but since then they have invited me to remain in their lives, and for that I am eternally grateful.

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The Connecticut house where I spent a year of my life. 

My year in Connecticut was amazing, but it wasn’t easy. Most of the other au pairs were young girls. Teenagers, just out of school. I barely made the upper age limit, just scraping in by three days. Unlike the others, I wasn’t a pliable adolescent. I was a fully formed, strong-willed, independent woman suddenly living under the roof of two very powerful personalities. Understandably, there were a few sparks, especially in the beginning. My second week on the job, following a run-in on the tennis court, I hid in the garage so no-one would see me sobbing in despair. Cursing the mistake I’d made, missing my family back home and wishing I was still in Melbourne. I could have pulled the plug at any time, but I chose not to. I chose to stay. One of the reasons was to test myself. To see what I was capable of withstanding. That moment in the garage was a milestone in my life. It was the moment that I made the choice to grow up. But mostly I stayed because of the children. Daniel and Holly had already became the loves of my life. I didn’t want to be assigned to another family. This was my family, and I was going to work shit out.

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These little poopies stole my heart the moment I met them.

One of the reasons I was hired to help with the kids was that Tim, the dad, was often away on business. So most of my time was spent with their mum, Kate. It is an understatement to say that she and I had a complicated relationship. We grew, during the span of that year, to really love and respect each other but we did it through a minefield of power struggles and emotions. Frankly it’s a miracle that our friendship survived, which makes it all the more precious to me.

My relationship with Tim, on the other hand, was a relatively breezy one. While Kate had to deal with the difficult au pair on the daily, he would just swoop in from his trips, larger than life, filling the house with his exuberant presence. He would cook and sing and bellow heartfully. Of course it must have been hard for him to be away from his family for so long, but one benefit of being absent is not having to deal with the day to day shit. You get to come home, and be king. And we all loved it when the king was home. Things were easier for me when Tim was around. I didn’t have to do as much around the house, and I was always invited to spend time with them off-duty, as a member of the family. They were never obligated to include me, but they always did.

I’ve always looked up to Tim. He has a commanding quality about him, and his personality always fills the room. He exudes a confidence and positive energy which is intoxicating, and fun to be around. I’ve never really thought of him as a full-on father figure, but there might be just a tiny grain of truth to that allegory. I have just one single memory of him acting in the role of patriarch, back in Connecticut. I’d had an argument with Kate one evening because I wanted to go out and she didn’t want me to take the car. I was in my room, fuming, when Tim knocked on my door and asked to come in. As he sat on the edge of my bed and explained why he and Kate weren’t letting me drive the car in the ice storm (oh, did I forget to mention the ice storm), I felt like a little girl being unfairly grounded by her father. But in that moment, he wasn’t just my boss. He was my Dad’s surrogate, acting on his behalf, looking out for me.

Like I said, that year was a life changer. It had ups and it had downs. It was an incredible year in my life, but I was definitely relieved when it was over. I was super sad to be leaving the kids, but I was so happy to be going back home to Melbourne, to my own family and friends. It felt like the shedding of a great load, and I’m sure they enjoyed having their lives back to themselves too.

After lustfully relishing my freedom for a while, I started looking back on my year abroad through a softer lens. With a lot more appreciation for the remarkable experience I’d had. And of course, I started to miss them all. I missed getting the kids up for school every morning. And waiting for them by the side of the road at the end of their day. I missed their hugs, their silly jokes and laughter. I missed the house, and my space in it. I missed the four distinct, and very beautiful, seasons of Connecticut (ice storms and all). And I missed my second family on the other side of the world. After a couple of years, I reached out to them and, happily, they reached back. We reconnected, in a new way. A better way. No longer bound by our employer/employee shackles, we were able to explore each other as real friends, and wonderfully we discovered that we all still liked each other. In fact we liked each other more. Over the years we’ve rendezvoused around the world, meeting up in California, London and a couple of times in the south of France, where Tim owns a cottage. Several years ago Kate and Tim divorced but I keep up with both of them, separately. They may no longer be together, but they are still my family and, amazingly, it seems that I am still theirs.

Over those same years I’ve watched the children grow from my beloved poopies, to self-assured teenagers and into the beautiful young adults they are today.

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Daniel and Holly as teens. 

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Daniel and I out on the tiles in LA.  

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Holly and I loving each other in Reno. 

As some of you know, in 2016, Daniel suffered a major heart attack and almost died. The whole family has been to hell and back over the last two years. Which is why when David and I got an invitation from Tim and Rachel, his partner of five years, to attend their wedding in France, I was ridiculously overjoyed. What wonderful, happy news. All I’ve ever wanted for my crazy au pair family is for them to be happy. If I can be a part of their happiness, that’s just icing on my cake.

And so David and I went to France. The wedding was, of course, absolutely beautiful. If you ever have the chance to go to a wedding at an 11th century château in the south of France, I’d highly recommend it. It was a glorious setting to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in Tim’s life. And here’s where things get emotional for me. Why? Because on this very special and intimate day, Tim wanted me to be there.

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Husband and wife.

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The château.  Not bad, eh?

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A new chapter. 

Years ago, in a black cab on the way home from a boozy art exhibition in London, I drunkenly whispered to Kate that I hoped to one day meet a man just like Tim. And I meant it. I’ve never met anyone like him before. He eats life up. He charismatically brandishes a wild streak, while remaining as steady as a rock. He is an all-round awesome human being. I’m pretty damn lucky that I did find my own awesome fellow, not long after that night in London. And Tim and Rachel are both lucky to have eventually found each other.

During dinner at the chateau, just before dessert and after many bottles of wine, I had a….. well, I had a moment. I looked around at the other guests, the room aglow with merriment, and I was just blindsided by how lucky I was to be there. It hit me that everyone at that table was either an old friend or a family member. Oh yeah, and me, the former au pair. I felt proud, and honoured, and just bloody grateful to be in that room on that very special night – my place at the table revealing the place I must hold in Tim’s heart.

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Places of honour.

Tim caught me looking at him all starry-eyed, and winked at me. We both smiled. He was happy, his new bride luminous by his side. I glanced over at Daniel and Holly, and my heart filled with love. We have been on a unique and incredible journey, the Brittons and I. I don’t know where we are going next, but I will move mountains to be at all of their weddings, all of their anniversaries, all of their celebrations in life. And as long as they keep inviting me, I promise you, I’ll keep turning up.

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❤ ❤ ❤

 

Ejo #74 – An Indian Wedding In Dubai (Part 2)

OK, so long time readers of mine will remember how much I loved going to an Emirati wedding a few years ago.  I mean, it was pretty amazing.

BUT…

… Indian weddings are better.  I’m just telling it how it is.  Apart from the visual spectacle, there is a tangible and incredibly intense sense of joy that permeates every aspect of an Indian wedding festival.  It’s a celebration, in the truest sense of the word.  A carnival of feasting, dancing, eating, singing, loving and laughing.  Following is an account of our first (but hopefully not our last) experience of a wonderful Indian wedding, the union of Deena Mansukhani & Bhavin Asser.

DAY ONE – THE SANGEET

We arrived at the sangeet at 9pm to find the party in full swing.  The event was held in the grand ballroom of one of the city’s finest hotels, and was beautifully decorated with gorgeously adorned tables for all the guests.  But the first thing I noticed was that all the tables were empty.  Everyone was up on their feet, socialising and dancing, chatting, eating at the buffet, drinking at the bar and having fun.  We spotted our friend, Love, at the bar and greeted him with hugs and kisses.  It was so great to see him again after so many years.  He introduced us to his friends and organised some drinks for us.  The rest of the party, to be honest, went by in a blur.  But here are some highlights.

  • The food: Oh, the food. So much glorious food.  We piled our plates up high and went back for seconds (maybe thirds??).
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Tasty, oh so tasty, chicken

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I could happily have drowned in this huge vat of daal. It was amazingly delicious.

  • The people: Everyone was SO friendly.  Like nothing I’ve ever experienced in Dubai before.  People just happy to chat and dance and laugh with us as if they’d known us for years.  The social anxiety I usually feel when I go out here completely melted away in the presence of such warmth and acceptance.  We instantly felt like we belonged and it was a wonderful feeling that I will always cherish.
  • The dancing: Apart from the dancing free-for-all, there were many choreographed performances from both the groom’s and bride’s sides of the family. Traditional Indian music was interspersed with more modern western music so there was something for everyone to enjoy.

A choreographed dance.

  • I met a LOVELY woman on the dance floor towards the end of the night who gave me some impromptu lessons on Indian style dancing (it involves a lot of hand twirling and hip shaking).  She didn’t speak much English and the music was loud anyway so we communicated using the international languages of dance and smiles.  It was an incredibly fun experience and the next day my cheeks hurt from smiling so much (though, to be frank, my cheeks weren’t the only things that hurt – which leads me to…..)
  • The booze: OK, so Love had mentioned something about a free flowing bar when he’d invited us, but he never said anything about the bartender going around pouring shots directly from the bottle into people’s mouth (with a courtesy towelette to catch any spillage, mind you – this was a classy affair, after all). Everybody knows, once the shots start, it’s game over.  I don’t remember a lot after that, though I do vaguely recall catching a taxi at around 3am.
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Uncle insisted on being in this picture.

DAY TWO – THE CEREMONY

The invitation stated that the ceremony would begin at 2pm in the gardens of another five star hotel.  So, hungover as hell, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 11am, got ready in our kurta and sari and crawled into a cab.  Traffic was bad and we started stressing that we were going to be late.  Hahahaha!!  When we arrived, the hotel staff hadn’t even finished setting up the stage and chairs.  In fact, it would be several more hours before most of the guests would all arrive.  Our bad.  We didn’t realise that a 2pm Indian wedding actually meant 6pm.  Next time we’ll know better.  It wasn’t too bad though.  We got to chill out by the pool and drink lots of coffee and water and wait out our hangovers with a few more of Love’s friends who had also, foolishly, turned up on time.  One great thing about being there so early was that we got to see everything come to life.  The red carpet was rolled out and strewn with marigold petals, and the bride’s guests started arriving in their brilliant saris and kurtas.  In keeping with tradition, the groom’s party would be joining in later.

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I doubt I’ve ever looked so glam whilst also feeling like I was dying.

One of the awesome marriage rituals was that the close male members of the bride’s party had their heads wrapped in beautiful dusky pink turbans.  I tried to convince David to wear a turban but he lay down the law on that one.  Plus, it may not have been appropriate as we weren’t actually close to the bride, so I let it go.  Still, I’m sure you’d all agree that he’d look pretty fabulous in a sexy pink turban.

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The brother of the bride, our friend Love in his gorgeous pink turban posing with Lulu.

Apart from the turban wrapping, there were plenty more traditions and rituals.  One of the major ones is the Baraat – the arrival of the groom’s wedding party and guests.  Their imminent entrance was heralded by the rhythmic commotion of a couple of dhols (traditional double-headed drums) which had, in fact, been playing softly all afternoon but which became louder and more persistent to mark the Baraat.  We could hear the groom’s orange turbaned posse before we could see them, cheering and whooping in time to the fervent, tribal drum.

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The Baraat. Pink turbans meet orange turbans. Everybody looks fabulous!!!!

And, as they descended upon the venue in a whirlwind of dancing and flourish, Bhavin, beaming from ear to ear, made his grand entrance on an elaborately decorated rickshaw.  The entire performance was a joyful cacophony of high-spirited merriment which was impossible not to get swept up in.  I did wonder at the difference between what we were witnessing and the sometimes somber aspect of western weddings.  Yes, a wedding is a serious affair but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too.

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Usually the groom makes his Baraat entrance on a white mare, but for practical purposes this rickshaw made do.

Once the elders from both families had formally greeted each other, the entire congregation moved back into the venue, where the shindig continued.  The wedding ceremony turned out to be a lot more subdued than the night before (thank goodness!).  There was no alcohol served and all the food was vegetarian.  When I asked Love about it, he told me it was Jain food, made by a ‘Brahman’.  In terms of the Indian caste system, Brahmans are the highest of the bunch, the priests!  The others are Kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and shudras (workers).  Food cooked by a Brahman is considered to be pure, and since a wedding is a religious affair, the symbolism of purity is of the utmost importance.  Let me just say though, that as pure as the food was, it was decidedly delicious (the best pappadums I’ve ever had).

The wedding ceremony itself was a series of rituals that took place over the course of a few hours beneath a canopied altar known as a Mandap, which was ablaze in colour, flowers and decoration.  Unlike a traditional western wedding, the guests at a Hindu ceremony don’t sit and watch the entire thing but instead check in from time to time, interspersing those viewings with social mingling and grabbing a bite to eat.  So, in between eating those delicious pappadums and chatting with the other guests, every now and then we would sit down and watch the priest conducting his formalities with the two families in attendance.  Arguably, the most important of these were the four pheras, the bride and groom circling a fire four times to signify their desire to fulfill the purpose of their lives, together.  Intense.

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The bridal party in the background prepare for Deena’s role in the ceremony. The priest has already started the proceedings with Bhavin in the Mandap.

At one point I noticed that Bhavin was barefoot and wondered about that to Love.  He explained that four of the younger girls from Deena’s side had stolen Bhavin’s shoes during the ceremony.  What????  Cheeky!!!  This was yet another of the quirky wedding traditions.  Negotiations to return his shoes continued during the course of the evening until at last, near the end, they wore him down and he relented, giving them each a gold chain and pendant for their efforts.  What a nice memento!  At this point of the evening, exhaustion was starting to set in for us and we made our way home for an early night in preparation for the final day of celebrations.

DAY THREE – THE RECEPTION

As I mentioned in last month’s ejo, we had a dinner party to attend first, which happened to be retro-themed.  David and I got dressed up in our finest 50’s and 60’s glad rags and went along to a lovely dinner before heading out to Day Three of the wedding, the reception.

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50s and 60s stylin’

Once more, this was set in a hotel ballroom, and once more everything was beautifully decorated and everybody was beautifully clothed.  And of course, just like Day One, we started the night off with a couple of welcome shots.  How easily hangovers are forgotten.

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Welcome shots. Trouble.

The reception was another night of celebration, the difference being that this time the bride and groom were hosting as a married couple.  There was the Indian version of a bridal waltz (much sexier!!!) and a very cool chaise lounge upon which Deena and Bhavin sat to accept guest’s good wishes.

Like no bridal waltz you’ve ever seen before!

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Love doing…. reverse, one-arm push-ups??? Or pulling some pretty impressive dance moves, Saturday Night Fever style!!! Bhavin and Deena greeting their ardent fans.

It was all very regal (except for the fact that the party was raging on around them, boisterously).  There was more dancing, more drinking, more fun.  In fact, I haven’t had so much fun in ages.  It was very exciting to be part of something so exotic and interesting and exhiliarating.  I want to thank Love for inviting us and Deena and Bhavin for having us at their amazing wedding.  It was a fabulous three nights I will never forget.