wedding

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.

 

Ejo #73 – An Indian Wedding In Dubai (Part 1)

I have two buckets lists. A reality bucket list – with just one item on it. And a fantasy bucket list with lots of items on it. The difference between these two lists, if you haven’t been able to glean it from their descriptions, is that one of them is achievable through my own action and will. Here is a copy of my current reality bucket list:

Achievable.

Achievable.

The other is basically wishful thinking. Here is my fantasy bucket list:

Dreams.

Dreams.

As you can see, these are things that aren’t really very probable at all.  They’re not impossible.  Just not very likely.  They are things that I have a very low-level, background, desire to happen – with the complete understanding that they probably won’t.

So, something happened recently that got me rather excited.  I got a message out of the blue from someone that David and I had met when we first moved to Dubai (way back when), a great guy called Love (yes, that’s his real name).  It had been a few years since we’d caught up, though I’d maintained a friendship with him on social media (yay Facebook!!!).  Here’s the message:

“Hey, u been to an Indian wedding before?  I’d like to invite you & David to my sister’s wedding in December.”

Imagine my delight!  I literally jumped for joy.  Fantasy bucket list, bitches!!!!!!  Naturally, the first thing I did was start researching what to wear.  Love had said that we could just wear regular western style clothes to each of the events, but that’s not my style.  If there’s an excuse for dress ups, I’m going to get dressed up (hell, sometimes I like to do it for absolutely no reason at all).  And I’m lucky enough to be married to a man that doesn’t mind getting into it either.  Damn, we were going to an Indian wedding!!!  Of course we were getting dressed up.

The parts of the celebration that we’d been invited to were the three main events, held over three days.  The first event was the sangeet, a pre-wedding function where the bride’s and groom’s respective posse’s have the chance to mingle and get to know each other.  It’s basically a monster party full of music, choreographed dancing, tonnes of food and loads of drinking.  The second event was the actual ceremony itself, a more subdued affair, but no less colourful or joyful.  And the third day was the wedding reception, the bride and groom’s first event as husband and wife (which is basically just an excuse to throw another big party – did I mention that Indians like to party?!).

So, my hours of meticulous research led me to the conclusion that I would be suitably attired if I chose to wear a ghagra (which consists of a long, embroidered skirt, a cropped blouse and a dupatta (or shawl) draped over the shoulder) to the sangeet party, a sari (which you’re probably more familiar with) to the ceremony and western clothing to the reception.  Perfect!  Now all I had to do was get myself a ghagra and a sari.  Lucky for me, we live in a city where more than 40% of the inhabitants are Indian so there is no shortage of places to shop.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to go.  Too bad for me, I had no idea.  But, I do know a lovely Indian woman at work called Dayini.  So I asked her if she could recommend somewhere to buy these exotic threads and to my delighted surprise, she offered to take me clothes shopping herself.  How wonderful!!!

We ended up at Karama Centre, a small mall in old Dubai which houses a number of Indian clothing and jewellery stores.  When we walked into the Silky Calicut shop my eyes widened at all the beautiful fabrics lining the walls, creating a jewelled rainbow of colours.  Crimson, purple, aqua, sapphire, chartreuse, gold, magenta.  So much beading, so much embroidery, so many sequins.  How on earth was I going to choose something?  My friend asked the assistant to show us a selection of ghagra fabrics.  He fanned out a golden lace skirt with green accents, and bright red fabric for the blouse.  I fell in love with it instantly.  But I couldn’t possibly choose the first thing I saw, so we insisted he show us a few more options.  Wouldn’t you know it, none of them dazzled me like that first golden skirt, so I tried it on (with a sample gold blouse for sizing).

Check out that shit-eating grin.

Check out that shit-eating grin.

The tailor came out to measure me up and, with Dayini’s help, asked my preferences for buttons, zips, edging, sleeve length, blouse length etc.  I was so grateful that Dayini was there to translate and help me make these decisions, or it would have been a lot more difficult to convey what I wanted – or to even know what I wanted at all.  I mean, I know what I like, but I’m no expert on Indian attire.  So, thank you Dayini, for all your input and recommendations.

With the ghagra sorted we returned to the shelves to select a fabric for the sari.  Once again, I chose the first one I saw (hey, when you know, you know).  It was a beautiful magenta and gold number that I just couldn’t say no to.  Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, wrapping a sari is a nightmare of an ordeal.  There are several YouTube video tutorials about how to do it but it’s difficult as hell AND there’s always the chance that it will come undone at the slightest provocation.  So I’m more than happy to admit that I chose to have my fabric sewn into a “cheat” version of a sari.  Basically the tailor stitches the yards of fabric into a skirt which buttons up (thus preventing an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction), leaving the rest to be draped around in the traditional style.  Unless you’re looking very closely, I think it’s pretty hard to tell the difference.

A week later, Dayini and I went back to the store so I could try on the finished product.  I was thrilled.  Looking in the store mirror, I felt like something halfway between an exotic princess and a character at a themed costume party.  I am quite conservative in my day to day dress.  I wear a uniform of jeans and t-shirts, in predominantly dark colours (Melbourne girl alert!!!), which might be why I like the opportunity to exhibit a little fashion flair when the occasion calls for it.  But wearing those sparkling, colourful clothes, even with just the shop assistants as my audience, I was transformed into a different person.  I felt regal and glamorous.  I felt amazing.

But hey, I hear you ask, what about David?  I was sorted, but now we had to find something for him to wear.  Male guests to Indian weddings have their choice of kurta, a posh sherwani or a suit.  The store that had made up my clothes didn’t do male attire but they recommended a few shops in the area that did.  Unfortunately, while we did find a very reasonably priced kurta in one of those stores, it was one size too small so we had to keep looking.

Just a little small around the shoulders and the calves.

Just a little narrow around the shoulders and tight in the calves.

We bade Dayini farewell and went strolling through old town Dubai.  After a well-earned pit-stop at an Arabian teahouse, we set out on foot again and serendipitously happened upon a clothing store that looked like it might have what we needed.  We explained to the assistant what we were looking for and he pulled out a kurta that not only perfectly matched my outfits and fit David like a glove, but which made him look like he was born a Raja.  Why are men so much easier to buy clothes for??!!!  Too easy.  We were ready for the wedding.

Tune in next month to hear all about the actual event itself.  I promise you, it’ll be fun.