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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Wedding Of The Century

At long last, the day of the big nuptials arrived. Dr. P and Rita tied the knot in what has to be the most extravagant wedding I'll ever attend. (Background information: Dr. P is the attorney who runs the NGO where Nicole has worked this year and both he and Rita have been hospitable to us during our stay in Lebanon. In fact, we celebrated Christmas at the home of Rita's parents.)

Lebanese weddings have a reputation for being quite festive and for months everyone at the NGO/law firm has been buzzing (obsessing). Dr. P is something of a public figure in Beirut, since in addition to practicing law, he lectures at the university and frequently serves as a pundit on Lebanese news shows. So even by Lebanese standards, the wedding promised to be an event. It was.

We joined with a couple of Nicole's colleagues to hire a car for the night. Since nobody wanted to be crammed into a little car--thereby running the risk of messing up hair and make-up--I had the bright idea to get a minivan from our landlord's cousin. Plenty of space, right? Yes, but I was teased for picking a minivan: "Bill, are you taking your students on a field trip or are you taking us to the wedding of the century?" So much for my high society chops.

The wedding was held at the Greek Melkite church in Harissa, just north of Beirut on top of a mountain overlooking the sea and adjacent to the Maronite Cathedral. The Melkite Patriarch (the eastern rite church's equivalent of the Pope) was brought in from Damascus to officiate, assisted by a team of priests, black-clad cantors (like both Orthodox and Maronite Masses, Melkite ceremonies have way more singing compared to us boring Roman Catholics!), and loads of insense. Fun fact: at most (Christian) weddings in Lebanon, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together.

The Melkite church looks a lot like Orthodox churches: lots of icons, gold-colored mosaic work, and byzantine architecture, all of which provided a lovely backdrop for the wedding. The Patriarch placed gold crowns on the heads of the bride and groom and led them as they processed around the altar. What a site.

We headed up the coastal highway to Casino du Liban in Jounieh for the reception. Jihad Akl, a famous Lebanese violinist performed. I thought his entrance was going to be like when Johnny Fontaine arrives at Carla's wedding in The Godfather, complete with swooning. Not quite, but guests were definitely impressed. The reception was in an enormous courtyard at the casino with a fountain in the middle that changed colors. Surrounding the fountain was a raised stage where the couple processed and danced during much of the party, sometimes flanked by acrobatic Arabic dancers. When the couple entered, they descended a large staircase that led to the circular stage with the fountain as fireworks went off. At one point, French can-can dancers came out and did a show. A live band performed too, mostly accompanying Akl, who paraded around the circular stage, his violin electrified.

And of course, dancing. We were at the reception for about six hours and at least two-third of that time, the couple was dancing. And I don't mean slow-dancing to Spandau Ballet or Harry Connick Jr. They were doing some serious, uptempto, Arabic dancing. Guests hoisted the couple in the air a couple times and were frequently encouraged to join them on the stage. By the end of the night, the band had given way to a DJ who spun mostly Arab pop music and a few songs in English (a techno remix of "Eye of the Tiger"!). We didn't get out of there until nearly 3:00 am.

If you know me, then you know I'm going to talk about the food, right? First course: a trio of mini seafood bites (smoked salmon, shrimp, and minced crab) with avocado mousse and a mini-salad. Second course: mushroom and beshamel in puff pastry (this was the highlight--very delicious). Third course: filet, a muffin made of mashed potatoes, and a quiche-type thing made of cheese and mushrooms. Dessert: dark chocolate parfait. One last note: a video played during dinner that offered a humorous look at the couple's courtship, splicing together a conversation of Rita asking questions with bits of Dr. P's media appearances. The video ended with a collage of photos, one of which was a shot of the bride and groom sitting on my lap on Christmas Eve, me dressed up like Santa Clause.

What a night. I have to say that I expected a high society vibe but in the end, the Lebanese PARTY impulse took over. The wedding ended up being all about dancing, eating and drinking, and spending time together. Extravagant? Yes. But more than anything else, it was just a wild, loud, late, good time! Pictures coming soon.

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