Monday, April 20, 2009

The Wedding.

I was waiting for it and it finally happened: my first European, Italian, Neapolitan wedding. After two years of waiting and anticipating, this one did not disappoint. The invitation arrived hand-delivered by a friend. The directions were vague, but we had an idea that it was not too far from our home. One half hour before the wedding we plugged the address into the GPS, which brought us to a completely different town. After doing a bit of back-tracking, and finally finding the church tucked under a busy road, down what looked to be someone's driveway, whose owners told us to continue on down the road that was under construction, and after snaking around the building in the middle of it all, we finally arrived at the well-hidden Chiesetta di San Filippo. We had missed the mass but were just in time to meet the bride and groom as they exited the Church as newlyweds. So, unfortunately, I can't tell you about how beautiful the ceremony was, but the rest of the day was indeed magical.
My friends, Maria Elena and Francesco are former colleagues from the school where I taught last year. Maria Elena teaches social studies to middle school students and Francesco is the music teacher to the elementary, junior high and high school students. They are both young and vibrant and passionate teachers, dancers and musicians..
Maria Elena comes from an unconventional Neapolitan family and has lived around the world. She speaks Arabic, English and Italian. She is a belly-dancer and an Italian folk-dancer, and gives lessons as just one of her part-time jobs. Her mane of thick, long, and very curly hair is what you first notice, until that is, her gaze fixes on you and you wonder who this Italian beauty could be, with her deep brown eyes, set against her olive skin. This is when you begin to realize that Neapolitan history has left its mark on the people of this town. Maria Elena could be Arab, Spanish and she could also be mistaken for Greek. All of these cultures have made their presence known here: they're in the ruins of the city, they're in the foods, in the language and they're part of the people.
Francesco comes from Pozzuoli, the home of Sofia Loren. He puts his heart and soul into his music-making and his teaching. He is the pied-piper of the school, as he is often followed by groups of kids who just enjoy his enthusiasm and company. He and Maria Elena have taught music and dancing to the kids in the Quartiere Spagnolo in Napoli, the Harlem of Napoli, a program they initiated. I can imagine that Francesco would not be afraid of these kids; he would be accepted as one of them.
Francesco had at some time in his past befriended a band of gypsy Romanian street minstrels, and they were the featured musicians at the wedding. These troubadours were playing the accordion and the violin as we arrived at the church.
After the requisite photos outside the church, the bride and groom, followed by the musicians led the procession to the reception on foot. This tradition I had only seen in movies, and I was not sure it still existed. You can't imagine how delightful it was to be part of such a euphoric, happy event. Traffic was stopped, and though Neapolitans are not known for their patience when their travel plans are interrupted by such things as stop lights, or pedestrians, this time it was clear that the honking of horns was in celebration of the wedding. The procession crossed a busy street, and climbed up a set of steel stairs that crossed over the railway tracks to finally arrive at a most enchanted stage for the reception. This was the scene for the rest of the celebration: an outdoor restaurant on the beach. There were soft off-white curtains blowing in the breeze and the chairs were covered in matching cloth each tied with bows, under white umbrellas. The white tablecloths had violet gauze accents, and formal waiters dressed in black and white delivered the food, served buffet style. The backdrop was the Mediterranean. Though the day was overcast, it did not detract from the scene. Beside the eating area there was a pool and beachfront. Parents made futile attempts at trying to keep their children from wandering there and getting their formal clothes dirty. It was to no avail. Eventually, I was overcome by the same temptation and the sheer joy and abandon of the day, and took off my own stockings to walk barefoot in the warm sand. Looking back at the scene from the beach only added to the dreamlike, surreal, wonderful feeling that my husband and I experienced that day. It was a feeling of levity, and almost of relief to discover that the weddings I had only seen in movies truly existed. They are joyous community celebrations, and this one in particular was free of any pretense. I have played this movie over and over in my mind, and each time I smile.
After the meal, the band played and the bride and groom and parents danced a waltz or two. The rest of the afternoon took on a carnival-like atmosphere of folk dance after folk dance. The highlight was watching Maria Elena dance a seductive belly dance before Francesco who played the clarinet for her. The dance seemed to tell the story of a beautiful young woman seducing and finally conquering her man. Her shawl became the instrument she used to capture him, first using it coyly as cover, then using it to incorporate a game of peek-a-boo into the dance and finally as a lasso to capture him as she tied it around his waist. She told this story with her hands, her hips, her eyes, her entire body.
As we left the reception we were given our gift of bomboniere (a container holding traditional Italian candies called confetti, given out as a thank you to guests). True to style, Maria Elena and Francesco did not want any gifts. If they received money, they would use it to cover expenses and the rest they would donate to GMA Napoli, an NGO in Ethiopia. The bombonieri themselves were made as a make-work project for mothers in Shashamene, Ethiopia.
On the way home, I was reminded of the significance of the confetti candies in the bombonieri: they are almonds covered in a sweet white icing, the almond representing the bitter, and the icing representing the sweetness that accompanies marriage. Even in a marriage celebration, Italians are a practical people. They take the good with the bad, hope for best, but are realistic about the trials ahead. In a sense, they want to experience it is pura vita.
Maria Elena and Francesco, thank you for your friendship, for your example, for your invite, and for a day that will live on in our memories. We walked away feeling a little lighter on our feet than when we arrived.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great story Cath! Paul