10 May 2009

Angels and Demons

"I am a feather for each wind that blows." Leontes, The Winter’s Tale

Recently, the D.E.B. and I saw a wonderful production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the RSC. It is such an amazing play, and the production truly did it justice. At the heart of this rather complex story is the character of Leontes, a man driven to excess by monsters of his own invention, phantoms of his own mind.

When his suspicions are proven false publicly, his arrogant pride becomes his final stumbling block, as he is too proud to back down, even then. One can almost hear his subtext: “I’ve come this far in this, I’m just going to keep riding this horse, and see where it takes me.” Over the past few weeks, I have come to understand Leontes in my own small way.

May has already been a month of extreme highs and lows. And like Leontes, these days I am an emotional wreck, tossed like feather one way and then the next, between ultimate bliss and utter despair.

Sometimes, it feels as if my nerve-endings are tingling very close to the surface of my skin; like a porcupine with all its needles erect. (The associated prickliness is also painfully accurate.)

At this point, drained, frazzled and puffy-eyed, finding comfort only in carbs, if I had it all to do again, I would hire a wedding planner and I would turn a blind eye to cost and just buy everything! Period.

Here is my advice at this point to would-be-brides-to-be:

a.) Have your wedding in America. American traditions, however quaint or practical, do not translate, no matter how hard you try to explain/share the importance/significance of them. (See Item B.)

b.) Be prepared to be completely misunderstood and labeled lunatic/excessive/irrational.

c.) Give up, and go to Vegas.

d.) Plan everything on your own with military precision, without anyone else’s help or input, not even your fiance’s, not matter how Darling, sweet, loving, kind, or adorable he may be. And, I think, the more you love him, the more adoring and adorable he is, the less you should share. Just encourage him to take up a hobby to occupy his time, and just meet you at the church on the day.

e.) Give up on having the day as you imagine it. There are far, far too many variables.

f.) Just give up and go to Vegas.

This isn’t just merely a matter of Bridezilla overdrive: spoiled brat-bride, pissed off that she can’t have what she wants. While there may be an ounce or two of that, it is more a matter of feeling of being thrown into situations I am unable to control and navigating the cultural divide.

From the very beginning of our wedding planning, I have had what I thought were very lovely and simple ideas. I aimed at being elegant and economical. Perhaps this attempt at frugality has been my downfall?

At every step of the way it feels like I have had nothing but battles, obstacles, and grief. The music, the flowers, you name it! The only thing I seem to have got right is the man. (Thank God for him.)

Instead of lashing out tons of money for wedding favo(u)rs I planned to make my own. I envisioned a crafty and homespun approach to our “wedding guest book” as well. A quilt, for guests to sign (with paint pens). All lovely ideas that have each come very close to dying the death.

The quilt has been a disaster from the start. I did not allow myself adequate time to get it done. In panic-mode, I roped it help that came along with their own visions of how it should be done. (Isn’t there a quote about too many cooks?)

A friend who offered to do a centre piece of embroidery for the quilt, followed the design we agreed upon, and then improvised a bit of detailing expressing her own unique flair, right at the end. Then, we ran out of fabric. And have been unable to acquire it from ANYWHERE in the UK, even though it was initially purchased here.

Perhaps I should offer a one million dollar/pound reward fro anyone who can found more than one yard/metre of Classic Cottons “Reminiscence” toile de jouy in sage/olive green?

The only solution I have at this point is to cut pieces of the solid cotton we are using, and have guest sign swatches, and make the quilt later. 

The “too many cooks” phenomenon nearly struck a death-blow to the Lavender Jelly quest as well. The recipe that I decided upon early on, nearly killed three people on a test tasting, after a drawing board re-visit, blueberries entered the frame, but one of the support players decided blackcurrants would be better, despite the directive from me, and the fact that labels that have already be ordered.

I threw myself at the mercy of the reigning Barford W.I. Jam Making Maven, who has gracious offered her last minute assistance, if I am willing to tweak the recipe to her liking. She would prefer to work with Lavender Oil, instead of Lavender sprigs. Not a problem, I am just thankful her help. So, I am willing to overlook the fact that I have a life supply of culinary Lavender in bags all over our living room!

Through all of this, I have tried (fruitlessly) to stay calm. I have tried to be even-tempered, and I have failed, repeatedly. And, I have been baking lots of peace-offering Rhubarb Crumble for the D.E.B.

Sometimes, I feel like he and I are contestants on that American adventure game show, “The Amazing Race,” where the couple that actually make to the end, win! I am quite, quite dismayed that I am the “bad” one of the couple. (Am I the weakest link?)

Yesterday was yet another hurdle. A completely unexpected one. I think that is  what has unnerved me the most in this process. The unexpected challenges. The “matter of fact” issues that sneak up and blindside you. I don’t think I cope very well when I’m caught out blind, so to speak.

I have, on many occasions, waxed lyrical about our dear Vicar. I adore him. So I was very much looking forward to our meeting with him yesterday. We were meeting with him to discuss the Order of Service--I knew he would support my decision to have a very formal program(me)--go through our selected readings, hymns, etc. A fairly routine meeting, or so I expected.

All was going well, until the conversation turned to the logistics of the service. The D.E.B. really likes the idea of my bridal procession taking the American format, i.e., bridal procession entering the church in this order: Flowergirls, Bridesmaids, Bride. Instead of the English way, where the Bride comes in first followed by everyone else.

I mentioned to the Vicar that I wanted to consider doing it that way, thinking that it was a really minor decision. “Why would you want to do it that way?” the Vicar inquired. I was stunned. I didn’t really have a solid reason beyond “I want to.” And that response seemed quite lame in the moment.

To my surprise the Vicar was quite adamant that this was not a good idea. Was this one of those very English moments of: “That’s not done.” (Hmm?)

So I scrambled to come up with solid, Episcopalian reasons why: “Traditionally, in church processions the Celebrant, or the Bishop is always at the back of the procession.” (If it’s good enough for Rowan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it’s good enough for me.)

This point did give the Vicar a bit of a pause, though I'm not sure whether was because of the cleverness of the argument, or because I had effectively equated myself with the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Either way, he was not overly convinced, and retorted quickly: “The focus of the procession is you. You should be at the front, you are what people want to see,” he said. I take his point, but where is the drama, the build up, in that?

Trying to compromise, I said meekly, “Could I at least have the flower girls in front of me?” My query was met with a blank look from the Vicar. Flower girls? The Vicar had never heard of them.

“What do they do?” he asked, cautiously. Trying to remain calm, I stammered, “They walk down the aisle in front of the bride, shattering petals in her path.” His eyebrows shot up: “Shattering petals? Inside the church?”

The air in the Vicar’s brightly sunlit living room suddenly grew thin, I felt myself starting to unravel, and as if I couldn’t breathe. This was more than my small frame could take. 

I spent weeks hunting down two identical, yes, perfectly identical, responsibly priced dresses (thank you, Oxfam), further time spent hunting down two identical, rustic wicker baskets for them to carry! (And more bags of lavender, rose buds and flower petals piled in the spare bedroom.) This is time that I can never regain or recapture. Doesn’t that count for something to anyone but me?

“Who are these girls?” the Vicar inquired. “They are the D.E.B.’s god-daughters, Rachel and Hannah, aged 7 and 9.” I said forthrightly. “Well, only one them is actually my god-daughter.” The D.E.B clarified. (Bless him, he is always utterly honest.)

I was mortified. I thought, what is my D.E.B doing? I am fighting for my life here! And for a split second, like Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, wondered if the D.E.B. too, was party in the grand, Barfordian conspiracy to drive me mad before the end of May.

Again, the Vicar posited: “Why?” 

Why, flowergirls? Perhaps, I should have just laughed. This is such an obvious and basic thing in America, I’m not sure anyone could give a solid argument as to why we have them, we just do.

The room began to spin slowly, and I doubted that the D.E.B. could help on this one. It’s my tradition, not his. The hamster in my brain was peddling as fast as she could, and the best she could come up with was this: 

“In Ancient Greece, brides processed behind young girls strewing flowers and herbs, such as lavender and rosemary, in her path to ward off evil spirits, and bless the marriage.” Not exactly the answer one would expect from a wanna-be uber-Anglo-Catholic matron.

My answer surprised and tickled the Vicar much. He guffawed in glee. I blushed and apologized for using a Pagan practice as a defense. Perhaps that just made it all the more amusing to him. “Let’s discuss this further. Bring me a sample, show me what you mean, and I’ll think about it,” he smiled.

In my more sane moments, I realize that none of this is “necessary,” but I think if one goes down that road, one could argument that marriage in and of itself is not particularly, “necessary”. Some people even go so far as to say, it’s “just a piece a paper, anyway.” But, it is much more than that. It is a ritual. An outward expression of faith, hope and commitment. And I am one of those people for whom the “trappings” really work and mean something.

I love the D.E.B. 

I love him enough that if he said, let’s ditch all this, and go stand on the side of a hill and get married, I’d do it. But, at the same time, I know what he and I have been through, what we have individually and collectively survived to arrive at this moment. The trials, tides, tempests and tears who have endured to merit this great reward.

As such, I believe that this special moment needs to be marked in a completely extraordinary way. It should be a magical, once-in-a-lifetime event. The things that I am asking for, like the flowergirls, don’t require great cost, but do require cooperation and compromise.

I would feel a little less hemmed in and embattled if people treated me a little less like my requests are zany or absurd. A part of this has to be the great Anglo-American cultural divide.

“The Cultural Divide” - or the next person who tells me to “Calm down” is getting stabbed with a fork.

Secrets. No one in this country can keep a secret. I tried to get the D.E.B.’s wedding ring engraved with a special message, and I had planned to romantically reveal to him on the day. I spoke to the jeweler, arranged the engraving, and what? They failed at the last hurdle. The message they engraved was completely wrong, and so when we went to collect the rings, I had to reveal my plan to the D.E.B. in order to have the spelling mistakes, etc. corrected. 

My secret plan of arranging for the D.E.B. and I to spend our wedding night at a lovely local B-n-B was revealed to him by the proprietress: “I’ve nearly got your room ready,” she said. I could only hang my head.

My dear friend, and chief bridesmaid, Sarah, tried her best to arrange a surprise bridal shower for me here in Barford. The jig was up when several people in the village started asking me for details about it, such as “I received an email from your friend in America, what’s a Bridal Shower? What do we need to do?”

In the end, sweet Sarah dropped me a line saying: “Hey babes, listen. Tried to do ya a shower for the Thursday before your wedding, but no dice. Let’s just you and me go see something at the RSC instead. Okay?” 

To sweeten the blow, sent me a little care-package in the post to cheer me, it contained two items: a beautiful pair of pearl stud earrings, and a bottle of all-natural diet pills. (You gotta love Americans, they know what truly matters.)

Here is the most annoying thing about the cultural divide: here in England, one does not raise ones voice, one raises ones eyebrows to convey disagreement. This is a fine art at which I repeatedly fail, try as I may. My DNA just won’t allow it.

Sometimes, people think I am wigging out (throwing a wobbly) when I am actually just trying to be forthright, direct, clear, or just to make myself understood. Passion, volume and commitment (to an idea, point or cause) are often mistaken for rage and fury. 

Sometimes I feel very big and very loud. I do wish I could be a coolly, disaffected English Rose. If I were, I wouldn’t need to waste so much money on bottles and bottles of Vitamin B.

And yes, I do believe it is a cultural thing. For example, my D.E.B. is the most darling, caring, patient, precious man on earth, his only fault is his tenderness. When people say things that would otherwise make me want to karate chop them in two (with a running start at high speed), just washes over him like water off a duck’s back.

Case in point, this morning after church the Chief Musician’s wife inquired about our wedding plans, had the audacity to say she hoped that I had stopped “changing my mind” about things, and hoped that my plans were now settled.

“Perhaps we should get you to sign them in blood,” she laughed. I was blind with rage. I mean, how dare she! Especially as a part of why my music choices changed was because of her “input” into the process. I was beside myself. It was all I could do to walk away. Fortunately, there were no forks close to hand. Unfortunately, I turned my spleen on the poor, hard-done by D.E.B. later.

I am not a quitter, and I am not going to give up. But, I am going try and get more sleep, take more Vitamin B, and try, just try to stay calm. I will say though, at times my wee, little American spirit feels all but broken, and my battle-cry has taken on a weary and decidedly more quizzical tone: “Yes, we can?”

Royal Mail poster, circa 1939


Anonymous said...

Oh man, sounds like a royal pain. Just reminds me of how people don't understand how difficult it can be to live abroad. You try so hard to fit in and then when you try to include just one tiny thing "from home" the house of cards falls down. I hope it improves before the special day!

Nanny Debbie said...

I'm so sorry to hear that you are having so many hurdles to overcome to get your dream American wedding in England. Maybe if you explained to the 'helpful' people that your American traditions are very important to you and they may be more sympathetic. They are probebly just unaware of how things are done in America and are used to you embracing the English way. I totaly understand your need to do your wedding the way you have dreamed about and that is probebly down to me having lived in America (very hard to change the way you do things when you have spent your whole life doing it differently) and also reading your blog posts about how much this all means to you.
Good luck with your wedding and I hope you are able to talk everyone around.

Expat mum said...

Oh sweetie! I'm practically breathing into a paper bag as I remember my own wedding (in England to an American). Not quite the problems you're facing, but I was trying to get my visa at the same time.
The funniest thing was I mailed all the American invitations to my mother-in-law-to-be. In England at the time, you just didn't do the enclosed RSVP, so she felt she had to rush print reply cards and send them out with the invitations. Why she didn't just explain that it wasn't the English way of doing things, I'll never know.
Oh and BTW, if you get to have your bridesmaids walking down the aisle in front of you, and any of them are English, you should warn them. It's so foreign to us Brits that it remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life as the tallest bridesmaid in an American wedding.

Michelloui said...

I remember talking to a registrar once (the person who marries people in a non-religious ceremony) about one for the first times she married someone, the couple signed the register with a beautiful fountain pen, the music was playing, the registrar too the book and the pen and as she was turning it around to face her, the bride turned to face guests' cameras and swished her veil across the table, catching the fountain pen, which pulled apart and splattered all down the dress. The room went silent, the registrar was mortified, the bride looked down at her beautiful dress then started laughing. 'If this is the worst this day has to offer then I'll count myself lucky--at least I'm only going to wear this dress once!'

Do you know, when I heard that story before my wedding it struck me that even if something 'goes wrong' I knew the day would still be full of wonderful memories my husband and I would talk about for years and years and years.

The story was a gift for me, to remind me to keep my sense of humour and to remind me to enjoy the wonderful celebration of marriage to the love of my life, shared with my nearest and dearest.

Use this story or one similar to remind you that amongst all this chaos, you will wake up on the day and say 'bring it on!' and no matter what actually happens on the day, nothing will be 'wrong' because it will all be part of the magic of the day!

Spike 1 said...

Spike 1.5,

A moment of reflection is needed here. Consider this, I arrived 1.5hours late to my own wedding as I was waiting for my father and my sister to come and pick me up. My husband's family thought I bailed. Nice!

My mother who was in rare form lined us up incorrectly and I was standing on the wrong side of the minister. I kept thinking, this seems odd! By the by, she threatened to kick out one of my husband's best friends b/c she thought he was too loud!

We had a cold buffet, i.e. luncheon meats, salads etc. How about the meat was frozen?

The best man gave a toast- traditional. How about my sister felt left out and gave her own drunken version of a toast that lasted WAY too long!

Please, but I could go on...

The point of this long story is too say, lots of things can and WILL go wrong, but 15 years later and 2 kids make up for the crap of the day. Notice I did not say forget, but the good times rank higher!

Breathe, have a glass of wine and pick your fights. You have the man and the rest is just that: the rest!

Now if you need me to bring the stapler!!!

Love ya,

Christiana said...

Oh gosh, I feel you. I'm pretty sure my future in-laws think I'm crazy. I'm sure everything will work out though. Oh the joys of being an expat ;)

Vicky said...

Oh deah! We're not all that er... unforgiving of the "American " way. I'm in full Bridal mode, but I know loads of fellow brits who know what a flower girl is! AND I'm considering the american way of bridesmaids first, and i'm Welsh and he's scottish!I just like the thought of delaying my arrival! Can't decide....

I can't get over how quickly you are arranging yours - we got engaed 2 years ago and we're not marying till 01.08.09 (as we call first of August over here!!!)

Christina said...

Hi - I tried to comment on this post yesterday... I see mine isn't up so either a) I did it wrong or b) I've offended you?

If the latter - I'm so sorry. The joke about your town was really inrelation to this story and the story of the guy at the bar (he agreed you should diet, I think?). The latter of which was especially a doosey (sp?), even for "British Humo(u)r" standards. Offending you or your lovely town was definitely not my intention! Truthfully, my midlands-suburbia self is beyond jealous! Perhaps I've just been here too long!!! :)

This isn't really meant as a blog comment, but I didn't see any another way to contact you than through this moderated comment section. I've got a degree in English and Computer Science... you'd think between the two I'd be able to compose an intelligent comment and post it. So, if the problem was actually the former... doh! Just let me know and I'll try for something pithy and wonderful and repost :)

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Every British royal wedding has flower girls. It's not only an American tradition. I find it odd the vicar didn't understand the practice.