THE WEDDING DAY

Weddings. There’s something both extremely beautiful and nerve wracking about them. As you teeter closer and closer to the hour, you get both frantic and uber excited. This wedding however did’t scare me. I was extremely happy to see two lovely individuals finally tying the knot. Months had gone into making this happen. From conversations through hoppy nights on helping Charbel find the right time to pop the question to days looking over my cubicle divider into Melissa’s card and dessert planning process, the journey was finally coming to a beautiful culmination.

And with these thoughts racing through my head, I woke from deep slumber in our extravagant beach facing room to the sound of chaos and laughter. I love it when you get both doled out in equal proportions. Sleepy eyed I lumbered over to the balcony, where a friend who’d just been to the parlour was showing off her wedding party look. I peered in the mirror, and the disarrayed sight showed exactly how ready I was. It was going to be great day. And it was.

Since arriving in Batroun, we hadn’t really ventured anywhere beyond a balcony or the short 4 minute walk to Colonel Craft Beer Brewery, the night before. But, today was the day for us to step out. And boy we did. The drive to the bride’s house was short but it felt strangely endearing to be a part of the special crew.

 

The Embassy Crew
The Embassy Crew

THE BRIDE’S HOUSE

If you’ve ever watched any wedding movie, you’ve seen the hordes of stunningly dressed women – each one trying to outdo the other. But everybody stays true to not being more dressed than the bride. Lebanese weddings are anything but that image. So you can imagine the men in our entourage drawing a collective gasp and high-five-ing our inner teens like we’d perhaps suddenly been introduced into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. After our eyes and brains had forever been rendered speechless, reality and the heat sank in. We needed beer – pronto. And unlike Indian at-home wedding celebrations, there was plenty of it here. The beer definitely helped us forget about the resounding loss of not being given a look back from the gaggle of ladies either. Or maybe that was just me. We’ll never know.

Seeing Melissa dressed in all-white and what can be one of the most beautiful dresses to see but I’m certain an equal challenge to don, brought home the clarity of the moment. The big day was finally here and she was ready to walk down the altar to set in stone and breath, the vows of forever and ever. Her father, a stocky man in black with a radiant green tie walked around with nervous shiftiness. He would make small talk but you could see deep down within those steely eyes how he was recounting the countless hours, days and evenings of seeing this little angel flitting around to finally stand there and leave his house. You know how they say that the moment before you die is when your entire life flashes in your mind. I imagine parents probably live that moment many times over – when they leave their little one in nursery, when she leaves for college, when she leaves the city to work abroad and when she finally leaves to her new man. Mr. Moussa cut the same shadow with his thoughts on this hot and sultry afternoon in July.

 

Melissa's father

 

And that’s when my thoughts and the observations I was making were cut out by a loud honking as a line of white cars streamed up the hilly road to Melissa’s house. Charbel’s parents were here. It was time. And after a few minutes of pleasantries, Melissa made a walk through her hall, down the marbled steps, through the gate and into the large back seat of a gleaming white Jaguar. But she didn’t make that walk in silence. With loud raucous sounds of drumbeats and shrill shrieking of her wedding entourage, she gave one final boisterous moment. And in the corner, Mr. Moussa wiped his tears away with the sweat beads so nobody would know any better. Daddy’s little girl was leaving and he had to be strong.

ARRIVING AT THE CHURCH

With loud honking and exuberance galore, we bundled ourselves in the back of Rita’s car as we joined the bride’s envoy to the church. The excitement was finally reaching its peak. The moment was near and that’s when I saw it. Through the narrow walkways of Batroun, the afternoon sun cast a golden glow on the San Stephano Church. The walk to it was short but filled with bouncy steps. And then we heard it. We had already been labeled – the Embassy Crew. A mishmash of people from across different continents, we cut a very diverse silhouette. They were talking about us. Phew. Our competitive streak to show up and at least be on par with the Lebanese extravagance was beginning to show its results. Even if it was for a moment. They would know later that night that we did indeed plan to make this one night to remember. Even for them.

And with the wedding parties all assembled we marched in to the tall halls of the church to seat ourself as close as we could to the front. The hall was cool, decades old rock trapping voices and air within itself. It was a sight to behold. If you do ever find yourself in Batroun, do visit it and spend some time to pontificate on your life. There is something about religious places of worship. No matter your allegiance, that very moment, that grandeur and peace is ever pervading. And something I would experience the next day in Harissa too.

 

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With the bells tolling and the choir humming with chants and air vocals, the bride walked down the aisle to the altar. The ceremony had begun. I would explain more on this but the language gap unfortunately didn’t allow me to understand what was being said. But sometimes words are just not required. A moment as pure and rich in detail as this speaks for itself. And if you just listen with your head and feel the happiness rippling across the cool halls, you will be washed and bathed in the ever-pervading beauty of it.

 

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The final hurrah was upon us and with the sounds of ‘hallelujah’, the newly adorned Mr. & Mrs. Antonios walked back down the same rite of passage. The flower bearers were ready, the sun had prepped itself and the skies had cleared to let it cast the glow of union.

Charbel in black. Melissa in white.
Streaking petals of flowers.
The setting sun.
Man & Woman.
United in foreverness.


 

PIERRE & FRIENDS

Batroun's gorgeous seaside
With an hour and some to go after the church and before the reception, we were unsure on where we should go. So with our lovely friend and guide Rita, we headed to Pierre & Friends. The evening sun was on the horizon and the parking was on a cliff top. If you could capture that moment in brain matter, you would hold onto it for eternity. And I certainly have. The purple blue haze blurred the horizon. The orange gold rays cast a gleam across the softly rippling waters and Pierre & Friends carved a long meandering steps for us to descend through. With a mexican Almaza, I took the moment to take in the sunset, raise laughter with my traveling buddies and breathe in the salty fresh sea air. In that very second when the twilight was lining the horizon, I vowed to myself that I would be back here. For cold salt tipped mugs and evenings laced with cool banter. I would be back here someday soon.

 


 

THE NIGHT BEGINS

I’ve been to a fair number of weddings in the past few years and every one has given me the chance to understand a little more about tradition, rites, rituals and ultimately, how to have one epic party. Where Indians are so spent by the night of the wedding – three days of crazies will do that to you – I think the one day of all out splendour does more. This would be my first Lebanese wedding reception and I didn’t know what to expect. I was told there would be music, there would be dancing, finger-licking food and lots of beer. And I was not let down. But only if we could get there. And that’s when we got lost. What should have been a “5 minute” ride turned into a forty minute one. And while some in my group were freaking out, I knew this all too well. I love the Lebanese because they completely mirror us Indians. If I got a dollar for the number of times I’ve used “5 minutes” to denote half an hour, I would be a millionaire. And then some. We love our superlatives and it seemed that the Lebanese did too. We’re a match.

But we did finally make it and just in time to see Melissa & Charbel at the top of the stairs. The blue studio lights cast a sheen on them. But the lights couldn’t take the credit for their radiance. Not tonight. And if you know them and have seen them before, not ever before. That’s the all abounding glow of love. Yes, that unspoken, misunderstood gutty feeling that Harry felt for Sally, that all out smile that you see perched on Lloyd Dobler as he finally wins Diane Court over. The world was ready for them and so were the drumbeats. With crackling of fireworks, the pair shared kisses and descended down into the party. The sparks were flying and never would you ever use that metaphorically for love again except in that moment.

The party had begun. And it would last until the wee hours of the night.

 

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Lebanese weddings may not have as many people as Indian weddings do but they are big. Much bigger than most western weddings. And they make up for most of it in fervent passion and excitement on the dance floor with rocking rhythms of the Dabke. The food was forgotten, the beer was chosen, the cufflinks discarded, the sleeves rolled up and the jacket strewn across some chair on a table. The next couple of hours are a whirlwind of dancing and jumping, drinking and jumping, and dancing some more. This was so much fun and we didn’t want it to end.

 

The Bride's Gorgeous Sneakers

 

But before we knew it, the night was drawing to a close. And strangely, we were still dancing the night away. Almost everybody had left except the newly wedded and us. We had shown up. And did we do it in fashion!

With our entourage in tow, we raced back to our hotel. And when I say raced, I truly mean just that. There is nothing more exhilarating to me than seeing a person in complete control of a car. Especially when you’ve got the looks to kill with it too. The dark streets of Batroun were whizzing and whirring, meandering and snaking around us. And it felt so refreshing. The pump of the night was still there. The moment had lasted on.

And as we rolled into hotel room, I saw my self again in that mirror. The disarrayed reflection looked back. And he sheepishly smiled. What a day it had been. And what a night it was. Batroun had swept me up.