Monday, May 08, 2006

The Brides of Valencia


Finally getting around to writing some things about my trip to Valencia...

The brides appeared as soon as we exited the Metro onto the sunny streets of Valencia, meandering through the town on our way to lunch at Pizzeria La Vita e Bella. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and even that was just a café con leche and a croissant inhaled at the bar of the small café inside the metro stop at Espanya, near home. It was getting on toward four p.m., late for lunch even by Southern Spain standards. We were so hungry that neither of us noticed much of the walk on the way to the restaurants. But the brides in store windows were hard to miss. In window after window, beautiful wedding dresses were modeled on headless mannequins, each dress more unique and more wonderful than the last. We turned down a side street and finally found some lunch.

We arrived at the centre of the old city in late afternoon and peeked inside a church called Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados. A wedding was underway, the bride and groom standing before an ornate, flower-laden altar among a sea of packed pews, with tourists gawking and whispering to each other and taking pictures along the sides of the church. We then went next door into the huge cathedral to see the Holy Grail, housed in a small, somber chapel near the cathedral’s main entrance. High on the altar, in a lit glass case, was the golden chalice many people believe is the real Holy Grail.

Andrew and I sat on a stone bench along the side of the church, taking it in. I snapped a few pictures, which I wasn’t sure was acceptable; it seemed slightly taboo, like photographing a corpse. I imagined going up to the altar and posing beside the chalice for a picture, hard-pressed to imagine a more obnoxious tourist transgression.

An old lady nudged her way onto the bench beside us. Then, very quickly, people began streaming into the chapel, each one of them dressed up like it was prom time. Women wore long, fancy dresses, shawls, and strappy sandals; all of them had their hair sprayed and styled, obviously fresh from a salon. The older women wore mantillas. Men were in suits and ties. Two young girls came in, dressed identically in frilly white gowns. We had the distinct sense that we were about to interrupt something, so we moved to leave.

At the doorway, however, we walked right into a wedding party, arranged firmly in their processional line-up, a photographer snapping pictures. Andrew and I found ourselves right beside what seemed to be the bride’s or groom’s parents, and there was nowhere to go—we had to duck in front of the photographer or join the procession. We ducked and dashed, and the group filed into the church. A wedding ceremony in front of the Holy Grail—“Now that’s a commitment,” Andrew said.

Back outside, we paused for a café con leche on the Plaza de la Virgen. As we sipped our coffee and people-watched, brides began filing onto the Plaza with grooms and photographers in tow. For nearly an hour, each bride—and sometimes the bride with her groom—posed for pictures around the Plaza: sitting on the fountain, standing in front of the cathedral doors, arranged attractively with the cathedral and church as backdrop. The brides all wore the same shade of ivory, and each took her turn in the prime location on the edge of the fountain. “What if the brides started fighting?” Andrew speculated, imagining, I guess, a white-clad catfight over whose dress was prettiest or who got to sit on the fountain next. But the brides seemed placid and patient as the photographers arranged them in increasingly silly poses—holding the groom’s hand in a very staged ascent up the short flight of cathedral stairs; placing her hands on the stone façade of the cathedral as though holding it up with her brideness; sitting on the fountain while the groom sat beside her with one leg bent cockily, his dirty shoe precariously close to the ivory of her skirt.

Finally, the light fading, the brides left the Plaza--all but one, who sat with her groom and a few others at a café table at the edge of the sea of tables, drinking a beer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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