"But I was at your first wedding." I said, hoping to manage my friend Christine's expectations. Her first wedding wasn't an elopement exactly, though I made the bouquet, and the minister the couple found online gave them his non-denominational blessing in their L.A. living room. However, my friend was asking me to attend another wedding, this time 6,000 miles away, in Beirut. "You know I want to be at all your nuptials," I teased, putting my hand against her mane of black hair, "but you are marrying the same person, after all..."
Christine's determined lips twisted as if I had fed her a sour cherry. "That was the paperwork wedding," she said. "Anyways, you're friends with both of us, and we want you there. We need you to speak."
The word "need" was likely what wore my resistance down. "I guess it doesn't count as a destination wedding, if you are going home," though I had another concern too. "The ticket," I murmured: "might be too expensive."
"Then I'll gift my frequent flyer miles to you!" Christine said, slapping her thigh in approval, "Khallas! It's settled."
The ticket promised 25 hours of travel with a layover in Frankfurt and another in Istanbul, though it was hard to complain, since Christine had done that round-trip travel almost a dozen times in the last year.
I had been in the couple's apartment a year earlier, waiting for Christine's Scottish boyfriend, Sebastian, to retrieve her from L.A.X. airport. Unfortunately, her business trips to Lebanon had singled her out as a person of interest -- especially because she was unmarried. Immigration took hours longer. This time she was subject to a grueling secondary interrogation. When Christine walked through the door, she was forced to observe the housekeeping of a temporary bachelor. She snapped at Sebastian for the mess. Much to her chagrin, her beloved then sat down on the couch, when Christine's bloodshot eyes began to burn. He grabbed a toy dinosaur from the coffee table, and commenced a puppet show, giving the beast a comedic version of Christine's voice: "Craw! Craw! Sebastian! Be ashamed of yourself! This place is a bleeding mess! Craw! Your Cri-osaur has spoken!"
Then Christine smiled. The anger dropped. The airport, the interrogation -- it left her face. There wasn't even an argument. Just a puppet show, a kiss, and Sebastian going to find "the Hoover."
As I prepared for my trip, I told people, I was attending "a Scottish wedding in Beirut," a tag-line that got a lot of mileage. Sebastian had vied for some traditional aspects for their big event, like the ceilidh, the Scottish version of a square dance. Music was also paramount. Cri discovered there was a thriving bagpipe community inside a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, but Sebastian deemed it better to import a band from his native Scotland: "Because people need instructions for the jigs!"
I hadn't imagined that Beirut would be so much like L.A., but only yards after exiting the Hariri airport, I was awash in familiarity. The heat. The ocean nestled up to the mountains. The billboards for collagen lips and silicon breasts.
A Scottish neuroscientist was marrying a Lebanese economist, Doctor and Mrs. Doctor -- so there were a disproportionate number of graduate degrees represented in every conversation at the wedding. In this mountainous olive grove, the guests en masse, could've been mistaken for a UN delegation, coming from Ghana, Lithuania, Australia, the Americas, most of Europe, and, although the ceremony itself was short, it was conducted in three languages.
Tipsy on arak, a milky-colored Lebanese booze, a cute Italian girl leaned over to me when the cake was cut. "It's always so beautiful," she said, with her licorice-scented breath, "to see a union between two cultures." I thought of my Catholic cousin who had converted to Judaism to marry his girlfriend, and the older generations, on both sides of the aisle, who tolerated the union without overtly celebrating it. But here, the accordionist was shouting directions, and although kilts abounded on the dance floor, most of these participants had never heard of a ceilidh before they danced in this one.
Long before the ceremony, Christine had confided in me, that even though she loved Seb, he wasn't the sort of person she imagined she'd be with. It made sense. Half of Christine's life was civil war. Her generation burned candles when the power grid failed, dug wells for bath, toilet, and drinking water. Crouched in a bathroom while militias waged their battles on her street, Christine could never have imagined her lover: a bright-eyed boy, milking a cow somewhere cold and grassy.
Christine's lack of prediction in finding someone like Seb became the cornerstone of the toast I gave my friends. They were an unlikely couple to the naked eye, but their partnership functioned beautifully. Christine needed Sebastian's exuberance as he needed her steely resolve, and, of course, they wouldn't have predicted each other, someone so unlike them, a person who lingered just beyond their imagination.
Because we don't know what we don't know. Until we do.
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