Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Mexican Wedding

I keep all the wedding invitations I receive.

The older ones, from the 1980s, are on heavy cream stock and invariably start with a woman’s parents requesting the honor of my presence someplace. That format is as dead as the dodo.

Now it’s bride and groom, or bride and bride, or groom and groom who want me to join in the fun when they get hitched. Hold the cream-colored card stock please! Invitations with personality are the name of the game.

When my cousin Paul and his wife Robyn sent me a thoroughly modern invitation to their son Jacob’s wedding. I hemmed and hawed a bit. On the plus side of the ledger, Robyn and Paul are a helluva lot of fun. They throw a great party. If it were not for them, I wouldn’t know any of my seven living cousins. Until I met Robyn and Paul my extended family existed pretty much just in theory.

Furthermore, Jacob seems like a nice kid. He’s got a good job, and is making a difference in the world. That’s practically reason enough to celebrate in a day when lots of young folks live on sofas in their parents’ basements.

On the minus side, well, Mexico, though beautiful, is a LONG way from State College.  I would have to spend time and money going through the degrading experience that is what passes for commercial airline travel. Lovely.

In the end, sunshine, a beautiful destination, and the promise of Bryant style hilarity won me over. My siblings had to pass on the trip, but fortunately, my niece Charlie was all in. She’s a good egg and I knew we’d have a great time.

I sent in my RSVP, checked the expiration date of my passport and bought a plane ticket to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the airport nearest our final destination.

Robyn and Paul thoughtfully arranged a variety of housing options. With Robyn as our travel concierge, Charlie and I opted for a villa in Punta Custodio, a gated community around the bend from their home. Seemingly forever ago, Charlie and I mailed our rent checks to our villa’s owner in San Francisco. We ordered booze and snack food and signed up for a cook and meal plan.

I bought a backpack, de rigueur for low rent international travelers. My sister reminded me to wear compression socks and to get up and walk up and down the aisle of the plane to ward off deep vein thrombosis. I’ve spent time in the ER with a clot, she didn’t have to tell me twice.

My friend Phil picked me up at 4:45 am so I that I would be at the State College Airport in plenty of time for my 6:00 am departure. I had to check a bag since I was taking more than 3 oz of insect repellent with me. I recalled from my earlier trip to Mexico that mosquitoes thought of me as a tasty pre-dinner morsel, even when served with a generous helping of bug spray.

By the time I got to Detroit, I had two text messages from Delta Airlines that my flight to Puerto Vallarta had been delayed. On that day, at least, Delta was not ready when I was. My flight was delayed four different times for a total of nearly six hours. There were moments when walking to Mexico seemed like a reasonable option.

Since I was trying to hoard my two books, the pile of magazines, and podcasts out the yin yang on my phone I was taking with me, I decided entertain myself by getting my daily 10,000 steps by walking around the terminal. For a city with reputation—perhaps undeserved—as the go-to spot for ruins porn—Detroit has a great Delta terminal. It’s modern; stylish even. I didn’t get back on the people mover to check out the Trans Pixley Airlines gates; I hope they’re just as nice.

As I walked briskly through the terminal, I wondered why I never see celebrities or even porn stars in airports. Surely some of them fly commercial too. And I had no sooner completed that stupid thought than who should walk by but the famous bad-haired sax player Kenny G.  Frankly, I’d rather have seen a porn star.

The gate agent offered the folks waiting for my flight free soft drinks and off-brand Oreos. Since the unlamented demise of Hydrox cookies in 1999, I didn’t know that there were off brand Oreos. Travel is indeed a broadening experience.

The long-delayed flight was uneventful, which is quite an event considering the fact that I was sitting across the aisle from a family with four boys under the age of 8, whose au pair had been upgraded to first class. The kids were really well behaved. I think the au pair must have spent time in the Stasi.

Immigration and customs in Puerto Vallarta were as easy as the flight.  Perhaps compression socks brought good luck as they kept away a DVT?  Even though I had to unzip my bag for the customs woman, she didn’t hold up any of my shirts and say “What were you thinking when you bought this?” or “Do you think you brought enough bug spray?” or “I’ve always thought electric toothbrushes were for total tools.”

Actually, I only unzipped my bag about a quarter of the way, just enough to make it clear that I wasn’t bringing one of those springs coiled up in a can of peanut butter into the country. I didn’t have to explain that I wasn’t really thinking when I bought that shirt, or prove that I’d brought enough bug spray to eliminate an entire species of mosquitoes, or that I was indeed the kind of tool to use an electric toothbrush.

After I left Mexican customs there was a brief moment when everyone wanted my attention. As people waved and shouted, I thought this must have been what it was like piloting the last chopper out of Saigon. Fortunately, I have a short attention span so ignoring people comes naturally to me. I knew that if I were to be patient, I would find the person holding up the sign that said Bryant Wedding.  And in two shakes I did just that.

I waited with a couple of tables of fellow wedding guests at an outdoor café. We introduced ourselves to each other, noting our relationship with the bride or groom’s families.  It wasn’t too long before we were loaded into a junior-sized bus for the two-hour trip to our destination, Punta Custodio, on the  Riviera Nayarit.

We weren’t too far from the airport when we were stopped at a traffic light next to a guy riding a unicycle while juggling machetes. It never occurred to me that this was a good idea. But he seemed to have all of his limbs so obviously his eye-hand coordination was better than mine.

It was getting dark when we finally arrived.  Punta Custodio is a gated community near Platanitos Beach. It’s off the beaten path (or at least off any path I would have beaten!) and for the last half mile you think that you can’t possibly be going in the right direction. The road is unpaved and not exactly an engineering marvel. Our driver prevailed and as soon as we were through the gate, Robyn met us. She greeted us warmly and pointed all of us in the direction of our villas.

The night’s party was well under way—we’d missed the welcoming speeches, but there was still plenty of time to greet family, eat heartily, and enjoy a beer (or two). There was a mariachi band. Fabulous!

So, about Punta Custodio. It’s a group of maybe a dozen villas arranged in sort of a triangle perched on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

The villas are connected by a wide cobblestone sidewalk that ends in a common area, with patios and a large, freeform pool, shaded by a large tree.

Each villa is different, some have thatched roofs, some have tile roofs, some are painted bright colors, some are more subdued. The neighborhood is a riot of jungle plants, with blooming bougainvillea and camellias, birds of paradise, hibiscus, palms among other plants I didn’t know.  The property seems as if it were the product of an artist’s mind rather than that of a real estate developer. It is spectacular.

Charlie and I shared the smallest villa since there were just two of us. It was a two story hexagonal building with a tall, conical thatched roof. There were two bedrooms with baths and a sitting room on the ground floor. Arriving earlier, she took the larger bedroom, something I NEVER EVER would have done to an aunt or uncle.

An exterior stair led up to a terrace and great room, with kitchen, sitting and dining area, and another full bath.

From our terrace, we looked out over the community and the ocean.  It was the perfect place to sit, read a book, watch our friendly neighborhood gecko lizard, and look at my phone while it said NO SIGNAL.

After chowing down on a hearty and delicious Sunday morning breakfast made by our cook Raquel, there was nothing on the agenda until our 4:00 pm call for the shuttle to the wedding. It was a good thing that my plan for the day didn’t include talking to texting with folks back in the US of A. Did I mention that my phone read NO SIGNAL?

When Robyn told me the dress code for the nuptial event was beach casual, I consulted my go-to for “going out in society”, my slipcased copy of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette, The Guide to Gracious Living, 1963 edition. One can't be too sure.

At informal weddings guests wear conservative church-going clothes suitable to the season. The women wear hats and gloves. Women guests, incidentally, do not wear flowers, and men guest do not wear boutonnieres. This is the prerogative of the bridal party.  

Oh. So much for beach casual.

In New Jersey, where I go to the beach, beach casual is board shorts, a Villanova baseball cap, and an ironic or maybe just in bad taste t-shirt, topped off with an unsolicited opinion on what the "stinkin' Iggles" need to do about the quarterback situation. My friend Tracy suggested that beach casual meant Tommy Bahama, which of course, I do not own. Robyn told me that shorts of the non-cargo variety were fine, and when I that coupled with the Hawaiian shirt my sister purchased for me on an actual island in the Pacific…beach casual!

I had red Vans, too. They accentuate the hipster-wannabe look and were compliant with the part of the 17 page pre-trip instructions that dealt with sensible shoes. 

At the last moment, I decided to be a tad dressier and brought my now-vintage-but-purchased-at-retail-when-it-was-brand-new Brooks Brothers “Fun Shirt”. Every panel is a different color of striped broadcloth “shirting”. Whenever I wear it, which is once every ten years, I think it makes me look like a younger, taller, American, non-smoking David Hockney, only with better teeth and no talent.

Interestingly enough, no one mentioned David Hockney to me.

At the appointed hour, Charlie and I met our fellow guests near the community gate to catch a shuttle to the wedding site, Hotel Paraiso Miramar in Santa Cruz.  When we thought we were all present an accounted for, we loaded up the van for the thirty minute ride though rural Riviera Nayarit.

We were about halfway there when someone discovered that two guests had been left behind. The jungle drum network said that she was doing her hair. Yowza. Part of our caravan of turned around to pick up the stragglers. Of course they weren’t relatives; Bryants are very clock-conscious. It’s in our genes.

Except for the trash by the side of the road (Adopt-a-Highway hasn’t come to Mexico yet) the trip was super scenic. Of course, folks from Switzerland, which is somewhat cleaner than a NASA clean room, think American highways are trash strewn, so I suppose trash by the side of the road is partly a matter of what you are used to.

Hotel Paraiso Miramar was a lovely, older property, overlooking the ocean. The wedding was on the lawn; guests sat in white folding chairs facing the ocean and the setting sun. We were shaded by allée of tall palms. It was the sort of setting that would make a stylist from New York snap his fingers and say, “Girlfriend! Eureka and look no further! We’re shooting the wedding advertorial right here!

During the typical pre-wedding to-ing and fro-ing the folks around me talked about other weddings we’d been to. I’d heard that at the end of Jewish weddings they often break a light bulb instead of the traditional glass, since breaking a light bulb makes more noise. Does the wattage matter, we wondered? A drone—any outdoor wedding worth its salt has one—flew overhead.

I checked out the gaggle of stylish bowtie wearing ushers. By law, gay wedding guests cruise the ushers at wedding. I had no plans to get thrown into a Mexican prison for violating the law. It was a stylish and multi-ethnic crew and not the typical group of schlubs standing up for the groom.  I think they were wearing white Adidas Stan Smiths. The prohibition on white shoes before Labor Day does not extend to sneakers and Mexico. My cousin Paul was his son’s best man. No worries, I didn’t cruise him.

The processional was an unknown—at least to me—pop song, but I’m a non-pop guy. But it least it wasn’t the Pachelbel Canon, a number I don’t need to hear again for a few years. The bridesmaids wore short dresses. The cute-as-a-button flower girl threw rose petals with all her might, a determined look on her face. I think she might have a career in fast-pitch softball.

Jacob, the groom, escorted his mother to her seat. He wore a trim grey suit and white Stan Smiths. Very stylish. I told Jacob that I didn't think I'd ever seen a groom smile so much.

Adriana’s father escorted her down the aisle. Her white gown had a fitted, backless bodice with a sweetheart neckline covered in rouched tulle and a skirt of tulle trimmed with lace. There are Disney princesses who are not as beautiful as she was.

I thought to myself, if this turns out to be advertorial for The New York Times, I wish I’d done a better job ironing my shirt and losing ten pounds. I wondered if anyone at the wedding had an iron and an extra pair of Spanx.

The ceremony seemed more like the closing of a real estate transaction than the sort of Dearly Beloved We Are Gathered Here Today sort of wedding than I’m accustomed to. The officiant was something along the lines of a justice of the peace and the ceremony was thoughtfully conducted in both English and Spanish. There were vows and rings but fortunately no modestly talented warbling relative tackling a bit of Mozart that was best left to run down the field for a touchdown.

After the legal part of the vows, friends of the couple stepped up and officiated at a Celtic knot ceremony, which, Charlie and I were glad to hear, had nothing to do with the novel Fifty Shades of Gray. In the ceremony the happy couple seemed to braid colored ribbons that each were symbolic of an emotion, as in red for passion, blue for grief, green for companionship, orange for children, black for the basic cocktail dress, and so on. At least that’s how I’m remembering it. I didn’t take notes and was in the back and so didn’t get a really good look. But I think that’s what happened.

Of course, at a gay wedding, the colors in the Celtic knot wouldn’t be red, blue, green or black. They would be chili pepper, mossy stream bank, cerulean, and that purple that men wear. And it wouldn’t be simple things like passion, grief, and companionship. Instead, the chili pepper ribbon would be for how hot they looked in their Speedos during the European honeymoon; mossy stream bank would mark envy at the neighbors' custom window treatments; cerulean, resignation at turning into ones mother; and that purple that men wear, panic over an erection lasting over four hours.

Jacob and Adriana opted for the more traditional route. I think that was a good thing.

After the wedding, there was a reception on the lawn next to the hotel, under a huge lantern filled trees. The guests were seated at square tables around a lighted dance floor. The tables, covered in white floor length tablecloths, were lit from underneath so they glowed like giant white cubes-an especially chic touch, I thought.  It was really one wow after another. In fact, the Normandy Invasion might have had fewer moving parts.

They had the good sense to seat my niece and me with Bryant cousins so that we could all be inappropriate together.

We enjoyed specialty cocktails, ceviche, and fruit kabobs that we could dip in a fountain of chili sauce. There was even a cigar rolling station. It provided a good excuse to bring up Monica Lewinsky at the dinner table.

At least I'm in focus if not ironed.
I smoked about a third of a cigar but gave up on it before turning green (seafoam, to be exact) or having someone tell me that I looked like Eunice Kennedy Shriver only less butch.

My cousin Paul gave a touching father of the groom speech, in both English and Spanish. Fortunately the wedding was free of the MoB dances with the FoG while the FoB dances with the MoG stuff. And if there was a cake cutting I missed it. Frankly, unless a happy couple does it with a chainsaw or a light sabre, it’s my signal to head home.

There was a tasty repast and afterward the band was so good that even I danced.  Not much, but it still counts.

There were fireworks, the good kind, rather than the standard Long Island nuptial donnybrook that’s clickbait for the New York Post.

I took an early shuttle back to our villa--my body was still on Pennsylvania time. I heard that dancers and stilt walkers performed after I left. In retrospect, if someone told me that the original Broadway cast of Hamilton had appeared and performed a few numbers written by Lin-Manuel Miranda just for the occasion, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was a great party.

I’ve been to my share of memorable weddings—from simple affairs at the justice of the peace to fancypants affairs ripped from the pages of Town & Country magazine. This one was one for the ages. Thank you, Bryant cousins, for inviting me.

Robyn and Paul didn’t want us to get bored in the days after the wedding. There was a talk by the local coffee guy, and a cooking lesson, too. All but one of the evenings had featured some sort of festive dinner gathering at the pool or on the beach.

Whale watching was cancelled since the whales were on vacation--perhaps at a cousin's wedding. Helping with the turtle hatch was a no-go too, those buns were still in the oven.

We took a boat trip to a locals freshwater swimming hole.

I devoured a pineapple, jicama, and orange treat that I bought from a food vendor on the beach. I know you're wondering...Montezuma took no revenge on me.

But passed on the chance to buy a Frida Kahlo with questionable mustache mesh tote bag.

I did lots of reading, swimming, and walking on the most spectacular beach I’ve seen in my life. Fortunately, a masseuse was available to sooth muscles aching from too much relaxation.

Mostly, Charlie and I hung out with our cousins, enjoying each other’s company as sat by the pool and watched and listened to the waves crash on the rocks and beach below us. We debated, as we always do, who among our relatives drank lighter fluid and who didn’t. I continued my long running relationship with my phone, looking at it longingly while it said “NO SIGNAL” to me.

After five days, it was time to meet a cab at 5:00 am for the two hour ride back to the Puerto Vallarta airport. I checked in at the ticket counter and the agent told me that his wife and I had the same birthday.

I looked at my phone: OMG free WiFi.

I read the news on my phone and realized that what I was missing wasn’t the news in the United States, but the great time I’d had on my vacation. I'm already looking forward to a return trip.