Having fallen for the feel of the homosocial a few weeks ago, last Friday it was time to forget one’s inhibitions and prejudices to party pansocial style at the wedding of my half-Basque friend and his Surrey bride, in San Sebastian (Donostia), Spain. Oldens, youngers, middle-agers, rich’uns, poorers, Basque, English.
For my partner and I, this was our first chance to go on a break of more than one night without the twins, and it combined with two glorious days in the often-rainy northern city. The beaches were full, Real Sociedad flags flying on balconies in greater numbers after their promotion, expectation mounting for La Roja to win the World Cup and, with the San Fermin bull-run week down the road in Pamplona, tourists streaming into the area. It’s times like these that I love cities such as this where residents live in the centre and live every aspect of their lives around a tight network of small trader shops and cafes, and flats. Donostia, improbably twinned with Plymouth, seems very well heeled, and it has always been one of the wealthiest Spanish cities, but wages are lower and houses or flats smaller so it’s more a case of social appearance mattering far more than meatworld.
On the first night though the kid-free peace of mind was shattered by a fiasco over my best man’s speech. As briefly as possible: I put it in my partner’s handbag before Stansted and it must have got moved at some stage. In the hotel we couldn’t find it so mild panic set in along with my usual unhelpful pass-the-buck recriminations. No matter, I bought hotel WiFi so could download and print my emailed version, along with the added Spanish bit I’d had translated with the aid of the conserjeria Gorka. On receipt of the ‘Speech’ doc printout it turns out to be a ruby wedding ‘Speech’ for the in-laws the other week. Flaps of piss. B-plans needed. Father-in-law can’t find correct version in Suffolk, so, down in the old town now, using a mate’s iPhone, I resend earlier version to myself and a cast of relevant others including Gorka to print out (con l’espanol) and someone with an iPad, just in case. Leave it at that to get on with a crawl round pintxo bars, but can’t really forget about it. In the morning, I get on the case again and get the old version printed up; shortly after that we discover the printout of the correct speech and a loud yelp of frustration is surely released. Would have had a decent night out last night but for that, etc. No time to groan though, as it’s over the road to help with the final preparations, and read that inbetween times. Soon we’d be walking up the hill to the nun-run church and I’d be discovering the protocol of handing over the ring with the 90-year-old priest, who would then do the opposite in the service. Then after a dual-language ceremony, they were married; Basque girls in traditional dress danced to the flutes to commemorate the moment, and the hugs, kisses and photos could begin.
When the speech came, at the Mirador de Ulia high up in the hills surrounding the city and with a great view centring on the bold Hotel Kursaal building by the nearest bay, I’m glad to say the nerves disappeared and I did ok, especially with the Spanish bit which the locals lapped up. Mic in hand, I didn’t go for too much character assassination, just a few light digs from his adolescence, and made giving the CD I’d made for him a part of the speech. Highlights – Aerosmith’s My Fist Your Face, KISS’s Cold Gin (Live 1976) – stuff I’d have balked at in my shiny electronic youth, as well as that Britrock and Beastie Boys/Cypress hop fodder. Hugs and kisses again and a well done from the father of the groom on my finale. The first musickings would come soon after the speeches - Basque men doing their independence dance chant and an old, but reputedly fine, harmonica player knocking out some Gershwin and other riffs for a while.
There’s a certain period at social dos like these, where music, alcohol (free bar), the setting and the unwinding of responsibilities add to the general positivity to make perception of the event indisputably great in freeloading minds. People’s earlier carping of standard and not-so-standard wedding issues, the hanging around for photos, the food lovely but seven courses seen as excessive, the highly religious service in two languages and faiths, is lost in a sea of subjectivity and the wedding is hailed as ‘the best ever’. Even my wife and I, who pride ourselves on the fact that we put on a decent do nearly seven years ago in south Suffolk, were coming round to this fact. This wasn’t simply a case of mindless indulgence as the drinks kept on coming to fuel the nonce-dancing, people were playing their part by coming out of their little groups and my wife and a friend were getting everyone to record video tributes. Where usually I’d be skulking off for alternative intoxication, here I was in the thick of it, barking in Spanglish. It was genuinely participatory, not just parasitical enjoyment, a bit like the times you see everyone coming out mashed at the end of a nightclub and everyone wants to share the experience even in a garbled way.
The sonic truth of it was that the digital dj was, from a sober and judgmental perspective, not to my taste. But my critique cameras had been laid off for the weekend. Hard rock (the DC), poodle rock (Bon J) and synth rock (Europe), cheesy latin and big percussive euro, cheap covers of old favourites (She Bangs the Drums done in some lumpen medley style), that old student hip-hop bounce (Jump Around), mixes between rock tunes. Jacko’s Beat It seemed to be the signature tune with its bridge of rock and dance mores and was played twice along with several more of his (kids would have loved it). Proper dancing rather than pisstake dancing was probably had to Jay Z and Beyonce and not many more. But we were making shapes and in the throng. My best tune of the night, at both evening reception and later nightclub, was that old euro fave Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, but it was generically isolated both times. However, the generosity of spirit(s) the wedding permits renders childhood and adult indie/alternative/dance prejudices irrelevant. Skulking in the corner can work at a nightclub you didn’t want to go to, a DJ you didn’t want to hear, but not at a wedding for a groom for whom you’re proud to be the best man (or halfbezzie, the other couldn’t make it from Brisbane). The whole thing worked.
The bride had remarked in her speech that our boy did not quite get the modern music she (10 years her junior) brings into the house and it was a mark of his wilful modern isolation that his dedications to each of our lads were from the 90-94 period; keep up, la! Yet his gift to me, Cummins’ Manchester: Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain, served the looking back purpose much, much better and I was very touched by the judicious thoughtfulness here. That would prove good return flight reading until the thermals got too much and I was begging my wife to help get the plane down, from her passenger seat.
There’s more mongrelised pop and ‘swimming pools’ (spirits come in generous servings) at the Rotunda bay-side nightclub (more used to the moderne techno hangout Bataplan down the road) for an hour or two before a long but fine day is signed off by the bride and groom exhorting the willing to go skinny dipping. Only Lucien Freud would appreciate my corpulent decline, so I was ‘busy’ minding the others’ stuff. Actually the main reason I didn’t was I couldn’t be arsed undressing and redressing, only to undress again in the hotel.
The naked bodies did not detract from a really great day the newlyweds can feel proud to have pulled off in a way that made us all enjoy it so much and mix so freely, regardless of their social orientations back home.