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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

A Catalan Wedding

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

I wake up surrounded by mountains. Francesc and Josep are already up and dressed in shirts and suit trousers. Their father looks very smart too. Gone is the torn pullover and mud-caked boots. He is having a glass of red wine with his breakfast. He is like an older version of Francesc but his skin is rough and tanned from outdoor work.

I have some freshly squeezed orange juice and some bread with cured ham. Nino runs through a maze of rooms and corridors. Conversation fills the house. Some of the guests have come up from Alicante and Andalusia so I am able to talk to them in Spanish. Then the hats go on and they all go off to church or out to meet other members of the family. Josep gets out his chess board and we fit in a quick game. He quickly has me cornered and says I depend too much on my knights.

Its soon time for pre-wedding photographs on the patio. The women hold on to their hats as a wind blows down from the Serra del Cadí. Then they all descend the steps and get into their vehicles. No-one offers me a lift until Francesc appears in his silver waistcoat, juggling his car keys.

“Come with me if you want.”

I get in the back of the car. His mother is in the front. The car turns left out of Bagà and climbs the hill. Francesc chats to his mother. She doesn’t speak English but smiles my way occasionally. Like many rural Catalans, she is a little shy of speaking Spanish.

Then I’m struck by the horrible realisation that the groom and his mother are supposed to travel to the wedding together. The tradition doesn’t say anything about carrying a clueless foreigner in the back seat. Maybe this will bring bad luck instead of good? I imagine arriving outside the church with the cheering crowd waiting. They will all want to know who the mystery guest in the back is.

Ahead in the distance is Pedraforca, so-called because it’s great stone mass splits in two near the peak. Fortunately, there is a car park before the church and I am let out to blend in with other minor guests. The modest church is packed and I join others standing at the back. Josep is best man and is in front of the altar with Francesc and the priest.

The pianist enters. Her hair has grown a few inches since I last saw her. The natural curliness has been straightened out and tied back on top. A fringe of blonde highlights is combed forwards alternating with natural brown—sharp and flat tones. She is wearing a cream mohair shawl draped over her long white dress. She approaches the altar where the music stops and the ceremony begins.

This is my first time at a Catholic wedding. It’s not so different apart from the coloured robes of the priest. The bride and groom take the Eucharist as if they have done it many times before. I would have to reverse the process and have my wine turned to water. I think of a famous British chat-show host who gave up alcohol many years ago, with the exception of wine, which he apparently continues to take at Mass. He argues that it is not wine he is drinking but the blood of Christ.

Outside, while waiting for more photos to be taken, I make a quick call on my new mobile.

“No, I can’t come and see you. I’m halfway up a mountain near the French border. Yeah, love you too, take care.”

There is a lot of alcohol around at the evening reception but nobody seems to be getting drunk. Josep’s cousin is a student of languages in Barcelona. He asks if I speak German. “No,” I reply.


“Je ne parle pas Français.”

“Ah,” laughs Josep who is sitting next to me. “If you can say that you must speak French.”

“Not well enough to hold a conversation,” I add, though I have been studying it in my free time this year.

The waiters reappear after the meal and fill up the glasses for the toast. I try to decline the offer but my glass is already being filled.

“I don’t want that, Josep. I can’t make exceptions.”

“Just lift it,” he says. “You don’t have to drink it.”

Glasses are raised and knocked together. “Salut. Salut. Salut. Salut.”

In my right hand is a glass full of sparkling champagne. I want to throw it across the floor and hear it smash into tiny pieces. I want to cry or start a fight. As the dancing gets underway, I go out to regain my equilibrium on the mountain roads.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationOctober 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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