Thursday, August 06, 2009
Ruby's wedding was an all around cultural experience in which I felt privileged to be so intimately involved, so forgive me if I ramble on in excessive detail because there were many details I do not want to soon forget. I think I'm going to have to take it all basically one day at a time though.
I arrived in Sacramento around noon last Thurday tired and a bit stressed about a few things I left up in the air at work. And starving. I had to get up at 4 am to take a car at 5 am to the airport to catch a 645 am flight out of JFK. I really hate it when I do that to myself and yet, traffic is so much lighter and the airport is much less crowded at that hour so it makes traveling easier. Plus, I don't have to hassel with hauling luggage to work, risking last minute phone calls and fighting daytime traffic to the airport. So overall, early morning flights are worth the lack of sleep.
Sacramento was pleasantly dry and warm after the soupy humidity alternating with rain in NYC that week. It actually felt like home to me with the warm dry air reminding me that other parts of the country are managing to have a perfectly normal summer filled with sunshine. It took 45 long minutes to collect my checked bag which annoyed my impatient self. While I was waiting I asked the information desk attendant where I could get a cab and he responded "a cab or a taxi?" Ummmmm, I thought they were the same thing. Funny quirk.
I was happy with the hotel we were staying in - the Hyatt Regency but could not overlook the irony of the lobby swarmed with distraught and deflated soon-to-be lawyers who had just finished taking the third day of the California bar exam. It wasn't just the glassy look in their eyes that helped me spot them - several of them were carrying Barbri study books and ziplock bags with the pre-approved items they were allowed to take into the testing center. I later told Ruby about this and we laughed about how we were having a mini-reunion with a handful of lawyers with whom we started our careers and took the bar just as these baby lawyers embarked on the same journey. . . eight surprisingly fast years later. I sent Ruby and her sisters a text message notifying them I had arrived but immediately headed out in search of food.
Sacramento not only felt like dry Salt Lake, there was something about the main street near the hotel - K Street I believe - that reminded me of Main Street in Salt Lake - the store fronts, the type of restaurants and, more obviously, the light rail running down the street. I wandered into an excellent little Mediterranean place to which I later returned with Joo and considered trying a third time. I was fighting off a slight headache as I continued reading a book I picked up at the airport that morning (I have a serious weakness for airport bookstores!) - My Life In France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme (engrossing and fascinating).
After my late lunch I strolled through the mall and tried to recognize the sites from my childhood trips to Sacramento during our brief time living in Chico (a couple of hours north) or from my interview trip to Sacramento eleven years ago. Nothing looked familiar. I had an appointment to meet with a partner I work with in my firm's local office so I made my way there to do a little work and to see how much nicer this office's digs are (much!).
By the time I got back to the hotel again, my headache had subsided but I wasn't really sure what to do. I hadn't heard back from Ruby yet and Joo wasn't arriving until very late. I considered going to the pool but ultimately decided to go get a manicure and pedicure. As I was leaving the hotel, I ran into Vicki, one of the bride's sisters in the lobby. She claimed to have never received my text message and so I changed course and went up to the suite where she was staying with Ruby to be greeted by a room full of Ruby's relatives with names I never managed to remember and Ruby propped up on the couch waiting for her mehndi (henna) to dry. The mehndi was beautiful and it was so fun to just spend some semi-relaxed time with Ruby and her extended family. I worked with Ruby's other sister Lucky to put the slide show together for the reception. There was talk of the other women (including me) getting mehndi applied but I still wanted to get a manicure before hand and so did one of Ruby's aunts. So the two of us set out in search of the nail salon recommended by the hotel concierge. Her aunt was so nice and we really had a great time getting to know each other as we waited. She even introduced me to a manicure that I really like - the "American" as opposed to a "French" manicure in which a more natural looking color is applied to the tips in lieu of the white tips of the French manicure.
Just as we were finishing the drying process, Vicki called about dinner. The family was all meeting in the lobby to go to dinner nearby. Now, I am used to big families, especially large extended families. I did grow up in a Mormon family after all. But I never would have guessed Ruby and I would not only have the similarity of being the oldest of four, but also have such a wide range of aunts and uncles and cousins with varying ages that don't match with the title - cousins who are still in single digits, aunts who are closer to the age of cousins, etc. Of course, her extended family is a bit more inclusive and extends to siblings and parents of in-laws, which means I was meeting a whole range of people in the lobby, on the walk to the restaurant and even more once we sat down. They had traveled from London, Toronto, Kentucky, New York and I believe one couple even came from India. We ate at an Indian place called Gaylords, a name we all found amusing but the food was good and there was plenty of it.
During dinner I added to the conversation with humerous anecdotes about my dear friend that were supplemented and expanded upon by her sisters and her mom. Again, I enjoyed having this less formal, more intimate time with my friend and her family. At one point during dinner she explained in more detail what she hoped I would convey during my speech at the ceremony. I had some of it written at that point but was struggling with how to convey everything that was in my heart and in my head in a cohesive way. Now she was entrusting me to tell the very personal and very spiritual story of how she and her now husband were drawn to one another. I was flattered and scared and took notes.
The original plan that evening was to return to the hotel suite for mehndi but it was long past 11 and everyone was scattering. My roommate was checked in to our shared room and I was fading quickly after my long travel day so I said good night to my friend and returned to my room to catch up with another.
The next morning Joo woke up early which, surprisingly, got me up and moving earlier than I would have expected. After showering and getting ready we had breakfast at the hotel and went to Ruby's room. The day's agenda included a lunch which would bleed into the afternoon and late evening. I had originally agreed to attend the lunch upon Ruby's request but when she told me it would go well into the night, I backed out. With less than 24 hours left to work on my speech I was getting nervous- especially with the added pressure of the importance of what Ruby was asking me to say. Oh, and with the new knowledge I acquired at dinner that this sort of speech was never done at their wedding ceremonies - never! Especially not by a non-Indian, non-Sikh white Mormon girl..... I am not normally nervous about public speaking unless I am woefully unprepared and I was feeling woefully unprepared to open my heart and speak of spiritual things of which I did not feel capable of discussing in this unfamiliar setting. So I declined the invitation to enjoy the afternoon's ceremonies in favor of speech writing.
But Joo and I offered to help where we could and enjoyed watching Ruby get ready. I especially loved watching her mother put Ruby's sari on her. It is such an intricate and intimate process, I couldn't help but take photograph after photograph. It was so beautiful - the sari, Ruby and the connection between mother and daughter.
I also continued a tutorial I started the day before with Lucky on making a slideshow in imovie and putting it onto a cd. The slideshow wasn't needed until the Sunday night reception but there wasn't going to be a lot of free time before hand (as I soon learned) so we had to work quickly to get the imovie slideshow converted to idvd and burned onto a disk for the dj. As you can see, we were quite pleased with ourselves when it came together.
(this is our celebratory pose after we finished just before they had to walk out the door)
Afterwards, Joo and I had lunch and then went to the pool laptop in hand so I could continue my attempts at writing my speech. It came out in fits and starts as my head felt heavier and heavier with concerted pressure squeezing in at my temples. I ignored it and ignored it as we met up with various friends as they arrived at the hotel until I realized I was in danger of giving myself a migraine. I skeptically picked up some migraine Advil and a Coke Zero in the hotel gift shop and returned to my lounge chair, reluctant to seclude myself in the room for some reason. Okay, maybe the reason is I have never been one who wants to miss out on exciting things and catching up with old friends definitely falls into the exciting things category for me. I shut the laptop and excused myself for what I was about to do and essentially sat in the chair in reverse so that my feet were straight up in the air where my head should have been and my head was stretched out in the direction my feet should have been. As the blood returned to my head and the caffeine got the blood pumping faster, the screws loosened and my eyes relaxed and I felt a return to normalcy - crisis of the feared migraine was averted. But my speech still wasn't written.
As the sun faded and the temperature cooled we agreed it was time to find a place for dinner. Five of us met in the lobby a short time later and managed to find an excellent Italian place close by. By the time we returned to the hotel, the temperature had dropped enough that we sought out seats next to the fire on the outside deck of the lobby bar where we were joined by yet another former work colleague. Ruby has drawing power because with just our friends who met up that night there were two of us who flew in from New York, one from Chile, two from Illinois (who had recently completed a year long jaunt around the world) and one from Japan (as well as two others from New York who retired early with their baby). A number of years have passed (and a number of children have been born) since we all started out as baby lawyers in a large law firm in New York City together. All but one of us started immediately after the bar exam working at various non-profit organizations in the City. We easily became a tight knit group that went out once or twice a weekend together - often until the wee, wee hours of the morning - and we often met for lunch together by plan or by happening into the cafeteria at the same time. Ruby is the common thread that keeps most of us together - I am close with three, one of those three stays in touch with one of the others but Ruby manages to keep up with everyone. And she doesn't even use Facebook! That is a skill.
Returning to the room that night, I shook my head at how much people stay the same even as I was surprised by how different each of their lives had become. There was no way for me to predict eight years ago that we would all assemble together from various parts of the world and I would be the only one among us whose life would not been altered by a wedding and/or a child.
I finished the speech before going to bed and prayed I would be able to speak sincerely about such private things in front of this once raucous group of friends.