It’s almost 6 years ago to the day that I met Marifer Fernandez, or as I call her ‘Buga’. We were part of a group of almost 30 exchange students who attended the University of Strasbourg Ecole de Management in the summer of 2011. The experience inspired several blogs, my first novel, and friendships which have endured the tests of distance and time. As a testament to this sentiment, I could not ignore the invitation to her wedding in Leon, Mexico. She was one of the closest members to me of that summer; enduring, kind, and intelligent. I promised 8 months prior that I would come, and after a couple of nights out on the town in Guanajuato and Leon, I am about fulfill that promise.
It’s the day of the wedding and about noon. I’m laying curled into a ball of angst with a very unique combination of hangover and what I expect to be an acute food poisoning. In a world of moderation and perfect sense, it’s completely justified that I should stay in my room for the entire day chasing painkillers with pepto bismol. However, I have to assume full responsibility for the fact that I went dancing and drinking mezcal until 3am with random locals at Bronson, The White Rabbit, and La Rufina, in the Leon city center and clearly ate something that my stomach didn’t agree with.
In that same spirit, the responsible spirit, I shuffle to the Holiday Inn Plaza Mayor’s lobby at 7:30pm as listed on the wedding itinerary. Each of the suggested hotels have chartered transportation to La Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Madre Santísima de la Luz de León. I sit in the van with pockets filled with pain killers and pepto as a nice couple, John and Sofia, enter. Immediately, John and I bond over our current stomach situation. I begin to tell them how I came to be in Leon, and even about my exploits in Guanajuato. Despite being in good spirits, my fever and gastronomic disposition are sure to remind me of yesterday's decisions. Even after we arrive in front of the cathedral, to hosts of spectators, and crowds of wedding goers adorned in gowns and suits, I still cannot overcome how terrible I feel. It’s not until I see Buga emerge from a classic automobile in her wedding dress that I am filled with energy and life.
This is it. This is her moment.
With the slew of photos being taken, she notices ,me in the crowd and waves; my old friend from those days in Alsace. I’m reminded of our days in Strasbourg as we enter the cathedral. The church’s grandeur and opulence, is only complemented by the hundreds of royally dressed guests. With a few hundred people filling the old church, the procession begins. When I see in all her matrimonial regality, I am truly happy.
There is something to be said for Mexican weddings, and I was never the one to say it being that this is my first time. Friends like Adriana, who in addition to being from Leon, had studied with us in Strasbourg, told me about what weddings were like, but quickly I realize that I am in for a spectacle which words could do no justice.
Well over 400 wedding goers exit the cathedral into a very cool Leon night air. Lining the street are 20+ buses and vans, automotive chariots, waiting to take us away to the reception at the Ex-Hacienda Ibarrilla about 20 minutes away. Upon arriving we meet the check-in teams with their ipads who give us our assigned table numbers. The hacienda is adorned with dangling foliage and well placed lighting creating a well balanced atmosphere of tropical regality. Adriana and I take our seats, still in awe of the decorations as our personal waiter takes drinks orders.
Every detail has been thought out in advance, and is so spectacular that I almost forget my stomachs wrath. Buga and Juan enter singing a duet of Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E. Next, a band called Vedette plays Spanish classics and even does a rendition of ‘Hotel California’ while we eat. In blatant defiance of my physical condition, I eat everything in front of me to be sure to not miss a moment.
“Are you ok,” asks Adriana.
“Well, no. Not really. But I didn’t come all this way to stop now.”
“Haha. Agreed, carnalito. Well, if you want we can leave at 1am. The first shuttle is then.”
She’s right. In addition to transportation to the reception, there are shuttles making trips to the hotels every hour starting at 1am. It seems like a good plan, but as the clock nears 1am, Buga and Juan Pablo begin the father-daughter, son-mother, dances. It’s so beautiful. They’re all so wonderful, and I can’t bring myself to leave so soon.
“2am,” I say to Adriana. “We will leave then.”
It’s almost 2am and the sounds of trumpets, drums, guitars, and more the main stage come from the main stage. It’s Grupo la Calle and their energy shoots through me as my body succumbs to irresistible rhythms. Someone begins handing out slippers to the women so they can dance comfortably, while a bar opens on the dance floor serving drinks in plastic bottles.
“Excuse me, waiter. Can I get two cups of coffee?”
“What are you doing?” asks Adriana.
“Getting ready. I’m not going anywhere.”
I sit for about 20 minutes taping my feet and chugging coffee, before ultimately walking to the bar to collect my own plastic bottle. Grupo La Calle’s energy gives me my 4th wind of the night. They play a an enormous collection of Spanish jams, which I dance to despite not knowing the words to any of them, in addition to hits from Bruno Mars, Selena, and Maroon 5. Through the chaos Adriana and I track down Buga and Juan Pablo for photos. Soon after Buga tosses her bouquet to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, which is a pretty appropriate choice of song.
It’s nearing 5am. Adriana has disappeared, but I’ve reconnected with John and Sofia. We sit at tables facing the dance floor; sweaty with smiles.
“How do you feel?” asks John.
“I don’t know, actually. This is all a lot to take in really,” I say. I look around the hacienda at the couple of hundred people who are still dancing. “I think I’m done here.”
They both agree. We say our final goodbyes to the bride and groom, grab a handful of to go snacks from the ‘to-go snack’ table, and head to the shuttle. We sit almost in silence on the bus, because there really isn’t much to say. John shares a couple of photos with me.
The first is pretty funny.
The second is simply accurate.
I love mexico.