Essays - Marriage in Mallorca

Finding true love in Andalucia © Michelle Chaplow
Finding true love in Andalucia

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Although I live in a town where there are a lot them, I seldom go to weddings. This is not only because, in my experience, bodas are boring, but because I am rarely if ever invited, in spite of the fact that I am very well known (being Montefrio's only extranjero) and quite well liked.

 

 

The reason - like most other reasons for things - is an economic one: attendance at a wedding, in an Andalucian village, is seen not as an occasion to make merry, but a solemn and sometimes even irksome duty. This is because, in a veiled sort of way, an invitation to a wedding is an invitation to pay. Therefore it cannot be decently imposed on just anyone, for the nominal monetary gift expected of each guest considerably exceeds the cost of the food and drink which he is likely to consume - and once you've been invited, you have to go. That is why people privately dread being invited to weddings - indeed, being summoned to a spate of bodas in a given season is seen by many as a minor financial disaster. It often happens that I suggest to some friend of mine that we get together on a Saturday afternoon and hear, in reply, the gloomy and untranslatable rejoiner "Estoy de boda". Funerals may be sadder, but they're cheaper.

Amazingly - to my Anglo-Saxon way of thinking - current-day Spanish weddings are highly profitable undertakings which can result, for the spouses, in net earnings of millions of pesetas. This is why, over recent years and with all the new money about, the sala de boda or reception hall racket has become the leading service industry of many an Andalucian backwater, such as my town, Montefrio (population 5,000). Since the guests are always people whose families have had weddings in the past or are likely to have them in the future, the idea is that their disbursement should be seen not as a total write-off but, rather, an investment in what might be called a "wedding insurance" policy - I pay for your daughter's now, you pay for my son's later. But as the only resident foreigner and with a murky marital status to boot, I stand well outside this closed circuit of calculated reciprocity and, mercifully, am not considered "invitable".

The exception comes when one of my gypsy friends marry. Here I simply invite myself, since I love the singing and dancing - the floor show alone being well worth the minimum amount which one has to cough up. And when my gypsy friend Franci got married in Mallorca recently, I went so far as to have my 84-year old father come from Canada in the company of his wife, and to ask my 8-year old daughter's teacher for a leave of absence from school in Granada, so that we could all be there for the party. The flamenco dancing at a boda gitana far surpasses, in sheer gutsy excitement, anything one sees on stage, which is why I do my best to never miss one of them.

But there was a strong personal element too. Franci (short for Francisco) is very special for both me and my father. 12 years ago I spotted him strumming a broken guitar in a street of El Coro, our barrio gitano, with a dreamy look in his eyes which impressed me as being that of a born musician. Shortly afterwards I noticed him again, at our flamenco club where a professional guitarist was giving a free course for half a dozen local boys. Franci was obviously dead serious about the matter, but the teacher had a disagreement with the club about the terms of payment and the course had to be called off, thus terminating Franci's musical education before it had really begun.

At that point, being rather well off at the time, I decided to offer him a year of lessons in Granada, at the home of the same teacher. The members of the flamenco club, greatly impressed by the gesture, matched it by buying him a new guitar and putting up the money for the bus fares. Franci's golden opportunity had come, and he made the most of it: since then, he has become a professional cabaret entertainer - not in nearby Granada, but on the island of Mallorca. That is where most of his clan spend the warm half of the year, cleaning hotel rooms and selling beer on the beach. There's no work in Montefrio after the olive harvest is over in February, so they go where the tourists are.

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