I’ve been to funerals of people I’ve never met. I’ve never said hello to the body in the coffin, shook their hand, or passed the time of day with them. That’s a peculiarity about Ireland – we go to funerals for the living rather than for the dead.
Weddings, though, they’re another story.
Not since my early days in Los Angeles in 1990 have I been to a wedding where I didn’t know either the bride or the groom. Back then, in the company of the ubiquitous J-NP, I remember the bridesmaids being all in black and the best man opening a book in the grounds of the church on how long the marriage would last. Mad, I thought.
This weekend, in Portugal, I was at a wedding and the only one I knew other than himself was the father of the bride. When we got the invitation last year, I was a tad dubious and wondered at the sense of two Irish people having af full-blown wedding in Portugal. Mad, I thought.
But had we not been invited, I doubt we’d ever have chosen to come to Ericeira and that would have been sad.
Quite a number of us gathered in local bar down by the waterfront on Thursday night to get acquainted. We met again on Saturday at the town’s big hotel to get the bus the wedding village – Gradil. We were a little ahead of schedule or rather the schedule has slipped due to a series of unfortunate mishaps that involved suits, security tags, and flowers. Good fodder for the wedding speeches.
The church itself was stunning – absolutely stunning. They’d managed to find an Irish priest who works in a few of the local villages so it all had an at-home feel to it. On our way in, we were given lovely wooden fans, in case the heat got to be too much. And it was here that the attention to detail first became obvious. So much thought and preparation had gone in to it all – and from another country. Simply amazing. The bride looked stunning and the groom did her proud. It was all so beautifully done.
A string quartet supplied the music including everything from Leonard Cohen to my favourite wedding piece – Panis Angelicus – to Cold Play. All a tad surreal. The style was impressive, with the men being particularly well turned out and if anything, even more stylish than the women. We left the church to be greeted by a jazz band who played us through the village to the venue – Quinta de Sant’Ana. A working vineyard, it packs quite a history.
Back in the 1800s, King Dom Luís gave the Quinta to actress Rosa Damasceno. He had a theatre built especially for her. Centuries later, Baron Gusta von Fürstenberg took up residence. He lived there with his wife Paula and their seven children until the revolution in 1974 spurred their return to Germany. A loyal family friend, Joaquim Val Morais, saved the place and in the early 1990s, the baron’s daughter Ann and her husband James came home. They too, have seven children – all boys.
It is a spectacular place. We sipped champagne, drank wine, feasted on fish and cheeses, all the while listening to the jazz band. We savoured a wine-tasting of the vineyard’s wines in the cellar. We mixed, we mingled, and we oohed and aahed, enjoying the other-worldliness of it all. We breakfasted in the theatre, the table seating cleverly arranged by vintage. [I never did check if by 2005 we were the oldest in the room.] How remiss of me. The menu was a lavish four-course affair with a goats cheese starter, followed by sea bass, followed by rack of lamb and then dessert. Each course out did the one before it. Downstairs, the courtyard was set up with cheeses and fruit platters and the vineyard’s own wines. Music, dancing, fireworks, complemented by pleasant conversation, lots of laughs, and some excellent speeches made for a fabulous evening that went on till the early hours of the morning.
Yes, I’d thought them mad when I heard that the wedding would be in Portugal. But as I said, had we not been invited, I’d never have discovered this part of the world with its friendly villages, beautiful wines, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality. If you have a special occasion coming up, Quinta de Sant’Ana is worth checking out.
The next afternoon, it was over to the Villa Jessie, some 3km outside of Ericeira for a bbq. [Another place to consider for a special occasion.] More fine wines, excellent meats, and plenty of craic ensued. Both times we got the first bus home. Both times we partied till we dropped. We no longer have the staying power we had at 30-something, but thankfully, the desire to try is still there.
After months of wondering, I’m truly grateful that we were invited to this part of the world to celebrate what will undoubtedly be a long and happy marriage. It did my heart good to see such unbridled enthusiasm for life, to meet so many young people with plans and the passion to realise them, and to meet so many not-so-young with stories to tell and an unflappable zest for life. It’s gone a long way in restoring my faith in the power of family and confirmed, yet again, that life is definitely for living. A massive thank you, Mr McD. Le mile buíochas.