Rocio my Exchange Sister's Wedding in Spain!

I headed to Spain full of excitement and nervousness to reunite with my exchange family and friends. I hadn't been to Spain for 11 years, not since I was a 22 year old hippie hiking across Europe with my guy friend to attend classes in Madrid. At that time I'd called my family from the train station and they rushed to pick me and my friend up. My friendship with the Garrido Family has been defined by their exuberant generosity and loving desire to include me in their family, and it has been this way ever since I was their exchange student the summer I was 17.

Ahh Espana family, fashion, art, dance, celebration, siesta and fiesta. When I was 16, I convinced myself that I needed to go to Spain to see the place of the language that I'd been studying since I was 10. Growing up in suburban St. Louis, I was desperate to explore, escape, and experience a different world. I can't remember now what I anticipated-maybe a slower culture with constant celebration, good music, and bright clothes. I'd formed a bizaare amalgamation of images and cultural identities about what the Spanish Language and culture was, and since then I've spent years examining and separating these notions across all the Spanish speaking countries I've visited.

Reebok's, Levi's, and Baywatch. Arriving back in 1995, I was shocked by the 1980's fashion that was in style. Strange popular music, the same and not the same as in the U.S.. I was bowled over by my welcoming family and friends with their distinct style, grace, intelligence, and humor. I left that trip with a new love and comfort for the Spanish culture and language. Furthermore this experience helped uniquely define me.

When I returned in 2000, I stayed a month in Madrid at a school. Each day after classes, I'd walk the city, all the while sketching and drawing as I went. At night I'd mark my discoveries on a map. I fell in love with this city; the ease of walking, the promenade of fashion on the streets, and the wealth of art to see. When my classes ended, my family invited me to stay with them at their pueblos. A tradition in Spain is for a couple to own a home in their Pueblos (their home town or their parent's hometown), and this is where they vacation during the hot month of August. With the Garrido family, I went to Las Pedroneras in Don Quijote country and Gascuenas, a mountain village. In both places I had a unique experience of small town Spain celebrations and fairs. In living with this family and connecting with my old friends, I was reminded to take care of myself and to maintain my own vision and sense of style. During this trip I made a series of onsite watercolors. Years later I made one of my favorite parade paintings based on a midnight procession in Gascuenas. Bottom line, Spain inspires me.

Fast forward to July 22nd the wedding day of my exchange sister Rocio. She had arranged for me to ride with her friends to Las Pedroneras where the wedding would occur. When I landed, I took a Taxi to Begonia's house where I napped and showered. I rode with Begonia out to las Pedroneras and we arrived at the summer house of Nuria's family. Here I was reunited with Rocio's close friends many of the same friends that I'd met when I was 17. Like a clutch of young mother's they fast began to arrange the house preparing the beds and a light shared lunch.

We laughed and caught up surprised that none of us looked that different after 11 years.
I met husbands and looked at photos of kids. Following lunch, we got dressed. My close friend Eva and I carried on our own tradition, when she gave me a Spanish makeover in preparation for the wedding.

Spanish weddings are very formal, sort of like a senior prom without the glitter and sequins. Everyone dresses elegantly and the expectation is that you will be up until 6am dancing. All dressed up we headed to Rocio's apartment to help her get ready. Here is a photo of me before we left.

When I arrived at her apartment I first saw Pilar, my Spanish mother, and I nearly started crying, she looked very glamorous in a purple dress with a fabulous hat. Next I saw my brother Julio and father Nicolas. We headed into see Rocio and we all started shrieking. She cried out its "La Americana!", more teary eyes, stopped fast by our joy.

She looked very elegant in a designer Spanish gown created honoring the Flamenco tradition. Our group took photos with her and we laughed because somehow we'd color coordinated in black and teal dresses (see photo at end of post). Spanish weddings don't have bridesmaids but somehow we arrived looking like an american wedding party. We headed down to have a beer before the wedding at the bar across the street from the church.

Unbeknownst to me Rocio was about to take part in a bridal procession through the cobbled streets of her town from her house to the church with her family. In retrospect I would have loved to have participated in this walk, but I was satisfied to photograph it for this time.
Inside the the church flowers and banners were hung. A group of Flamenco singers had arrived in traditional costumes to sing the hymns of the wedding mass. Their gypsy like chorus punctuated the coldness of the church with inviting folk harmonies.
I watched as friends and family members I'd come to know read parts of the mass. As Rocio and Salva exchanged vows, I could hear the nervous excitement in their voices.

Following the wedding we ran outside to the noise of fireworks.
We kissed the cheeks of the bride and groom and waited to throw rice and confetti at them. Next it was onto the bus for a ride to the castle where we could be celebrating their marriage in an all night wedding reception.

Coming up to the castle on the hillside, I was excited that you could see across the village (see first photo). We walked through the arched entry of the castle to tables strewn with tapas and waiters walking around with drinks. I had the best jamon serrano I've ever tasted. We sampled blood sausage with mushrooms in a tiny pastry spoon, pate, shrimp, manchego cheese, and mozarella skeweres soaked in Spanish olive oil. My friends grabbed tapas for me to taste and joked about the time when they'd convinced me I ate bull balls, although it ended up actually being the spanish equivalent of pork rinds. If you don't know about Tapas they are like small plates of shared appetizers. When the bride and groom arrived we hollered and cooed as they posed for photographs.

Heading into the open air patio of the inside of the castle, we found our table and prepared for the wedding dinner. The amount of silverware on the table prepared me for further Spanish food sampling. Salad with tuna, beets, lettuce, and olives. Followed by a white fish in a tomato base sauce. Next lamb in mushroom sauce with a side of potatoes. Sorbet. White and Red wine from La Rioja. Three desserts- a carmely pudding, something like tirramisou, and cinnamon ice cream were followed by coffee or a end of meal drink. Next the bride and groom cut the cake using a giant sword that they then had to lick after cutting the cake. Then the bride and groom walked around to thank the guest and they give them a gift at which point the guests give a gift of money.

Finally the first wedding dance and an open bar. I danced on and off through the night. As the evening went on I reconnected with Rocio's extended family. I was excited and moved to realize that I'd met so many people in her family and life- cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends. I danced with them and then at 3:30 am when I could dance no more, due to jet lag and tired feet, I went to Nuria's house for a peaceful sleep.


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