The last two times we’ve visited Harold and Maude’s (why not?*), we’ve watched home movies. Theirs. It’s kind of surreal. On the first disc, we saw their son get circumcised, and then we watched them go swimming—Maude fully clothed head to toe, Harold in Speedos. It was quite the evening for us. Neither of them can swim, I should clarify, but in the pool they went nonetheless. The two events took place years apart, but all was compressed onto a shiny DVD and spun in the computer’s drive and revealed to us, years later and thousands of miles away, in a brand-new culture and place.
Harold and Maude are lots of fun. I really really like them. Plus, they just make me laugh. When we went with a group of Iraqi friends to the waterfalls last summer, there wasn’t room for Harold to make the left hand turn out of the gas station into lane behind us all, waiting to turn left onto a divided highway. He pulled up beside us. “No problem, I wait you,” he said. How? we wondered. The other lane was right-turn-only. We watched in bemusement, okay and amusement too, as he totally cut in front of everyone in the left turn lane and triumphantly turned left from the right hand lane. It was totally Arab. No one even honked; I suspect because they were too stunned.
Last time we were there, we watched their wedding video. To American eyes anyway (Ooh! I just had a fun idea. Please leave a comment with your nationality. I’d love to know who actually reads this thing! Please? I’ll remind you at the end), Arab-style is awfully cheesy. Harold and Maude personify this a bit with their apartment decorations as it is—photos of themselves made into clocks, or holograms that show two different family pictures depending on where you are in the room. Their wedding video begins with a montage—Harold looking thoughtfully at the camera as Maude’s face, stern and almost sulky, floats in a sky filled with puffy white clouds. A red heart grows from the center of the screen, enveloping them both. The music swells. There are red roses with fake droplets of water. It is wonderful.
It’s fun watching the wedding. Maude doesn’t smile through most of it. I ask her about it—in Mauritania, it’s considered shameful for the bride to be happy—and she tells me she was happy but tired. Harold’s family dances exuberantly. “They’re all married now,” he tells me, smudging the screen as he points to various children and teens. Maude’s family sit in chairs, eat cake. There is an enormous candle, tall as a person, which Harold tells me will burn continuously throughout the first week. (I think, anyway. His English isn’t great yet and the music was loud) They open their presents on the 7th day, I think it was. It’s fascinating to see their families, people they talk about. I peer eagerly at the computer screen, to see their mothers, their sisters and brothers, their friends.
There’s even a slow dance for the happy couple. Also, everyone shoots silly string. Maude looks annoyed as she picks it out of her hair, but I don’t blame her. Silly string? Really? Bubbles or rice are much nicer, except if you’re a bird.
Arab weddings (now that I know 3 Arab cultures at least a little, I feel qualified to make such sweeping generalizations) don’t have a ceremony. The two families sign the contract and then there’s a party. In Mauritania, the bride wore a black muluffa (or possibly it was deep purple). Maude is dressed in an elaborate white gown, stiff with layer upon layer of lace. In Morocco, the bride has 7 to 9 outfits that she changes into throughout the evening. One is a white gown, Western-style, and the rest are fancy Moroccan caftans, embroidered and highly decorated. In all 3, brides wear geisha-amounts of make-up, and resemble nothing more than old-fashioned dolls.
Maude wants to learn to drive. She asks my friend to teach her. “I can’t,” whispers my friend to me. “What if I don’t do a good job?” I point out to her Harold’s breezing through the intersection, leaving a long line of cars in his dust. “Can you do worse?” I ask, and she laughs. Tomorrow I will drive Maude to her second driving lesson. I’m just glad it’s not me. I can do ESL classes, but I’m already grey enough without adding in driver’s ed.
*not their real names. In case you were wondering.
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