Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Wedding Crasher

Don’t you love it when totally random Google searches wind up with you crashing a wedding party? Yeah, me too.

Late last Sunday night, a woman in Las Vegas googled Galpão Crioulo and found this. The woman, who I now call my new friend Tanya, was heading to Porto Alegre on Tuesday to attend a wedding. A vegetarian, she was likely none-too-excited to read about the feast on her agenda for Thursday evening. Nevertheless, she enjoyed reading a little about the city and felt less intimidated about her first international expedition.

I was so tickled to receive her email on Monday, full of generous compliments and questions about climate and dress. We swapped several messages and, sensing we were kindred souls, set up a lunch date for Thursday. After a bit of dress shopping, we went for a yummy caprese sandwich at a café near her hotel. We could hardly get our life stories exchanged quickly or concisely enough. Lunchtime bled into the hour of high tea, when poor Charles, her boyfriend who had been abandoned much of the day, joined us for a glass of vinho tinto. We had such a lovely time that Tanya suggested I accompany them to their dinner party.

Back up. The marriage of Rafat (an Iraqi who spent what sounds like the majority of his childhood in the States) and Stella (a Brazilian of clearly German descent) was the reason for Charles’ and Tanya’s long journey. Rafat and Charles were college buddies that subsequently worked together (in some engineering capacity which is a bit too evolved for my brain) for a number of years. Suffice it to say, Rafat is a very successful man with, quite literally, a wealth of friends all over the globe. This wasn’t just a wedding—this was a festa of epic proportions. I mean, the bride and groom meticulously planned a 5-day adventure for their guests, including exceptional dining experiences, pub crawls, and an overnight trip to Gramado—oh, and the wedding itself, on the top floor of the most elegant hotel in the city.

Rafat and Stella (center)

Resuming my story, I felt hesitant about barging in on someone’s pre-wedding dinner and told Tanya and Charles I’d touch base with them later. When I spoke to Tanya that evening, she said they had spoken with Rafat and I was welcome to join them. The invitation was well-timed with my resolution to be more spontaneous. Besides, I was expecting a laid-back and intimate dinner party with 8 to 10 people sharing travel stories. I was right about the travel stories part, but that’s all. I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before the buses. Buses? Yes, the coaches that had been hired to transport the 40 other guests from the hotel.

This was a huge event! Just in my immediate surround at the table, I met a couple from Jordan, another from the British midlands, and an American-Venezuelan couple. With several other nationalities accounted for, too, this was definitely the most global function I’ve ever attended.

Tanya and the good-humored groom, Rafat

During the course of the evening, I developed a fondness for this great mix of guests. Among them: Wendy, a one-time renegade travel gal herself, and her husband Peter, the life of the party; Ana, the girl that gets everyone dancing at the end of the night, and Paul; and a photographer from the East Coast, Lisa. The latter was the embodiment of a sassy and innovative traveler: case in point, her and her husband’s three suitcases had been suspiciously “lost” so she had done some serious shopping that day. In the pinch, she corrected the length of her new dress with a pair of scissors on loan from the hotel concierge. Priceless.

Improvised beauty

I think most of the guests just assumed I was a colleague or friend of someone or other—until I revealed my story at the end of the meal. Underdressed for the event (like I said, it wasn’t what I expected!), I was apprehensive of being deemed wholly uncouth. To the contrary, the revelation that I had met Tanya just that afternoon was met with laughter, and dare I say, a trace of admiration.

Tanya and Charles, Ana and Paul

Let this be a lesson for me and you, fun seekers everywhere, to carry forth: be spontaneous, be open. I had an amazing evening. I only regret not knowing these strangers better.

Oh, and something tells me that Stella and Rafat don’t need my wishes for a spectacularly fulfilling life together, but I offer them anyway—along with my gratitude for letting me crash.

Party on,