Friday, January 23, 2009

Wedding Crashers

A television commercial for the U.S. Army once asked: "If your life were a movie, which would it be?"

Apparently, mine is Wedding Crashers.

At least, that's the new activity on the docket – crashing weddings. Specifically, lavish Indian weddings where the buffets stretch as far as the horizon, the bands (and there are several) play 1980's pop hits and the ladies vie to see who can wear the heaviest gold.

We stumbled upon this new activity in Goa, a former Portuguese colony that's now India's most popular beach resort (read: shoreline not covered with trash). Huge waves of foreigners normally spend Christmas and New Years sunbathing on Goa's shores, but the "high terror alert" – Goa has the highest terror alert in the nation in the wake of the recent Mumbai attacks – has kept tourism at bay. We went to Goa in spite of the red alert, hoping the beaches would be empty and the amenities cheap and plentiful.

As it turned out, we were right. For $2 a night per head, we slept in an ant-infested 13 x 9 ft. shack built from woven bamboo mats. Its roof was a single blue tarp with a few palm fronds thrown on top for decoration; its green metal front door opened directly onto the beach.

During the day we walk 100 ft. from our front door to a sandy lounge chair, where we recline under an umbrella by the ocean, drinking Coke, staring at the grey naval warships dotting the horizon. We'd see the occasional foreigner -- like that crazy Dutch woman who feeds chappati to all the stray dogs, whose skin is saggy from far too much sun -- but we'd also see rifle-toting Indian soldiers patrolling the shoreline or bunkered down behind sandbags. Searching for Pakistani terrorists?

We were the only customers at a local restaurant one afternoon when we struck up a conversation with the owner, Amaro Rodriguez. He's born-and-bred Indian who, like many Goan locals, bears a Portuguese name as a result of centuries of colonialization. Amaro mentioned that a friend-of-a-friend's wedding reception would happen close to our hotel that night. "If you want to come, meet me in front at 9 p.m.," he said.

We had our own longstanding evening plans – a dinner date with old friends whom we hadn't seen in a long time. Our party of five dined late into the night, and when we walked past the wedding reception on our way home, around 11 p.m., we knew there was no hope of finding Amaro.

Still, we wanted to go to that reception. The music was bumping. A line of parked cars stretched across the otherwise vacant road. Men in suits and women in evening gowns chatted on cell phones near a cobra-strewn rice paddy. Stray goats peered curiously inside.

We decided we should try to crash the event. We had – sort of, kind of, technically – been a little invited. And if anyone questioned us, we'd just say we were meeting Amaro.

We skirted the party to see if there was a good back enterence we could use to sneak through. Or maybe the kitchen enterance? We toyed with a few stealthier ideas, then decided the best disguise is confidence. With our shoulders back, chin up, head held high, we marched proudly through the front door. No questions asked.

Inside was a wonderland. Fountains sprayed against the foliage. Ice sculptures gleamed next to the ice cream buffet. A red carpet stretched across a miniature footbridge, opening into a sea of white linen-draped tables. Kids in tiny suits scampered on the swingset. A rowdy group grooved to live music. A swarm of Indians rushed to us like servants, asking if they could pour us tea / give us chocolate / help us find a seat.

From the haze, a very drunk Amaro stumbled toward us. "You made it!" he yelled like a victory cheer for his favorite team. "Come!" He grabbed me by the hand and led us to the bar. "You like wine?" My friend and I each took one glass and headed to a table. Before we could finish sitting down, Amaro was stumbling toward us with two more glasses of shiraz. "For you!," he said, then bolted from the table. He emerged a minute later carrying a full bottle of rather expensive red wine. "And this!"

"How exactly do you know these people?" I asked Amaro.

"Um, the groom played football – no, his brother played football with – I mean …," Amaro stumbled over his words.

Then he leans over to us. "There's a wedding here almost every night," he says, winking.

Ah. So we weren't the first to have this nefarious idea.

It's a shame we had to leave Goa after only a week. We could make wedding crashing a full-time preoccupation.