Friday, April 29, 2011

Story from the Spanish Royal Wedding

For some reason, the United States gets itself in a tizzy about British royal weddings. I find this odd, since many of my English friends and British family seemingly couldn't care less (I mean, we all like the hats and dresses, but as for the wedding and the royal family... meh). But Americans generally go nuts for it. I think some part of us yearns for the celebration of a wealthy wedding imbued with exquisite blue blood class. For something more than celluloid celebrity weddings covered in People Magazine.  For a hint of the princess playground games of our youth. I'm sure I could find some other fluffy socio-psychobabble rationales, but the truth is I don't understand the obsession myself (except about the hats and dresses. And also the excuse for scones and tea parties). It's not that I hate the royal hubbub - in fact, I'm fascinated by it. However, I'm also not that interested in devouring royal wedding information itself, possibly because princesses were never my cup of tea. (For reference, one of my favorite childhood novels was The Ordinary Princess*, which was about as un-princessy as you could get. But she was still, you know, a princess. So maybe it's that I'm ambivalent?) 

Anyhow. Royal weddings. It turns out the United States doesn't get into a tizzy about all royal weddings, just British ones. I learned this when I lived in Spain, while their prince (Felipe) was also marrying a commoner (Letizia) in 2004. Do you recall that wedding? No? If you're from the United States, that's not surprising. If you're European, it's possibly because you're immune to the parade of royalty and their weddings (it turns out there are a ton of royals. Many are of marriageable age and attractive... or at least of marriageable age. I learned all about them from Vanity Fair articles written in the lead up to the Spanish Royal wedding).

I might have been immune to the Spanish Royal wedding insanity, except for several things:
  • I was an English Language teacher. It was my job to involve students in engaging/controversial conversations that would push them to want to use/practice their English and to force them to write opinion arguments for essay exams. The pro/anti-royalty current events were seemingly tailor made for English teacher speech and essay prompts.
  • Letizia had been a prominent TV journalist before the prince proposed. She had also been married and divorced before meeting the prince (Que horror!) She was also stunningly attractive. The press and public ripped her to shreds over the her divorce and whether she had inappropriately used her looks (and insinuations of more) to her professional advantage. My feminist hackles went into overdrive. My favorite trashy women's magazines were having intense debates about the pro/con of a commoner princess who could relate to their shopping trips at Zara. It was all much more fascinating than posh Catherine Middleton and her boring propriety (that college fashion show dress doesn't count).
  • I lived in the heart of Madrid, less than a kilometer from the procession route.
  • I lived in the heart of Madrid, a city that hadn't seen a royal wedding in about 100 years due to the Royal family's expulsion. It was a royal wedding extravaganza, any possible controversies be damned.

I have nothing insightful to add about the royal wedding talk (What?! It's Friday! Cut me some intense-post slack.). But I DO have a royal wedding story that still makes me giggle. So you know how there's been an explosion of ridiculous and even disturbing Royal Wedding souvenirs? (I can't decide which is worse: the bedsheets or the, um, specialty ring).  Right.  People like souvenirs. I understand that. The classier people buy fancy official china, some buy ashtrays with Will and Kate's faces, and some people want to literally take home a piece of the royal wedding. What you learn, living along the procession route, is that the entire route (and city, quite frankly) is completely refurbished and decorated in preparation for the wedding. Streets are cleaned and repaired. Public signs are repainted. Art installations are added to every light pole. Special lights will illuminate the public fountains. Flowers are planted in every conceivable plant-like receptacle on every public street and park. And someone will try to steal every one of them: signs, art installations, lights, and flowers.

Just as quickly as the flowers were planted, they disappeared. New flowers were planted. Those disappeared. I started seeing extra cops on the streets, but there were too many flowers, too much indifference on the part of cops, and way too many eager royal wedding souvenir thieves. By the week of the wedding, the city was a cemetery of dead flower beds and pots stripped bare of even their original sparse blooms.

It was only then that I realized how extensive the souvenir impulse truly was. Two days before the wedding, I was up early for a private English tutoring lesson before business hours. The normally busy city center was mostly empty (Spaniards aren't known as morning people.) The only other woman on this particular street was an old senora. She was maybe 75-ish, dressed conservatively, walking slowly and with effort. I saw her shuffle over to some now ravaged flower beds, examining each one. No flowers were left. Undaunted, she paused for a moment before pulling a ziplock bag and plastic spoon out of her purse. Her eyes did a quick scan of the street. Convinced the coast was clear, she began to rapidly shovel dirt into her plastic bag, intent on taking home a memory - any memory - related to the royal wedding. Even if it was just dirt that had touched the now-stolen flowers that were supposed to have graced the royal wedding procession.

As she hurried off, grasping tightly at her precious plastic baggie of dirt, I swear I saw her shimmy a bit.

*Princess Amy (nee Amethyst) was transformed from princess-pretty into "ordinary" looking by a scorned fairy, developing mousy brown hair and a snub-nose. But she had more fun than the pretty pretty princesses by climbing the castle walls to have adventures in the forest. She ran away when they tried to force her into marriage. She got a job, hid her princess roots, and was just pretty kick-bum overall. She was the princess after my own heart.


  1. Hilarious!
    I'm not into the royal wedding either- fascinated, but don't really feel any attachment. And I definitely did not wake up in the middle of the night to watch...
    Also, I've totally had to bring sand (sand!) back from Hawaii for a souvenir hungry friend! And they didn't even go to Hawaii. My family lives there, so they thought I was a little nuts scooping sand into a bag...

  2. Propriety is boring? I kinda feel Kate's behavior is a breath of fresh air considering the previous generation. LOL

  3. @Amy - Propriety isn't wrong. Personally, I think it's a critical factor in success (particularly judging rules of comport for varying situations). However, in relation to the controversy surrounding Letizia's engagement to Felipe... yes, Catherine Middleton is boring and non-controversial. It's not a ding. Just an observation that her and her past are less fascinating to discuss ad nauseum in the press and classroom.

  4. The Ordinary Princess! One of my absolute favorite books as a kid. That was the princess I wanted to be - the scullery maid who lived in the forest!

  5. I was in Spain for that wedding! Or, you know, not FOR the wedding, but we were there when it happened. But we had already left Madrid and moved onto Barcelona before it occurred.

    At least one station here broadcast it, because D's mom watched it and was sorely disappointed that we hadn't brought her back some souvenirs.

  6. I <3 The Ordinary Princess.

    In fact, I even have a distinct memory of my fiance reading to me from it. I have NO idea why, I think I must have been sick or something. :)


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