Friday, October 16, 2015

Knocking Off the God Stuff

“You know, I think all this religiosity is seriously affecting your mood, Marc,” said Lady. “Surely Bach must have written something cheerful? Of his two hundred whatever cantatas, they can’t all be entirely gloomy….”

“In fact, he wrote twenty or so secular cantatas,” I told her. “And I just got done listening to two of them. The first is the Wedding Cantata, and the second is the Coffee Cantata.”

“Bach wrote a cantata about coffee?”

“He certainly did, since it was a big issue at the time. Coffee was relatively new in Germany in the 1730’s, and people were still getting their heads around it. It had a buzz, everybody agreed, but was that a good thing? Was it sent from the devil? So some sects of some churches were banning it—I could tell you which, but the Internet at the café took off last night on a bender, and is lying drunk in the gutter somewhere. If you see it, would you tell it to come back? Anyway, coffee was taking Europe by storm, and the coffee houses of the day were filled with people, all arguing the latest political, social, and religious issues of the day. Must have been lively places….”

“So what’s the cantata about?”

“Well, it’s Bach trying to be light-hearted, which is about as painful as seeing Karl Marx do stand-up comedy. Anyway, a father is distraught because his daughter is spending all her time hanging out in the café, guzzling coffee, and he goes through a gamut of threats to get her to stop. No new ribbons, no new dresses, no going out or even looking out the window. The girl always says no, so what does poppa do? He tries the carrot instead of the stick, and says that he’ll run out and get the girl a husband! So the girl goes into a really lovely little aria about how good poppa is; the little minx does, however, put the word out on the street that any suitor will have to sign a marriage contract. And guess what that specifies?”

“That she can drink all the coffee she wants?”

“Right—and not particularly subtle. So it ends up with the father throwing in the towel, since if granny, mamma, and all the rest of womanhood are drinking coffee, well, how are you going to keep your daughter from doing the same?”


“That’s it.”

“That’s it?”

“I told you, it’s as weak as a wet, sick kitten. But there is some nice music, though.”

“OK—one down. What about the Wedding Cantata?”

“Well, he wrote it about the time that he got married to his second wife, Anna Magdalena. And she was a professional singer, whom he may or may not have heard even before his first wife died. At any rate, it’s for solo soprano, and it’s in turn rapturous and then joyful. No wonder everybody records it….”

“So is that what you’ll play for your wedding?”

“Ugh, let’s not talk about that—I’m getting some serious cold feet about getting married.”

“Why? You’ve been with Raf for what, thirty years?”

“Think it’s 32, but who knows? But anyway, that’s not the problem. The real issue is the time and the organization and the planning of it all. Just thinking about whom to invite is a nightmare, since even if you keep it at immediate family only…”


“There are little tensions in all families,” I told her. “And trying to organize Raf’s family—six siblings, many with titanic personalities—is like trying to herd cats. Anyway, I don’t even like parties, so why would I want to organize one? It’ll be thirty people at least, if everybody comes.”

“So do it somewhere where you can escape and recharge.”

“A thought,” I told her. “But it feels kind of weird, getting my brothers to come all the way to Puerto Rico to see me get married, especially since I am married—though by a justice of the peace with a couple of clerks as witnesses. Besides, we’ve been together for so long—I mean, none of Raf’s or my nephews and nieces have ever not known us. We’re sort of like the Queen, you know—always been there.”

“All the more reason to get married.”

“Then there’s the money,” I said. “And don’t tell me to keep it simple, because absolutely every couple starts down that road, and guess where they end up? Deciding whether they can afford the tray of asparagus wrapped in Norwegian smoked salmon as canapés for the sit-down dinner of Scottish grouse in a truffle sauce. The grouse having been hunted especially by gentlemen of your favorite Scottish clan, wearing their authentic kilts. Oh, and they’ll be flying over the Atlantic to serve the grouse at your table—one Scot per table—since only they know how to carve the grouse. Cheap at $75,000, don’t you think?”


“Then of course we come to the little matter of the favors—you know, the little gifts you’re supposed to give the people who have spent all this money to come to this event that you have spent all this money to provide them. So…”

“Marc, I really think…”

“So that means that we have to commission Nick Quijano—since he’s a friend—to do a special silk screen for the occasion. And Nick is marvelous, as he should be, since his originals go for anywhere in the six figures. So that will consume pretty much all of our vacation money for the next sixty years, but no problem, since we’ve had so many nice vacations already! I mean, who needs more? And we’ll always have memories of our wedding!”

“Marc, you don’t…”

“Of course, you could see this as our contribution to the Puerto Rican economy—currently in crisis—since I’ve got it into my head: this is Puerto Rico, and a tropical paradise. So it’s obviously a destination wedding, which means that…”

“It’s certainly not a destination wedding…”

“…so boutique hotels—I mean, is my brother the Pulitzer-prize-winner gonna stay in a Hotel 6 or 8 or whatever the number is? Of course not, so let’s see, El Convento—with its charming atmosphere of 17th century Spanish Colonial architecture, and its rumored ghost of the founding abbess doña María del Pilar del Zaragonza whatever she was….

“Marc, you’re being completely…”

“Then the tours! You can’t have your guests wandering around aimlessly all day, bored out of their minds by the white sandy beaches and the azure skies and the emerald water, can you? Nay, nay—so you’ll have to hire fifteen or so carriages authentically designed to mimic the early nineteenth century style, each pulled by 8 pasofinos to go deep into the mountains, where guides dressed in authentic jíbaro garb, specially created…”



“Marc, you are being completely crazy! This isn’t a destination wedding, and you don’t have to do all this stuff. We got married in a courtroom, and there was a murder trial on one side, and a rape trial on the other.”

“I remember—but wait. I thought you had a real wedding, and you put up the French side of the family at the Atlantic Beach Hotel.”

“I did!”

“Lady, how could you!”

“Well, they said they wanted something cheap, and something on the beach, and…”

“Lady, the Atlantic Beach is one step up from—wait, the Atlantic Beach is a gay bathhouse. If not—quite frequently—a brothel!”

“Well, Nico’s family was a little puzzled at how very friendly the other guests were, especially to the male members. But we assured them it was that famous, Caribbean zest for living. Anyway, they loved it!”

“Only you could get away with it. Can you imagine if I did it? It would confirm everybody’s worst suspicions….”

“The point is…”

“I finally figured it out. I don’t want to have a wedding! But…”


“I want to have had one!”