Mexican Runaway Bride
By Janice Valverde
A Vignette of Life in Ajijic
A shiny white SUV was parked right across the narrow cobble-stone street from the old San Andrés parish in Ajijic, Mexico. The vehicle, the black wrought iron gate that opens to the church yard, and the massive double doors of the church were in perfect alignment, awaiting the bride and groom. What an ideal evening it was for a wedding—a calm, warm, bright Saturday in the village situated on Lake Chapala. The air shimmered with the same ethereal something that makes Lake Chapala such an extraordinary sight as it shines under the sun all day and under the moon at night.
I wasn’t a wedding guest. I had no idea who the bride was, or the groom, or their families. I was a curious tourist. As I’d wandered from the plaza that evening with a strawberry ice cream, my plan was to visit the old stone and stucco church. I had read that the oldest part of it dated from the 1600s, with additions and changes through the intervening 500 years. Its bell tower had caught my attention from afar, since I had a clear view of it from my hotel balcony, about eight steep blocks above the plaza and church. With the lake and surrounding mountains as its backdrop, the tower was an impressive sight, especially at night, when it appeared to be a four-tiered wedding cake, topped with a cross illuminated with blue lights.
Wherever I was in Ajijic, I could hear the clang clang of the bells—not a melodic chime, and clearly not a recording of Big Ben that I have heard from other bells in other places. A poor village does not have the finest bells. Still, it was a pleasant clang, and I looked forward to the bells sounding out Ave Maria at noon, and again at 7:00 p.m.
Hoping the church would be open, I walked around the corner from the plaza, happy to finally be close enough to go inside and have a look. Finding a local wedding was even better. I passed through the iron gates, into the churchyard, and joined an impromptu gathering of other voyeurs, both gringos and Mexicans, who were observing from just inside the gate. Entering just a moment after me was a procession of four young women in long gowns.
They passed us and then, balancing on ridiculously high platform shoes; they made their way up a set of concrete steps in the middle of the large churchyard. The foursome came within a few yards of the open church doors, but didn’t enter. Each had long hair that tumbled in stylish loose curls to her shoulders. Each clutched a small evening bag. They formed a row with their backs to us—actually a sort of rainbow. One wore royal blue, one wore emerald green, another was in bright coral, and another in black velvet. I couldn’t help but notice that none of them wore slips under their gowns. Our little group of voyeurs (or anyone else, for that matter) could see their legs and derrieres silhouetted through their diaphanous skirts. Why had they stopped just short of the doors? Were they waiting for someone to escort them to their seats?
A burst of music answered that question. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. It was obviously the recessional, not an entrance hymn. Aha, I thought, these young ladies had timed their arrival so that they didn’t have to sit through the Mass, but could blend in with the crowd on its way to the reception. Clever girls. Was that the strategy of the rest of people clustered around the door? The ones smoking cigarettes? The ones chatting with friends?
The final note of Ode to Joy sounded. A photographer and her helper, armed with loads of equipment, darted out of the church to set up a tripod at the top step of the stairs, maybe 30 feet from the door and about 50 feet or so from our vantage point. No sooner had they set things in place but the bride and groom emerged. Laughter and clapping reverberated through the churchyard. Voices echoed from the church. The couple paused with happy just-married grins on their young faces.
Then, to my surprise, the bride walked hurriedly right past the photographers and started down the steps. Her groom was a step or two behind her. He had just caught up with her, when instead of pausing for a photo she took his hand and not very graciously hurried him toward the gate. Her groom followed without questions or objection. Still, he looked bewildered and his grin had faded.
With her breasts bouncing against the stiff bodice of her strapless white gown, wearing a mischievous smile, her hair tossing from side to side as she practically ran through the gate, the bride dashed past our little group and was out of the churchyard in no time. Once her groom caught up with her on the sidewalk, he agilely bent down without missing a step to lift up her voluminous skirt so it would not drag on the sidewalk. Unlike the big white SUV that had been waiting, the sidewalk had not been cleaned at all for this special occasion.
The bride looked quickly to the left, then to the right. I surmised that the new señora was looking for the SUV. Shouldn’t it be sitting in its parking space across from the gate? But it was gone. Why had the driver left that perfect parking space? Why did he head up the one-way street to the corner, only to get stuck behind a battered pick-up truck the color of frijoles refritos? When the bride spied the vehicle near the corner, she tore up the sidewalk towards it. Her groom tried his best to keep up, but he had to hustle. Two unkempt brown dogs crossed her path, but she was undeterred. By now, her maid of honor in a strapless blue gown was chasing her, yelling, laughing and shaking her head in disbelief. She was almost tripping over her own long gown, calling to her friend, “Qué estás haciendo. Adónde vas?”
Runaway bride did not turn around, did not answer her bridesmaid, paid no attention to her husband, and did not stop until she had opened the back seat of the SUV and dragged her skirts and her new spouse in with her.
She opened the rear window. Giddy and smiling, she motioned frantically to her bridesmaid, calling out, “Rapido. Rapido.” Giggling but still looking mystified, the young lady in blue got into the front seat. The driver stepped on the gas, and they were off.
“Wow, what was that all about?” I asked myself. Why the hurry? Did she want to get to the reception ahead of her guests? Did she need a drink before anyone else arrived? Did she want to visit an elder who couldn’t attend the wedding? Was she just anxious to start her married life, or at least the honeymoon? Who knows? I do know what she did is not typical of Mexican brides or brides anywhere. But I also know this young lady displayed a certain Mexican spirit that this gringo can only appreciate but never duplicate. All I can say is, Viva México! Y buena suerte to the new couple.