This guy, very wealthy, wants to give his son a big bar-mitzvah party, something that’ll impress all the people he does business with, so he decides to have a bar-mitzvah safari. He flies the whole party over to Africa and hires guides, a bunch of bearers, two elephants, the whole works. The party is making its way through the jungle when it comes to an unexpected halt. The father calls to the head of the procession to ask what’s going on, and the guide shouts back that they have to give way to the three-elephant bar mitzvah that is crossing their path.
This joke was a touchstone in my family–any big social event was referred to as a “three-elephant” whatever. I went to a three-elephant wedding this weekend that was, well, odd in lots of ways.
The bride and groom, Jennifer and Mark, are friends of mine, through Gwen. Both real hippies, living on some land outside Bastrop. Mark’s glasses are mostly made out of duct tape; Jennifer is an acupuncturist. But it turns out that their families are both part of San Antonio old-money society; Mark was all but disowned by his parents for his anti-establishment lifestyle. You can practically hear a sitcom premise winding up in the background. I knew we were in for something when I saw the ornate invitations done in hand calligraphy.
The event was at the Don Strange Ranch about 110 miles from Austin. This is no more a ranch than the Queen Elizabeth II is, but this does have the ranch schtick as its theme. Chuckwagons, old milk jugs, saddles, and other rustic paraphernalia picturesquely dot the landscape. Half a dozen longhorn cattle were corralled into an uncomfortably small pen that kept them up close to the guests as they walked in.
When an old barn is meticulously updated to become a setting for fabulously wealthy and elegantly attired people to hobnob and drink champagne, the place ceases to be a ranch and becomes an exercise in unwitting kitsch.
That said, the grounds were really beautiful.
The ceremony was an even more bizarre juxtaposition. It was an ill omen that the sound crew couldn’t get the wireless lavaliere mics to work correctly (this was the first wedding I’ve been to that was mic’d), and one of the speakers emitted a constant buzz. Shoeless women carrying cones of flower petals walked around the seats, sprinkling petals and waving sage-sticks. Then a procession of grandparents, cousins, parents, etc came down the aisle. A woman bearing a floral cross came down and hung it from a giant flowered bower. Then the groom, then the bride. There were four officiants: a Catholic priest, an Episcopal priest, and two Pagan priestesses (named Rivers and Spirit). They conducted the whole thing tag-team style; the Episcopal priest visibly rolling his eyes at the pagan sections (and me rolling my eyes at every section). Unsurprisingly, the Pagan parts were gag-inducingly sweet, airy-fairy hoohah, and the Christian parts were intimidating, stern, and didactic–the priests were clearly trying to wrestle the proceedings back to something they considered respectable. Needless to say, with that much going on, the ceremony was long-ish and never seemed to reach a clearly defined end. I can only imagine the wrangling between the kids and the parents that resulted in that camel of a ceremony. I was amused, later, to discover that Rivers’ dog has the pedestrian name Mickey–but Mickey receives 14 different naturopathic treatments every day.
The reception was a lavish spread. Five open bars. Appetizers laid out on derelict horse-drawn carts. A full (and very good) dinner for 425 guests. A cover band that went through three costume changes and, as is required by the International Brotherhood of Cover Bands, played Proud Mary along with other chestnuts like Mustang Sally, Celebrate, a Donna Summer medley, etc. Gwen and I, along with our friends, were in the cheap seats off to the side; it was the important friends of the family who sat at the more central tables and who left first.