I was tempted to tell you this is a photo of J sweeping me into his arms for our “you may now kiss the bride” moment, but I figured that wouldn’t fool anyone. Besides, if J had bent me over backwards for such a smooch, we probably both would have injured ourselves.
When J and I found ourselves with time to kill on our way to tour the USS Midway Museum in San Diego a few weeks ago, we had no idea there was a monumental, three-dimensional version of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph, V-J Day in Times Square, towering next to the ship. Entitled Unconditional Surrender, Seward Johnson’s 25-foot aluminum sculpture is exactly the kind of thing you can’t miss if you’re walking the waterfront on foot, but you probably would miss it if you drove to the waterfront and parked on the other side of the massive Midway. This is one of the things I love about exploring an unfamiliar city on foot. Instead of driving to the places your guidebook recommends, you find the serendipitous sites–the hidden jewels–that happen to be along your route from Point A to Point B.
There is, it turns out, a bit of controversy surrounding Johnson’s sculpture…and it has nothing to do with its depiction of a steamy smooch between strangers or the massive stretch of stockinged female leg the statue alluringly shows. (Yes, both J and I looked up the nurse’s dress to admire her shapely gams: the statue almost begs you to.) First, there’s the issue of intellectual property: Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph is still protected by copyright, so Johnson would be prohibited from producing another work derived from it. In his own defense, Johnson insists his statue is based upon a lesser-known photo by Victor Jorgensen that is in the public domain…but which shows far less leg than Eisenstaedt’s image.
Second, there’s controversy over the question of whether Unconditional Surrender is a “good” sculpture. In one review, an art critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune condemns it as kitsch, claiming “The figures look like something from a cheap souvenir factory, blown up beyond any reason.” In Sarasota, Florida, where another version of Johnson’s statue appears along the city’s waterfront, the chair of the local Public Art Committee says the sculpture “is like a giant cartoon image drafted by a computer emulating a famous photograph….not the creation of an artist.”
Is the sculpture kitschy and cartoonish? Definitely. Is it historically iconic in the way that Alfred Eisenstaedt’s original photo was? Definitely not. But does either criticism mean the work doesn’t belong on the San Diego waterfront? According to the Unified Port of San Diego website, Unconditional Surrender “captures the spontaneous eruption of joy and euphoria that swept a war-weary nation when the public announcement was finally made that World War II was over.” The moment of serendipitous spontaneity that Alfred Eisenstaedt captured with his camera–the kind of crazy joy that inspires sailors to sweep pretty nurses into their arms–is itself kitschy, cartoonish, and entirely common. Celebrating war’s end with a sloppy smooch isn’t high-brow and cultured; it’s the kind of collective craziness Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in Dancing in the Streets: a kind of Mardi Gras frivolity that isn’t serious, cultivated, or even the least bit snooty.
Given the fact that Unconditional Surrender is on loan to the Port of San Diego only until August 31, this is merely a passing moment of kitsch: the kind of serendipity you can find only while it lasts.
When J and I decided to get married in San Diego, we quickly compiled a short-list of things we wanted to do during the five days we’d be there. In addition to getting married at the San Diego Zoo
Wild Animal Park Safari Park, we wanted to visit the actual San Diego Zoo. Given our fondness for baseball, we wanted to see a Padres game; given our fondness for naval ships, we wanted to tour the USS Midway Museum. Last but not least, we wanted to spend some time strolling the grounds of Balboa Park with its landscaped gardens, museums, and other attractions. With its predictably perfect weather, San Diego is a pedestrian paradise, and the grounds of Balboa Park are a beautiful place to wander.
This was my second time visiting San Diego, and my second encounter with Balboa Park. Years ago, my ex-husband and I took a long road-trip to California and back, and we stayed an extra day in San Diego to do laundry. I mention the laundry because that was the only reason we stayed two nights in San Diego: everywhere else we stopped on that long road-trip, we stayed only one night, always pressing on to our next destination. Somewhere deep in my photo archives I have an old picture of a much-younger me sitting on a bench in Balboa Park with a much-younger Reggie: one of a dozen pictures my ex-husband and I took in San Diego when we weren’t at our hotel doing laundry. Both Reggie and I enjoyed that day walking around in Balboa Park, the chance to walk being a welcome respite from all the driving we did on that road-trip.
J’s and my wedding trip to San Diego wasn’t intended as purification, “purification” being the term we use to refer to our habit of revisiting (and thus reclaiming) places we’ve previously gone alone or with our respective exes. But of course, any time you revisit a place, you are in a sense clearing the air of any old, musty memories that might have lingered there. When I first visited Balboa Park during that years-ago road-trip, I immediately wanted to go back and spend more time there: one short afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to explore, and all those days cooped up in a car were taking their toll. In the back of my mind, when I added “Balboa Park” to J’s and my short-list of wedding-trip activities, I must have realized the place deserved an exorcism all its own, thereby transforming it from being a place I visited all-too-briefly with Husband #1 to being a place I truly enjoyed with Husband #2.
We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t go home again, but what happens when you return to the site of a long-ago vacation, a place that certainly isn’t home? Leslee recently wondered whether vacationing in a new place is better than returning to a destination you’ve already visited…but what happens if you return with your new husband to a place you previously explored with the old? Can you purify a place without drawing unfair comparisons between “then” and “now”? One of the things I enjoyed about J’s and my wedding trip is how much walking we did: far from spending too many hours cooped up in a car, we explored San Diego on foot, walking from our hotel to Balboa Park and back, from our hotel to the ballpark and back, and from our hotel to the Zoo, Midway Museum, and waterfront and back. So many steps — so many hours spent literally on the ground in San Diego — made this trip intrinsically different from any road-trip, for we explored our various routes and destinations at eye-level and at the speed of our own feet.
The first time I visited Balboa Park, my main regret was that I didn’t have more time to explore there: Balboa Park was a place I missed before I’d even left. This time around, my only regret is that we didn’t get to tour the Botanical Building, as we were there on Thursday, the only day it’s closed. Someday, someday. I no longer need to return to San Diego’s Balboa Park in search of a leisurely experience I missed, and I no longer need to go there to purify the place from old ghosts and stale regrets. The next time J and I visit Balboa Park, we’ll do so in a spirit of celebration, a chance to revisit a sun-soaked landscape whose contours cradle many happy memories.
Click here for a photo-set of images from Balboa Park…or here for photos from my fist visit.
When J and I decided to have our wedding ceremony and reception at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (recently renamed the San Diego Zoo Safari Park), we figured the venue would provide a fun, informal, one-of-a-kind experience for our guests. As it turns out, we were exactly right. The Wild Animal Park’s Lagoon Overlook and Mombasa Island Pavilion were perfect for our wedding ceremony and reception.
From the moment we got engaged in January, J and I knew we wanted a small, informal wedding, and since it was a second wedding for both of us, we were comfortable with trying something nontraditional. J didn’t want to wear a tuxedo, just a dress shirt and tie; I wanted to wear a dress that was white, but not long. Although we knew we wanted a ceremony that was informal and not “stuffy,” we also wanted our wedding to be dignified: getting married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator, for instance, just isn’t our style. Basically we wanted to plan an event that would be enjoyable for our guests while not attracting a huge amount of attention to ourselves: something low-key, classy, and non-bridezilla.
When we narrowed our choices to some sort of destination wedding in California, we still had a lot of possibilities to choose from. California is a big state, and its liberal marriage requirements for nonresidents makes it popular for destination weddings. After spending a seemingly interminable amount of time Googling various wedding venues in California, I stumbled upon a review that mentioned the San Diego Zoo. The moment I mentioned this to J, he was intrigued: we both love animals, so a zoo sounded like the perfect setting for our nuptials. Better yet, after we investigated the various wedding packages the Zoo and Wild Animal Park offer, we were delighted to learn we could throw the kind of fun, informal, dignified wedding we envisioned without breaking our budget.
Still, as perfect as a zoo wedding seemed when we picked it, neither J nor I had ever actually been to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Instead, we were “flying blind” as we planned our wedding, trusting the pictures on the Zoo website, our event planner, and our imaginations as we envisioned what the event would actually look like. As a result, one of the magical aspects of our wedding last Saturday was our actual arrival at the Park: the first time we actually saw the place we would be married. Planning an out-of-state wedding at a place you’ve never been before is a huge leap of faith: there’s always the possibility that you’ll arrive at your venue only to discover too late that it’s ugly, dirty, or otherwise disappointing. Happily, getting married at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was exactly as we had hoped it would be.
I’m not sure exactly what our guests were expecting when they agreed to fly to San Diego for a wedding at a zoo, but their breathless responses after the wedding suggest their expectations were pleasantly exceeded. So were mine! While we were planning the wedding, I loved the idea of getting married outside in southern California’s fabled sunny weather, and I loved the idea of getting married next to a bird-thronged lagoon. When we arrived at the Wild Animal Park last Saturday morning, I was delighted to discover our ceremony site was even prettier than I’d imagined. The lagoon where we got married was filled with birds, both the exotic ones that belong to the Wild Animal Park’s collection (e.g. shoebills, pelicans, and nesting cormorants) as well as the wild birds that drop in to visit (e.g. night herons, egrets, and ducks). The reception site was an open-air pavilion right along this same lagoon, so we could bird-watch the entire time.
One of my goals for this, my second wedding, was to actually remember the event. The first time I got married, I was so busy doing all the things you’re “supposed to do” as a bride, I didn’t get much of a chance to actually enjoy my own wedding day. In retrospect, my first wedding felt a bit like a puppet-show where someone else was pulling the strings: my body was “there,” but “I” don’t remember much about the event.
This second time around, I wanted to actually be present at my own wedding: I wanted to enjoy the day, our guests, and the actual venue of the event. J and I wanted to plan a fun wedding because we wanted to have fun. It’s telling, then, that as I go through the hundreds of pictures I took on my own wedding day, I don’t have any pictures of the ceremony or reception, when I trusted others would be snapping photos. Instead, I have countless pictures of the animals J and I saw both before and after the wedding, just as I would if we’d gone to the Wild Animal Park on any other day. More than being just “our wedding day,” last Saturday was fun because J and I got to do the kind of sightseeing and picture-taking we enjoy…and we got to do it with our closest friends and family.
In an attempt to remember my favorite moments from this memorable occasion, here are some verbal snapshots from our wedding day:
When we arrived at the Wild Animal Park, a member of the events staff was at the entrance to meet us. After officially checking us in, she escorted J, my sister, my niece, the friend who had chauffeured us, and me into a waiting golf cart which whisked us to our ceremony site. “We get to ride a golf cart,” I gushed, and then I chuckled. Apparently it takes very little to excite me!
When we arrived at our ceremony and reception site more than two hours ahead of time, nearly everything was already set up. Inside the Mombasa Island pavilion, our dining tables were set with mauve and maroon tablecloths, the bar was draped with festive animal-print linens, and a long reception table was arranged with our guest book, meal place-cards, and guest souvenirs: Wild Animal Park travel mugs for adults and large animal sipper-bottles for kids.
After we walked through the reception site, Keely, the event coordinator I’d frequently emailed but hadn’t yet met, was at the nearby ceremony site to greet us in a black-and-white animal-print dress as she commanded a small army of workers on a walkie-talkie. “We’ll dry off the chairs before the ceremony,” Keely explained, gesturing toward some dew that had condensed on the white folding chairs where our guests would sit. As Keely was talking, a zoo worker materialized out of nowhere with a push-broom to sweep away a puddle left on the sidewalk by the morning street-cleaning. Needless to say, the event staff’s attention to detail was amazing!
After we’d checked out the ceremony and reception venues, we were escorted to the official bride’s room in the Park’s administrative building, where we decided we’d prefer to walk around the park rather than sit and primp. The Wild Animal Park worker who had been assigned to escort us to particularly photogenic sites was bemused to discover, however, that J and I weren’t interested in posing for pictures of us; instead, we wanted to take pictures of the animals! Whenever our escort would point our a particularly picturesque scene, J and I would take a quick look, and if there were animals, we’d pull out our cameras and start snapping pictures. If there were no animals, we’d look around and keep walking. That escort is still probably scratching her head at our bizarrely self-effacing, non-bridezilla behavior. What kind of bridal couple doesn’t want to pose for tons of pictures?
As we walked around the Wild Animal Park enjoying the quiet calm of early morning, when the animals are always most active, we could overhear on our escort’s radio Keely’s disembodied voice as she coordinated last-minute details. We heard, for instance, when the florist arrived with my bouquet and J’s boutonniere, and we heard when our officiant arrived. The best update, though, was when we heard a Park volunteer radio in to report that all our guests had been checked in at the admissions gate. With our flowers, officiant, and guests all arrived, we were ready to roll!
After our private tour of the Wild Animal Park, we returned to the administration building to meet our officiant, Rev. Powers. Just as we’d booked our wedding venue without ever visiting it, we’d hired Rev. Powers without having met him, trusting the gushing recommendations of the Wild Animal Park staff. After having planned our ceremony with Rev. Powers via email, it was a delight to meet him in the flesh just in time to sign the official papers. After my sister took few pictures of a jittery J and me signing our wedding license, J and I were whisked back into a golf cart while Rev. Powers and our entourage made their own way to the ceremony.
On that final golf cart ride, J and I zipped past the gorilla enclosure, where lines of school-children in matching T-shirts were queued after having stayed overnight at the Wild Animal Park (a program delightfully called Roar and Snore). “You’re not really married until you’ve seen the gorillas!” our escort remarked, and at the time, as we zipped by resting primates, this somehow made sense. After we’d been dropped off at a place called the Gorilla Bridge to await our cue from Keely to walk down the aisle, J and I stood in the shade looking a mite conspicuous, with J in his dress shirt and tie and me in my white eyelet dress and bright pink sunhat. As one couple walked by, their little girl looked at us shyly, finally mustering the nerve to ask if we were getting married. When I said yes, the mother urged both the girl and her brother to say congratulations, and as the family walked away, I overheard the father say to the girl, “Maybe someday you’ll get married, too!”
From here, I think both J and I kicked into autopilot, that hazy state where your body does what it’s supposed to do without your brain exactly knowing how that happened. I remember that J and I walked together toward our ceremony site then down the aisle, hand-in-hand; in a cell-phone photo a friend snapped, J and I are smiling and walking in perfect step. I don’t specifically remember walking down the aisle, but I remember seeing our gathered family and friends looking at us, and it seemed everyone was smiling and holding up cameras or cell phones, taking pictures.
After the excited hours leading up to our wedding, I have a handful of vivid memories from the ceremony itself. The first was the moment when I noticed Rev. Powers’ hands as he held the booklet containing the ceremony we’d assembled, and I saw he was wearing J’s and my wedding rings on his pinkie for safekeeping. The second was the moment as I was reciting my vows that a hot-air balloon floated into view, as if on cue. But perhaps the most memorable moment during our ceremony came near the end, after J and I had said our vows and exchanged rings. Rev. Powers told us to turn toward our guests as we adjusted our rings, and once again everyone raised cameras and cell-phones for the quintessential “just married” snapshot.
In retrospect, I don’t remember any individual faces in the crowd; I just remember being surrounded by a warm blur of love, like the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Bible. That blur of warm, smiling faces was a vivid reminder of how blessed both J and I are to have the love and support of our close friends and family.
It was that spontaneous expression of love and support we celebrated at our open-air reception, where our unofficial animal “guests” included a night heron who perched right next to our dessert station and a shoebill who was hand-fed a mouse which he subsequently swallowed whole. As if to keep everything in perspective, toward the end of the reception one of my new nephews approached me and solemnly admitted, “The part where we had to sit still and listen was kind of boring.” True. Compared to the wild delights of an entire park full of wild animals, the solemnity of wedding vows can seem pretty boring. Luckily, we had plenty of colorful guests, both human and animal alike, to keep things lively.
Click here for the complete photo-set of scenes from our wedding day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. You won’t find any wedding or reception pictures in my photo-set, just pictures of animals.
The post-ceremony photo of me and J was taken by our friend Fred, who used J’s camera to take pictures during the ceremony; I’ll share a link to those pictures once J has sorted through the thousands of pictures (!!!) he took during our San Diego getaway. Enjoy!
I’ve been to the Zen Center twice this week: first on Thursday night, when I answered questions at a Dharma talk, and again this morning, when I gave consulting interviews. On Thursday, I arrived in Cambridge early enough to meet a friend for a late afternoon chat in Harvard Square. During the time it took me to park in Central Square and then stroll down Modica Way snapping a quick set of photos on my way to the subway, I got doused by a quick afternoon shower. During the time it took me to take the subway from Central to Harvard Square and then make a quick stop at the drugstore, the rain stopped and my clothes began to dry…until the heavens re-opened in a torrential downpour. Finally, after my friend and I had enjoyed a leisurely cup of hot chocolate, a stint of stationery shopping, and a soothing glass of iced tea, the sun came out, making for a bright and brisk sunset.
Today’s weather has been more constant than Thursday’s: it’s been sunny and summery all day long. But today’s constancy doesn’t belie Thursday’s fickleness. August is a transitional month where lingering heat waves and sudden summer showers gradually but inevitably give way to the brisk days of September. Given the August weather now, you never quite know what the August weather will be like next.
The spray-painted, stenciled, and wheat-pasted works on the wall at Modica Way are similarly fleeting. Given I’d snapped those quick photos on Thursday, I figured I wouldn’t see anything new this morning…but between then and now, the wall at Central Square has burst into bloom, last week’s graffiti being covered by this week’s. August is the season when nature seems to kick into overdrive, with goldfinches finally getting around to lining their nests with late summer thistle-down while backyard cicadas and crickets grow deafening, cramming as much volume as possible into waning days.
Neither schoolchildren nor their parents need advertisements to remind them that back-to-school is imminent: August itself suggests as much. Already it’s getting dark earlier, the first acorns have begun to drop, and drought-distressed trees and shrubs are getting a head start on their autumnal colors. August rain comes and goes, and Saturday night graffiti artists will surely spray-paint over any art that’s grown stale. Walking past the Same Old Wall on my way to meditate upon the Same Old Mind, I’m reminded that everything is constantly changing: the weather, the walls, and my own fleeting thoughts.
Day by day, the wedding grows closer, and I feel ready and even eager, not nervous. I don’t remember what I felt during the weeks before my first wedding; I can’t remember whether I felt anxious or fearful. I probably didn’t know what to think: what did I possibly know then? I had no idea what kind of life–what kind of challenges–faced me.
J and I have settled into our own compromises; we’ve figured out, more or less, how not to step on one another’s toes during these summer months when we’re both around the house. It’s a constant dance; you never quite capture the permanent poise you long for. Instead, you have to keep moving, perpetually on your toes, reacting and responding as your partner moves, correcting and compensating for missteps, both your own and your partner’s.
Being married is the most challenging practice I’ve ever done, more difficult than getting a PhD or sitting a long Zen retreat or climbing a mountain. It’s challenging because you agree to do it for the rest of your life whether you want to or not–whether you think your spouse deserves it or not–whether at the moment you even like your spouse or not. Being married isn’t about the happy times you share (as I’m sure I thought when I was looking forward to my first marriage). Being married is about sticking around and giving it another try when you no longer want to.
I had no idea how difficult marriage is the first time I got married: how could I have? All we hear when it comes to marriage are the extremes at either end of the spectrum: on the one side, the happily-ever-after of wedded bliss, and other the other, the tragedy and turmoil of failed unions. Given these two options, it’s natural to think those are the only two choices, that your marriage will be either happy or miserable. When you’re young, optimistic, and engaged, no one mentions the plain and simple truth: any marriage will be both happy and miserable, the tenuous balance of intimacy being poised between those two ever-present extremes.
Balance is not a static thing, and neither is intimacy. If you’ve ever watched a circus tightrope performance, you know tightrope walkers are always in motion, leaning slightly one way then the other. Only in a frozen snapshot does a tightrope walker ever stand still; instead, at every moment, a tightrope walker is tottering between extremes, calculating and recalibrating the precise position of every extremity–every living cell and corpuscle, it seems–with an attention that can only be called electric.
Marriage is like that, but in slow motion: it takes your entire lifetime, ’til death do you part, to cross from here to there on the thin thread called “I do.” At any given moment, you might lean heavily toward bliss; at the next moment, you might dip dangerously toward despair. Your vow is your lifeline, the central balanced point you return to time and again. But balance is never static. The second you settle on a comfortable balanced point you wish could last forever, you’ve already fallen, your body freezing into a fixed rigidity that stymies its natural flexibility.
It takes a master to walk a tightrope, and it takes a master to weather the woes and wobbles of being in relationship. This is a truth I didn’t know (and nobody told me) the first time I got married. This time around, I’m walking into marriage with eyes wide open.
Click here for more pictures of the giant bronze baby heads–the paired sculptures of Antonio López García’s Day and Night–outside the Fenway entrance of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.