Agni, the God of Fire is the witness to the union. The bride and groom take seven steps around the sacred fire. It is not only a wedding of a couple, it is a wedding of two families. It is a wedding of two cultures, north Indian and south Indian. It is all melting together here outside New York City
It is a three day wedding. More than three hundred guests. People have flown in from many parts of the world. The wedding starts with an evening cruise onboard the S/S Atlantis on the waters outside Manhattan. It is a warm, clear evening. Stars in the sky. New York’s sky line is passing by. The lit up Statue of Liberty is more impressive at night than at day.
After the dinner onboard, the partying starts. Music. Rhythms. Dancing. Bollywood. Life. Joy. Just after midnight, the Atlantis is coming back to Pier 9 in Brooklyn. We take a taxi back to our hotel at Midtown on Manhattan.
The second evening, there is another dinner. Another party. More music. More dancing. Indians know how to party. And then comes the big day. The wedding.
The venue is the Greentree Club, a seaside country club outside New York City. The groom is arriving on horse back to the rhythm of drums. Dancing people. Colour. Smiles and joy. A Bollywood movie could not be better. Ceremonies continue for three hours. Everything seems chaotic, disorganized. But the Hindhu wedding follows a detailed plan. The priest is leading the old, traditional ceremonies. Movements. Colour. Mantras. Drums. Finally, the couple is married. The families are married. People throw sacred rice, blessing the newly married.
At the wedding dinner in the evening, the colours are gone. The dress code is dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit. But the music continues. Bollywood continues. Bollywood in black and white. You can take the Indian out of the village. But you can never take the village out of the Indian.
We have arrived in the Big Apple. The taxi ride from Pennsylvania Station to our hotel on West 54th Street takes twenty minutes.
The hotel room on the 8th floor is small. If we had had three suitcases, we would have had a problem. The bed is big, very soft. I look out through the window, looking down at the crossing of West 54th Street and Broadway. We are in the middle of Manhattan. It has been some time since the hotel window was cleaned. It is dirtier than my windows back home.
It is a day of walking. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. Central Park. United Nations on 1st Avenue. Times Square. Lots of yellow taxis. Yes, here they are still yellow. Police cars with sirens. We go to Rockefeller Plaza, take the lift to the top. The Top of the Rock. It is very windy up here. The view is magnificent. The whole of Manhattan, yes the whole of New York, is below our feet.
In the early afternoon, we have walked more than 10 kilometers. We make it back to the hotel, resting our legs on the soft bed before it is time to change. The dress code is smart casual. The car we have ordered through the hotel is there on time. The elderly driver speaks to us in Spanish. We realize that his English is very limited. He does not know the address we are going to. Pier 9 in Brooklyn. He is trying to set his gps in the phone. Then we realize that he does not know how to do it. We have to help him. Then his phone goes flat. The battery is dead.
There is a knock on the car window. Thanks God, it is Jeffrey from our hotel. Jeffrey through whom we booked the car. “Are you still here?” he says. Twenty minutes have passed since we entered the car. He turns to the driver. “These people are boarding a yacht”, he says. “They must be there on time”. It is obvious that the driver is lost. “I will waive down a yellow cab for you”, says Jeffrey. We change cars.
The cab driver is from Algeria. An immigrant like most people in New York. He has been driving a taxi eleven years. He knows his job. He knows that we are in a hurry. One hour later, we have reached Pier 9 at Brooklyn. The Atlantis is still there. Our friends and hosts are waiting at the pier, greeting us and a few others who are also late. The yacht can depart. The party can start….
The White House… We have arrived in Washington, DC. It is cloudy, slight rain.
Tourists gather outside the fence. Photography sessions. Selfies. Group photos. All with the White House in the background. Something to show when you get home.
Memories come back….
It was in July 1962. I was 18 years old. I had been a foreign exchange student. One year in a high school in northern Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. At the end of the school year, I got an invitation to visit the White House in Washington together with a group of other foreign students.
President John F Kennedy received us in Rose Garden. He talked about youth. “You young people are the future of the world”, he said. He talked about his Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was a volunteer program started by President Kennedy where young Americans where sent out into the world in different aid projects. He urged us “young people” to go out in the world. To see, to learn, to help.
Some days in your life are more important than other days. This was one of those days. I was at an age when you were easily impressed. And President Kennedy impressed me. What he said impressed me. Later back in Sweden, I read books about President Kennedy. I read books with his speeches. “Young man, move out into the world” was the message I had taken with me from that sunny day in the garden outside the White House. And I did just that. Some years later, I moved out into the world. Sweden was my birth place. The world became my home.
That day, I had been inside the fence of the White House. Inside the fence, looking out. Today I am outside the fence. Outside, looking in.
More tourists come. More photos are taken. A group of Chinese tourists wants me to take a photo. A photo of the group with the White House in the background.
It is a peaceful day at the White House. President Trump is in Saudi Arabia…
It is early summer in Toronto. It is sunny, clear skies, as we drive towards Hamilton. Roads are good, traffic light. We are surrounded by light green colours, the colours of early summer, colours that will change into darker green as days go by. Many flowers on the road side. Red, white, blue, violet. Nature is in its love phase….
After Hamilton, before the Falls, we pass many Canadian wineries. We did not know that wines are produced in Canada. Now we know.
The power of the water is intense. Again, I cannot take my eyes from the water. Several hundred thousands of cubic meters of water going over the edge every second. Every second. Niagara Falls. Another gift from nature. Another wonder. World, you are beautiful.
We walk until our legs are tired. The mild sound from falling water is gently fondling our ears. The dew from rising mist from the falls is making our jackets wet.
We are back in Toronto before sunset. Our seafood dinners from previous nights is replaced with a tasty chicken meal. We try Canadian red wine. Not bad. Not bad at all…