When we were on holiday in Santorini just before Easter, when the season begins and the trampling visitors arrive. There was still a laziness to the island, the sound of hammers and the smell of paint prompting the locals to action in anticipation of the money of strangers.
Feeling like the only outsiders to touch down in Oia, it was a shock to turn a corner and see throngs of Chinese people clad in tourist gear, followed by an immaculately dressed bride and groom having their photos taken amidst the stark white and blue the island is so famous for.
Where were these weddings taking place? It is usual to see not just a wedding couple but the veritable army of loved ones crowding around them. The restaurants were barely open, there were no churches ringing bells. Yet here they were, with glowing gowns and smartly pressed tuxedos, brides and grooms having their photos taken overlooking volcanoes and horizons.
A quick Google search later, I learned that it is traditional for couples in China who are due to be wed to take a pre-wedding holiday to places like Santorini, and have photos taken in their wedding attire. During the reception party, these photos are then projected onto the walls so everyone can marvel at the happy couple looking beautiful in a beautiful, mythic place.
Back home, I was amused to see a van with tinted windows pull up outside of my workplace, and another Chinese bride and groom come tumbling out to have their photos taken around Covent Garden. They posed, they paused, they turned this way and that way and held each other in staged tender moments that required them to hold still for minutes on end. The whole thing was exacted with military precision and little humour or self-awareness.
They looked determined, stoic and resolved to take that perfect intimate portrait with no sense of honesty. Just as quickly, they were practically pushed back into the van and sped off, a drive-by shooting if you will, off to another London location for another tender moment held together for minutes so the light could be just right.
I remember a local magazine in Gibraltar that you could pick up for free in any supermarket. It was essentially full of adverts and sponsored completely by businesses. In order to showcase a photographer, there was a section on weddings. Weddings are a big business in Gibraltar, as they are anywhere else, but the laws are somehow a little more relaxed and the paperwork can be pushed through in a matter of hours. Call it Vegas without the showgirls, it has enticed the likes of John Lennon, Sean Connery and Roger Moore to say "I do" (sometimes even twice).
So there's all the traditional ones, because that's the way it goes. You live at home, you meet your boo to be out and about and hope he hasn't already slept with half of your friends. You get engaged on a Caribbean cruise and announce it in the local paper. You get married in church even though the last time you went there you were twelve years old, and have your wedding photos taken in the local botanical gardens.
Every month the magazine was out, more botanical gardens photos. Until the picture of a couple running around on the beach, her dressed in a black lace gown and him with stylised devil horns made from his hair. Pure joy on their faces. In the second photo they're pulling faces, completely enjoying the world and each other. There was honesty there, and something different. This wasn't the "different" I keep seeing now, where everyone tries to outdo each other with "Oh at my wedding we had organic ice cream from a vintage ice cream van" but a genuine desire to be married, outside of expectation.
So really, I wanted to write about expectations. I wanted to write about exhaustion. And freedom. People have the freedom to be exhausted if they choose, and maybe those posing mannequins in Covent Garden are having the time of their life, I just felt exhausted looking at them. Pre-wedding photographs. Bridal gowns. Manicures. The expense alone seems so trapping, I'm not surprised at the lack of laughter.
I like that everyone in Britain now has the basic human right to be united in matrimony now, I don't see it as a patriarchal, outmoded institution and the matter of choice is what above all reigns supreme.
I just stand there, happy that I don't have to live up to any expectation that involves a £5000 dress and a trip to London before a ceremony. That I don't have to choose between beef and pork for 200 people, 150 of whom I don't particularly hold the strongest of warm feelings for, yet here I am trying to impress them, because it's my day damn it.
I like this freedom, this choice. Maybe one day I'll get married in blue jeans and make faces on the beach. Hand in hand. Laughing.
- Jonathan Pizarro.