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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

100 Arabian Nights - Liz Fielding

There is something fascinating about weddings. The ritual of an enduring link, forged between two people, two families whether it be a union held with the enormous pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding, or the simplest of ceremonies before a Registrar in his office. No matter what traditions, religious beliefs, ceremony is involved there is, at its heart, a conjugation as ancient as civilisation.

I was in Italy last year, visiting a beautiful Abbey church, when a bride arrived for her wedding. In England, the protocol is that all guests should be in the church before the bride arrives, but even while the bride lifted her dress as she hurried up the steps of the church (nothing stately here), the guests were milling around inside and outside the church, mingling with visitors, everyone applauding her arrival, applauding her as she walked up the aisle to where her husband to be was waiting for her. She was the star of the day and was treated as such. It was informal, slightly chaotic, utterly delightful.

When writing CHOSEN AS THE SHEIKH’S WIFE, I read a wonderful book, Mother Without a Mask: A Westerner's Story of Her Arab Family written by, Patricia Holton, an Englishwoman who gave a home to a young sheikh while he was studying in England. She spent much time with him and his family in Abu Dhabi and when the young man married, he sent for her to help him prepare the house he’d designed and had built for his bride, anxious that it should be quite perfect in every way. (He also had her bake the kind of rich fruit cake that is the traditional British “wedding cake”!)

Her description of wedding preparations was like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights. The dowry for the bride needed a fleet of lorries to transport it and the sets of jewels for the bride were worth a king’s ransom. Tribes gathered from all across the desert to set up camp outside the bride’s family home for the weeks of celebration.

Inside the bride’s home her family, friends, honoured guests – all women -- gathered in their finest clothes, talked, feasted, while the bride herself remained in an inner sanctum, wrapped in black veils, in utter seclusion.

But it was the excitement of the young man who was marrying a girl he hadn’t seen since childhood that was supremely touching, as was his care and concern for her after he had fought his way into the house to claim his bride. Once the marriage had been consummated, the bride was, for seven days, displayed wearing a fabulous bridal cap (pure gold and weighing many pounds), each day wearing a different gown – seven wedding dresses! -- so that all the women of her tribe could see her and marvel at how much her new husband treasured her. Seeing how tired she was, her husband summarily dismissed them all so that she could rest.

Alien as the concept of an arranged marriage is to modern western eyes, it was impossible to doubt that these two young people were truly a “match”.

Here, in CHOSEN AS THE SHEIKH’S WIFE, Sheikh Fayad explains these rituals to Violet Hamilton.

‘First the engagement jewels are sent. Not just a ring, but a matching set of bracelets, necklace, earrings in stones chosen by the groom’s mother to perfectly complement his bride. At the same time the groom prepares a house for her, furnishing it with the best he can afford. And the dowry is gathered – gold, jewellery, bolts of every kind of cloth, carpets, money, all designed to demonstrate his ability to provide for her – ready to be delivered to the bride’s home to be displayed at the maksar. The formal gathering of women to celebrate the marriage, although the bride herself will not take part in that.’
Violet, who had been thinking it all sounded rather cold, began to see it from a different point of view. Began to imagine the trembling excitement of a secluded virgin bride as the day grew nearer. As her groom’s dowry gifts arrived proving to the world, her family, to her, just how much he valued her, wanted her above all other women.
‘There is more than one way to rouse the passions,’ she said.
‘Her weight in gold?’
Her eyes widened at the idea of just how much that would be worth, but then she shook her head. ‘No. It’s not the gold. It’s what it represents,’ she said. And Sheikh Fayad responded with a look of admiration for her understanding. A look that sent her own heart spinning up into her mouth, that suggested passion would not be in short supply for the woman who won his heart.
Drawn in, totally fascinated, she said, ‘Tell me about the wedding.’
‘When everything is ready, there will be a vast celebration. In the old days tribes would come in from desert and set up camp and the feasting would go on for weeks until finally the time comes for the groom to demand entrance to the bride’s home, fight his way through her family to claim his bride who will be waiting, wrapped in layer upon layer of veils, sitting on a white sheet.’
Even as he described the scene her heart rate was spiralling out of control and she only managed to hold back the exclamation that sprung to her lips by holding her hand over her mouth. Cold? No way…
‘Is something wrong?’ Sheikh Fayad asked.
‘No,’ she managed, resisting the urge to fan her cheeks at the thought of him removing layer after layer of veils, unwrapping her… ‘I’m fine. Really,’ she said, when he reached forward, poured her a glass of iced water that seemed to evaporate on her tongue. ‘You did this? When you married?’
He didn’t immediately answer and she back-peddled, madly. ‘Oh, lord, please forget I asked that. I can’t believe I was so rude. I didn’t mean --’
‘The bride is expected to fight, too. To bite and kick, protect her virtue with all her strength so that her husband will respect her.’
‘And do they?’
Did Hasna fight? she wondered. Could she have looked at this beautiful man and not have fallen instantly and whole-heartedly in love with him? Could any woman?
And if, because his respect would be something unbelievably precious, she fought him with ever fibre of her being, how did he overwhelm her?
Even as the question welled up in her mind, she knew the answer. She’d lashed out him this morning, angry, hurting and he’d sat with her on her grandmother’s bed, just holding her, taking the blows, whispering soft words of comfort, his lips against her hair, her temple, gentling her, calming her. In her head she saw how that scene might eventually unfold with his bride. There would be no force, but patience, a soft voice, quiet kisses, caresses that would open her to him as a flower opens to the light and warmth of the sun.
And she understood exactly what he’d meant when he’d said that he’d done “much more”. It wasn’t the fact that he’d kissed her. His kiss had been the least of it…
She swallowed, took another sip of water. And in a desperate attempt to blot out what was happening in her head she said, ‘Having showered her with jewels, fought her entire family the groom then has to overcome his bride, too? He doesn’t exactly get it easy, does he?’
Making light of it.
He smiled. ‘Interesting. I had assumed your sympathies would be with the bride.’
‘Oh, please,’ she said, quickly. ‘It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that this is a well-thought out strategy to overcome those initial awkward moments.’ Then, ‘I imagine any bride worth her weight in gold knows exactly the right moment to go all weak and swoony.’
To surrender to his strength, his power and in doing so, claim it for her own.

I’m giving away a copy of 100 Arabian Nightscontaining not just Chosen As the Sheikh’s Wife, but stories by Meredith Webber and Kim Lawrence which is published in the UK in June as part of the Centenary Celebrations of Mills & Boon. For a chance to win, leave a comment telling the Wedding Planners about some wedding tradition that is special to your family or culture.

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Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Thanks for inviting me to guest on your lovely Wedding Planners blog! These books all sound so tempting -- I definitely need to make a trip to Amazon.

July 2, 2008 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Cheri2628 said...

I very much enjoyed your interesting post about wedding traditions. Your book excerpt was wonderful, and it made me want more of the story!

Wedding traditions around the world are fascinating. In my husband's family there is one unique tradition. Each bride wears or carries the wedding ring of his great-great grandmother. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law,an aunt, and various nieces have worn it so far. Except, I didn't because my mother-in-law forgot to bring it to the out-of-town ceremony. I guess it wasn't bad luck because I have been married 31years! :)

July 2, 2008 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Linda Goodnight said...

I love that tradition, Cheri. What a cool thing to do.

Liz, thanks so much for sharing with us today.

July 2, 2008 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Julie Hilton Steele said...

Our tradition is what folks have told me is a "southern" one though I didn't think of it that way. In three generations now, the father of the groom has been the best man. I just thought that was the way it was done.

I didn't realize the impact of seeing my husband up in front with my son who was getting married. I hadn't seen my hubby in a tux since OUR marriage and he was so handsome I forgot to watch my son and spent the ceremony staring at my own dear husband.

Thanks Liz.

Peace, Julie

July 2, 2008 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger catslady said...

Extremely fascinating. It's amazing how traditions start. I think it would be wonderful to be able to pick and chose from a varied selection and make it your own. I think some traditions sound wonderful but I also think some are more difficult and not really wanted. My daughter is getting married this month (yikes) and I've told her to do what SHE and her husband to be want (unfortunately the MIL isn't quite so tolerant).

July 2, 2008 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Myrna said...

Thank you so much for sharing and for your wonderful excerpt.

All of these family traditions everyone is sharing are just fascinating!

July 2, 2008 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Nathalie said...

Hi Liz,

I posted this somewhere else... In my family, every young woman wears a diamond cross; the tradition was started with my grand-mother. My aunt was not a fan of it, so she put the pendant on the tie binding her bouquet!

July 2, 2008 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Lily said...

We have a tradition that each bride has to wear jewellery offered by her groom, and the special piece must have pearls in it.

July 2, 2008 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Brandy said...

We don't have a tradtion. But, I hope to start one. My Nana passed before she could see me married and I wore a black pearl that I inherited from her. I really want my Daughter to wear it when she's married.

July 2, 2008 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Ann M. said...

We didn't have any special family traditions although I did try to follow - "something old, something new, etc."

Since I have boys, I doubt I'll be able to start any new traditions. :)

July 2, 2008 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Linda Goodnight said...

I hope I started a tradition.. When my kids were born I got a shiny new penny from the bank for the year they were born and put it in their baby books. When they married, I gave that penny to the bride to wear in her shoe. It seemed like such a sweet connection to me. I hope my own kids continue the tradtion. Or maybe I'll have to save a penny for each grandchild!

July 2, 2008 at 5:09 PM  
Blogger Cheri2628 said...

Linda, it sounds like you started a really sweet tradition. I hope your family continues it!

July 2, 2008 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Melissa James said...

What a wonderful collection of tales, Liz...thank you so much for this. It makes total sense to me, having had Muslim neighbours and seeing how much Fadi treasured Amal and their daughters, not just the son. I'll never forget the day she showed me through her house, so proud of her man (though yes, it was an arranged marriage and he's 15 years older), showing all the gifts she and their daughters have, how much Fadi treasured her. The daughters were lovely girls and played with our daughters.

That was almost 20 years ago but it blew away so many misconceptions for me.

Melissa J

July 2, 2008 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Cheri, that's a lovely tradition, but I think your story does show that it's a good thing not to get hung up on them. Congrats on all those wonderful years.

July 2, 2008 at 11:25 PM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Aw, Julie! That's so lovely!

July 2, 2008 at 11:26 PM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Catslady -- inlaws! My daughter is getting married this summer, too and she's getting two lots since her dh has divorced and remarried parents. (They don't speak, so it really is going to be fun!)

July 2, 2008 at 11:28 PM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

So many of you have jewellery traditions, which are I think really lovely, especially since they usually bring memories of the original wearer.

My dd is wearing the pearl earrings that my husband had made for me when she was born in Bahrain. They're matched natural pearls from the Sheikh's pearl bed and absolutely my favourite possession. Maybe that's a tradition in the making. :)

July 2, 2008 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Linda, that is lovely! I hope your family continues with it.

Melissa, the wonderful thing about getting to know people from other backgrounds is the dispelling of the kind of prejudices that we pick up from news media.

We all know that arranged marriages have as many problems as any other, but when the parents truly care about their children they do make great choices. And in the book I read no one was pressured. In fact one of the young grooms older brothers married a girl who'd turned down brother number 2. And there were girls who chose not to marry at all.

July 2, 2008 at 11:36 PM  
Blogger robynl said...

the only tradition I can think of is that we have family in our wedding party such as brother/sister, etc. I also carried on the tradition of something old/new/borrowed/blue.

July 3, 2008 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...


Great post!! We don't have any traditions, but I did wear my sister's earrings (a pearl with a diamond posts) and bought myself a matching pair so I'm hoping my two daughters might want to wear those if they get married someday!


July 4, 2008 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Robyn, I wonder I guess that old/new/borrowed/blue has gone around the world. The dd is borrowing my earrings -- I'll have to check up what she's doing for the rest.

Melissa -- great mind! I hope your daughters want to where them, too. They sound perfect.

July 4, 2008 at 11:39 PM  

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