Belle was born in Montreal, the daughter of Barbadian and Ghanian students, and we adopted her when she was a bouncy, smiling, happy little girl of six months, having been fortunate enough to have been extremely well cared for by her foster parents before she came to live with us. Although this was her home, she has seldom visited it during the two or more decades she has passed in the south, her objection to the place being solely --- as far as I can gather --- that it has a long winter. She so dislikes the cold weather that she seems never to want to set foot again in her home country.
I can hardly blame her: I remember when I was 31 years of age passing a winter holiday of six weeks in the Caribbean, travelling north from Trinidad, island to island, the result of which was that, on stepping back into Montreal, I said to myself, “This is berserk; why am I living here in this frigging cold?” and determining to leave at the first opportunity.
That particular resolution was fulfilled providentally when my boss asked me to go to England to represent the newspaper (The Montreal Star). At the end of my eight years in London, equipped with a new family of three small boys, I seemed to have become so irrevocably attached to Canada that later in life I only once left it again with the intention of residing elsewhere, and all that resulted from that determination was a hurried trip back to the cold country, where I have lived for the 37 years since.
Well, I can’t blame her, even though I do think it is a rather shallow reason for deciding on one’s place of residence. Still, to each his own, as the poet might have said, and the advantage from my point of view is that visiting her has taken me three times to Samara, a delightful village on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where I have been able to work on my tan until the time came that I realized how fruitless was that pursuit, since on my return no one ever noticed it.
Since my last visit, this coast has suffered a rather severe earthquake, which caused the bed of the harbour to rise by more than a metre, meaning that when the tide goes out, a reef has been thrown up across the face of the beach that, if there had been any inward traffic from the sea, would have put a stop to it. An acquaintance I met down there told me she did swim out to the reef, where she found herself surrounded by a school of rather large fish, and something else (she didn’t specify) that began to nibble on her, and caused her to beat a strategic retreat.
On my last visit I had stayed in an excellent seaside hotel, kept by a German hotelier with a large, black, and rather dangerous dog. That hotel appears to have been closed down at least temporarily, reputedly because of taxation problems. So this time I stayed in a beautiful place glorying in the name of the Barracuda Apartments, on a hill just above the village. My daughter had chosen this place as the venue for her wedding, and I found that in the room next to mine were staying two of Belle’s childhood friends from Ottawa, who were already performing prodigies of work in preparaion for the big day. I guess this is what is meant by friendship, lifelong friendship, because although these two women were invited as guests, they were pitching in on almost a 24-hour-a-day work schedule without which I rather doubt if the event would ever have taken place.
When I was invited to say a few words at the reception following the actual wedding I recalled that when we arrived in Ottawa in 1977, we were still moving our furniture into our new house on Broadway avenue when Belle --- eight years old at the time --- disappeared for a couple of hours, only to return with the news that she had made friends all along the street, an event I now put forward as proof of her outgoing, cheerful, gregarious personality. One of the houses in which she made those friends was the home of the two women who were now helping her with the wedding arrangements, and astonishing me with the detail and multiplicity of tasks they were undertaking. Similarly, I added, I had been present when Belle first visited Samara a few years before, when once again she disappeared, only to return after an hour or so with the news that she had found this wonderful place on a hilll overlooking the village that would be ideal for her to open a restaurant, another proof of her irrepressible curiosity and friendly spirit. The establishment was still in the hands of he slightly eccentric Czech lady who was its owner, but now she had the place up and running. And it was a lovely place to stay.
I was doubly fortunate because the proximity of Belle’s two old friends meant that, without asking for it, I was fed every day between dips into the warm waters of the hotel’s pool.
Okay, I don’t have too much to add: it is only the second wedding I have ever been to in my life, and it seemed to go on well enough, although the official (named locally as the Officiator), did seem to keep on talking for quite a while and delivering unnecessary homilies to set the young couple on their way (but I seemed to be the only one of that opinion, everyone else thinking it was all lovely). I declined the opportunity to give the bride away, since I don’t consider her mine to give: she is my daughter, and will always be my daughter, and I considered this particular ritual to be rather old-fashioned and dare I say it, outmoded. But again I was in a minority of one with that view.
It was a good event however, successfully achieved, proving to me the efficacy and importance of friendships, and proving to the married couple that the very event, facing them with the formalities of the occasion, subtly changed their attitude to each other and to life in significant ways.