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French Version

Here come the brides - a bit later than planned

Outbreak of war forced numerous newlyweds-to-be to postpone celebrations until happier times

Here comes the bride? It's more like here waits the bride. Summers in Lebanon are typically high season for weddings - and in normal times, the more elaborate they are the better.

These, however, are notably abnormal times. After months of planning, agonizing and assessing the cut of the dress, the color of the flowers and the shape of the cake, the wedding day for many Beiruti brides-to-be passed by this summer without so much as an "I do."

With the outbreak of war in Lebanon, many newlyweds-to-be postponed their wedding parties and ceremonies as the country was overwhelmed by the rather more toxic marriage of tragedy and destruction.

"It'll never be the same for those who scheduled their weddings for this summer. They wanted that day," says Rayya Zahlan, a wedding planner for the Beirut-based consultancy Weddings for Life.

"The conflict started on a Wednesday and I thought it would be like other kidnappings," Zahlan continues, noting past precedents in which Israel complied with Hizbullah on hostage exchanges.

"But by the weekend I knew it was going to affect the weddings because people need to be in a happy mood. It's not like buying bread. You don't need to get married. You have to be in the spirit for it."

For Zahlan, weddings aren't just celebrations, they're business. "We count on the summer to make money. Seventy-five percent of our business is based on summertime."

Lebanon's peak wedding season lasts from June through September. In this period, Weddings for Life was responsible for planning 35 weddings, up 25 from last summer.

On the night of July 12, Zahlan was working late at the office with one of her client-brides, Tala Hajjar.

Hajjar, a Lebanese stylist and designer who had been studying and working in Paris, returned to Beirut in February to begin planning her August 4 wedding to fiance Faisal Khalaf, who lives and works in Egypt.

"I basically flew back from Paris in February to prepare for this wedding. I had 47 friends flying in," Hajjar explains. Of those guests only two had visited Lebanon before and the rest were flying in from across the world, from South America to Europe.

"When you look around the country, this is so minor," says Hajjar. "The only thing is I wanted to show people what Lebanon is about. This summer it was supposed to be out of this planet."

For Hajjar, it was not only a wedding but a week-long celebration of Lebanon. For the week leading up to the big day she had scheduled site-seeing tours of Lebanon's ancient ruins, evening excursions and concerts. Hajjar's dreams, and six months of hard work, were dashed when Israeli air strikes hit Beirut's airport runways early on July 13. What's more, her fiance was still in Egypt.

Instead of walking down the aisle in Faraya August 4, Hajjar stayed in Beirut.

"It was a nice normal day. I thought about passing by the gardens where it was supposed to be but I stayed at my brother's house, watching television. I didn't want people to offer their condolences."

Now, Hajjar's wedding will be a smaller celebration, tentatively planned for the middle of September. While many couples have postponed their summer weddings to December, Hajjar stressed that she was eager to return to a life no longer consumed by bridal details.

Like Hajjar, Ghenwa Wehbe is another bride-to-be that lived her wedding day surrounded by family but no rings. Planning to marry Hussein Arabi on July 22, after a year-and-a-half engagement and five months of wedding arrangements, Wehbe postponed all marital thoughts until the implementation of the cease-fire.

"Since the first day of the war we didn't talk about the wedding. We didn't think about it," says Wehbe, a librarian at the Lebanese American University. "I knew a couple that got married on July 8 and were away on their honeymoon when the war began. That's worse than what happened to us."

"They were meters from the beach but they stayed in their hotel room, watching the television every moment," adds Arabi, a florist who first caught sight of Wehbe when she was living above his flower shop in Shiyyah. ("My presents were always flowers," Wehbe laughs).

As a florist responsible for other weddings Arabi was a hands-on fiance and the couple had been planning their 200-person wedding since March.

"These last few days, we have been talking about the wedding every second," Wehbe says, adding that their rescheduled wedding would be held after Ramadan.

Both agreed that rather than hold a small wedding sooner they wanted to wait until friends and family could attend their dream of a large wedding, filled with smiles.

Rabih Kayrouz is a Lebanese fashion designer with an atelier in Beirut. Right as you walk through the door, you find yourself in front of a table populated by a set of miniature mannequins draped in wedding gowns. Kayrouz designs a great many of these dresses, and he understands that they should be made for happy affairs.

"Things just stopped on July 12," Kayrouz says. "All the girls were sad, even the ones I know who got married during the war, because weddings are supposed to be joyful. You're never obliged to get married. Even I wasn't in the mood to attend, and I'm always in the mood."

In addition to the joy that weddings bring, they are also Kayrouz's bread and butter, the backbone of his annual couture collections. As such, he and his staff continued to work throughout the war.

"We came to work but we worked in a silent way. Every day I kept telling myself: 'Today it will stop, today it will stop.' On [August 14] at 8 a.m. everything stopped. At 9 a.m. everyone called me wanting their dresses.

"My crisis, economically, is not now. I have dresses now. The problem is later on, if no one orders for next year, because usually between July and September we take new orders."

Had Kayrouz not worked throughout the war he would not have been able to provide dresses to brides who postponed until September.

"All of September we will be having weddings," Kayrouz exclaims happily.

Already the honking from post-wedding convoys can be heard weaving through the streets of Beirut, a happy couple waving from a car, signifying the start of their future together and the slow resurrection of Lebanon as a whole.

Beirut 30-08-2006
Iman Azzi
The Daily Star

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