Travel: Spain - Speechless in Barcelona

A Spanish wedding is altogether more stylish than the average British do - but some traditions are universal, as best man Andy Glen discovered
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The Independent Culture
The lot of a best man, wherever you are in the world, is fraught with responsibility and full of foreboding. In theory, my job was simple: to make sure Jonathan, the groom, arrived at the church, then go on to deliver his fiancee Maria's bouquet, accompanied by a poem, before accompanying her to the ceremony.

This, though, was no ordinary wedding in a Home Counties village. Maria's Spanish family had wangled the use of the greatest Gaudi monument in Christendom - the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - by the handy expedient of happening to live in the parish. The relatives had also managed to source a brand- new Jaguar. This was promptly delivered, but the bouquet was nowhere to be seen - the first of several small disasters.

I left Jonathan at the church and carried on to Maria's flat. Here, I recited the poem with as much panache as I could muster given my pre-nuptial tension. She returned the favour by giving me the ushers' buttonholes, which had, like the bouquet, been delivered to the wrong place. Then the idea was to get back to the church in the Jag, but it promptly broke down. In any town or city, people in full morning dress stand out; all the more so when the best man and bride's father are standing in a three-lane highway in the middle of Barcelona flagging down cabs.

It had all started so well. The flight from Heathrow to Barcelona landed early, the airport bus took us to the Placa de Catalunya, in the heart of the city, for less than pounds 2 each, and the Hotel Allegro not only existed, but was just yards away from the bus stop and two minutes' walk from the top of the Rambla.

In theory, Spanish weddings are much the same as those in the UK. But over the next three days it emerged that in many ways they're completely different. One thing never changes: the suits come from Moss Bros, although we found the staff at the Barcelona branch couldn't cope, in their tiny store, with three parties arriving at the same time, and virtually everyone's outfit needing alterations, so our 20-minute appointment took an hour and a half. Eventually Tim (the usher) and I left Jonathan and his father to the wiles of the Moss Bros seamstress and joined the others, who were on their fourth pint at the Cafe Zurich in the Placa de Catalunya, before a meal at one of the city's most celebrated restaurants, Los Caracoles.

Friday's only official duty was to preside at Jonathan's last night of freedom, so that left the day free to see the sights: Gaudi's Parc Guell; his townhouses, such as Casa Mila, which is now open to the public (and called by the locals La Pedrera, which translates as "pile of rocks" ; and, most spectacular of all, the venue of Jonathan and Maria's wedding.

Later, the women celebrated the bride's impending marriage with a buffet at her parents' home, while the rest of us met at the El Drapaire tapas bar, near the top of the Rambla, to mark Jonathan's passage into wedded bliss.

We were assured that almost every weekend sees some kind of festival; wandering around the Barri Gtic, the oldest part of the city, before the wedding, we bumped into two.

From the Placa de Santa Maria del Pi we could hear the strains of Catalan pipes and drums. Suddenly, rounding a corner, we came across a procession of a dozen or so genial giants. The figures, up to 30ft high, are marched around the area's alleyways with people inside them, and represent mythical figures from villages around Catalunya. This time they were out to celebrate one couple's wedding, so we peered into the gloom for a few pointers for later in the day. Then, as we walked into the Placa de Sant Jaume, we saw a group from Andalucia unfurling a giant pennant on a pole, then dancing flamenco as part of a procession around the town.

A giant tip to the taxi drivers who got us to the church more or less on time was followed by a flawless service, but the invited congregation were heavily outnumbered by several hundred tourists curious to see a part of the Sagrada Familia complex not normally open to the public. Before the ceremony, the British contingent had been bussed to the church from the centre of town, but almost inevitably, the coach back to the reception failed to show, so again I ended up standing in the street hailing taxis.

Eventually the stresses of the day were eased (I haven't even mentioned the dresses, or the hairdresser) over a glass or two of Cava, before a magnificent reception at the five-star El Condes de Barcelona, with the free bar eventually closing at 3am. But we did have to tolerate several hours of a dodgy European disco, with more Boney M and Abba than was strictly necessary. On the plus side were the cigars - strictly Cuban - and the fact that the best man at a Spanish wedding doesn't make a speech.