“My Geisha,” starring Yves Montand and Shirley Maclaine, has long been one of my favorite movies. Ms. Maclaine plays an actress married to her director husband, Yves Montand, that deep-throated baritone crooner of the French persuasion, and the story is a charming cat-and-mouse tale of loving deception and frolic across continents, with the heroine succeeding in concealing her identity and dressing as a geisha in order to star in her husband’s movie set in Japan.
My husband and I have not been given to such charades, as life frequently is more fanciful than Hollywood could ever conceive.
I traveled to Japan to attend my son’s wedding. Curiously, my son met his wife to be in Israel, my own birthplace. The wedding was a relatively small and intimate affair of about 50 invitees, one of whom was cast as photographer for the event. He was intended as my match, though I didn’t know it at the time. When I arrived at my son’s father-in-law’s home, I was directed with flourish to an empty doorway, and as I cranked my neck to look inside, out came my intended, white tie, dark blue dress pants and the shiniest smile I had seen in a long while. I said hello, he said hello, and then I remembered that I was in Japan and bowed, he bowed, and I bowed back, not knowing when such rituals were supposed to end. My son, in his irreverent best, brought the awkward bowing to an end by asking, “Ready, Ma?” That was my cue to get going to the church.
During the ceremony at the church, this nicely-clad gentleman would hop hither and yon in his socked feet to take photographs ostensibly of the young couple, but more often than not, he would peer at me through the viewfinder, and wound linger there, presumably focusing the lens in my direction. It was hot that September day, and hotter still by the realization that a match had been made. But he lived in Japan and I lived on the other side of the world! How could such a match resolve?
But life has a way of forging fences which would otherwise remain as guardians of our best intentions. When I returned home, my intended and I began a long-distance telephone relationship, burning the wires and our respective bank accounts, while contributing richly to the coffers of the phone companies. We spoke daily; we spoke, as it were, through our respective dictionaries, as neither one spoke the other’s language. That we managed to somehow communicate some basic values dear to each of us within marriage was astounding. Yet, we did. My husband to be fell in love immediately; it took me a bit longer.
Through painfully intricate communication, we made plans to meet in San Francisco over Thanksgiving, then again in Hawaii over the New Year holiday. We crossed international datelines, and had several encounters around the world as our way of getting to know each other, all the time still talking on the phone and ironing out the logistics of our life together.
Ten months after our initial meeting, we were married in a Shinto ceremony in full regalia, with the hypnotic clang of chimes as the monk chanted his incantations. I sipped the sake, we exchanged vows in Japanese, which, though I did not understand, still resonated with the well-wishing of family and friends who had come to celebrate our union.
That was 20 years ago.