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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Royal couple wins prize for endurance

April 6, 2005

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— I am not, by genealogy or nationality, a follower of the British royal family. The last monarch who mattered to Americans was George III, and God knows he made a mess of things.

Nevertheless, I find myself hooked on the thoroughly un-fairy tale wedding of Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles scheduled for this weekend. I am not quite so besotted that I'm buying the coffee cup, suitable for microwaving, bearing the congratulatory message. But I do have my eye on the refrigerator magnet.

I owe my fanfare to the uncommon couple in large measure to the British press. These Brits, at their beastly best, managed to transform Camilla from the "other woman" to the "older woman."

Yes, I know, many Diana lovers will never forgive Camilla for Charles' affection. At the height of the annus horibilis she was the femina horibila. There are those who threw buns at her at a supermarket.

But when Charles allegedly got down on bended knee and proposed, the press description of his fiancee made Diana's pet name for her -- "the Rottweiler" -- seem complimentary. Scrutinized from her hair to her teeth to her waistline to her wardrobe, she was declared "frumpy," "dowdy" and the "jellied eel" to Diana's "lobster thermidor."

She was even age-profiled and found guilty of wearing-jeans-while-57. One British columnist wagged: "The advice must be: don't try this at home. Or maybe: do try it at home, but for goodness sake stay there, with the curtains drawn."

It was as if Charles had upset the natural order of things, whereby every Donald Trump must have his trophy wife. It was as if the Prince Charming had chosen the ugly stepsister as his second wife.

Mind you, Charles is not much of a trophy himself. At 56, the bridegroom has been heir to the throne since he was 3 years old. He'll probably get his job about the same time his Eton pals are retiring. He's royalty in a country where his basic economic role is to support the twin pillars of tourism and tabloidism.

Camilla is at least credited with the all-time pickup line. Upon meeting the prince she said, "My great-great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather's mistress, so how about it?" Charles, on the other hand, is discredited for uttering the all-time put-down line. Asked upon his first engagement whether he and Diana were in love, he quipped, "whatever 'in love' means."

Whatever dignity he could muster was lost in the cell phone expose when he was caught telling Camilla he wanted to be reincarnated as her personal hygiene product. As his mother once told her first daughter-in-law, "Charles is hopeless."

But what makes me tip my republican -- small r -- hat to the couple anyway is their, well, endurance. The real trophy here, if you will allow it, is tenacity in, um, love.

The Daily Star headlined its announcement, "Boring Old Gits to Wed." An Australian writer said Charles and Camilla raised "the ewww factor ... it's like catching your parents pashing." What they forgot is the grit in the gits and the undeniable passion in the pashers.

In just the past few weeks, this couple has been subject to polls taken on whether they should marry or whether Camilla should be called queen. A bishop actually told Charles to make a public apology to Camilla's husband.

The pair who have endured it call each other "devoted old bags." The devotion of the old bags has managed to overwhelm the burden of the old baggage. Not bad.

Second marriages are not fairy tales. Very few get there without baggage. Some of it damaged. This pair carries two broken marriages, one death, many regrets and a second chance.

In the Jewish, not Anglican, tradition you break a glass at the wedding to symbolize the end of an old life. But in the ecumenical tradition of second marriages, you take the past along with you. You take the good stuff like the kids. You are also forced to carry the bad stuff, the glass shards that stick in your sole.

So a touch of bubbly to the folks tying the Windsor knot. They already have friendship and love and do not ask "whatever 'love' is." Finally, the old gits got it right.

-- Ellen Goodman is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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