by Jan Gordon
When I first heard the news that my niece was getting married in Italy, I immediately thought 1.) Huge expense, 2.) Gargantuan hassle, and 3.) Try to talk her out of it. It seemed like a logistical effort the likes of a foreign military invasion to get the whole family clan coordinated, mobile, and transported to a hillside town in Tuscany…Why couldn’t the Tuscan groom’s family come over here instead? I schemed to extort her out of this destination wedding idea by offering my Newport country home and a cash contribution toward the wedding as an alternative. “Molto bene, grazie,” she and her Italian fiancé replied… But an Italian destination wedding it would be!
The site for Miranda and Luigi’s June wedding would be Poppi, a medieval walled village high in the hillsides (they seemed more like mountains than hills) and forested slopes of the Arezzo countryside. By March my husband and I had become supportive of this upcoming Italian wedding and were eagerly seeing the opportunity to combine a Florence long weekend (neither of us had ever been to Florence) with the Tuscan wedding activities. With huge tactical support from the bride and groom over their wedding website, the planning for the wedding itself was done for us; all we had to do was show up and spend all our creative energies on the before and after wedding travel planning.
Miranda is an American Managing Director for a London and New York based medical marketing outfit that enables her to live in New York and travel frequently to London. From there, cheap intra-Europe flights had enabled her to hop over to Italy frequently for romance and also essential wedding planning. In spite of my encouraging her to retain an Italy-based wedding planner, she competently undertook all the details and event planning herself while continuing to work full time out of New York and London.
The legalities of an American/Italian marriage take place in a US civil ceremony, and the Italian church wedding is in fact the blessing ceremony, not the official contractual union. To meet this requirement, Miranda and Luigi’s civil wedding took place in late April in the US Courthouse in New York by a Federal Judge known to the family. It was serendipitous for our family’s circumstances that this contractual ceremony was required, as it enabled Miranda’s more senior grandmother and my pregnant daughter to participate in the actual marriage ceremony. The bride had chosen one tea-length daytime wedding dress for this ceremony and had another traditional bridal gown on reserve for Italy!
As June approached, more appeared on the website, and in April a formal wedding invitation with velum overlay and a reply card arrived in the mail. It turns out that Italians never use the familiar Emily Post-kind of American wedding invitation we had received, so Luigi had his own Italian invitation sent out to the European guest list. (I was keeping track of the accounting: two wedding invitations, two wedding dresses, what else?)
Fast forward to the wedding day…After three art-filled and food-filled days touring Florence (see You Can’t Get a Bad Meal in Italy!), my husband Jeff and I had pre-arranged through WIMCO for a chauffeur and car to take us from the Hotel Sofitel out to Poppi on the day of the wedding. In hindsight, the chauffeur couldn’t have been a better idea. Although the website had thorough driving instructions, we couldn’t have anticipated the conditions: hairpin switchback turns, mountain roads, and no guardrails, not to mention rainy weather and a later-than-expected departure due to a cool DJ and great dancing. Even Francesco, our driver, had to keep referring to the printed driving instructions to locate the venue.
The streets of Arezzo
We were driven first to an impossible-to-find apartment-hotel resort, Corsignano, about 5 km into the countryside outside of Poppi, where the wedding party was staying. With views of the Tuscan hillsides and farm fields, Corsignano and its bougainvillea-laden walls contained a cluster of stone buildings with terra cotta rooftops, hidden stairways, and lush landscaping, where about 40 of the visiting guests had been staying since Thursday. Sleeping quarters were grouped in 3 and 4 bedroom apartments where common areas had kitchens, wood fireplaces, and covered terraces. A landscaped lower garden held a pool, barbecue, and thatched covered terrace where impromptu barbecues and late night skinny-dipping parties had been going on for the wedding party and friends each night. Guests from all over the globe had already become fast friends, and the attractive under-35 younger generation was already causing gossip and intrigue for a bemused parental generation who didn’t have the stamina to keep up with the international young set. I could tell this was going to be fun!
When we arrived we immediately ran into our favorite bridesmaid, our New York daughter, looking tanned, casual in shorts and flip flops, and relaxed. Jeff and I were all dolled up and ready for the wedding, but everyone else was just taking their time and lolling around…no bridezillas here. Miranda was in her apartment getting her hair dried by a beautician on house-call. The only evidence of an impending ceremony was a hanging bridal gown, a veil on a bedpost, and a recently-used iron. Groomsmen were just coming up the stone stairway from the pool in their bathing suits; even the bride’s mother was outside sunning. I felt ridiculous with my high heels, cocktail dress, and time-management mentality. Everything just felt too laid-back and tranquil for wedding-minus-one-hour.
Jeff and I walked around Corsignano and finally began to see signs of twitter. Some British couples came downstairs with the obligatory brimmed hats on the women (those Brits really do hats with flair), and a European half-bus arrived in the courtyard to take the “first group” to the church. We hopped on board for the 10-minute drive to Poppi. Up and up the hillside the bus climbed, grinding its gears, until it stopped outside the ramparts of the Castello di Poppi, an imposing 11th century castle overlooking the whole Casentino region of Eastern Tuscany. Wandering through this medieval walled village, under covered walkways and around winding corners, seemed to evoke the 14th century when Dante was a guest of its rulers.
The enchanted valley of Casentino in Poppi, Tuscany, Italy
After meandering the Castello streets a bit we finally came to Badia San Fedele, a 12th century chapel. After days of absorbing ornate Renaissance religious art in Florence, the simplicity of this medieval stone chapel—with its rough hewn beams, primitive Madonnas, and an altar graced with peonies—was nothing short of perfect for our lovely American bride and her Italian groom. Guests gathered in the bright afternoon sun on a terrace outside the main church doors and bathed in the gorgeous views across the Tuscan countryside far below.
After three bridesmaids led Lohengrin’s Here Comes the Bride march, a veiled Miranda in lace and a trailing formal train was led down this ancient aisle by her smiling brother. A full Catholic Eucharist followed, complete with a robed priest (in sandals) offering Italian and broken English blessings to the couple. Upon leaving the church, the couple was pelted with rose petals and rice thrown by the already-exited guests while 12th century bells pealed continuously to announce their marriage. The Poppi townspeople convened in the alleyways and side streets also to welcome and cheer the new marriage. The history, the views, the beautiful crowd, the joyful couple, the emotions, the ringing bells—it was as magical as it was authentically Italian.
After a quick bus ride back to Corsignano, we were treated to a full Italian three-hour, multi-course banquet followed by a fantastic DJ and late night dancing. Francesco reappeared at the assigned time, but we kept telling him “arrivederci,” “come back later!”. Finally, late at night, we agreed to say “buona sera” to Miranda and Luigi and our new Italian friends to drive the spaghetti roads back to Florence. What could possibly top this? Perhaps the next day’s visit to Michangelo’s David…
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