The single most important thing on her mind that morning was the weather. Up at the break of dawn and nervous about the impending day’s events, she rolled out of bed without a good morning kiss. Scampering across the terracotta flooring, she moved quickly out the hotel door. It slammed shut behind her.
I never wanted marriage. I saw myself living a solitary life, friend to all betrothed to none until I fell in love with my soon-to-be-wife. I resisted her wiles, but eventually could resist no longer. I asked her to marry me. Neither of us wanted a large wedding. The stress, cost, and forced pleasantries with distant relatives and acquaintances took away from what we wanted our ceremony to represent. Both of us loved travel, so we decided to marry in Sestri Levante on the Italian Riviera. We signed documents at the regional authority in Florence and received proper authorizations from Regional and provincial offices. The only item left was a formal ceremony conducted by Sestri Levante’s mayor. The past two days alternated between drizzle and rain and threatened to spoil nearly two years of planning. This more than any other bit of wedding minutia created great levels of stress. Aside from making our eight guests walk through the rain, our carriage ride through the small coastal town, in formal attire, would be less than pleasant.
The door opened as quick as it shut and my fiancé rushed in:
“No rain! Clear Skies! Out, out, out, I need to get ready” She said with wide-eyed excitement while tears of joy streamed down her face.
Slipping on some comfy kick-a-rounds I took my neatly ironed formalwear to my mother’s room until the ceremony later that day. I was excited and nervous. In those early moments I needed most to spend my last few hours as a fiancée alone. Roaming the back streets of this small coastal town in solitude and quiet reflection provided a perfect distraction. Alone and away from family, the details of this town sprung to life. Both the architecture and people were akin to the small towns up and down the Rivera. The buildings were colorful but not vibrantly colored. Stucco, stone and iron were the mediums of choice. The people were plainly dressed. Some moved about briskly carrying bags full of their daily errands, while others spoke to one another in idle conversation. Entering a small store I wanted to purchase some surprises for the evening and finishing touches for the ceremony. With a small counter near the front door, two racks of fruit opposite the counter, and a small cooler in the back for meat and milk, the store was more a small alcove extending from someone’s home. It was nothing like the wall to wall floor to ceiling display of colorful choices and visual splendor to which I was familiar. Five patrons made a crowd, and I waited outside until one left. Once inside I pawed through the scant fresh fruit offerings and picked out some strawberries and grapes. The keeper interrupted his constant banter with one of the patrons to tell me the price. I paid my Lira and left.
Outside the shop an old man, dressed in dinner jacket and slacks had been watching me. And when I exited, he exclaimed:
I responded back and a conversation ensued. I usually keep to myself. There is much about my culture and upbringing that lends itself to privacy, but today was different. Apologizing first for his poor English, he explained he had not used it in nearly ten years:
“Not many English Speakers.”
I apologized for my lack of Italian and assured him he spoke English surprisingly well. He told me about his jacket, about life in Sestri Levante and how tourists come and go but the town changes very little. He told me about being in the war, and life under Mussolini. I found the one-sided conversation awkward at first, but the warmth in his smile and youthful vibrancy in his aged eyes melted my anxieties. The more he talked the easier words rolled off his tongue. He was captivating. I had nothing in common with him except that we were in the same place at the same time. After a bit, I told him I had to do some errands, my wedding was in an hour.
His eyes widened and he smiled broadly. The wrinkles around his eyes flattened and his brow went up. He grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously and with more strength than I would have expected from someone his age and with more sincerity than I would expect from a perfect stranger.
“Tante Agurui” he said and patted me on the back heartily.
“What does that mean?”
“Well Wishing…many happinesses.” He pieced together.
I thanked him and went down the street to a flower shop.
The hustle and bustle inside along with its size indicated the importance of flowers in this community. I waited patiently. The owner was visibly busy with a barrage of orders and looked at me impatiently:
“Che cosa desiderate?”
I clumsily mixed Italian and Spanish. She smiled softly and started to wrap the two dozen yellow roses in clear cellophane paper. It was an important day and I beamed with pride and anticipation. The old man came in and announced to the patrons in the boutique it was my wedding day. Everyone cheered. I knew no one, yet all the patrons embraced and kissed me. It wasn’t the lackluster gentle kiss and light embrace either. These were full hearty grabs and forceful kisses on either cheek. I handed the shopkeeper some Lira, and she gave me change. “Momento” She then told me. She disappeared behind a curtain for a few moments and returned with a beautiful orchid corsage.
“For your beautiful wife.”
I proffered more money, and she refused. “Gift.” Is all she would say and pushed me out the door to attend to her other patrons. I hurried back down the street to the hotel, roses in one hand and fruit in the other while reflecting on the generosity afforded to me.
After I showered and dressed, my brother told me our father may be late. The day before, when site seeing, my father fell and broke his arm. The local paramedics quickly took him to the hospital to set and cast his arm. They asked him to return to the hospital in La Spieza the next day for a check up. My brother and I marveled that the local hospital completely took care of all his medical problems without asking once for payment or insurance cards. He even offered, and they only insisted he enjoy Tuscany.
It was time for me to go to city hall. My hands slid into my coat pockets first checking for the ring, then the vows, then back to the ring. My mother, brother, and sister offered their advice and reassurances, most of which floated around and out of my head. Three thoughts alone occupied my thoughts: Ring, vows, and don’t trip. My hands again and again verified the shape of the ring and the folds of the vows in my pocket.
I walked down the stairs focused intensely on the ring, vows, and not tripping. Furrowed brow and lost in my focused obsession I exited the hotel. My attention broke immediately. A large group of the people packed the street in front of the hotel. Cheers erupted. People clapped. The old man, from earlier, hurried up to me and shook my hand again and cheered. There was no announcement in the papers, but news in a small town travels quickly. I saw the florist in crowd waving at me. Moved beyond words at this outpouring of support for strangers in love, I stammered “Graci” over and over.
My words were lost amongst the boisterous chanting:
We did not want a big wedding. We wanted something simple – a wedding that did not reflect the institution of Marriage, but the spirit of a union between two people. The accommodations and staff at the Miramare were phenomenal. The wedding dinner they prepared, remains to this day, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten. However, the spirit, encouragement, and sense of community offered by this small Italian town to complete strangers were some of the greatest surprises of the ceremony. They cheered us as we entered city hall and lined the streets cheering as we took a carriage ride along the promenade and up to the scenic overlook. Their generosity and kinship provided the perfect beginning for the journey Sharleen and I started that day.