Today, April 1, 2005, is my twelfth wedding anniversary. Yes, we got married on April Fool's Day. In Italy.
No, neither of us are Italian citizens.
In tribute to our anniversary, I thought I'd post the story of our wedding here. Parts of this appeared in the PS section of the US edition of Every Boy's Got One (actually, parts of this appeared in Every Boy's Got One itself, since that book is basically the story of my wedding), but for those of you who didn't see it, well, here it is. And ALL of this is guaranteed 100% true—no Creative Embellishment for the Entertainment of my Readers, and no fooling!
Why We Didn't Get Married in Las Vegas Like Normal Americans:
“You kid me, si?” The Secretario eyed us suspiciously over his typewriter.
My husband-to-be and I exchanged glances. The fact was, we were not kidding him. We wanted to get married in Diano San Pietro, a sleepy village on the Italian Riviera, just a few miles from Monaco. A popular beach resort in summer, the Ligurian town was relatively deserted in March, except for the natives, who farmed the olive groves that dotted the steep, climbing hills, and ran (when you could rouse them from their afternoon naps) the many restaurants and cafes that lined the beautiful shore.
Considering how deserted the town was, the Secretario's reluctance to marry us seemed odd. There certainly didn't appear to be much going on in the Comune di Diano San Pietro, the city hall. With the exception of ourselves, the white-haired Secretario, and our translator and would-be best man, Ingo, the building was empty. It didn't look to me like there were a lot of people banging down the doors of Diano San Pietro city officials, demanding to be married.
And yet the Secretario looked extremely unwilling even to entertain the idea of two Americans being wed in his village.
“You do not understand,” he said to us, in broken English. “We here in Italy take the institution of marriage very seriously. There is much to be done. There are many forms that must be filled out.”
That was when we handed him the Stato Libero we had filled out in the office of the Consulate General of Italy back in New York before we'd left for Europe. Signed by four witnesses unrelated either to us or to one another, we had been assured by the Consulate that this declaration was the only form we would need in order for us to be married on our vacation in Italy.
But for good measure, we also relinquished our birth certificates, which we'd had translated into Italian, and our passports. Italians, we explained, as nicely as we could, were not the only people in the world who took the institution of marriage seriously.
The Secretario took the forms from us with an expression of bewildered chagrin. This was clearly not what he needed an hour before his lunch break—his three hour lunch break.
Muttering that he was going to have to speak to the Mayor, the Secretario disappeared into an inner office. When he returned moments later, it was in the company of a large man in a jogging suit, who was eating a panini. This gentleman, it appeared, held the office of Mayor of Diano San Pietro. He took one look at our paperwork and inquired, with a sigh, “Why can't you just get married in Las Vegas, like normal Americans?”
I'll admit it: I'm wedding-phobic. I have nothing against marriage. It's the shower-gown-register-bouquet-cake stuff that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I'm often beseeched by readers to write sequels to my contemporary novels that feature the wedding of such-and-such a character. The fact is, I can't do it because I've never actually planned a wedding myself, and have no idea how one goes about doing so.
Twelve years ago—when our trip to the Comune di Diana San Pietro took place–I was twenty-six, and my husband-to-be, Benjamin, was the ripe old age of thirty-one: certainly old enough to know what we wanted—which was not a big wedding. And certainly not one in Vegas, the wedding capital of the world.
Benjamin and I had decided to elope in Italy because:
a) The idea of looking for a wedding gown actually gave me hives (Benjamin was the one who found the dress I eventually wore, a Bill Blass cocktail gown in white lace with black stripes and polka-dots that hit me just above the knee).
b) Some of my in-laws actually give me hives as well, requiring emergency trips to the hospital for shots of cortisone.
c) Our German friend Ingo suggested that if HE were to get married, it would be in Italy, because “it's the most beautiful country in the world.”
Eloping in Italy, back then, seemed the ideal solution to all of our problems…providing the Italian bureaucracy didn't get in the way.
The Mayor's question about Vegas caused us to laugh nervously…until we realized he wasn't kidding. Marrying Americans was apparently something the Comune di Diana San Pietro did not do often—in fact, they'd NEVER done it before.
And they weren't very enthusiastic about making an exception for us.
I tried not to take it personally. It probably didn't have anything to do with the fact that they were worried this was going to cut into their lunch hour. Right?
While we stood behind the railing that separated us from the Secretario's typewriter, our friend Ingo attempted to explain, in his excellent Italian, that the reason Benjamin and I couldn't get married in Las Vegas like normal Americans was that we were not normal Americans….That both the groom and the bride were terrible romantics–that I, in fact, was a fan (though at that time, not yet an author) of romance novels, while Benjamin was a published poet–and that we had long ago decided that if we were ever going to get married, it would only be in the most romantic country in the world, Italy.
I stood there holding my breath, waiting to see if Ingo's argument worked. It wouldn't, of course, be the WORST thing if we didn't end up coming home from Europe married. Neither Benjamin nor I had revealed our marriage plans to anyone except our four unrelated witnesses, back in New York. Our plan was to return to the US as a married couple, our wedding a fait acomplit with which our doting families were going to have to cope…and which would relieve us of all responsibility of having to pick out china patterns or choose bridesmaid dresses. We could always, I figured, try again some other time….
But it wouldn't be in Italy. As a poor graduate student (Benjamin) and administrative assistant (me), we'd blown all of our savings on this trip. We wouldn't be able to make it back to Europe for some time….
To my relief, I could see first the Secretario, and then the Mayor, melting under Ingo's eloquent argument (a miracle, considering how hung-over he was after all the prosecco we'd consumed in our rented villa the night before). Finally, with a frustrated sigh, the Mayor laid down his sandwich and explained that he would marry us if:
a) We supplied a translator, approved by the Comune, who could tell us exactly what we were agreeing to when we said 'Si.'
b) We provided a “donation” to the “Children's Fund.”
c) That we provided additional paperwork, in the form of certificatos di cittadinanza from the Consulate General of the United States in Milan.
Since this last condition entailed a drive of approximately four hours each way, Milano being 500 kilometers from Diano San Pietro, we argued strenuously against it, insisting that the Italian consulate in New York had said nothing of this additional form.
But the Mayor remained firm. It was clear he thought we would bail on the whole thin
g if it meant an entire day's drive. Because who on their right mind would give up a day of their vacation in Italy to drive back and forth to Milan? This would leave the Comune di Diana San Pietro free to do whatever it was they did all day when they were not marrying Americans…which appeared, to my eyes, to be very little.
When, defeated, we finally agreed to do all that they required of us, the Secretario, looking very official, rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter and began filling out our request for a certificato di matrimonio.
“And when,” he asked, “do you want to be married?”
We replied promptly: “April First.”
The Secretario began typing, then suddenly stopped, looked at us over the rims of his glasses, and asked, “This is a joke. You are—who you say?–kidding us, si?”
I shook my head. It had been Benjamin's idea to get married in Italy. It was my idea to do it on April Fool's Day, playing on Benjamin's belief that only fools get married in the first place.
I will admit that there was a delicious irony to the fact that, when we sent telegrams to our families afterward, they wouldn't know until we returned from Europe whether we'd actually been married, or if it was all a prank.
Hey, at twenty-six, that seemed excruciatingly funny to me.
“You are not kidding,” the Secretario said. He looked back down at his typewriter keys, trying not to smile.
The Mayor eyed us suspiciously, then gave us another lecture on how in Italy, marriage is taken very seriously, unlike in America.
Then he picked up his sandwich and announced he could only marry us at nine o'clock in the morning on April First, since he was refereeing the Diano San Pietro boy's football (soccer) game at ten.
We assured him we'd be at the city hall promptly at nine. He looked as if he was thinking, “Yeah. Right.” The Secretario, typing steadily, continued to smile to himself. It was clear neither man believed he would be seeing us on April First.
But the Comune di Diano San Pietro was sadly underestimating how tenacious a pair of young Americans in love can be.
We received only two speeding tickets on our way to Milano at five the next
morning. But the wait in the Consulate General's office turned out to be almost longer than the drive itself.
While we sat waiting for our certificatos, we listened to a young American woman as she tried to convince her older brother that marrying Paolo, an Italian auto mechanic whom she had met the week before, and who sat broodingly beside her, clearly not understanding a word of English, was a good idea. She was still arguing persuasively as we left, four hours later.
Fortunately, we received only one speeding ticket on our way back to Diano San Pietro.
Unfortunately, the only CD in the car during our 8 hour drive to and from Milan was a collection of songs by Queen. “Fat-Bottomed Girls” became our wedding's theme song. To this day, when I hear it, I get teary-eyed.
The translator was much easier to come by than our certificatos. Word of the impending marriage of two crazy Americans spread like wildfire throughout the village. A German tourist staying in a pensione a few houses away introduced himself and said he would be happy to translate for us–his Italian was flawless, and he was a translator for a living.
Meanwhile, the eighty-year-old woman (Frau Schumacher) from whom we were renting our charming, two-storied house in the hills, overlooking the sea, heard about our wedding plans, and insisted upon going down to the Comune and yelling at the Mayor for us. We weren't sure why she felt this was necessary. But, touched by the gesture anyway, I asked her to be my maid of honor (Ingo's girlfriend was supposed to have been my maid of honor, but she broke up with him right before we arrived).
Meanwhile, another vacationing German–the mother of a young boy who, bored on his family vacation, was delighted to meet some Americans, and regularly volunteered to ride his motorino into town each morning to fetch us breakfast rolls–insisted upon acting as official wedding photographer, claiming that our parents would be furious if we didn't at least photograph the big event.
And the night before our wedding, some of the village children came to our house and decorated our front gate with flowers, hanging from the wrought iron spikes two pairs of bedroom slippers, an old Italian tradition promising connubial bliss. They also presented me with a beautiful wreath of flowers to wear in my hair on the Big Day…garlic blossoms, I found out after I put it on.
But it was the thought that counted.
These same children were the ones who, at seven in the morning of the Big Day, tapped on our door. Since I was further dressed than Benjamin, I answered. Two little cherubs looked up at me and explained in broken English, their big eyes soulful, that they were very sorry, but the Mayor had telephoned, and the soccer game had been moved up an hour, and so there could be no wedding that day.
Gasping in horror, I clutched the front of my wedding gown, my eyes filling with tears.
Then both children burst into giggles and shrieked, “April Fool's!”
I brought my hands down from my heart and asked them to pull the same prank on Benjamin, whose reaction was far more satisfactory to them than mine, since he said a lot of American swear words, to the kids' endless delight.
An hour and a half later, our wedding procession, consisting of our landlady, the translator, his wife and daughter (the lovely Annika), our self-appointed photographer, her husband and their son (who had a little crush on Annika), Ingo and two of his friends from Bonn, Benjamin, myself, and assorted village children and their dogs arrived at the Sala Consiliare of the Comune di Diano San Pietro.
Clearly surprised that we had actually shown up, the Mayor quickly stripped off his referee uniform and donned jacket, tie, and mayoral surplice.
Our marriage took place with much more solemnity and pageantry than either of us was expecting. Ingo, the best man, presented me with a bridal bouquet and my maid of honor with a matching corsage before the ceremony. Then Frau Schumacher and Ingo witnessed our signing of the Diano San Pietro registro degli atti di matrimoni.
According to the translator, Benjamin and I promised, among other things, to live always together and see that our children attended decent schools. No wedding ceremony I have attended since has seemed quite as sweet–and to the point–as our Italian one.
After rings and kisses were exchanged, the Mayor announced us husband and wife, and cheers and applause rang out. We were then beseeched by the Mayor to pose for photos with him, and by the Secretario to make a one hundred thousand lire donation the Comune di Diano San Pietro children's fund. In the registro for the children's fund, my husband wrote, “Isn't it a good thing we decided not to get married in Las Vegas like normal Americans?”
Then we all went across the street to enjoy a wedding brunch at a restaurant that had agreed to open its doors early just for us…and our thirty new friends.