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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary – Part II

pb060034.JPG(See Part I under Family & Home Life)

How do you spell disaster? Trying to plan something special from afar. That’s why there are wedding planners and wedding renewal event organizers lining up to handle it for you.

For a price. A Big Price.

Not for me. I had a Plan, and had been hatching it for over five months. We would not be doing a renewal, because in my warped way of thinking, “I meant my vows the first time around.” After this experience, I just might need a renewal, but that was unknown at the beginning.

I planned with military precision. We secured four frequent-flier tickets (i.e., free!) to an elegant get-away location: Venice, our home-away-from-home. Can’t get much better than that. I bought the boys cumberbunds and bowties to go with their existing black suits. Benedetto already had a tuxedo from a few years back. I purchased for myself a long, off-white dress, fake fur stole and matching hat a` la Russe. Throw in some pumps, stockings, jewelry (but, of course) and there’s a nice little ensemble going on. We secured a local apartment in which to stay, saving over 50% on a hotel room. The plan was to dress for a wedding, and have photos taken. It would be fun, rather than a ceremonial bother. No difficult guests with which to deal. No catering problems. No extended family to coordinate. No problems at all could happen. We wanted to think of ourselves for once, and enjoy life.

There’s the rub.

This was a momentous anniversary, which happened to fall at an inopportune time. (Why does it always turn out that way?) As the date approached, we should have read the handwriting on the wall, scrawled in streaky Sharpie across the calm canvas of our life. Yet, we were never ones to let an impending trainwreck deter us. A failing economy, ridiculously-rising home repairs, a recent Russian adoption, all converged in the months just before this auspicious date. The money was hemorrhaging in every direction. We were economic hemophiliacs and not feeling at our most romantic. As autumn began, our home heating system stopped, roofers came out several times for leaks springing like from a sieve, only to be followed by plasterers as ceilings and walls bulged and buckled. The phone line went down while associates from abroad tried to reach me here, there, and everywhere.

But who said that celebrations had to be excessive and expensive? Celebrity weddings that rivalled royal nuptials were excessive and gaudy. Give me sweet, simple, and sophisticated. I’m not talking about a Hee Haw hoedown by any means. Just cutting out the fat in areas that don’t much matter.

When attending a wedding, I go to witness the beauty of the couple’s vows, not to count how many shrimp I can consume, or whether the chicken is rubbery or not. But then, I’m naturally in a food avoidance mode. I know not everyone is of the same opinion. Otherwise, they would not pad their pockets with doggy bags, to provide for five or six meals later in the week. And some guests simply want to attend and get soused, a noble and affirming gesture in and of itself.

We arrive to our European destination late Thursday afternoon and take a “vaporetto” to the general environs. Pasha is enthralled, his first time travelling abroad with us after the adoption coming up on three months ago. The boys stand on the outside deck, Petya pointing out each location. At our boat stop, we disembark to check into the apartment. The owner could not greet us, but left a text message saying that her father would meet us at the apartment door.

First problem. Where was the door?

The numbering system appeared to follow some ancient abacus system: forget about even or odd, consecutively ascending or descending. No, we’re talking a stack of numbered sticks, thrown at random on the ground, the numbers assigned to surrounding apartments. While the four of us circle the approximate area a good dozen or so times, I feel my anxiety level rising. My husband leaves us with the bags in the public square for the nth time. I send Petya out to chase down kindly older gentlemen who appear to be loitering around. Nothing.

Then he approaches. A well-groomed, elderly man who states that he is a local, and could he possibly help us?

“Laura?” I inquire. “You are Laura’s father?”

He looks at me blankly.

“We are waiting for someone,” I quickly follow-up.

“Ah, va bene,” he waves his hand. We thank him profusely as he takes his leave. These chance encounters give me glimmers of hope that all is not doom and gloom in the world.

By now, my husband has located the apartment doorway and Laura’s father. He speaks not a word of English, which is no problem for us. She has sent an explanatory letter and we fill out paperwork. All is well, as we settle in.

It is almost five o’clock and we have one last mission of the day: buy a wedding bouquet. Rather than spend hundreds on such an item, may I remind you, I have a plan. I come prepared with green floral tape and off-white ribbon. The four of us set off immediately to find fresh flowers.

Through the winding alleys we go, to locate roses, red and lush. Arriving at a floral shop, spying long-stemmed beauties, it could not have been easier. A dozen of these, actually 1-1/2 or 2 dozen would run under $20 at any warehouse big box store back home. How naive could we be…. Our family had just entered the Ferragamo price range of floral artistry.

We settled on the special number of seven to create a small, tightly-wrapped bouquet. Pointing them out, Benedetto requested, “Sette, per favore,” forgetting to inquire about the price.

“How much,” I whispered in Hebrew under my breath, “ask how much they are.”

“E quanto costano?” he probes the dapper shopkeeper.

“Sette Euros,” the man replies, nonplussed.

“Each?” we recoil, plussed.

“Si`–.”

My mental calculator immediately came to the conclusion that this was a no-go. Forty-nine Euros, or $85, for a few floral photos was not in the budget, and certainly not in The Plan. Problem was, in Venice, all had to be shipped-in, resulting in higher prices for most everything.

We locate another florist, carrying the same flowers at six Euros each, or smaller crummy roses at three Euros each. We could be creative with crummy…. They were off-white with the merest blush of pink.

Fine, I told myself. I would be the blushing bride. In my mind’s eye, Benedetto may as well have dressed in a baby blue tuxedo, if I was to be saddled with pink roses. Breathe… release… relax….

My husband, on the other hand, tries to convince me that roses will absorb food coloring placed in a vase, much in the same way as those awful, garish carnations that show up on everything from Mother’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day in hues that are not found in the rainbow. I imagine us walking for hours, trying to find food coloring in an alimentary shop. I was not in the mood for any experiments, nor dripping dye and dead roses in the morning.

That evening, we visit our favorite haunt, a restaurant for locals and tourists alike. The zuppa di pesce and sauteed spinaci would make me feel warm and welcome.

“Petya!” shouts a waiter, as another brought complimentary calamari to our table. The Italians loved a boy who knew how to eat with gusto. There was a sense of being at home, and of all being well with the world.

We had arranged a professional photographer to meet us at the crack of dawn in the Piazza San Marco. The four of us arose, drowsy and puffy, but the show had to go on. I showered, and tried to do my hair and face. Then it dawned on me: no decent light for the bathroom mirror. This was unthinkable for a bride, much less a repeat bride who was aiming for beautiful photos, if nothing else. Where would I apply my makeup? How would I do my hair?

In my kit, I had a small 10x magnification mirror. Utilizing this hand-held wonder, I could ingeniously divide my face into approximate eighths and go to town. Rather Picasso-like in effect, but it was all I could do. The hair I would have to dry, flat iron, and roll by feel alone, the Helen Keller of coiffure.

We get the kids ready, give them some cioccolato caldo to sip, and my husband wraps the flowers. I would have liked them cut short with the green floral tape on their stems. Period. But Benedetto insists that we use the ribbon, too… which he then rubberbands in place-! Not part of The Plan. Totally ruined. He is so proud. I refused to become ruffled. I would simply keep my hand clamped firmly over the offending elastic.

The four of us glide in early morning light to our appointed meeting place, our heels echoing on the cool cobblestones. I ask Petya to carry my small camera to catch a couple of candid photos on the way. Workers making their way to jobs pass us in the street, calling, “Tanti auguri!” (best wishes). Little did we know, we would need these auguri.

From 8:00 to 8:25 am, we stand awkwardly in the square, onlookers no doubt wondering why we did not move. Our photographer, a top professional in Venice (or so she advertises), never shows. This had been arranged five months previous, and reconfirmed in the last two weeks.

I considered whether it was worth her while. She had tried to increase our package several times with Venetian costume rentals, offers of leather-bound albums and enlargements. It was already 250 Euros ($300) for 1-1/2 hours of her time. Here, on my auspicious wedding anniversary, I had been jilted, stood up.

Another professional photographer with exquisite lens and tripod passes by. He holds his hands together, begging, pleading, hoping for a free snap. I briefly consider commissioning him on the spot to take a few photos and send them to us. But my street sense gets the better of me, I’m not about to be stiffed, as well as stood-up. The photographer reminded me of both sides of many marriages: he wanted what he could not have, while we lacked what we needed. We had no idea who he was, nor in what portfolio or coffee table book we might end up. Though the two of us declined with a smile, I believe I saw his shutter click.

“Let’s go,” says Benedetto, irritated at the outcome of events.

The boys are confused. “Mama, we came to just stand here?” They were ready for action.

“No, our photographer apparently does not want to meet us. But we will take our own photos.”

I rise to the occasion and appoint Petya, our 12-year-old with my trusty point-and-shoot, as our pseudo-wedding photographer. He is thrilled. This is an adventure. As Frank Sinatra would say, we’ll do it our way.

Our own son came through for us. My admiration and appreciation for his maturity knew no bounds. What he lacked in technical expertise, he made up for in enthusiasm. Thank God for digital cameras which allowed me to see that his shots from the rear framed me as the hunchback of Notre Dame. Zooming in on my hat and stole, I had no neck, which is nothing new, but I wished to avoid any accentuation of the obvious. Our frontal shots had an inordinate amount of sky above our heads. As in marriage, try, try again.

While in the line of duty, Petya had a bird poop on his suit arm. Not to mention that Pasha attempted in the early morning to leave the apartment in his tennis shoes. It was my honeymoon of sorts, and here I had to babysit, watching like hawks the two preteens. And of course, it’s here in the daylight that I notice my attempt to perk up my husband’s face has resulted in clown-like rouged cheeks. I jump back in shock and then dab at them. We must be quite a sight. I can only imagine what my own appearance must be.

After thirty-some minutes of our messed-up matrimonial march, followed by two midget chroniclers, a miracle happens. A man emerges before us, staring. Sergio! Our waiter from last night, whom we’ve known for ages. I laugh at his look of surprise as though we were finally becoming an honest man and woman, and doing the right thing.

“Trenti hanni fa!” (thirty years later) I confided, and told him of our failed photographer. He graciously stepped in on our own personal bridge of sighs and took the only photo of the four of us. Out of the entire city, the chances that he would be in this different sestiere, so early in the day when working late into the night, and offering to help. God was watching over this goofed-up day.

As we posed for him, an older lady approached the bridge, paused, and fake-spit three times in her hand. I wonder if Sergio captured our look of revulsion before we could revert to our usual public faces! No doubt, she was keeping us, or herself, or the whole city for all I knew, safe from the evil eye. In Italian culture, no good act such as a compliment, or admiring a new baby, or an occasion like a wedding, could pass without thinking that some evil spirit might be lurking and had to be chased off. The malocchio’s menacing influence had tried to terrorize us today, and if fake-spitting could work, we might all need to be hocking. As a matter of fact, we had forgotten to pack our garlic cloves anywhere on our person in our pre-dawn rush to meet the less-than-enthusiastic photographer. (Note to self: send garlic tip to The Knot.) But even before the spitting, or any other dubious rituals, we had been the recipients of Divine intervention. We had our photos and all would be fine.

By now, the city was coming to life, and we strode back to our humble abode, amidst congratulations in every language coming our way. People in general loved the idea of a new beginning, along with the hopes and dreams that accompanied.

Obviously, with our children in tow, they could tell we were not first-timers… although we were! Years ago, before Benedetto saw the light and started coloring his hair, people looked at his grey and my blond and naturally assumed that we were far apart in age, that I was the second wife, to which I would always draw myself up and declare, “I am the first, and the last.”

We changed clothes, and later that morning, the four of us walked to Caffe` Florian to celebrate life in general: our marriage, our children, our health. In the historic dining rooms dating from 1720 which had seen the rise and fall of the Republic and was still standing almost 300 years later, we nestled amidst red velvet banquets, wood, glass, and golden walls. We had every reason to celebrate in the face of every obstacle over the years, and in the present. Thirty years later, no matter what life threw our way, we would prevail, together.

———-

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