Saturday morning Katie and I arose; the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and excitement was in the air. After breakfast many of us set about making final preparations. Many of the women decorated the granaio, which would be the scene of dinner and dancing, while others picked local wild flowers from the countryside. We used empty wine bottles from the previous 48 hours (And there were many!) to hold flowers as table decorations. Some of the other men and I set up chairs, tables, and the sound system.
Many people had their own excellent ideas for little touches that we would never have thought of, such as tying a ribbon (tied by Lee, who has been tying beautiful ribbons around my presents since I was 10) around the linden tree under which we would be married. This was exactly what we had in mind as it eliminated our stress and made the entire event a shared experience. I kept trying to find things about which to stress or worry but I really couldn’t – everything was just . . . perfect.
Finally it was time to get ready for the ceremony. The common themes in Katie’s and my outfits were “vintage,” “castle,” and “meaningful.” Several months ago I found a midnight blue dinner jacket from the 40’s and, with a little tailoring, it fit me very well. The formal shirt I wore under it was handmade with a bib design known as “Swiss pleats,” a nod to the place where Katie and I were engaged. My studs were given to me by my mother, a set of four handmade silver dragons; they paired very well with my cuff links, also handmade silver dragons! Apparently the special ladies in my life know how strongly I believe that castles should have dragons! Instead of dress shoes I wore a pair of black ostrich boots given to me by Sam, my mentor in all things Texas. In my front breast pocket I had a white linen pocket square with a hand monogrammed “KJBGH” (Katie’s initials joined with mine). Finally, I of course wore my Rice ring.
Adorned as such, I was ready – or I thought I was. Still nothing could prepare me for seeing Katie in her wedding outfit! We had planned a small, intimate ceremony with no “aisle” down which to walk so I showed up early, milled about, took pictures, etc. while we waited for the bride and her sister to show. When they did, WOW, what a sight to behold! Katie was wearing a long, flowing ivory dress (new) with a low back and plunging neckline. Her crystal earrings and aquamarine (blue) ring were gifts from my mother. An art deco bracelet (borrowed) graced her wrist while strappy silver/gold wedges clad her feet (Castles are not great places for stiletto heels!). She also had a special sixpence piece in her shoe to bring a little tradition to our most nontraditional wedding.
Most meaningful to me, though, were the vintage 30’s crown tiara and 40’s crystal rhinestone necklace (old). They were both wedding gifts from me and I was pleased to see how perfectly they adorned her head and her heart, her two most important parts! While I tried to remain poised, all I could think was, “OMGOMGOMGOMG I’m going to marry her!!!!” She was truly the vision of a “princess bride,” the references to which continued throughout the entire day.
On a related note, I gave Katie a second vintage tiara as well because I didn’t know much about her dress, how she would wear her hair, etc. and I wanted her to have options. The other tiara turned out to be a perfect match for Kelly’s dress and so I was thrilled almost to tears to see my sister-to-be also wearing something from me. “Keep it together, Hassin; the ceremony hasn’t even started yet!”
Once we were all together under the linden tree, in a courtyard between the castle’s two major towers, it was time to get the show on the road. At this point it was no longer about the wedding-to-come but the wedding-in-the-here-and-now. Much of my IMD subconscious-oriented training was directed at experiencing the “here and now” so, surreal as the experience was becoming, I resolved to savor it. Every word that was spoken, every movement of someone’s hand, even every breeze on my neck . . . I soaked up every ounce of it!
We were honored to have Sam as our “Captain of Ceremonies.” As this was a secular ceremony and as we had already been civilly wed, our qualifications for this role were for someone meaningful (Sam had been like a father to me and in recent years he came to know Katie as well.), checklist-oriented (Sam is a career pilot – check!), and well spoken (Double check, especially since Sam’s oratory skills come with the incredible “bonus” of Lee’s co-authorship!) – Sam was a shoe-in, and we were just so glad that he undertook it even with many, many, many other important things going on in both his and Lee’s lives right now.
The specific details of what was said and undertaken during the wedding ceremony belongs to the “here and now” of “there and then” so will not be included in this blog post. Suffice it to say, though, that our parents and siblings played major roles (Even Katie’s brother/sister-in-law and their family, who were unable to attend in person, joined us via Skype!), our IMD friends/spouses contributed international perspectives on marriage, and we publicly committed ourselves to each other before the people we hold most dear.
Speaking our vows to each other was the most surreal, positive moment of my life to date. It felt like something out of a movie, when the rest of the scene fades out and all that is left is sunlight and music and love. For months, ever since I began writing my vows, this was exactly how I had envisioned it, even down to the bridal wreath petals blowing in the breeze and landing softly in our hair and on our shoulders. I had practiced my vows in the shower, in the car, and in the mirror, but this time I spoke them into the beautiful blue eyes of my life partner. Incomparable, amazing, perfect.
Once we finished bawling, being pronounced husband and wife, and kissing (Finally!), we kicked off post-ceremony festivities by sabering the first bottle of La Marca Conegliano Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. Instead of using a sword, though (tough to carry on a plane!), we used the best we could find in the castle’s kitchen: a huge meat cleaver!!! We sabered that bottle without cutting anyone, took a billion pictures, and began partying.
There in the courtyard we played mostly classical music, including pieces by Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, and even Mark Knopfler and John Williams. We also made the first of what would eventually be many, many, many toasts. We toasted those who were there with us, those who couldn’t make it, and those who were no longer with us, all of whom were celebrating with us whether in person or in spirit.
Once every possible of combination of bride, groom, and guests had been photographed under the linden tree, we processed to the granaio to begin a very, very long wedding lunch/dinner. With such a small gathering we were able to seat everyone at the same long table, with Katie and me and immediate family at the center. For antipasti we had three kinds of bruschetta: muscroom, tomato, and spinach aioli. With this we also opened the next wine, La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna, a fabulous little white wine very near and dear to Katie’s and my hearts.
I had intended to use the meal as an opportunity to toast everyone there at least once (I love making toasts at the weddings of other people so I was going to make as many as possible at my own!) and, using the Swiss cowbell we received as a gift, we started a protocol of ringing the cowbell to garner attention for a toast. Very shortly after my first few toasts, though, the cowbell made its way down to both ends of the table and we were surprised, HONored, flattered, thrilled, excited, grateful, blessed, and many, many other joyous words as our guests outdid me in both toast quantity and quality. Toasts ranged from hilarious to tear-jerking, from rehearsed to improvised, from advisory to congratulatory – but they were all incredibly heartfelt. I thought that our crying had finished with the ceremony but many of the toasts started the water works right back up again.
For our primo piatto we had risotto with asparagus and fagioli, which was followed by our secondo, herb-roasted pork and roasted potatoes. With this main course we served the ’99 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all’Oro. If I hadn’t already been in a “savor” mindset, this would have put me there immediately. Oh wow, what a wine! Classic sangiovese with crushed cherries and tobacco, beautifully integrated, and a round finish that went on and on and on and on. Mmmmmmm!
As we progressed through the meal, some of the toasts turned creative, including a Godfather reenactment, calling of the Hogs, singing of a traditional Sicilian wedding song (including audience participation!), and an a capella rendition of Can’t Help Falling in Love by Katie’s aunt, mother, and sister. Not only was that moving in and of its own right, but Katie’s brilliant suggestion that we get up and dance to it made for a “first dance” much more spontaneous and memorable than anything we could have planned. Once again: perfect.
As the sun set we moved from dining to dancing. Katie and I had put together a small selection of good dance songs – both fast and slow – from the 50’s through today and played them off my laptop through some big speakers. We started with the older stuff to be a little more accessible to our guests who would probably retire earlier and then made our way into more contemporary dance fare. It’s tough to have something for everyone and I worried at times that our music was too “American” for our European guests, too loud for our older guests, etc. Utimately, though, Katie seemed to be having a blast, which was what really mattered. We hit on a lot of our favorites, including raucous singalongs to Friends In Low Places and Bohemian Rhapsody. In hommage to Top Gun the men even serenaded Katie with You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. Good times!
After 11 or so hours of lunch/dinner and dancing, we finally wound down, cleaned up a bit, and called it a night. For Katie and me, it had been the absolutely perfect day. There was no stress, only unabounding joy, amplified a thousand fold by our loved ones who shared in the celebration with us. Words, poetry, music – nothing can express how incredible our wedding was for us. It was everything we had hoped it would be – and more, through the contributions of those who shared it with us. It was perfect. May 7, 2011: Best. Day. EVER!