Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.
–- Carl Sandburg
“Are you visiting Tuscany for your honeymoon?” Lorenza, our wine tasting hostess at Avignonesi winery, asked over a swirl of 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
“No,” I laughed. “We’re actually here for our 10th anniversary. We were married just down the road in Pienza in 2000.”
Even as the words came out, I thought: Ten years? Really?
Mid-September 2000. We stood before a jolly, rotund man named Luciano in the reception of his converted farmhouse in the Val d’Orcia. “For a real Tuscan wedding, each person must have a Florentine steak, 800 grams,” he asserted in his exaggerated yet somehow natural, gesticulated Italian.
The setting sun was carving a path through a side window; our frantic search for an alternative venue just three weeks before our wedding was thankfully coming to a close.
But was it really a requirement of a Tuscan wedding that each guest be served two pounds of Florentine steak amidst four other courses?
A recipe for an oddball do-it-yourself destination wedding in the Italian countryside: a $100 wedding dress mailed from Estonia, simple rings purchased on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the world’s least expensive genuine Hugo Boss wedding suit (thank you, favorable exchange rates), a week of family and friends getting lost in the middle of Italy, homemade truffle crostini and pillows of ricotta-stuffed ravioli, a mayor who had just rolled out of bed to perform the ceremony, and more than just a little lost in translation.
We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been doing this “married” thing for ten years. Even more thankful that, to many, we don’t look ten years married. During our recent visit to Tuscany, we reflected on the relationship between our wedding and our values, and how the event foreshadowed our lives together.
So what did our wedding teach us?
1. Dream. Then it can become a reality.
“Let’s get married in Italy. How about Tuscany?” It sounded crazy at the time. I was in San Francisco, Audrey was in Estonia. I had never been to Italy, but the Renaissance and Baroque art history classes I had taken at university planted a seed. Audrey had been to Italy on a quick solo trip after a semester abroad and was game.
Sure enough, our language evolved slightly: “Why not Italy? What’s to stop us, really?” We had already scrapped the idea of a traditional American wedding and we’d planned to backpack around Europe. A wedding in Italy sure sounded like fun. And it fit us: good food, wine, a bit of the unknown. We invited friends and family to plan a getaway to Italy and join us for our wedding.
The rest is history.
Without dreams, visions and crazy ideas that leave others wondering, you are leaving a lot to chance – and to someone else’s script.
2. There’s more story in the process and the journey than there is in the result and the destination.
Cobbling together all the bits of our wedding in the three weeks leading up to the event provided endless madcap story fodder: choosing a bouquet, making hair appointments, setting a menu — with nothing more than an Italian phrasebook and some skills in charades at hand. As friends and family arrived in Tuscany the week before the wedding, the shared stories and experiences of getting lost, random encounters, and amazing food multiplied.
Not only was this great fun, but it also put the final event – our wedding, our getting married — in proper perspective. Everyone had gathered because of an event and a destination, but the real story: their new experiences.
3. There’s beauty in simplicity.
Simple is not only beautiful, it’s often less expensive and it reduces stress.
Two days before the wedding, before everyone set off for their countryside day-trip adventuring, we asked each person to bring something back for dinner: a local specialty from wherever they went. That night, we gathered around a picnic table with wild boar sausage, buffalo mozzarella, aged local pecorino (sheep) cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and 5-liter jugs of table wine purchased on impulse from a restaurant in the nearby hill town of Cortona.
In life, simplicity often means lower overhead and more flexibility. Living simply is something we value. It is one of the key reasons why we were able to pick up and move to Prague, pick up and travel the world. Pick up and do.
4. Perfection is overrated.
By no means was our wedding perfect – it poured on the day of, we had Italian funeral flowers at the reception (until Luciano’s wife rescued us from our ignorance), there was way, way, way too much food, and the marriage was almost not legal because our witnesses didn’t have their passports. The whole thing was pretty much made up as we went along.
But that’s what made our wedding an engine of fond and funny memories. In its own way, just about perfect.
Some say that perfection is the enemy of the good. I’d offer that perfection can be the enemy of the great. And when it comes to your wedding – or your life — ask yourself: What is it that you are perfecting?
5. Create your own style.
Tradition and society often dictate what life and the events that fill it ought to look like, leaving you to simply plug pieces into a predefined equation.
Before you fill in the blanks, ask yourself: Is this what I really want?
We printed out poems about love and life from an internet café in Budapest and read them on an overnight train to Venice. By the end of the 15 hour train ride, we had our ceremony worked out. Some of it traditional, much of it less so.
Mix things up, do what feels right to you and make it your own. You’ll learn more, and you’ll likely be happier for it. And best of all – it will be yours.
6. Dissatisfaction is OK, so long as it spurs action.
Three weeks before the wedding, we drove up to the hotel we had booked on the internet. Our hearts sank: instead of the peace and tranquility advertised (keep in mind this was in 2000, before the endless hotel reviews we expect now), the hotel we booked overlooked the best of Italy’s highways. Sure, we could have made the best of the situation, but we examined our priorities, decided the setting was important to us, and took action.
We hopped back into our rental car and drove around Pienza and into the hills looking for road signs with a bed and a fork and a knife (indicating accommodation and food). After a few hours of pulling off a dozen country roads, we found exactly what we were looking for: a valley setting looking up to nearby hill towns, simple accommodation and great food.
Life often doesn’t turn out as planned. Sulking doesn’t help. Size up the situation and then do something about it.
7. Provide a context for others to create their own adventures.
When it comes to events (or life in general), planning every little detail is for the birds. Besides being stressful, it can detract from the beauty that comes from spontaneity and unexpected turns.
For our wedding, we provided a framework: Tuscany and Italy. But our guests created their own adventures. We strategically advised friends and family to first plan a vacation to Italy, then to join us for our wedding. We didn’t plan many activities. As a result, each day everyone created their own adventures to nearby Tuscan hill towns and each evening they returned full of stories.
Guests used our wedding as a platform to travel in a way they may not have normally chosen to do without the excuse of an event. My mother had never been outside North America, but she used our wedding as an opportunity to drive around and explore Europe for a month. My father had not been outside the United States for over 30 years, but he picked up the travel bug and now finds his way to Italy every few years.
We hope that by sharing our travels through this website, we provide another context that inspires you to create your own experiences and adventures.
8. Things change.
Appreciate the moment. There is no going back.
In one respect, our return to Tuscany was bittersweet. Because of the economic crisis, the agriturismo (farm guest house) where we celebrated with family and friends had closed. The medieval stone buildings are still in place, but the property has been abandoned and is falling into disrepair. Its gregarious owner and the man of great steaks, Luciano, is now incapacitated and bedridden in nearby Montepulciano.
Walking around the place and absorbing the news from the next-door neighbors was profoundly sad. I had harbored visions of sharing a glass of vin santo with Luciano and his wife at sunset upon our return.
But the reality remains: things change, people grow older, places evolve.
All the more reason that when you have an experience of beauty before you, bask in it. Appreciate the moment, for the moment may be more fleeting than you think.
9. It takes a village
The village is what makes an experience. And by village, we mean the people whom you enlist to help you create and share an experience.
Don’t just ask people to show up; get them involved. We not only invited people to our wedding, but we asked them to participate. Everyone helped out in one way or another to make our wedding week well beyond something special – from the music to the programs to the flowers to even a magic show.
And for this opportunity, we are grateful. For the involvement, excitement and support of family and friends that ushered us into married life, we are thankful.
Ten years later, that week still brings a smile and more than a few laughs.
Photos from our 10th Anniversary Return to Tuscany
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or want to read the captions, you can view the photos here.