La Vita Nuova The New Life



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The currents of life take us in many different directions. Donna Perdue grew up in Memphis Tennessee, went to graduate school at Cornell, lived in Seattle, and is now working as a patent attorney in San Diego. Calvin Johnson was born in northern California, passed up Cornell to go to graduate school in Seattle, and was (when we were dating and first got married) a physics professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge (he has since taken a faculty position at San Diego State University so we live together now!). Despite these star-crossed paths we met, of all places, in Washington DC, in June of 1998, where Donna was interning at a federal court and Calvin was visiting friends.

Many frequent-flyer miles and long-distance phone calls later, we decided to get married. Given the itinerant nature of our lives and the fact that our family and friends are scattered over too many states to be counted, we decided it fairest to favor no one and get married in Florence, Italy, a choice that would also endow the ceremony with a sense of history and elegance. Tour companies that arrange such weddings can be found on the Internet; of these we selected Rosanna’s Tours , a.k.a. The Women’s Travel Company, a.k.a. Euroevents & Travel.

We kept the planning quiet for a long time, because we were not sure we could pull this off—after all, we were entrusting ourselves and our pay-in-advance checks to strangers we contacted via the Internet, relying only on the fact that there had been no complaints against them to the Better Business Bureau. Furthermore, what we gained by not having to audition cake-makers and select brides-maid dresses was roughly compensated by the rococo intricacies of Italian bureaucracy, which even before we left the States required various legal documents from six different offices in three different states, all translated and notarized. But in the final few weeks everything came together and we began to believe that our wedding would occur. We had our rings custom-made—stylized versions of a Möbius strip—by a genial jeweler in the hippy-esque community of Ocean Beach. Donna gave in and bought a more or less traditional wedding gown. When Calvin bought his suit, the clerk ringing up the sale told us she was getting married soon, too, and had twelve hundred guests. "We’re having six," we told her. "Six hundred?" she asked. "No, just six—including us."

On Saturday, June 17, 2000, we flew from San Diego to New York, then to Venice’s Marco Polo international airport, and caught a train to Florence via Bologna. It was Sunday morning by this time and we were tired but enchanted by the Italian countryside was a rich green dotted with red tile rooftops. In Florence we made our home at the Hotel Porta Rossa , recommended to us by Donna’s dentist: a lovely hotel that has existed since 1386, right in the heart of Florence.

On Monday we met Bianca Rossi Schmidt, who was to guide us through the labyrinth of Italian paperwork. Monday’s mission was to obtain the atto notorio, a sworn affadavit that we wished to marry. This required two witnesses—in our case, paid witnesses, Paolo and Ilaria, whom we only met that morning—but did not require Donna: yes, only the groom gets ushered into the inner sanctum of the slightly bored bureaucrat, who stamped the documents with great vigor. Tuesday was the nulla osta, which declared there were no obstacles to marriage, obtained at the U.S. Consulate, and thereafter to the police headquarters across town where the nulla osta was autheticated by another Italian bureaucrat. (Apparently we weren’t wanted by the Italian police or by Interpol, so they decided they would let us get married.) Then to Florence’s city hall for a final round of stamping, sealing, and swearing in the Ufficio di Matrimonio, ensconced at the Palazzo Vecchio, the old palace on the central square where the Medicis ruled and where we would be married. After we were finished, Bianca informed us that we had sailed through the bureaucracy in near record time, much faster than we all anticipated.

We enjoyed the sights of Florence, taking in galleries and walking about the city, often overwhelmed by the weight of art and history towering around us. On a back street we discovered what became our favorite little trattoria, the Trattoria il Teatro, away from the tourist hordes, uncrowded but with wonderful food.

Thursday, June 22: the fateful day. We had agreed to have only four guests , all from Europe: a grad school friend of Donna’s from England and his wife, and a grad school friend of Calvin’s and her husband, from Germany. They arrived that morning during breakfast. We chatted for a while and dressed, and went downstairs at 10:30 a.m. to meet up with Bianca and the photographer Mr. Mariani, who photographed us as we walked a short ways across town, as is traditional in Florence, to the Palazzo Vecchio. Most of the walk was accompanied by blessings of "Auguri" and "Congratulations" although one old man on a bicycle muttered "povri bambini" (poor little things) as he rode by. The procession was photographed by many other tourists—we were happy to be part of their experience of Italy.

The ceremony was simple but meaningful. As we entered the "Sala di Matrimonio" a classical guitarist played Bach’s "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring," surely one of the most beautiful melodies ever. Our European friends stood as witnesses while the sindaco of Florence read to us in Italian, and Bianca translated, the three relevant articles of the Italian civil code: to equally provide moral and material support for each other; to establish a common domicile; and to guide and educate children according to their natural inclinations. To all this we agreed. We exchanged rings, we kissed, and we were wed.

The guitarist played "It Had to Be You" as we left and the six of us headed to a fabulous wedding luncheon at the Restaurant "Beatrice," very appropriate given our Dante-inspired slogan for the wedding. The meal included sparkling prosecco, wines, pasta, and tepid octopus salad, which is much, much better than it sounds.

Friday we saw Galileo’s finger on display in the museum of the history of science—the rest of him is entombed only a few blocks away in the church of Santa Croce, across from Michaelangelo—and toured the famed Uffizi gallery, topped off with another meal at the Trattoria il Teatro . Saturday June 24 we said our goodbyes, promised a reunion, and our German friends dropped us off at Venice.

Venice is a beautiful city, fairy-like, almost unimaginable that it could exist. But is it is also overrun with tourists, the Disneyland of the Adriatic in both good and bad senses. And we had had such a fabulous time in Florence that somehow even Venice could only be anticlimatic. Still, we relaxed and enjoyed wandering the streets, poking into shops, paying far, far too much for coffee on the Piazza San Marco, seeing more incredible art and architecture—a tiny obscure church might have only two or three Tintorettos—and taking vaporetto rides up and down the Grand Canal and out to Murano where glass is blown into vividly colored fantasies. Finally, on Thursday June 29, we said our good-byes to Italy. It was late at night when the airport shuttle dropped us off at Donna’s apartment in San Diego, but we were home. No, come to think of it, now our true home is with each other, wherever that may be.

Answers to frequently asked questions

· Donna will be keeping her name. She will also be keeping her last name.

· We are no longer in violation of Italian civil ordinance 144— (and we’re not making that number up) as we have finally established a common domicile!

· Despite the unending hype, Michaelangleo’s David is still awe-inspiring in person.

· We skipped the gondola ride in Venice. We didn’t think we could do it with a straight face.

· It is possible to buy bad wine in Italy. It ought to cost more than a vaporetto ticket (Lit. 6000).

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