This is our first wedding in over 20 years and our very first Italian wedding.
Our friends, Paola and Fabrizio Cinelli have filled their Tuscan Villa with an international cast of wedding guests from San Paolo Brazil, Milan, Wyoming, London and San Francisco. Their daughter Maria Vittoria, still a little shaken from the recent earthquake, came down from her home in Emilia Romagna, and the wedding groom, Francesco, observing the Italian custom of not seeing the bride for three days before the wedding has moved back into his old room at the family villa. Add to the mix three dogs, two of them constantly trying to kill each other, a couple of cats and a staff of house help and you have one crazy villa.
We arrived two days before the wedding, just in time for the first grand dinner party, 16 people crammed tightly around the dining room table. Paola decided to stay out of the kitchen during the wedding weekend and hired various cooks and staff to take over. On top of the great food, family friend Mario showed up with a 5 liter bottle of his cousin’s Brunello di Montalcino and began pouring large quantities into large glasses. No Mario, just because it is a 20 oz wine glass, you don’t put 16 oz of wine into it.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful spring day although we were all a bit foggy from the Brunello. The Brazilians went for a walk on the Via Francigena, one of the old pilgrim routes (more later) and we had a day trip in Florence visiting some of our favorite places. Florence is a small city with a constant flowing energy.
In just a few hours we saw street artists, a foot race, thousands of tourists and the most amazing outdoors markets of San Lorenzo and Porta Rossa. Florence is renown for it’s leather quality and the ubiquitous leather stalls of the markets delight every sense; sight, smell, touch and sound. It’s really difficult to walk out empty handed.
The night before the wedding Paola arranged for her cousin Arturo (a professional chef) to cater an affair for around 35 people on the Villa terrace. Another grand event with great food, delicious wine and lots of dancing. The dance is another Italian passion, and they do it very well. We’re not talking free form shake your booty dancing. They work everything from tango to salsa, to swing.
After a short intermission for lunch prepared by the Brazilians, everyone went to properly dress. The, the film crew arrived, hired to document the entire event and show the edited version at the cake ceremony at the end of the night.
Around 2:30pm we headed out to the small church up in the hills of Pistoia.
In an American wedding, invitations are usually sent with the name of the church and the location, including directions. Although all the international guests were personally invited to the wedding by Francesco, we never received a printed invitation. We didn’t know the name of the church or how to get to it. There was a plan to have everyone follow Francesco but even that required a lot of confusion. We finally got the name of the church was as we were walking towards our cars preparing to leave. We all plugged the name into our various GPS devices and then proceeded to get lost.
One of the American guests (who didn’t have GPS) followed Francisco through the “fast track” lane to get onto the Autostrada. Unfortunately when he got off the exit to the church he didn’t have a ticket. The toll would have been less than os. The fine for no ticket was os.
We who were lucky enough to have GPS kept on following the directions into driveways and around switchbacks. Two stops later to ask local residents for directions and we made it to the church about 10 minutes before the bride.
I have to hand it to Francesco. He told us he was certain to cry but he held back the tears till later.
After the bride and groom were pelted with rice, we were off to the reception. The rice tradition goes back to Roman times as a gift of fertility. These days, it’s not so politically correct to throw rice because when the birds eat it, the rice expands in their bellies and they die. Rice has been replaced in many wedding with paper confetti. But this wedding was very traditional and rice was “De Rigeur”. After the rice shower, one of the custodial members of the church came out with a large broom and swept it all up. Tradition and Political awareness were both in tact.
Oh, one more thing about confetti. In Italy, confetti is a hard covered candy shell with everything from chocolate to almonds inside, think Jordan Almonds. It is the traditional treat at weddings, baby showers, graduations and other celebrations. There is a color code: white for weddings, communions or confirmations, blue or pink for baptisms, green for engagement, red for graduation, silver for 25th anniversary and gold for 50th anniversary. I’m sure there are more. The best ones come from Abruzzo or Campania. There are big bowls at wedding reception and everyone is encouraged to fill a bag and take them home to gain good fortune, or a few extra pounds.
We were told the reception was at Villa Rispogliosi close to the wedding church. We set the GPS and immediately got lost. Villa Rispogliosi was close to the church but the reception was actually at VillaRospigliosi, about 30 minutes away in the Tuscan Hills of Montalbano near the Val di Nievole. Oh, how much trouble one letter can cause.
The Villa is impressive. It was built by Giulio Rospigliosi (who became Pope Clement IX in 1667-1669). During his Papacy in Rome, the angels were added to the Ponte Sant’Angelo and the grand colonnade was added to the entrance to Saint Peters Basilica. He was one of the Popes during the Bernini years of Baroque Rome and this country villa was designed under the guidance of Bernini, who wanted to bring the new Roman fashion of a large grand hall on the first floor to the Tuscan countryside. The entire interior is frescoed in the baroque style.
The Rospigliosi family kept it until the early 1900’s . The current owners bought it in the 1990’s and use it exclusively as a wedding or event function property.
The grounds are beautiful. The main ballroom is at the top of the villa, a long climb up a narrow staircase but the place has been modernized with a small elevator and a few very small bathrooms.
After drinks and appetizers under small tents on the grounds and group photos we went into the villa for the grand meal. We were warned that the dinner could be as much as 15 plates, but lucky for us the number was kept down to five or six and after a few speeches, a few drinking cheers and dinner, we all went back downstairs for the wedding cake ceremony. The cake was a very tall plaster layer cake. On each layer was topped with about a 12” cake. The presentation looked a little weird for us but it was so much easier to cut and serve the cake.
The formal reception ended with a 10-15 minute fireworks display. As in many countries, the wedding is paid for by the family of the bride. Tiziana’s parents opened the bank accounts for this one.
The formal reception over, the informal one began, which meant the dancing. There was a small band set up in the Grand Hall on the ground floor. We watched Francesco and Tiziana open up the dance floor. These two knew what they were doing; bobs, weaves, turns, they were in perfect sync. I hope this synchronicity extends to other parts of their marriage.
We were beat and as we said good-bye, the rest of the international guests joined in we all left in a mini caravan. Getting back to the Cinelli Villa was a lot easier than leaving it. We set the address into the GPS (we call her PIG for positioning information guide) and about 40 minutes later we climbed into bed. It was about 12:30pm. I’m sure the party went on for at least another couple hours. We left just as the dancing began.
On our last day we took the advice of our new Brazilian friends and took the route over to the Via Francigena that goes from Canterbury in the UK through France, Switzerland and northern Italy and onto Rome. It has fewer pilgrims than the more famous Route of Saint James through Spain but it has some great walking trails. Records of Pilgrims using the trail go back to 725.
We drove south and took a quick detour for lunch in the old hill town of Colle Val D’Elsa, which was almost like a ghost town. The tourist season hadn’t started yet and the streets were empty and most places closed.
By the time we got to Abaddia Isola, the sun was hot and the trail even hotter. We walked about 90 minutes of the route to Monteriggione, a 13th century walled in city in the Siena province. The path brought us through poppy fields and pig farms and great views of the walled city on the hill. We’ve been to this perfect little medieval town many times in the past. There is a great restaurant in the wall called “Il Pozzo”. We even stayed in the hotel inside the walls. By the time we got into Monteriggione we rewarded ourselves with a bottle of cold water and a gelato.
After three days and nights of overindulging and 3 hrs in the hot sun, I finally collapsed.