In September, I went to the wedding of a childhood friend in Italy. Never would I have thought that my friend Maria, from rural California where we played in creeks and rode horses, would be marrying an Italian man in the high fashion streets of Milan.
A day before the wedding, I learned I would be one of the wedding photographers since there would not be an official photographer. It’s a good thing I enjoy photography and have a good camera! I was so happy to experience my friend’s wedding, to see her start her new life, and to experience Italy for the first time. The wedding of Maria and Max was unconventional as far as traditional American and Italian weddings go. Instead, it was a combination of personalities and cultures. Photographing this unconventional American-Italian wedding in Italy is likely an experience I will never have again and it was unique in every way.
This wedding was unconventional because when you think of the traditional American wedding you think of a late morning or afternoon ceremony, often in a church, with a reception afterwards. The ceremony involves friends and family with assigned roles like “maid of honor” and “best man”. There’s a “don’t see the bride before the ceremony” mentality, a schedule for the day, and a lot of other rituals. I have never been to an Italian wedding so I can’t make generalizations, but I was told this wedding was unconventional when compared to traditional Italian weddings.
I loved the wedding day. It was completely unique to Maria and Max. The day went like this: Maria prepared with family and friends in a small apartment where we were staying. When everyone was ready we walked to a park where we met Max and more friends and took some photos. From there, we attended a small civil ceremony near the Duomo in Milan. It was nine in the morning and the short ceremony was held in Italian. The other Americans and I clapped along with the others, but we had no clue what was happening.
Afterward, we took photos in front of the Duomo, had coffee in a small café, and walked the streets of Milan with Maria, Max, and family to take photos throughout the city. We saw different parts of the city of Milan, watched passersby react to the new couple, and took pictures in different locations.
One destination in particular was fun for this Italian celebration. Located in the astounding Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping center in Milan, there is a mosaic of a bull and the floor is worn away where its testicles should be. This is because there is a Milanese tradition of spinning on the bull’s balls for good luck. Of course, our new bride and groom each made the spin as we cheered.
We loved walking the streets of Milan although Maria’s family and I wished we had worn different shoes as we we were not prepared for the trek. Maria’s mother and sister even ended up stopping to buy shoes that were easier to walk in!
We took a break and everyone went home to rest for a few hours. The reception would be that evening in a pizzeria near Maria and Max’s home. Starting around 8:30 pm people began to arrive at the pizzeria, socializing and snacking on hors d’oeuvres of mussels, cuts of salami, and slices of pizza. The party began when heart-shaped pizzas were served and bottomless glasses of wine and beer were poured, then escalated when a belly dancer arrived. The dancing lasted late into the night – we didn’t eat wedding cake until around midnight! I had never experienced a wedding reception quite like this one and I loved every minute of it.
Photographing the event abroad meant that every setting would be entirely new to me. I was experiencing the wedding as not only an attendee, a photographer, and a friend, but also as a tourist. It was impossible to not be distracted when confronted with the beautiful streets of Milan, the high fashion attitudes, the Italian language, and the incredible architecture of the surrounding buildings.
This wedding was low cost, unconventional, and at times surprising, but that made it unique and beautiful in its celebration of Maria and Max. What fun to experience a Milanese wedding as an American and to have it be for one of my oldest childhood friends. Our friendship has come a long way from our tiny town in northern California to the stylish streets of Milan!
By Marianne Lawlor, an American expat currently living in the French countryside. She writes about living abroad and traveling at http://www.californienne.com/ .