My wife Ro and I have just had the great experience of a family wedding when our son Ben was married in Italy. Here’s Ro to tell the tale.
It was a magical fairytale of a weekend encapsulating all that Kevin says about mystery, sensuality and intimacy - on Saturday, 26 July, our eldest son, Ben, married the lovely Clarissa, in Ponza, Italy.
Our weekend began at Stansted Airport, London, on the Friday, where myself, my mum Rita, Bex and Dan met up with a number of Ben’s friends from Kings College, Auckland, and flew to Ciampino Airport, Rome. We knew a memorable weekend awaited us but didn’t realize just how magical it would be. We arrived in Rome and were met by two mini vans and driven to Anzio, the site of the crucial Allied landing during World War II. We were met by Kevin and Ben who had flown into Rome via Fiumicino Airport. We were all in a very celebratory, holiday mood and Kevin managed to find a restaurant that would not only seat 18 of us at short notice, but was also able to accommodate our large selection of suitcases and bags. After dining we took the 70 minute hydrofoil to Ponza, the largest of the six Pontine Islands located in the Tyrrhenian Sea and the holiday haunt of Romans. The picturesque town rises from the harbor in a semi-circle and consists of two main, cobblestoned streets accessed by staircases and has the most breathtaking views of crags, coves and pastel-colored houses on hilltops, all looking down on a variety of boats from traditional fishing boats to sleek yachts.
Located just above the port is the beautiful Chiesa della Santissima Trinità di Ponza – the Church dedicated to the Trinity and also to the Patron Saints of the Isle, Silverio and Domitilla (San Silverio is the patron saint of fisherman and Santa Domitilla is a martyr from the first century). Designed by Antonio Winspeare, the church was built using stones from the caves on the island. The frescoed walls and dome were painted by Pasquale Mancini, who was inspired by the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Chiesa della Santissima Trinità di Ponza is the most beautiful building and was where we were to celebrate the marriage of Ben and Clarissa and the baptism of our precious little granddaughter, Stella.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Chiaia di Luna, perched on a promontory with a sheer 650 ft drop to the beach of the same name. It is a family run hotel and keeps to the Ponza architecture of pastel colors and white domes, with views of Ponza Harbour and the Island of Palmarola. That evening, Clarissa had reserved us all at the restaurant Acqua Pazza in the Port and we had the most beautiful dinner of local fish delicacies accompanied by a few magnums of 1999 Brunello Poggio Antico Italian red. Could life get any better than this? Well yes, actually it could…
There’s something to be said about a wedding that takes place at 8.30pm in the evening. Time to sleep in, have breakfast around the swimming pool, meet other family members arriving from Rome that morning, including Clarissa’s dad Claudio, her cousin Victor, my sister Julie and niece Laura, wander around town and generally feel very relaxed before the main event.
The wedding party gathered in front of the Church just as the sun was starting to set. Clarissa’s mother, Patrizia, arrived with Stella who looked like a little cherub in her white christening dress with a band of gypsophila (baby’s-breath) flowers around her head. Traditionally in Italy, when the guests are seated, the groom walks down the aisle with his mother, so that was a huge honor for me. Clarissa, meanwhile, was being driven from the hotel by her father in a golf cart specially decorated with white flowers, ribbons and fisherman’s netting, through the village to the applause of all the locals who have known her since she was a small girl.
The wedding march began and Clarissa, looking extremely stylish in a Marc Jacobs dress and Chanel shoes, walked up the aisle with her dad. Father Salvatore delivered a very heartfelt service, which included Communion and a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria while the register was being signed. Then it was Stella Antonietta’s turn to be baptized – of course she was a star and did not cry! As well as being given a candle, she was also clothed in a baptismal gown with the Parrocchia SS Silverio e Domitilla, Ponza, embroidered on the front. The bells pealed and we all exited the church scooping up handfuls of rose petals to shower on the new bride and groom as they came out behind us. It was beautiful and magical.
After a quick couple of laps in the golf cart by the newlyweds - which now had a few beer cans attached courtesy of one of the Kiwi boys - we walked around the corner to the Orestorante for the reception. Another breathtaking view - the three tiered restaurant overlooked the harbor, now twinkling with lights like jewels, one tier set aside for champagne and antipasto, one for our wedding dinner and the third for dancing. Beautifully set tables, covered in fisherman’s netting and named after all the beaches of Ponza awaited us, another delicious dinner, followed by pavlova made especially for the New Zealand contingent and then the wedding cake, covered in iced coral. After Ben and Clarissa had their first dance, the King’s College boys performed a rousing Haka to the delight of the Italians (JT would have been proud of them!).
As befits Italian weddings, all the guests left with a 'bomboniere' beautifully crafted by Patrizia, consisting of four white sugar-coated almonds signifying health, wealth, happiness and longevity and a pink almond to commemorate Stella’s baptism, all lovingly wrapped in fisherman’s netting with a ribbon and silver starfish for Stella, our little star.
Sunday saw everybody in a much quieter mode. The younger members of the family took a small tender out from the port and spent the afternoon on Frontone beach to soak up the sun and enjoy the DJ and dancing. The older ones amongst us were very content to relive the events of the day before and take turns playing with Stella. That evening, we couldn’t resist enjoying another dinner at Acqua Pazza where the owner greeted us as if we were personal friends!
Monday wasn’t so uplifting. It was time to start saying our goodbyes. Ben, Clarissa, Stella, Patrizia and myself all walked down to the port to say goodbye to Kevin and all of Ben’s friends. Clarissa’s friends were more fortunate; they were staying on to enjoy another week cruising around the islands on rented yachts. In fact, that afternoon, Dan and I took the opportunity to go out on a tender and join some of them on one of the yachts so we could experience a few hours sailing around, marvel at the scenery and take even more photos of the beautiful islands to fully capture all the events of the weekend.
We also managed to enjoy another memorable dinner with my mum and Patrizia. I had the pleasure of having my three children together (a rare occasion these days with two living in the UK), my new daughter-in-law and my little granddaughter. We had some beautiful homemade pasta with a “special” ingredient (we never did find out what it was) at Ristorante Il Tramonto, located high on top of a cliff which had the most magnificent views of the surrounding islands and the sunset.
Tuesday arrived all too soon and it was our turn to be on the dock saying tearful goodbyes before we took the hydrofoil and a host of memories with us of what, has to have been for me, one of the most beautiful and special weekends of my life.