Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Why We Picked Orvieto For Our Wedding Location and How I Proposed by Raphe Wolfgang

In 1999 after graduating from high school, I went on a trip with 47 other students and friends, that spanned 23 days and 11 total countries. Needless to say as a 17-year-old this trip had a significant impact on who I am today. It also was the first time I fell in love with Italy.
When I returned home I made it a personal goal to take one semester in college to study somewhere in Italy. In my sophomore year at the University of Arizona, I began studying Italian with the idea that I would continue this study in Italy. At the time the most popular programs were located in Florence, but in the Spring of 2002, a representative for the Office of Study Abroad visited my Italian class to share a brand new program starting in the Fall. This program was to be based in Orvieto, a much smaller town, and thus an entirely different experience, hopefully, one more entrenched in the day to day routine of Italian culture. I knew right then that this was for me.
In the fall of 2002 I packed my bags and traveled through Greece, visiting Athens, the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, and parts of southern Italy with my brother, Zach, before eventually landing in Orvieto, where I would stay for 3 months, learning about Italian culture, art and all of the archeological history.
My time in Orvieto was transformative, to say the least. I made new friends, explored new cities, and for the first time in my life was without some of the major support groups that had accompanied me throughout all the prior years, like family, long term friends, and even good old American comfort food. There were times when I was homesick, tired of eating pasta, and frustrated by not being able to fully communicate (my Italian as it turned out was not as good as I had hoped).
Somewhere about halfway through my time there I was walking late at night through the city center with my friend and I noticed something. Now, it is important to know one thing about Italian culture, and that is the tradition of the passeggiata, which literally translates into an evening stroll. Passeggiata is sort of a way of life, I came to learn. Almost every night around 10:00 pm the entirety of residents would, likely after a long and delicious dinner, stroll about the streets. And when I say "stroll" by American standards it is walking so slowly that you are barely getting anywhere. And on this particular night, my friend and I were walking at our normal American pace, weaving in and out of the crowd, as if we were trying to get somewhere. At some point, I looked up and told my friend that maybe we should try and go at the slower pace to see what all the fuss was about. It didn't take long for the effect to sink in. All at once you could feel the warmth of these people, you could see how everyone knew everyone and they would greet each other with hugs, kisses, and smiles.
From then on I started to experience the true magic of Italy! And that is the people. Italians are emotional, caring, and deeply communicative people. I rarely missed a passeggiata after that, each time soaking up a bit more of the spirit of Italy. The pace of life is so much slower than America that it seems ineffective until you realize that these people are truly living each moment to moment. Instead of chasing the next thing they take the time to savor the individuality of what is in front of them. The single most important lesson I've learned in my life.
When I returned home, I felt calm, like I could tackle anything. It was as if my spirit was refreshed and full. Of course, the effect wained with time as school, life, and all of my future plans befell me, but since then I've always remembered the importance of the current moment.
So, when Melanee and I traveled to Italy in 2018, I made it a priority to visit Orvieto and my old stomping grounds. Our day started at Locanda Palazzone with a 3-course lunch, tour, and wine tasting before we headed to the city to eat a Pizza Rustica and take in the views from the wall I had sat many times overlooking the beautiful vineyards and hills of Umbria. It was one of our favorite days of the trip and when we returned home we were sitting in bed and she said, "Wouldn't it be awesome to get married at Locanda Palazzone?" I didn't need much convincing.

How I Proposed:
I had the proposal planned for months with Melanee having no clue. Her father was a long time jeweler with diamond connections in the jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles. We were gearing up to head to Italy for a wedding in August 2018 and I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to propose to her in the country I hold so dear to my heart. 
One thing that was important to me, because we were traveling to Italy for another wedding, was that I didn't want to propose before the wedding as to not draw attention away from the bride. As our trip planning unfolded, I steered us in the direction of going to the Amalfi Coast after the wedding. This, I knew, would be the perfect backdrop for my proposal. The only challenge here was that I had to carry the engagement ring, concealed in my camera bag, for almost two weeks as we traversed throughout northern and central Italy. On more than one occasion, tours and other stops wanted to check my bag, and I would always get an extra surge of nerves thinking, well I might have to just do this now. Luckily, this never happened and so after the wedding we headed to the Amalfi coast.
I wanted it to be extra special, and so when Melanee mentioned that she wanted to do a sunset cruise in Positano, I thought, what better place than a boat? However, when we arrived in Praiano (the coastal town we stayed in) I took a look at the boats, and some of them were really small. My pragmatic side started thinking, what if the boat is too small, or the ring dropped into the water, or one of us got sea sick, and of course, what if the boat captain didn't get the picture right? Maybe the boat wasn't the best place to get down on one knee after all.
The night we arrived in Praiano, we headed into Positano to visit La Sirenuese, a fancy boutique hotel  and frequent stop by many bloggers, to take some pictures and have a glass of wine and some oysters. As we walked to the table, I thought "this might be a good place to do it." But as we sat there, we both felt odd. The crowd was stuffy and a little pretentious, full of rich Americans. Our two glasses of wine and 6 oysters cost us about $95! We both wanted to finish our wine and leave, but the sun was setting. I casually mentioned, knowing full well my ulterior motives, that we should try to go soon to catch the last bit of the sunset on the beach below. Melanee agreed and we headed down.
As we reached the beach the calmness of the Mediterranean waves lapping at the shore put us both in the perfect state of mind and I knew this was the moment. I positioned Melanee on the beach and said that I wanted to set up my phone to take a picture of us with the backdrop of Positano above us. Little did she know that I was secretly setting up to take a video. When I set up the video, she asked, "is there enough light?" I hit record on the video and made up an excuse that maybe I had something in my bag for it. I quickly walked to my bag and retrieved the ring. I walked over to her and popped down on one knee, presenting the ring box I had been carrying so discretely for the past two weeks. To my surprise, she had no clue what was happening and her surprise made it all that much more special. 

Melanee & Raphe- Our Story On How We Met

The story of how we met is all about timing. Neither of us was particularly looking for any sort of relationship at the time, having both been through our fair share of bad ones. One day at the end of March 2017, Raphe got a call from a colleague to shoot a commercial project for the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills where I work. It was on this shoot that him and I met. I work as the Digital Marketing Manager for the hotel and one of the shoots for the restaurant there was scheduled for late in the evening after we were closed. My boss, not wanting to be there too late, asked me to stay and babysit the shoot. So I obliged and sat at the end of the bar as Raphe and his crew set up for the coming shots. Low and behold, as is no unfamiliar event in the film industry, the actors were taking a lot longer to get ready than anticipated so we had some time on our hands. It was in a camera test that he angled the camera on me and he told me he thought, "wow she's really pretty!" He showed me the clip and we began talking to pass the time. 
I, said, "so your name is Raphe?" 
Raphe having heard this about every day of his life said, "yep, and my last name is Wolfgang." 
"You're name is Raphe Wolfgang!" I laughed. Like really laughed.
Seeing the opportunity he replied, "Yeah if you look me up on Facebook I'm certainly the only one." I promptly looked him up, added him as a friend, and sent a message. This message chain continued for a few days after the shoots had ended. I remember our chemistry was immediate. I laughed at all my stupid jokes, we had very similar outlooks on life, musical interests, and travel ideas, but there was just one problem; He thought, "This girl is cool, but she has to be like 26 or so, no way can I date someone so young." In one of the messages, he made some joke about feeling like an old man because my back was hurting and so I asked him his age. He said, "I'll be 36 in August." I said, "Oh, you're not that old, I'll be 36 in November."
After that, he decided to ask me on a date. We elected for some time the next week, which was tricky because he was leaving that Wednesday to Arizona for his sister's wedding. It didn't look like the timing was going to work out so he said, why don't we do something when I get back. Unbeknownst to him, this worried me, because I thought he'd just go to AZ and then never reach out again (as I mentioned we both had some bad prior experiences with dating). I asked to just do something low key, maybe that Tuesday after I went to work out if he didn't mind me showing up in workout clothes. Little did I know, this was music to his ears, girls in LA can be a little high strung, and all he desired was someone low key and down-to-earth. We settled on meeting at The Snake Pit, a dive bar on Melrose for a drink. 
In Raphe's words:
I remember sitting across from her at the table and the usual nerves I felt on dates simply wasn't there. We gazed in each other's eyes and there was some deeper connection that neither of us could really explain. We parted with a long hug and I told her I'd be in touch (she still didn't believe me, thinking fully that I'd ghost her).
I drove to AZ the next day and was texting her throughout the weekend. When I returned we picked up right where we left off. From the early stages of our relationship, we both recognized what we had found in each other. The best analogy we could use was that we felt like we had won the lottery. It didn't take long for that feeling of knowing I had found the right person to sink in. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"I Planned My Dream Wedding in Italy...Then Coronavirus Happened" Featured on Brides!

I was truly honored when Brides reached out to me to share mine and Raphe's story about having to postpone our Italian wedding due to the Coronavirus. It's been a surreal time and never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen to us. I will say that this has made us stronger as a couple and we now know we can face all of life's hurdles together. The most important thing as that we have each other!

Keep on reading as I'm sharing my personal essay I wrote for Brides below.

Like most girls, I started fantasizing and planning my perfect dream wedding from an early age. So, when I met the man of my dreams, and he proposed to me, I was extremely excited to get the planning started. Raphe, my fiancée (now husband) proposed to me while we were on a trip to Italy for one of my best friend's weddings in the beautiful ocean-side town of Positano. On that trip, I fell in love with Italy and all it has to offer. What's not to love, right? It has art, culture, and of course, the food! When we returned to the States, we started talking about plans for our wedding. The possibilities spanned from a simple legal ceremony, to eloping, or to a more grand event (i.e., the wedding I dreamt about all those nights as a young girl) in either Santa Barbara or even possibly Italy.
We eventually chose Italy for a few key reasons. Firstly, Raphe spent a semester in college abroad in the small town of Orvieto, located in the lush vineyard-laden hills of Umbria in central Italy. That experience was so transformative for his life, so while we were on our trip, we visited a beautiful boutique winery just outside Orvieto before he showed me around the town. For Raphe, having the opportunity to get married in this special place was particularly meaningful. Secondly, some of our family members and guests, especially my sister and Raphe's parents, have never been to Italy, and quite frankly may not take the opportunity to go. Our Italian wedding would, for them, be the perfect excuse to explore one of our favorite places on earth. That gift alone was enough to push us close to the decision. Lastly, when we found out that we would be able to stretch our somewhat limited budget further in Italy than a similarly sized wedding in California, we were sold. Italy it was, and the image of our wedding started taking shape.
We found a local wedding planner who lives in Italy and specializes in planning weddings for those coming from abroad name Emma, with Love Italy Weddings. After our first skype call with her, we were sold, as we knew she would be able to execute our joint vision and deliver an elegant and quaint wedding ceremony and reception. Next, we picked our date. We wound up choosing a date in April 2020 because the weather would start to warm but would still allow us for an off-season wedding, allowing more comfortable (and more affordable) travel for ourselves and our guests. Then we were off to the planning phase.
For the next year, countless emails, skype calls, and shared Pinterest boards were exchanged between Emma, Raphe, and I, and soon every detail was falling into place. Raphe, having been to Italy several times and living there, was instrumental in planning details for many guest's travel itineraries. By January of 2020, we had nothing but high hopes for our Italian wedding celebration. Deposits had been made, our travel arrangements were all set, and we were in the home stretch and getting excited to go when something we could have never predicted happened.
About seven weeks before our departure to Italy, we started receiving news alerts from guests and friends about the Coronavirus or COVID-19, which had begun in Wuhan, China, in December of 2019, that was spreading through Italy quickly. Within a week, we went from being elated to stress beyond belief. Things escalated so rapidly with the viral outbreak in Italy that within two weeks, the U.S. State Department and CDC issued a Level 2 warning to travelers, which stated that travelers should take increased precautions (like washing hands, sneezing into elbows, etc. to avoid infection). At that point, we began having some serious discussions with our wedding planner and venue in particular. Though there was a threat, we had determined to wait and see what would come of it, without changing any plans. Since so much work had already gone into it (not to mention the money), it seemed to be the most reasonable and logical way forward.
Not less than a few days after our first talk, the CDC warning raised to Level 3, which meant travelers should seriously reconsider all "non-essential" travel to Italy, and even to a Level 4 in the northern regions of Italy, which meant: Do Not Travel. We were faced with a difficult question: Is a destination wedding with 45 guests essential or not? Certainly, we wouldn't want to take the risk of having any of our guests contracting the virus (especially a few of our guests who are older and had pre-existing medical conditions that would elevate their risk of severity). Still, more troublesome at the time was the imminent threat that the CDC would raise the warning to Level 4, and we simply would not be able to go at all. Or worse yet, when we arrived in Italy, the level would increase, and our guests and ourselves may be forced into quarantine abroad or upon returning home.
Raphe and I started scouring the internet for all the news and information we could find regarding travel restrictions as well as basic information from top scientists regarding the Coronavirus itself. The pressure just kept mounting on top of us. We were nearing deadlines to pay complete balances on catering, and other vendors, that according to our contracts, were to be completely non-refundable should the event occur where we would be restricted from traveling to Italy by our own government. That first weekend of March, with our wedding a mere eight weeks away, was pretty surreal. We went through periods of depression, utter disbelief, and even at times, started considering what canceling the wedding would mean for us. Would we just regroup, take the loss of our deposits and try for a local wedding celebration? Was postponement an option? Or should we just cancel the whole thing and move on with our lives?
At some point, we were able to calm ourselves and talk rationally through the situation. I remember Raphe asking me, "what do you really want?" I thought for a moment, and said, "I want my Italy wedding." But what did that mean, Italy or bust? Ultimately, it meant that we had to think smart about our options and look for a postponement that was suitable for our situation. Luckily, Emma was able to start negotiating with our venue quickly, and they came up with a date in early October of 2020. She worked to revise our existing contracts so that we were able to move all of our deposits to that future date, instead of losing them. We spent the week working through terms to renegotiate the remainder of payments. It was important to us to have assurances in place if the situation with the Coronavirus is not cleared up by October so that we would not be out nearly the entire cost of our wedding.
There were so many elements to consider in the process. Besides our financial obligations and travel arrangements, we also had to consider that 45 people had made plans to put their lives on hold for a week or two to make the trip to Italy. Luckily for us, our guests were more than understanding of our predicament, and all assured us that whatever we chose would be fine with them. With five weeks remaining until our initially planned date, we pulled the trigger and officially decided to postpone to the new potential October date.
At the time I am writing this essay, we are taking a much-needed break from wedding planning. Luckily, we have much of the hard work already figured out, and we're fortunate that we could change the date with most of the details remaining intact. Though the situation at present is still unknown and we don't know how long things will remain complicated with Italy and the world as it struggles through this Coronavirus, we remain hopeful that everything will work out. We are optimistic that we will wind up having a stress-free and beautiful Italian wedding just that way we dreamed it up.
On a happier note, from the beginning, we had planned a small legal ceremony here in Los Angeles, where those guests that were not able to make the trip to Italy (mainly my elderly parents) could help us celebrate. We completed that legal ceremony on March 6th, and are officially married! Doing the legal service here was also an excellent precursor to what we will face on our larger Italian wedding, and we feel more prepared than ever.
Above all, we've learned a valuable lesson through all this. In the end, what matters most is that we have each other. In a way, this situation is a small gift from the universe to test our strength as a couple as we embark on the life-long journey of marriage. I'm proud of the way we were able to persevere through this situation, and it gives me great strength to know that we have a solid foundation for life's undoubted trials and tribulations that lie ahead.

Check out the full feature on Brides HERE

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