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. 

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