Part Seven – Questions and Surprises
I returned to Italy on March 19th, 2011. Even though we weren’t engaged yet, our intentions were serious, so I purchased a one-way ticket.
My flight path took me through Amsterdam, where, naturally, I had to pass through customs.
The customs agent asked me what I would be doing in the European Union.
I explained in the same awkward way that I had to the bridal shop assistants back home that I was planning to get married in Italy.
He looked at me and told me that I needed to declare my stay once I was in Italy within a certain number of days.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just stamp my passport and get me to the next flight!
Once I arrived in Italy, the last thing I wanted to do was go to the Questura or figure out what paperwork I needed to fill out so I could stay in the country.
Would this cause me any problems later?
As soon as I was back on Italian soil, it was time to get the ball rolling.
Our birthday was coming up — as some of you may remember, Francesco and I have the same birthday — and I only had 90 days in Italy before I had to leave again in case something went south.
When will he propose? Will he do it on our birthday?
Even though nothing was official, I still didn’t have a doubt in my mind what our future would be.
He had already written to my parents to ask their permission, I said goodbye to everyone back home, and I had already been shopping for wedding dresses (with no success).
Surely he would ask me soon!
A Dinner for Two
Francesco had planned a special dinner for us the evening before our birthday since we would be celebrating our actual birthday with friends, so we dressed up for the occasion in some of our finest attire.
He reserved a table at Villa Luppis, a fancy restaurant/hotel in the Veneto countryside, where we would enjoy our birthday dinner early .
We wined and dined the evening away, but I wasn’t sure if this was going to be “the” evening or not. Dinner had come and gone, Francesco paid the bill, we gathered our things, and headed for the car. He didn’t seem nervous or out of sorts to me, so if he was feeling that way, I certainly didn’t notice.
Maybe he wants to surprise me and plans to ask on less obvious day?
Just as I was asking myself this question and admiring the beautiful gardens on the estate, out came a box from his jacket pocket.
He did propose!
And, of course, I said, “Yes!”
The next day we had a lot of telephoning to do. We went to see his parents and shared the happy news with them, then called my parents who were driving at the time and had to pull over.
It was a happy day indeed, and our birthday!
We would share the news with the friends that evening at the birthday aperitivo, although I’m sure that many of them already suspected our intentions.
Letizia, of course, was one of the first to know about the engagement, as was Francesco’s sister and his good friend whom he had asked to be his testimone.
I hid the ring in my pocket so that no one would see it when we arrived and would slip it on after he had made the annoucement.
We got up on the table at the bar with all of our friends gathered around to make a toast, where Francesco addressed the question that everyone had been asking him regarding my trips back and forth to the U.S.
This time, he assured them, I would be staying forever.
With my hand in my pocket, I slipped the ring back on and pulled it out to show everyone. Fling!
Too bad I ended up putting the ring on my right hand (the wrong hand) as I flashed it around excitedly.
My sister-in-law caught the blooper on camera, and you can see Letizia pointing out the mistake and then me switching hands.
Preparing for a Wedding…in 2 Months
Now that it was official, we had to get the ball rolling and organize everything.
I didn’t enter Italy with any special type of VISA, so technically I was just staying as a tourist. The stamp in my passport obtained on March 19th was my “declaration of presence,” but I did not go to the Questura to declare my intent to stay permanently in Italy because of our plans to marry.
There was a lot of paperwork to do, and after many marca da bollo and trips to our local Comune, we got all of the documents we needed to get hitched. Not once did we encounter a problem regarding my entry date or that I hadn’t officially declared my intent to stay. Everything was set to go, so I had no reason to believe that there would be any problems later on down the road.
We picked a date for the wedding — May 28th — which ended up being one of the few dates that the Comune was available. We took it, so that meant that from the proposal date to the wedding date, we only had 8 weeks to plan and “execute” our big day.
Luckily, we found a venue that was free and organizing all of the little details went quite smoothly.
I went dress shopping with my mother-in-law and couldn’t seem to find anything that I liked. I couldn’t be too picky, either, because there wasn’t really time to make any alterations. It had to fit, I had to like it, and it had to look good on my figure.
When we told the various shop ladies when the wedding was, they were flabbergasted. There was so little time!
Finally, we found a shop with some promising options where I tried on a few dresses. One, in particular, stood out above the rest and everyone agreed that it suited me well.
It was a mermaid gown with a sweetheart neckline and ruching on the bodice. The flare at the bottom was subtle and the satin was an off-white color that worked well with my skin tone.
I had found “the dress.”
The shop ladies were quite pleased and surpised that I had managed to find one that didn’t require one single alteration. It fit me like a glove.
I could wear it to my wedding right off the hanger.
The Bachelorette Party
On the other end of things, Letizia was busily organizing my bachelorette party. She dropped me hints here and there as to what we would be doing, and based on all of her clues, I figured out that we would be going camping.
I was already thinking about my wardrobe and what I would need to take with me. I was excited about a camping adventure with the girls, but hoped that the weather would behave.
One day, shortly before the bachelorette party, I received a phone call from an Italian official that left me feeling rather agitated.
Keep in mind that I was not yet fluent in Italian, and trying to understand someone on the phone was rather difficult.
Seeing that the conversation was so important, however, I clung to every word he said.
He let me know that they would be sending an agent to my house to verify that I was, indeed, who I said I was. They wanted to verify that I lived with Francesco and that we had a legitimate relationship, not one that was arranged quickly so that I could stay in Italy.
I told him that since Francesco worked, I would have to find out what day they could send someone and that I wasn’t sure when.
Ma’am, if you want to get married, then this needs to be done.
OK, OK! Come when you want!
They would be sending someone on Saturday, April 30th, the same day as my bachelorette party.
I told Francesco about the phone call and he tried to calm me down.
What problems could there be? We had everything we needed to get married and have photos if they want any proof of our past.
Saturday came and I had prepared everything for the visit. I had my passport out, the documents we needed to get married, and I even prepared the Moka so that I could score some brownie points with the agent. It was after lunch, so I figured a little caffè wouldn’t hurt!
The appointment time came and went.
Typically Italian to be slightly late for an official appointment, I thought.
In the meantime, the girls were supposed to be coming to caputre me and take me away for the weekend. I told Letizia that I would let her know as soon as the person left.
I continued to look impatiently out of the window and at one point, I saw a massive pile of blond curls across the street.
Francesco’s sister was coming! That meant the girls were on their way but the stupid agent hadn’t come yet!
Francesco told me to hang tight; the person would probably be here soon. The girls could wait until the agent left.
And then finally – FINALLY – I heard the “ding dong” of the doorbell.
I walked to the door grumbling about stupid agents, reached for the handle, pulled it open…
…and there was Amy.
My BEST FRIEND AMY.
There was no stupid agent who was coming to verify anything about me (as if the Italians do that anyways!) and there was no appointment. It was all part of the grand plan for my bachelorette party.
I had fallen hook, line and sinker for one of the biggest surprises that anyone has ever pulled on me, and I absolutely lost it. I broke down into a waterfall of happy tears and still cannot tell this story today without shedding a few. Sniff sniff.
The rest of the bachelorette crew was lined up in the hall, all bawling just as much as me.
Letizia had a video camera out and filmed it all (and to this day I have still not watched the video).
I couldn’t believe it!
The “Italian official” who had called me and told me that someone would be visiting was merely a friend of Francesco’s cousin who they had asked to telephone me. They didn’t want to risk me recognizing his cousin’s voice, so they looked for an outsider.
Those of you who have read my story thus far might recall me organizing a surprise visit for my friends back home in the States. I told you about it in Part 4.
Well, this was payback.
The camping clues that Letizia had fed me were completely bogus, too. You can even see my backpack out in the corner of the picture above! You will also notice a sneaky little Italian man in the background, one who was in on the secret the whole time!
Instead of camping for the weekend, we ended up going to Rovinj — a lovely sea town in Croatia for the weekend. This little trip ended up saving me later on down the road, which I will explain to you in a future installation of this story!
It was one of the most meaningful surprises that anyone has ever organized for me.
Why Amy’s Visit Meant So Much
Amy’s visit had a deeper meaning, and one that I still get emotional about today.
When I arrived in Italy, I knew (and my friends and family knew), that it was my intention to stay.
They knew that we wanted to get married, but our hurried wedding also meant that no one from my family was able to come.
There wasn’t enough time to organize vacation days and fly over, and while we always knew that we would organize an American ceremony to celebrate with them there, it was still quite hard for me to get married in a hurry without my family.
Amy was the only one who was able to make it in person for a small part of the wedding (the bachelorette party), so I was beyond touched that she had come to see me.
The wedding details I will save for the next part of this story, but in the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram where I share snippets of daily life in Italy — beyond the Roman ruins and Venitian masks.