Friday, June 13, 2008

Our First Arrival

Nancy is here! Our first arrival is somewhere near the train station. We head off to the train, which is not far from the consulate. Unfortunately it has started raining. And seriously, we're not firing on all cylinders still. But finally, after circling for a few more minutes, we spot Nancy at a street vendor buying an umbrella.

Hugs, kisses and all that good stuff. But first things first, we need some lunch! And Nancy needs a glass of wine. Luckily, Nancy is a pro at clipping articles with interesting sounding recipes and restaurants. We scan the clipping on restaurants in Florence she has from Food & Wine and settle on what seems to be the perfect match, Trattoria Coco Lezzone. The description reads

"Just off Via Tornabuoni, one of Florence's fanciest shopping streets, this hole-in-the-wall local favorite is famous for its eccentric chef (his typewritten rules are: no coffee, no credit cards and no steak that isn't blood-rare). But there are few better versions of classics such as osso buco alla fiorentina.

Nulla Osta, off to the US Counsulate

Here's where things almost fall apart.

We leave the magistrate's office, Nadia gets on her phone and next thing we know a cab appears to whisk us away to the consulate. It's funny, you need special permits to drive in the old part of Florence and for as many times as I've walked these streets, I've never navigated them in a car. It's a trippy experience driving down the narrow cobblestone streets.

The consulate is on the Arno about 3 bridges west of the Ponte Vecchio. It is just a few blocks from the apartment I stayed in when I studied in Florence after college.

We pull up and Nadia begins speaking to the two guards at the front. Their conversation seems to be going on a bit longer than we had hoped. And her body language is changing as well. We get the feeling that things aren't going so well. One of the guards goes inside and brings out some other man. They talk, he goes in, he returns. They talk again, he goes in again, he returns again.

At this point we are getting a little worried. Had we been less jet lagged we probably would have been more worried, but we just didn't have the energy for it.

Finally we get the update. When we reserved the Palazzo Vecchio for the wedding back in December, the Nulla Osta was performed on Tuesdays and Fridays and the wedding planner had made our appointment for Friday. At some point in the spring, the days were changed, and now it is no longer performed on Fridays. So, they don't want to let us in.

This presents a bit of a problem. In theory we would be able to do the Nulla Osta the following Tuesday, however, we had a declaration scheduled to be made on Monday which you can only do once you have the Nulla Osta completed.

Nadia is apparently trying to work her magic. They are going to call her. In the meantime we go to a nearby caffe for cappucini and a croissant.

While all of this has been going on Jason and I are trying to fill out a simple one page form that we need to present to the consulate when (and if) we get in. The basics, name, address, citizenship, parents names, countries of citizenship.

I simply could not fill this out correctly. The first time, I fill out the form properly and then sign it at the bottom. Oops! Needs to be signed in front of the consul. Luckily, Nadia had an extra. I fill this one out but write my mom's current last name instead of her maiden name. Figuring it is no big deal I cross it out and correct it. We'll come back to that in a moment.

Nadia also needed some information from us for some other paperwork. We have realized by this point that we forgot the copies of Jason's divorce papers that we carried with us from the US. Nadia says no problem, they just need a few bits of information.

"Jason, when was your divorce finalized?"

Jason looks at her blindly and turns to me with a quizzical look. "Don't look at me, it was your marriage" "I have no idea" "Well, J, it was finalized a couple of months after we started dating" "Right, May, definitely in May" "So what year was that?"

Honestly between the two of us we cannot come up with how long we had been dating! Was it 3 years or 4? Why was I so confused and tired? What in the world had we gotten ourselves into? "Well, it was right before you went to Torre a Cona the first time with the tennis trip." "What year was that?" " I don't know, I think the second trip was in fall 2005. Did you go twice in one year, or did you go in 2004 the first time?"

We both start flipping through our passports, the second tennis trip to Italy was definitely 2005 based on stamps in my passport. However, Jason has no stamps that correspond to the first tennis trip.

I think Nadia is starting to worry about the both of us. I'm sure she's thinking that this is some sort of sham wedding, or Jason is not really divorced or god knows what.

Nadia: "Ok, how about your wedding, Jason, when was the date of your marriage?"

Again, Jason looks at me begging for the answer. "Dude, seriously I don't have any idea" "Me neither" "I know it was the same year as Sarah and Lou, you got married before them" "Right, but when was that?" "I have no idea, I know it was Aug. 23rd"

Seriously, this is getting embarrassing. We have almost all of the pieces of the puzzle but we can't put them together. Worst part is, it is 10am in Europe and anyone at home we could call who might know the answer would obviously be fast asleep! Jason's parents are already on the ground so we try calling them. Unfortunately, the phone numbers we have for their Mobal phones are wrong. Both of them.

Suddenly, our phone rings! It's KJo also on the ground in Rome! "Kevin, great to hear from you, glad you're hear, we have a question, what year did Sarah and Lou get married?" "Uh, I have no idea"


Luckily, the next phone call is the charm. It's Karen and Ed calling from Amsterdam. They are able to clarify the tennis trip dates by flipping through their own passports and we have solved the mystery of Jason's divorce finalization.

Stroke of luck number two, Jason's family calls! Luckily Jason's mother has the answers we crave and now we know the date of Jason's marriage.

We really hope all the dates are correct

Atto Notorio

Friday, June 13th

Friday morning. Our first official business of the trip is meeting with Nadia to do the Atto Notorio at the magistrate's office as well as the Nulla Osta at the US Consulate.

We're exhausted. Awake at 7:30am so we have time to shower, drive into Florence (we think we remember the way) and get to the Magistrate's Office by 9:00am. We're not entirely sure where it is, but something in the directions alludes to Dante, so we go to the square where his house is located and Ecco! there it is.

Now, we just need to figure out who in the world is Nadia. This entire planning process from afar has been interesting to say the least. We have a wedding planner, but we really don't have a full grasp of how this is all going to go down, or who is doing what. What we know at this point is that we are supposed to meet a woman named Nadia. We wait for a minute or two and I call the cell phone number we have. "Pronto?" It is Nadia, she tells me she is just a minute or two away.

The next thing we know we meet Nadia, a short, blond, wonderful Italian woman. She has so much energy that I know she will be able to just drag us along with her. She explains, that in addition to assisting us with all of the paperwork, she will also be serving as the interpreter at the wedding!

Into the magistrate's office we go. Up a flight of stairs and down a hallway into one of the weirdest offices I've ever seen. Nadia has some pull and we were allowed in before the general public it seems. The room has two desks, one computer and posters. Strange bizarre 3-D cat posters. We are so jet lagged that it really took us each a few minutes to realize that yes, in fact, the weird cat heads are coming out of the wall and it was not just our eyes playing tricks on us.

Strange as well, the woman stationed in the office is filling in for someone else (or so it seems) and has no idea how to enter our information into whatever database it needs to go to. I mean no idea. So she and Nadia start conferring, huddled over the computer. Then another woman shows up. Then someone pulls out what appears to be some sort of instruction manual. Not a glossy, properly bound printed type of manual, but a battered notebook with hand written notes in it.

Nadia keeps coming over to give us updates and reassure us that everything will be taken care of. Meanwhile, a line of Italians all hoping and needing to file some paperwork or another is forming at the door. Italians are funny about lines. They will get in them, and abide by them, but if they decide that their problem might be more important than someone else's they will just walk right up to the front.

Eventually, they figure it out and we're on our way downstairs with Nadia and one of the other two women from the office. Apparently she will serve as out second witness for the affidavit we need to sign.

We're running, I'm not really sure why. We get to a closed door on the first floor and wait. A woman appears, enters the office outside which we are waiting and shuts the door behind her. Nadia runs in after her. After some finagling we bust our way in, sign some piece of paper and now we are registered with the city of Florence.

At least, I think that's what we've done.

Into the Consulate

So the question of all the dates answered, now we have nothing to do but wait. Nadia is great and she starts telling us about her two kids (we cannot believe she has a teenager!) and showing us pictures. We talk about marriage, life, work etc.

Then, Nadia's phone rings.

"They're going to see us!"

So back we go to the Consulate. At the doors, Nadia hands us the money to pay for the Nulla Osta and informs us that she cannot go in with us because she is not an US citizen.

In we go through security, leave all cell phones in a basket by the metal detector. We get inside and finally a very cranky woman comes to the window to help us.

"Your wedding planner isn't doing her job. We don't do this on Fridays. You're very lucky we're getting this done for you"

Well, welcome to our country and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials to you too!

We hand her our forms. She looks at mine with the crossed out last name and tosses it back at me. "We can't accept any cross outs, please complete a new form"

So I do. And halfway through I make another mistake, putting Jason's name and his dad's name on the same line. My head hurts as I ask for another blank copy.

At this point I think the woman starts taking pity on us and definitely softens up. She takes our (finally!) completed paperwork, disappears and reappears shortly with the US Consul, a lovely, young, American woman. She was great, happily stamping our paperwork and wishing us the best on our marriage.

Back out through security, gather up our cell phones, bid farewell to Nadia with a promise to see her Monday morning at the Palazzo Vecchio.

We're finished! We really hope the hardest part is over!

The phone rings again. Our first arrival in Florence has made it!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fattoria Montagliari 2008

This time, we knew where we were going. Our last stop of the day.

Rounding the curve we spotted the winery! We pull in and enter the tasting room. Who is there, but David? We exchange pleasantries and he pours us the first glass of wine. As we're talking we let him know that we have been here before, describe the circumstances around our last encounter and he remembers us!

We talk and drink and talk some more. Turns out he is in talks with someone in the US and we might be seeing his wine in Chicago in the future. He brings in his mother and daughter. His daughter is about 13 and obviously studying English in school. They were all great.

We bought a bottle of wine. Unfortunately we left it in a hot car one day at the end of our trip and it was ruined. Guess we'll have to go back. Or maybe Jason will run into David in Sam's one Saturday.

Remind me to send David a picture or two of the wedding, we promised we would.

Fattoria Montagliari

Tasting wine in Tuscany is great. You get on the main highway through the area, the 222, and start driving. The area is so beautiful, it's almost indescribable, although countless people have tried. Every so often, you see a sign pointing you toward a tasting room with the tell-tale black rooster. You pull in. Sometimes they're open, sometimes not. If so, you drink wine. That's that. No crowds, no fees, no disneyland air about it. And the best thing about venturing into smaller vineyards, is that sometime it literally is the owner pouring the wines.

Such was the case with David.

The story starts a couple of years ago on our last trip to Tuscany. Jason, Nancy and I had taken off one day to do some exploring. It was October. The weather was beautiful, warm during the day, but not too hot, cool in the evenings, but not too cold.

We're driving the main road pulling into any vineyard that catches our fancy. We are passing through the town of Panzano, turn a corner and there we see Fattoria di Montagliari. Great name, huh? It looks charming, we're thirsty, so we go in.

We enter their tasting room. A great wooden room with shelves full of bottles and pictures and a couple of benches for sitting. I would love to have a library in my house that was like this room, perhaps with some comfier chairs. We start talking to the man behind the counter. His English is good, and from his accent, we determine that he is not Italian, but German. He looks tired. But not as tired as the man sitting on the bench in the corner. Messy hair, rumpled clothing and wine stained teeth. This guy, however, is Italian. We're not really sure what's going on.

So the German pulls out a few glasses and he and the gentleman in the corner start discussing which one of them should do the pouring and explaining of the wines. After a few minutes of arguing over whose English is better and back and forth the German starts pouring us wine, but we can see that the Italian isn't going to keep quiet. He starts talking, and talking. And as he talks, it dawns on us that it is his name on the bottles of wine that we are drinking.

David Migliorini. His family had purchased the Montagliari estate within the last 50 years.

This guy was a nut. Seriously. And to top it off they had just finished the harvest. So he hadn't slept in two days. It turns out that the German is a good friend of his who comes every year to help with the harvest. We realize that there is a picture of he, David and another man in a frame on a shelf, looking slightly toasted. David tells us that was from a harvest years before, back when they were younger and crazier.

So we sat, and we drank, and we talked, and we talked and we talked.

We start talking about the business of importing wines and the difficulties involved for smaller wineries like Montagliari to get their wines distributed outside of the country, and especially in the US. FedEx requires you to purchase giant shipping crates, much bigger and more expensive than one small winery could afford. There are apparently also hurdles and roadblocks in place preventing groups of wineries from banding together. And don't even get David started on the distributors in the US.

"The distributor business in the US is controlled by the Mafia in the United States. It is crazy. I go online, I can order a gun from the US and pick it up at the post office in 7 days. You? you want to buy my wine when you go back home, you cannot. You need to write to your senators about this problem. Write to your senators!"

At the mention of the Mafia, Jason gets nervous and starts looking over his shoulder, as if men in vests with machine guns might jump out from around the corner at any second. David notes his discomfort and reassures him that we are too far north to have to worry about it. In the south, people would never talk about the Mafia, the Camorra or 'Ndrangheta. Apparently in the north it is safe!

Needless to say, this visit was the highlight of our day in the countryside. Also needless to say, we bought wine. Jason and I drank the 1997 (or was it 1999?) Chianti Riserve on New Years Eve. Laurie was in town with us, but she was pregnant, so Jason and I drank it all.

How to Deal With Jetlag

Thursday, June 12th

So we settle in to rest in our home for the next few days, Guardia. This was the house where my parents and Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Jerry would stay for the week. It is adorable, a great kitchen with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a backyard area.

However, we just needed to clean up and relax. Oh, and put down the wedding dress.

I guess I haven't mentioned that we carried the wedding dress from Chicago to Florence. And when I say "we" I guess I really mean "Jason" since he did most of the carrying. We started referring to it as "Bernie". One large piece of dead weight we couldn't let out of our sight. When we left I had been worried about the state the dress might be in once we arrived. But today, I was too damn tired to care.

We relaxed for awhile, walked around the property a bit. By 3:30pm we were fading. And fast. We knew that falling asleep might screw up our sleep/wake cycles for the week. We had to think fast. What could we do? The prospect of going into Florence seemed to daunting in our state. But we couldn't stay where we were or we would be sound asleep.

So, we did what anyone else would have done, drove to Greve to drink wine!

The town of Greve is about a 45 minute drive from Torre a Cona, in the opposite direction from Florence. It is the heart of the Chianti Classico region. The last time we were there, Jason, Nancy and I had quite an experience and met some characters tasting wine in Chianti.

So, renewed by our sense of purpose, we took off into the countryside. First stop Vicchiomaggio. There, we met a lovely woman named Nancy working in the tasting room. She spoke impeccable Italian, but was a British ex-pat who had been living in Italy for about 8 years.

Stop number two, the tasting room of Villa Calcinaia. Villa Calcinaia was to be the location of our "rehearsal" dinner on Monday. One Saturday afternoon at Sam's Wine, Jason had met Count Sebastiano Capponi, whose family, the Capponi Counts had owned the property since the 1500s and who was in charge of the wine making business. Jason had brought me home a bottle of their chianti but I was curious to taste the rest. So we stopped.

The woman running the tasting room spoke little English, although certainly more english than we spoke Italian. We seemed to get across to her that we were getting married and that we were having dinner with our group on Monday night on the estate. We tasted through all the wines and they were great. I loved their white, the Comitale. We also tried their 3 Chiantis (Piegaia, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva) and the Super Tuscan, Casarsa which is 100% Merlot. Outstanding. I didn't know how this dinner would all play out on Monday but I was getting excited. To be honest, at this point I didn't even know if anyone was going to show up, if this wedding planner actually existed, if we would really get married. But at this point too happy to care!

Our final stop was the one we had been talking about all year. We were going back to see David.

Torre a Cona

Thursday, June 12th

Why Italy? Why did we drag 32 guests with us half way around the world to get married, you may ask. Well, Torre a Cona is a big part of the reason.

While working at Forest View, Jason stumbled across a tiny little ad in some tennis magazine titled Tuscan Tennis. As you can imagine, he was intrigued. Turns out there is a company that helps tennis pros organize these tennis trips for groups, setting up accomodations and access to clubs in various locations across Europe.

So Jason rounded up 10 members from his club (Jason has a knack for getting people to follow him blindly to Europe!) and took off for Tuscany. I wasn't on this trip but heard the descriptions of the group's reactions upon first glimpsing Torre a Cona. "Amazing" "Beautiful" "We get to STAY here?"

I got to experience it for myself a year later.

The place is amazing, check out the An Agriturismo making their own wine and olive oil on acres and acres of land, country living at its best but only 20-25 minutes SE of Florence.

Since the first trip Jason had kept in contact with Livia, the woman who managed the property. She is amazing and made all of this possible for us. She could not have been nicer or more excited when we first emailed her with the idea of having the wedding at Torre a Cona. She recommended the wedding planner to us and reserved the entire property, so that it was just staying there for the week.

Hers was the first face we saw when we pulled up the drive! We were tired, dirty and needed a rest. In typical Italian fashion she didn't dream of bothering us with logistics, paperwork, payments or any of that when we first rolled in. She showed us the newly built tasting room and gave us the keys to the apartment we would be staying in until Saturday, when the guests began arriving!

Arriviamo in Italia!

Thursday, June 12th, Jason and I arrive in Milan at 6:30am! I'm always amazed at the lack of security when arriving in any Italian airport. I can't tell if it just seems lacksadaisical as a ruse of sorts, if there are really strategically placed cameras and S.W.A.T. teams ready to swoop in at the slightest sign of trouble, or if just about anyone can wander into the country whenever they feel like it.

Either way, we make it to the Hertz rental counter to get our sweet ride for the next two weeks, a Smart ForFour. I love this car! The Smart cars we see on the road in the states scare me. They are simply too small in comparison to the behemoth SUVs that litter the roads in even the most congested, urban neighborhoods. But the four dour, four seater Smart car, now that's a different story. I could get behind this car for sure.***

The Italian rental car situation is always also interesting. At home, when renting a car, I always feel like I may have accidentally just signed away the rights to my first born child and am always being coerced into additional coverage for every single potential calamity which could strike. The Italians on the other hand, kind of glance at your drivers license, have you sign a piece of paper and hand you a key and a space number and send you off with a vague point in the direction of where you will eventually find this space in the lot, which will hopefully hold the car you so desire.

But I digress. Off we go for our drive to Florence. We decided to fly in and out of Milan since we would be spending our honeymoon in the lakes region in the north of Italy, about 45 minutes from Milan. So the first leg of our journey involved a 4 hour car ride. Under normal circumstances no big deal, Jason and I usually love road trips, we're really good at them. However, after 14 hours of travelling with minimal sleep it becomes a big deal.

Luckily, there were an abundance of Autogrills on the way. And in the Autogrills there are two necessary ingredients to any long road trip in Italy. 1) a coffee counter with copious amount of delicious cappucino and espresso and 2) PAPRIKA PRINGLES. Only available in Europe, paprika flavored pringles are one of the greatest foods in the world. In a country whose cuisine is prized amongst all others, one of my favorite treats in Italy will always be the paprika pringles. I search in vain here in the US, hoping one day they will be distributed here. Hoping, and yet also fearing it. There is something special about knowing that I must travel to "The Continent" to indulge in this awesome treat. And seriously, I would probably weight 400 lbs if they were sold here. I literally can't stop eating them. I was considering posting a link to the Pringles website and imploring all of you to go and plead that they bring Paprika flavor to the US. But I think I am truly a better person without daily access.

So, with frequent coffee and Pringles stops we wound our way southward toward Florence, San Donato in Collina and Torre a Cona.

We're married!