Friday, February 26, 2010

La Verna awaits Debbie

Joanne and I had arrived very very early at the hospital the morning of surgery. Debbie's daughter Hillary took the elevator down and escorted both of us up to the surgical prep room. Debbie joked with Dr. Giannotta’s nurse that she fully expected to come out of the surgery speaking fluent Italian, since Dr. Giannotta was Italian.

We had a few minutes with her and then waved bye to Debbie as she was wheeled into the surgical suite. She was holding a baseball cap which was imprinted with the design of a human brain. I think it was a gift for the doctor.

We waited in the hospital lobby with Debbie’s family. We played games, read, ate snacks and prayed. We waited for hours. With my BlackBerry I wrote email updates to one person at work, who in turn forwarded them out to everyone.

Suddenly, in the lobby, costumed British Christmas carolers began singing “Angels We Have Heard on High.” In that same moment, Dr. Giannotta’s surgical assistant appeared walking toward us. I searched his face to prepare myself for his news. He told us, Dr. Giannotta was done and would join us shortly. We had no hint as to whether the news was good, bad or in between. I quickly emailed this information to work.

After another wait, a tall, smiling handsome doctor walked briskly toward us.  So this was Dr. Giannotta!  He had good news! Debbie had survived the surgery, but even better, he felt he had removed most of the tumor. It was not cancerous. A small portion was firmly attached to the brain stem and he had to leave as it was dangerous to disturb. This had been the blood source of the tumor. He felt that the tumor would not grow again. He gave us hope that Debbie would not suffer any ill effects from the tumor or the surgery. He thought she would go on to live a normal life. I stepped up to him and shook his hand and said “Thank you.” Her family just stood there stunned and immobile. Debbie had survived.

Dr. Giannotta's nurse told us we could go in pairs to look in on her in the recovery room. Joanne and I took our turn last. Debbie was peacefully sleeping. She was beautiful and serene. We were pleasantly surprised to see her hair pulled into pig-tails, one over each ear. Her bangs were in place. I was glad Debbie would wake up to see herself in cute pig-tails and not with a shaved head. Weeks later, we were able to see her scar, which went fully down the back of her head.

While Debbie recuperated at home, we were busy at work formulating a PLAN. The plan grew and everyone participated. It was decided that Debbie needed to go to Italy. We collected enough money to pay for both Debbie and her husband to make the trip.

Several months after the surgery, we held a welcome back to work dinner at a co-worker's home. We had pot-luck Italian. At a certain point, background Italian music began to play, which was the "signal" to everyone. The party chattering went silent and our hostess handed Debbie an envelope. After she looked inside, she shocked us all by folding right over in shock. I thought she might fall to the ground. The joy was just too much. There was an abundance of emotion that evening.

Debbie had survived and except for feeling of hollowness inside her head, she was totally and absolutely normal. Her Italian dream was going to happen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

La Verna and Debbie's Dream

The first time I met my friend Debbie at work, the bond we felt was immediate. We were like sisters separated at birth or before. She was new to our company but already had heard about me and my love affair with Italy. Debbie's dream was to visit Italy.

She started coming to Alberto’s weekly Italian lessons, which he conducted at Francoli Restaurant. Alberto immediately accepted her into our fold. He was a Venetian, transplanted to the USA as a young man. Each Tuesday night he reserved a table for his students. Some ate dinner, some only dessert. Dinner was too expensive for me and besides, I concentrate best with an empty stomach. My shyness tends to cause stomach aches when eating in public places.

I have always traveled to Italy alone. I prefer to go not as a tourist, but as a person going home. Being an unpaid travel guide only causes me stress and takes me away from my passion: to speak Italian and discover a normal everyday life.

Since Debbie’s passion for Italy matched my own, I decided it would not be difficult to travel with her. For almost a year we planned a November trip. We purchased airline tickets and signed up to be students at my school, Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Firenze (Florence).

On day in September I received a call from Debbie. The previous weekend, she had had a fainting spell. She had been taken to the hospital where they performed an MRI on her brain. She had kept this hospital visit a secret. When I received her call, it was from a crying, shocked, hysterical Debbie. She cried out that she could not go to Italy! She was still in the parking lot, after having been seen in specialist’s office.  He told her she had a very large brain tumor and nothing could be done. The doctor suggested it was time to formulate a plan to prepare her family for the end of her life. Her shocked husband spoke to her about funeral plans.

I was sworn to secrecy at work. Debbie coped by working each day as if all was normal. She seemed her cheerful self to co-workers. I walked by her desk, more than several times a day, to check on her.

Meanwhile, I searched the Internet for information on her diagnosis. I joined a chat room for people with brain tumors. I had an on-line conversation with someone who passed me the names of several brain tumor specialists in our Los Angeles area. I could not accept the fact that Debbie would not realize her Italian dream. It seemed so unfair.  I often recall my son Jeremy, telling me that life was not fair. But this shattering of Debbie's dream without a fight, was just not right.

With her doctor’s diagnosis letter in hand, I quietly cancelled her Italian reservations and I knew I would need to go alone.

Of course many people at work had been following our travel plans.  Debbie decided it was time to share her news at work. Tears flowed as the shock wave spread.  People came to my desk to ask what they could do for her. 

Using the Internet, we continued to research names of specialists. After some major insurance trouble, Debbie was able to get appointments for some second opinions. This was her first miracle. We thank the many people at our place of work who helped make this happen.

Surgery was scheduled for December with Dr. Steven Giannotta, MD, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at USC Medical Center. This opportunity was Debbie’s second miracle. (

Very early the morning of Debbie's surgery, our mutual friend Joanne and I drove to the hospital, in order to be as close as possible to her. We were certain that we could help by focusing our energy on her survival.

On the way, we listened to my CD containing the soundtrack of the biographical Italian film on San Francesco (English: Brother Sun, Sister Moon Italian: (Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna) 1972, Franco Zeffirelli.)

I had purchased this CD in the La Verna gift shop.

Debbie's third miracle was to visit La Verna herself, 18 months after brain surgery.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

La Verna with Leo

Leo has taken me to La Verna two times. It's a Franciscan Hermitage, located at the top of Mount Penna, an isolated peak 1,283 meters high, in the Apennines (Appennini) Mountain range, where it passes through Umbria. (

On our first trip there, my Italian was just at beginner's level and Leo’s English was equally spotty. Fortunately, Leo and I have never found language to be a barrier for exchanging ideas.

While we drove through the Tuscan countryside, Leo told me the history of La Verna. It was once the home of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francesco). On May 8, 1213, this mountaintop was given to him by Count Orlando of Chiusi. The Count knew San Francesco craved a quiet location where he could meditate.

As we approached, I gazed up at a lodge like structure which seemed to hang right out over the edge of the craggy mountain. On the second trip, wispy tendrils of fog swirled around the monastery. This is not a place you will find tourist buses, as in Assisi. This is a sanctuary for Pilgrims and others seeking a place of peace and solitude.

We parked outside the iron gates on a November morning and walked past a statue of San Francesco, then onto the grounds. Leo warned me that we needed to talk quietly or be silent inside the building we were approaching.

Leo opened the thick wooden doors and led me down a long narrow corridor which was glassed on the precipice on my left and on the right, I observed frescoes depicting the life of San Francesco. As I looked back over my shoulder, I saw a colorful ceramic by Andrea della Robbia, hanging over the entry doorway. (

We peeked in, but bypassed entering the main church, Chiesa Maggiore. (Construction on this was started in 1348 and completed in 1459.)  I saw a large della Robbia (Assumption of the Virgin) hanging behind the altar. I so wanted to go in, but Leo was insistent that we continue on.

Several friars, dressed in the traditional Franciscan brown robes with knotted white rope belts and sandals, quietly walked past us. I tried hard not to stare. I wanted to take pictures of everything, but of course I did not.

At the far end of the corridor, we entered into a tiny chapel, containing only enough room for a handful of people. Sparse pews, which lined both walls, were actually not full pews, but sitting space for only one or two people.

At the time, I did not understand the purpose for visiting this simple small chapel. This is the older Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was built 1218 for St. Francis by Count Orlando.

Leo motioned that there was to be no talking here. We sat down next to each other, shoulders touching.

I experienced a feeling of total peace. It had come to me almost immediately upon entering. I was filled with a strong presence of goodness, hope, peacefulness and trust. I took Leo's hand as I felt overcome by emotion. My tears began to fall silently. Leo was not alarmed. He had been trying to prepare me for this. He felt the same powerful force.

After 10 minutes, we returned to the main corridor and I asked Leo to explain what had happened to me. He told me this had been San Francesco’s own private chapel and his presence is felt by all who enter. Even now, I remember with goose bumps those precious minutes.

“In August, 1224, Francis withdrew to La Verna to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas and while praying on the mountain-side he received (on or about 14 September) the stigmata. Thus La Verna came to be seen as sacred ground. Pope Alexander IV took it under his protection. In 1260 a church was consecrated there in presence of St. Bonaventure and several bishops. A few years later the Chapel of the Stigmata was erected, paid for by Count Simone of Battifole, near the spot where the miracle took place. The Chiesa Maggiore was begun in 1348, although not finished until 1459.” (

Just a few feet away from the chapel, we stepped outside into a minuscule area where it is possible to observe San Francesco's sleeping stone, partially surrounded by a small cave made up of blocks of fallen stone.

After re-entering the main corridor, Leo led me outside and along the outside ridge of the precipice, which contained an iron safely rail, thank goodness. In single file, we approached the spot where it is believed that San Francesco met the devil one night. In the stone, there seems to be an imprint of a man. According to legend, it was here that San Francesco received the stigmata on September 14, 1224.

We followed a steep path down to a fern filled grotto. The earth appeared to have been split open and turned, as if a mighty battle of metaphysical forces had taken place. Leaning against the stone were perhaps a dozen crosses of various sizes, which the faithful had been made from twigs or sticks. As we walked to the back of the grotto, Leo pointed up to indicate we were just below San Francesco's sleeping stone.

During our second visit, I was fortunate to see the friars make their 2 pm procession from the Chiesa Maggiore down to the Chapel of the Stigmata, which sits just above the fern grotto. They make this trip daily at 2 in the afternoon and again at midnight.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there's doubt, faith ;
where there is despair hope
where there is darkness light
where there is sadness joy

O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Preghiere del Poverello di Assisi

Signore, fammi strumento di tua pace.
Dove c'è odio fa che io porti l'amor,
Dov'è offesa, perdono,
Dov'è dubbio, fede,
Dov'è disperazione, speranza,
Dov'è buio, luce,
Dov'è tristezza, gioia.

O Maestro Divino concedimi che io non cerchi
tanto di essere consolato quanto consolare,
non tanto di essere compreso, ma di comprendere,
non tanto di essere amato, quanto d'amare;
perchè è nel dare che riceviamo
è nel perdonare che siamo perdonati,
è nel morire che ci svegliamo a vita eterna


Friday, February 5, 2010

A Summer Wedding (Part 6) Reception

The luncheon is being held in a large room just off the courtyard of the rectory. Home, is just a few steps down the street.

When I arrived everyone was congratulating the newlyweds.
I headed straight for the food.

Five large wooden tables were setup to form a wide U. They were all covered with crisp white cloth tablecloths.

I snapped pictures, not wanting to miss a moment.

I was able to get photos of each tray of food.

There were creative Peacocks made from melons, pineapple leaves
and chunks of colorful fruit on wooden skewers.

I quickly moved on, just ahead of the hungry guests.

There were several platters of  delicious baby cream puffs.

The wedding cake was iced with thousands of shards
of white chocolate and powdered sugar.

 On the top layer sat the bride and groom figurines.

It was a yummy sponge cake, layered in cream pudding and a light jam.

There were two large punch bowls, lots of water and plastic cups,
paper napkins, glasses for the champagne and several tubs of iced champagne.

 I recognized the server who is taking care of thirst needs. He helped us clean this reception room.
Our priest arrived in simple street clothes and we got more kisses.

The guests lingered and enjoyed the yummy food. The wedding cake was cut and distributed.

Around 2 o’clock the guests began leaving the reception and Marina disappeared for a few minutes. She had taken five minutes to walk home and had brought back plastic containers to share the food.

After the guests had departed, we carried big platters of food home, to be refrigerated.

Mattia's parents, the testimoni and close family members followed us home. It was the first time for Mattia's parents to see Nonna's apartment.  I saw their eyes widen when they entered.  Rosa and Mattia reminded them that the furniture in this flat is only on loan to them.

Nonna has beautiful antique pieces and oriental rugs cover the hardwood floors. At some point in the future, this family furniture will be divided between Primo and his two brothers. They have agreed to allow Rosa and Mattia to live here for now. We all know Nonna would be happy to know her home is again a place of laughter and love.

Standing up, Mattia opened gifts from his testimoni while Rosa watched. We're all hot and thirsty. The flat is not air conditioned.

We divided up into the two parts of the house, with the younger people on this side and the older generation retired to Primo's side.

The flat was once one bigger apartment but was split when Primo married. There is an adjoining door which did have a bar lock on Primo's side. Now there's a newly installed bar lock on this side too. This will give the newlyweds privacy when they want it.

I kicked off my shoes and so did Marta. I looked to the couch and saw that Rosa had done the same.  Mattia thinks we're all cute, shoes kicked off, bare-footed and relaxing. He has us all sit closer together and he takes some great photos using my camera.

After an hour, we were alone except for Henriche and Stefano. Primo, Marina and Rosa, still in her wedding dress and carrying a basket of Jordon almonds, departed out Primo's front door. Mattia was following. They were going to visit Nonna in the assisted living hospital. I suggested Mattia take my camera but he ran back to get his instead. Good idea to document the visit with Nonna. She never leaves her bed now but occasionally does recognize the family members.


Today, Nonna smiled at Rosa and now we are sure she understood that a wedding took place today.


Everyone is home now. Marta has changed into a pair of shorts but still has on her dressy top. The house is getting the afternoon sun and it's really really hot. Primo is now in jeans. I changed into something casual too. I am carrying my BlackBerry which has been my constant companion for the past week.

Rosa is now in shorts and a tank top with her face washed clean and her hair combed out.  Mattia, exhausted has disappeared to take a nap. He didn't show his stress outwardly, but apparently he forgot to take his car out of his work parking lot a few days ago and it's still there. He stayed at a friend’s house the day before the wedding. We all quietly collapse onto the living room chairs and couches.

Marina, always elegant and still in her dress, calls us to the table and serves us wedding left-overs and cake. Many of us really didn't each much today and Marina is concerned that Nonno hasn't eaten enough either.

We're nine of us around the dining room table talking over the day. The wedding cake is so yummy, even Marina who eats very little, has two pieces like the rest of us.

We take the dishes out to the kitchen and now it's boiling hot and humid. We all go back to the couches in Primo's living room, where a small air conditioner is running. We close off the French doors to keep out the heat. Stefano brings out his video camera and hooks it up to the TV. We've all forgotten about the film he took today.

What a great photographer he is! We laughed and laughed. Everyone seemed to have done something funny.

Some of the priest's helpers have their eyes closed during his impromptu deviation from the Mattia's carefully written program. Some guests are fanning themselves with the wedding booklet. One priest tried to do a discreet little fanning too. We can see sweat dripping from his face.

We see gestures of affection between Mattia and Rosa, which we had missed. Father of the bride looking bored. Mother of the bride looks totally stressed out, wearing sun glasses throughout the entire ceremony.

And afterwards, outside, frantic rice throwing, with Mattia getting constantly and relentlessly pelted. Mattia, spitting out rice, which had been tossed right into his mouth.

And then at the end, the couple in their car...but they can't leave because a crazed looking testimone in a flowered dress, holding a very tiny purse, power cords and camera, is lurching for the car window, not once but three times trying to get just one more good picture.

We all laughed so hard and it felt wonderful. Stefano would rewind the funny spots and play it again and we laughed even harder.

After we had relived the day, Primo opened up the big storage chest in the dining room and brought out a video tape showing his wedding to Marina thirty-some years ago.

We could see Nonna and Primo's father in their younger days. We saw Andrea, our Nonno today, with Marina's mother. And the film continued, to show Rosa and all the other babies: Marta, the twins, Emanuele. We saw TV interviews of Primo’s brother, famous Emergency Room Chief of Staff.

And so we ran full circle and by watching this compilation of old memories, the entire family had participated in this wonderful day.  No one was forgotten.


On Sunday I was honored to take Rosa's bridal bouquet to church and gave it to the Madonna.

I was sent by myself.

It was a touching experience to be given this assignment.

The church looked empty when I arrived. Marina told me to search for one of the women who tends the flowers and ask for a vase.

I took this picture after Sunday afternoon mass, with Primo's permission.  Rosa's flowers are sitting on the white cloth. 

For the honeymoon, Rosa, Mattia, Marta and Mario left together on Monday for a week in New York City. Primo and Marina flew in a different direction for a much needed vacation. Nonno returned home with Angelo and Nori. I took the train back to Florence and had a nice visit with Leo for two days.

I love my Italian family...
Ti amo Leo Leone...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Summer Wedding (Part 5) Il giorno degli sposi

Saturday (Il giorno degli sposi)

Today was the wedding day and it was perfect.

Last night about midnight a ferocious cool wind began blowing hard. My frosted glass bedroom door slammed shut and at the same moment the two French doors to the outside did the same. They slammed so hard I was afraid the glass had cracked. Luckily I was still awake, writing in my dairy.

The clamor was loud! Neighborhood shutters, which had not been secured, repeatedly opened and closed. The wind was coming straight through the house, from the living room windows, which were open due to the heat. The inside room doors have glass panes and they were all vibrating.

Outside there was a constant unrelenting sound of the rattling of metal objects and window panes. The noise resembled what we hear during a California earthquake. I thought I missed that excitement this week.

It was too stuffy to have the windows closed so I reopened my doors and moved a chair in front to secure them. The chair was too light weight to do any good. Instead I pushed one heavy suitcase in front of the bedroom door and I wedged the other suitcase in between the balcony French doors. It was the first time heavy suitcases have been a help to me!

Rosa appeared in her pajamas outside on our shared balcony. She needed to secure cupboard doors which were flapping and some garden tools which had fallen out and were clanging against the balcony rail. I went out to help.

After the storm had passed, the cool breeze was a wonderful relief. I slept very well, from 1 to 6.30 am. We saw on the news today that last night's storm did a lot of damage in Milano – many trees down with some flooding.

At 6:30 in the morning I hurried over to Primo and Marina's flat to take the first shower, using one of the two bathrooms. The water here in Nonna’s flat is still running only cool.

Marina worries that wet hair brings on sickness, so I dried my hair thoroughly. I was scheduled for the 7.30 makeup appointment. Mario’s sister arrived right on time. She setup her tools at the kitchen table.

For me she used only Borghese Princess Marcella Violet Treo eye shadow, which is my standard. I had no worries about allergic reactions.

I didn't see any facial make-up applied on anyone today. It is so drippy muggy here and besides the girls are beautiful without it.

It was so hot that even a robe was too much, so we girls all stayed in our underwear and pajamas in the kitchen.

Marina and Rosa walked to their 8.00 hair appointments in shorts and tank tops. They came back with their hair up and very lovely. Rosa was named for a saint and our Rosa believes in keeping things simple. Her hair was pulled back in a smooth up-do with an ivory flower over her left ear.

Anna, the housekeeper was the first guest to arrive. I was happy but surprised to see her. Marina asked her to help Nonno dress for the wedding and afterwards she will stay by his side for the ceremony and reception. I watch as Anna assists Nonno. Anna and Nonno are very comfortable together. Anna is trustworthy and I like how she is gentle but not condescending with our elderly grandfather.

Anna had said she would not come to the wedding and Rosa was disappointed. Anna is much more than a domestic, she is a part of the family and we all love her. When Nonna (Primo’s mother) still lived here and did not require 24 hour assistance, Anna was always available to do whatever needed to be done. Marina was then able to leave the house, go to mass or run errands.

Anna and Marina have always worked as a team cleaning. The house is sparkling clean today after their two weeks of daily cleaning.

The family started arriving around 10. Marta and I ran to get dressed after I peeked out of the kitchen to take pictures and came face to face with the teen-aged nephews. Opps! We forgot we were still in our nighties.

Rosa stayed in the kitchen, the last to get her make-up done. The kitchen door was closed to the family men.

One by one the family arrives. Emanuele is a handsome young man now. He was I think 6 when I first met him. He and his cousin, who studies voice in the conservatory, said hello and then left to familiarize themselves with the church acoustics. His parents must be here, but I haven't seen them yet.

Julio, Primo’s good friend, and his wife Mari arrive. Mari brought the bridal bouquet. Lovely and sweet, it is made up of perhaps fifty tiny colorful flowers, packed tightly into a posy and wrapped with white tulle. Mari and I found a spot for it in an antique vase to keep it upright. They departed for the church.

Everyone seems to know their part for today. They do it then step aside.

Meanwhile, I was constantly snapping pictures. I was starting to worry about the picture taking being disruptive, so I showed Primo a few of my shots to get his approval and support. “Brava Francesca!! Keep taking them."

Primo is handsomely outfitted in a charcoal grey silk suit, with a light grey tie and white shirt. He has a parking permit ready for Angelo's car.

Nori and Angelo, parents of Emanuele, are still here, in the house. Nori has a school for fashion design in Nonno’s village in the north. Angelo tends to his many acres of vineyards. In between they run the restaurant with its Bed and Breakfast. Nori made the gorgeous champagne colored silk jacket and skirt she is wearing. She is stunning.

In Nonna's living room, I see Nori has laid out Rosa’s cream colored wedding dress, which consists of two pieces. Nori exams the skirt portion and turns it right side out. It's obvious her hands know fabric and I watch as gently handles the fabric.

Nori and Marina begin to help Rosa dress. I keep snapping photos, leaving out modesty shots. They don't seem to notice me now.

Yesterday Mario’s sister told me no one should see the bride's face before the wedding. When Marina put a white cloth bag over Rosa's head, I thought perhaps her face was to be hidden from everyone. But, it was only for a few seconds, just to protect her hair as the skirt was lifted over her head. Then they slipped on the dress top and fastened it. There will be no veil.

This morning, Primo commented in English to me “the pressure is rising” --- oh so true!

Suddenly it's time to leave. Mario’s sister gets a hug from Rosa I noticed Rosa slipped her a small wrapped gift. We've re-entered Primo and Marina's apartment and the outside door is standing open. Anna and Nonno leave. I didn't see but they must have taken the elevator because it's two flights down. I raced back to my room to get the electric battery charger and its Italian plug converter. My camera feels warm and I'm afraid it won't last the rest of the day. (Thank goodness, because it did go dead right in the middle of the reception.)

I got back just in time, as now everyone is out the door. I snap a quick picture aiming down the stairs. I was wrong! No one has taken the elevator. Nonno is leading the way, then Anna, Marina, Rosa and Marta, with Henrique trailing. I am the last one out, so I shut the apartment door. I am carrying my tiny purse, camera and a power cord.

Angelo will be driving Rosa in his Mercedes. Nonno, his father, is already in the front passenger seat when I catch up. The car is parked just outside the large electric gates of the apartment compound. The gates are open and Rosa is assisted into the car by Marina. I see Primo seated in the backseat.

Marina and Marta quickly start walking toward the little church, which is two blocks away. I am following them, trying desperately to get one good picture. We cross one street of traffic. Anna is trailing me. Marina is quick and I see we've lost Anna and Henrique. I think Anna was more cautious with the traffic situation.

We three arrived at the church within 6 or 7 minutes. Henrique in high heels, scarf and camera sling, elegantly arrived, pedaling the green bicycle. Her tiny purse was in the bike's straw basket. I took an adorable picture.

I did not see Angelo's car with the bride. I think they were keeping out of sight for the moment.

I need to ask more about the history of this tiny church. I believe it's the oldest church in the village. It's only opened for special occasions.

Marina firmly told me Henriche will be taking the pictures now. It's time for me to turn off the camera and make my way to the front of the church. As two of the four testimoni (witnesses), Marta and I took our places to the left of the altar. Mattia and his two testimoni were already in place.

In Italy, the bride's family and friends sit behind the groom. The groom's guests are behind the bride. This shows their support for the new couple.

The priest and his 4 or 5 assistants were also preparing. It is very warm in this church. Marta and I adjust our shawls but we need to keep our shoulders covered. I am given a booklet, which contains the words of today's ceremony. Mattia has printed copies for each guest.

This booklet is a treasure. It's filled with the couple's own unique thoughts and the back page shows Batman and his true love embracing, just as I saw in the draft copy. But on the back cover there is something new -- a precious drawing of the couple. A small child has created this charming picture with crayons. (Later, I discovered only our six copies had this drawing).

Everything about this ceremony is a reflection on the values of Mattia and Rosa. It is all from their hearts.

Suddenly Rosa is coming down the aisle. I can't see her, but I watched Mattia's face.

She arrived in front of us, looked angelic, matching the music.

Primo was on Rosa's right side. Then Rosa left her father and stepped up to the bride's position. Mattia grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

The little flower girl, wearing a wreath of flowers on her head carried a package containing the rings. She was reluctant to give them up. The priest held his hand out. I could see him talking gently to her. “OK come on...give me the package, please.”

The priest, my favorite for many years, has a fabulous singing voice. One year there was a special ceremony outside on a little street and he sang a capella. He will be singing parts of the ceremony today.

He began reading from Mattia's pre-written text. I am following along.

I realize I've lost my place, but no, the priest has decided to add a few of his own thoughts. He speaks without notes, to give them a personal message today. Many people are using their booklets as fans. It's so very humid. I can see beads of water on the priest's face. Several times he needs to wipe his brow with his white handkerchief as the water drips off.

Rosa and Mattia seem cool -- no sweating at all.

The ceremony continues with the exchange of vows and rings. The priest suggests a kiss! My wish for a kiss has been fulfilled! All the guests began to applaud. During this same time Emanuele and his cousin began their song. It was fantastic! I couldn't see them but Marta whispered they were in an alcove behind the altar. What beautiful piano music and the voice of an opera star.

Mass was also celebrated. At the point, where we normally greet our neighbors with a hand shake and greeting of pace (peace), everyone was moving all about the church for hugs and handshakes. Rosa and Mattia, now husband and wife, left the altar for a few minutes and touched everyone.

We all returned back to our places and the ceremony continued.

After a few minutes, we testimoni were asked to approach a small oak table located behind the bench where Marta and I had been seated.

I saw a sort of log book, perhaps for the Parish, and an official looking government form. The priest wiped off the document where his sweat had dripped.

The priest asked for our names. He was confused by mine. Marta leaned over and filled in my name. He then asked for my age and my city of residence. He let me write this myself.

After he had collected all our information, we returned to our places and from the altar, he read out loud the government form, stating our names, etc. When he got to my name he stopped...he couldn't pronounce it. I felt my mind trying trying to help him, but he was really stuck. My given name is Charlene and ‘char” is not a part of the Italian language. Rosa finally said it out loud. The priest was so cute, he looked at me then and shrugged his shoulders a bit, indicating 'sorry about that.’

I noticed most of the people in the church had departed during his reading of the document. I could see them waiting outside, beyond the steps.

The ceremony was complete! The priest gave Rosa a kiss and also Mattia. Then he went to Marina and gave her a kiss and a hug. He even gave me a big kiss on the cheek, plus a strong hug.

The priest returned to the little oak table and we all signed our full names in perhaps four places. Marta whispered to me ...take pictures Zia! And I did. all the way out the door, some interior shots, and the rice throwing on the front steps.

The colorful rice is called confetti. The wedding guests were very energetic in throwing the rice! I noticed a woman holding a large paper bag of confetti and everyone loaded up their hands and then went back for refills. Mattia seemed to be the main target and the children were having great fun tossing big handfuls at him. Mattia was laughing and good natured.

Suddenly, Mattia and Rosa were swept away to Angelo's waiting car. A very happy Nonno was sitting in the front passenger seat.

Inside the church during the ceremony Henriche had been taking still shots with her large Nikon while Stefano, her boyfriend, took video. I also noticed a man behind Mattia's testomoni. His video camera was on a tripod, running the whole time.

Henriche unlocked her bicycle and rode off. I returned back into the church to take a few more photos. Everyone was gone when I came out a minute later.

I quickly walked to the reception.