Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Swedish castle

We went to a wedding while we were in Sweden. It was a weekend event at a castle. Before you get all excited and think "ooooh, a castle!" it's important to remember that what you and I might think of as a castle is not always right. In Sweden (according to the guide for our tour) a castle is simply a dwelling that was owned by royalty or a home where three different church steeples could be seen from the top floor. So castellated walls and towers, giant fireplaces and stone everything is not necessarily true. This was a 18th century building that has been renovated a number of times over the years.

Still, it's a beautiful setting for a wedding. All dark woodwork and candles everywhere. The afternoon started off with "Tea" and the quotation marks are intentional. It's a real tea, with breads and scones and sweets and savories plus all the beverages. Very classy if you can ignore the giant stuffed swan that presides over the whole affair. It sits in a niche above the bread table. Impossible to ignore. I assume the swan is some previous owners trophy and difficult to unload at a garage sale. Or, and this is possible, they actually like it. Tough call.

After tea we went on the guided tour of the castle, because I love seeing old buildings. Naturally the tour was in Swedish, so Leif spent the hour breathing translations into my ear. Very distracting, the breathing I mean. What I managed to gather from his translation was that this was more than simply a was a haunted castle. By at least four ghosts. Let me be the first to say it. Awesome. So on top of the creaking floors and candlelight and dark paintings, in addition to the sort of creepy swan in the foyer, there were ghosts. I was hoping to meet up with at least one of them. That would be something to write home about. Maybe not the little boy who died  from TB at age six, that would just be sad, but the woman who wanders around the halls wearing a white dress with puffy sleeves sounded interesting.

The wedding was performed (unattended by any of the ghosts), the toast was drunk, and the dinner eaten accompanied by wine. (side note: the menu for dinner changed that morning to venison. I was the only one who laughed when I said "Oh, someone hit a deer on the way to work this morning?" Maybe they were laughing inside...) After dinner we went downstairs to one of the parlors, which is romantically (or sinisterly, depending on your frame of mind) lit by a few strategically placed candles and lamps with 5 watt light bulbs. We watched the bride and groom open their presents while sipping the local after diner wine.

I was sitting near the piano talking with one of the bride's relatives when I happened to look over my shoulder and just about fell off my chair. I didn't scream, I don't think I made any noise at all. But when you've had more than a few glasses of wine and are sitting in the near dark in what has been recently described to you (albeit in Swedish) as a haunted castle a person gets a little jumpy. This is what I saw when I looked up. I dare any of you to say that you wouldn't have been at least surprised, if not scared, if you saw that after listening to ghost stories just hours earlier.

Once my heart stopped racing and I took a better look at it I realized it wasn't alive (my only real concern because something alive can randomly decide you're threatening and really, truly attack you) and I was able to pretend it wasn't hovering over my shoulder for the rest of the evening.

I went back the next morning, just to confirm that there was a bird perched on the piano ready to pounce on unsuspecting guests. I mean, I never drink enough to hallucinate but if a castle is haunted it also has the potential for enchantment and anyone who has read King Arthur knows that nothing good can come from enchantment. In fact enchantment is usually followed 15 years later by the arrival of a son or daughter "unbeknownst to him." King Arthur's knights weren't the sharpest swords in the armory. But I digress. The bird was still there but after a good night's sleep it didn't look near as bad as it did the night before. In fact, it looked kind of fake, but it's not, I checked.

Sailing in Sweden, kind of

It is now about two weeks until I have to leave Italy for awhile. Well, long enough to get married and then come back. Still, it's something I don't like thinking about or writing about so to distract myself I'll tell you a little bit about our last trip to Sweden. Oh, which was 10 to 24 November.

Stockholm by moonlight.
We stayed in Stockholm for the first 4 days because I've never been there before. It's a beautiful city. Lots of water. It's called the "Venice of the north" or so I'm told. I can see why. I innocently asked if the water was a lake or a river and got the funny look that said I obviously didn't know my geography. Which is true. All that water is actually a sea. I will do my best to remember this in the future.

We were treated so well by Leif's friends who had us for dinners. His sister's fiance's brother (whew, talk about shirt-tail relations) put us up for two nights and showed us the city by night and fed us magnificently. We had three day passes to the subways, buses and trams in Stockholm and used them constantly. OK, I didn't enjoy taking like four escalators down (deep into the ground) for some of the connections, but by the time we were done I was pretty comfortable getting around town.

Our hostel.
Here is a picture of our hostel where we stayed the last two nights in Stockholm. We stayed on a ship in the harbor. Totally cool, even if we had to share our room with  4 complete strangers (that we never actually met) and sleep in bunk beds. We would go to bed early (because we were tired from walking all day) and they would slink in anywhere between midnight and 4am, and we would wake up early and try to sneak out quietly. I don't even know if they were men or women, everyone seemed to sleep with the covers over their heads.

Our very romantic bunk beds.
We're calling it our early honeymoon even though sleeping in separate beds surrounded by strangers is probably not everyone's definition of romantic. Who cares? We spent 4 days walking everywhere in the city and eating great food and seeing one of the great cities of the world. We do the romance at home every day. And honestly,  what's more romantic than a ship?

Leif had fun crawling all over the ship and pretending he was a sailor. I tried to act all cool, like I didn't really know him, but it's hard when he keeps saying "Take my picture here!" It was too, too much fun. Oh, and the reason I'm not in many of the pictures is because it's my camera.

He's new to sailing.

Just so people know I was actually on the ship with him...

The Florence Marathon

Today was the Florence Marathon. No, I didn't run it. I'm a sprinter, not a distance runner. And you runners can tell me that a marathon is just a series of sprints, but the reality is I only have about 5 good sprints in me on a good day. That and a bus ticket will get me to the finish line.

I went  for a walk today and couldn't believe my eyes. There, casually walking down the street like they hadn't just run a bazillion miles were some of the runners on their way home. They weren't staggering down the sidewalk. They weren't using the buildings to hold themselves up. They weren't being tenderly carried by loved ones. They were walking. Many of them were smiling. I don't get it.

I spent a few blocks thinking hard about what must go on in the mind of a runner. I certainly couldn't run all those miles and then still walk home. I'm sure there's some kind of runners wisdom that says you should keep moving after running and not collapse into a boneless, muscle-less heap. I can't think of what it might be, but I'm sure one of you will tell me. I still think I would like to be carried home like Cleopatra on a divan carried by four extremely strong and beautiful men. Not that I could do anything with them at that point, but the view would be nice.

I was walking towards the finish line and suddenly I seemed to be surrounded by people wearing shiny foil blankets and pretty metals. I was starting to feel a little lazy and thought a climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo would make me feel more athletic. And it did, at first.

I climbed the 200 or so meters to the top and congratulated myself on making it up without stopping. I turned to look out over the city and behind me were some of the runners climbing up behind me so they could have their picture taken at the overlook after running the marathon. I felt a little less pleased with myself then.

On the walk home I wondered if perhaps I should, just once in my life, do something athletic. Not running, because we have already established that I am not a runner. But if we use the broadest definition possible I could be called a cyclist. I think I should just once in my life participate in a long ride that ends with me wearing a silver foil blanket and wearing a pretty medal. Just so I can say that I did. And I can feel less like a couch potato and like a more active and upright vegetable, like a snap pea.

Or this could be the lamest idea I've had in years. I guess we'll find out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wearing our rings

We finally got the rings. We didn’t realize when we chose them that they had to be made. In a US jewelry store they simply go into the back and find the right size and you pay your money and you leave with your rings in a little bag. Not here, at least not all the time. On the other hand, our rings are hand made. Not exactly one of a kind, but definitely not something that we will see hundreds of other couples wearing wherever we go. And they were made for us.

I have a clear picture in my mind of the person who made our rings and the place it happened. This is Italy, where time hasn’t necessarily stood still but it has slowed down quite a bit. I imagine a dark basement workshop with small leaded windows covered with intricate and sturdy iron bars. In some ways it resembles a mad scientist’s lab, with the flames from the wood furnace reflecting off the surfaces of mysterious tools and precious stones. It is a slightly chaotic atmosphere that inspires the genius that works there.

The jeweler is naturally short and slightly bald with a magnificent handlebar mustache, wearing a vest with a watch chain spanning his stomach. He wears glasses that magnify his eyes. He is an intensely focused person. He is an artiste.

The reality is probably far different. I’m sure our rings were made in a highly efficient, brightly lit lab-like atmosphere. They probably work the metal in one of those boxes that looks like a baby incubator with the rubber gloves attached and all the gold shavings are gathered up so there is no waste. My jeweler probably wears Levis and converse tennies under his hazmat suit.

But I can’t be certain, so I think I’ll stick with the more romantic and improbable vision I have in my mind. Everything about our romance has been magical, I think the rings and the person who made them must be magical too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting Married: The circus is coming to town

Naturally, whenever we share the news that we are engaged and going to be married people ask us when and where. I wish it were a simple question to answer, because they look so disappointed when we say we don't know yet. Honestly, we're still kind of enjoying the excitement of the proposal and buying the rings. (side note: we don't actually have the rings yet. It's entirely possible that they are mining the gold before they make our rings. And holidays like All Saints Day slow the process too.) I hate the disappointed look but there's more to this than simply choosing a date.

Not that I haven't started thinking about these things. I have. In fact, being the totally organized American woman that I am, just last week I went to the dollar store (I am also a frugal woman) and bought a folder and a notebook so that everything would stay in one place. If you care to know, a lime green folder and a notebook with flowers on it. The selection of notebooks at the dollar store is not large. There were Japanese anime notebooks and dirt bike notebooks. At one point I almost got a Hannah Montana notebook, because that was the only one I could find without swords or engines on it. Well, she was wearing a motorcycle jacket, so I guess an engine was implied, but I didn't have to actually see it. I wasn't really looking forward to sitting in some official office and saying "wait, I have to get out my totally awesome Hannah Montana notebook to write down these important notes about the most romantic day of my life." Soooo, I dug down to the bottom of the stack and found a few kind of neutral covers and chose one with white flowers tranquilly floating on water. So assuming I ever have details to organize I'm ready. If I don't have details I can stare at the cover and feel calm as I wait for details to arrive.

As of last week, we knew exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get married in Florence. We had our witnesses chosen, we knew where it would happen, we even had a date in mind. Our visit to the marriage office in the town hall changed our minds significantly. The requirements for getting married in Italy are pretty large. Every public record about your life beginning with the day you were born, translated into Italian and stamped by numerous authorities have to be produced before they will even give a couple a civil service appointment. I would have to swear in front of two separate authorities that I can legally marry, with the accompanying fees and stamps. It is impossible to get married quickly In Italy. I don't know how anyone does it. Actually, I do. They hire a wedding planner. I think there's a conspiracy at work here. We were hoping to be married before December 15 so that I could return to Italy any time after my visit to Minnesota for the holidays. If we aren't married by then I have to wait three months to come back to Italy.

This was pretty hard on Leif. For him the proposal was the equivalent of standing at the altar saying "I do," without the luxury of the year long wait for the actual ceremony like American men get. In his mind (and his cultural upbringing) the proposal really means that as of now we are married, committed to each other for the rest of our lives. I feel the same way. We are doing the ritual because it is the only way to make our relationship legal outside of Sweden and allow me to stay with him. To have all these requirements and half-answers and flat-out noes from the various offices we visited was discouraging and emotional for us both.

We went home and sat around kind of shell-shocked for a bit. And started talking about options. We agreed that it wasn't the kind of decision we wanted to make quickly and that we should wait till Sunday night to talk about it again. We spent the weekend thinking about what we personally wanted from the experience and how flexible we felt we could be on the details.

Fast forward to Sunday night, because it was a very quiet and thoughtful weekend  for both of us. Lots of online research into requirements and costs. Lots of wishing the world were a friendlier place. There may have been a discussion about forming our own country and abolishing paperwork completely. (Still kinda kicking that one around but I don't expect anything to happen on that front any time soon.)

We talked a bit more about the pros and cons (OK, mostly cons) of Italy, Sweden and the USA. After looking carefully at all our options and practicing a little calm acceptance we are happy to announce that we will be married somewhere in Minnesota sometime in January. I can return to Italy whenever I want to as long as I hold in my hand a certified, translated into Italian and stamped by third party authorities marriage certificate. That's all we really wanted to begin with. And so, having run away with the circus, I am now bringing the circus to Minnesota. That's as detailed as it gets right now.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Getting Married: Buying the rings

I forgot to tell you the day we got engaged...18 October. One of my new favorite days of the year.

My head was kind of spinning after he proposed. And as soon as we got back to Florence he was working again, so we didn't get a chance to look for rings till about a week later. We spent the week in a happy kind of fog, remembering every time we looked at each other that we wouldn't have to say goodbye again.

He was excited to shop for rings. In Sweden, both partners wear a ring during the engagement period. Of course, in Sweden the engagement period can last a lifetime and there is no need to actually get married. So we looked for rings that both of us would wear for the rest of our lives.

He has a lot to learn about shopping. We went to a store close to our home and spent some time looking at what they had, discussing the pros and cons of each (in English) and making suitable comments (in Italian). We narrowed the selection down to three. He wanted to buy something right away. I said no. We need to look more. And if we don't look more, we need to spend twenty four hours thinking about it because we will be wearing these rings for eternity.

He agreed...reluctantly. He's one of those guys who makes decisions and then acts on them, never looking back. I took the extra day to do a little research. I walked the city checking stores to compare styles and prices. I mean, I knew that we would go back to the same store and buy the ring we both loved, but I was raised on comparison shopping and needed to get that out of my system so that I could agree wholeheartedly  with him  that, yes, those are the rings I want too.

We went back a few days later and bought them. Naturally the one we chose is hand made in Florence by a goldsmith as they are ordered, so we don't have them yet. There will be pictures as soon as we have them. But trust me, they are beautiful.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Getting Married: The proposal

On the trail.

So I assume people want the longer version of how Leif proposed. It’s a pretty good story. Of course it starts with me being all freaked out because I was facing the prospect of leaving in a couple of months and really, really not wanting to. But quietly freaked out, because men are like wild animals, they frighten easily and I didn’t want him to run away from me in terror. I tried to ooze cool. Not sure if I succeeded. Actually, I know I didn’t, but he handled it very well.

We had been talking about a trip to Cinque Terra. He has been there with groups several times every year and thought it would be a nice trip for us. We prefer trips that are active, and Cinque Terra is kind of a National Park for hikers. There are trails that connect five villages on the coast and thousands of people every year go there. It's very beautiful.

Locking our love in Italy
(corny, but fun)
He made me work for this. We climbed and descended about a thousand feet in four miles of hiking before lunch. We had seafood (naturally) in a colorful little village sticking out into the sea. The last path we hiked is called the Via dell’Amore (the way of love) and that’s where he proposed to me. On the coast of Italy with the fresh sea air blowing around us. Yeah, as my friend Jo says, he’s a keeper.

We toasted our future from a common blue plastic cup (we were hiking, you can’t carry too much and he already had a bottle of wine in his pack) and left our own remembrance of the day on a lock someone else had left there.

We are very, very happy. Now to figure out how to get married in Italy.