Life Lessons from A Tuscan Wedding

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.

–- Carl Sandburg

Are you visiting Tuscany for your honeymoon?” Lorenza, our wine tasting hostess at Avignonesi winery, asked over a swirl of 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

No,” I laughed. “We’re actually here for our 10th anniversary. We were married just down the road in Pienza in 2000.

Even as the words came out, I thought: Ten years? Really?

Mid-September 2000. We stood before a jolly, rotund man named Luciano in the reception of his converted farmhouse in the Val d’Orcia. “For a real Tuscan wedding, each person must have a Florentine steak, 800 grams,” he asserted in his exaggerated yet somehow natural, gesticulated Italian.

The setting sun was carving a path through a side window; our frantic search for an alternative venue just three weeks before our wedding was thankfully coming to a close.

But was it really a requirement of a Tuscan wedding that each guest be served two pounds of Florentine steak amidst four other courses?

A recipe for an oddball do-it-yourself destination wedding in the Italian countryside: a $100 wedding dress mailed from Estonia, simple rings purchased on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the world’s least expensive genuine Hugo Boss wedding suit (thank you, favorable exchange rates), a week of family and friends getting lost in the middle of Italy, homemade truffle crostini and pillows of ricotta-stuffed ravioli, a mayor who had just rolled out of bed to perform the ceremony, and more than just a little lost in translation.

Like Rain on Your Wedding Day - Pienza, Italy
Rain on your wedding day is good luck, isn’t it?

We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been doing this “married” thing for ten years. Even more thankful that, to many, we don’t look ten years married. During our recent visit to Tuscany, we reflected on the relationship between our wedding and our values, and how the event foreshadowed our lives together.

So what did our wedding teach us?

9 Life Lessons from Our Tuscan Wedding

1. Dream. Then it can become a reality.

Let’s get married in Italy. How about Tuscany?

Without dreams, visions and crazy ideas that leave others wondering, you are leaving a lot to chance – and to someone else’s script.

It sounded crazy at the time. I was in San Francisco, Audrey was in Estonia. I had never been to Italy, but the Renaissance and Baroque art history classes I had taken at university planted a seed. Audrey had been to Italy on a quick solo trip after a semester abroad and was game.

Sure enough, our language evolved slightly: “Why not Italy? What’s to stop us, really?

We had already scrapped the idea of a traditional American wedding and we’d planned to backpack around Europe. A wedding in Italy sure sounded like fun. And it fit us: good food, wine, a bit of the unknown. We invited friends and family to plan a getaway to Italy and join us for our wedding.

The rest is history.

Tuscan Wedding

Without dreams, visions and crazy ideas that leave others wondering, you are leaving a lot to chance – and to someone else’s script.

2. There’s more story in the process and the journey than there is in the result and the destination.

Cobbling together all the bits of our wedding in the three weeks leading up to the event provided endless madcap story fodder: choosing a bouquet, making hair appointments, setting a menu — with nothing more than an Italian phrasebook and some skills in charades at hand.

As friends and family arrived in Tuscany the week before the wedding, the shared stories and experiences of getting lost, random encounters, and amazing food multiplied.

Not only was this great fun, but it also put the final event – our wedding, our getting married — in proper perspective. Everyone had gathered because of an event and a destination, but the real story: their new experiences.

3. There’s beauty in simplicity.

Simple is not only beautiful, it’s often less expensive and it reduces stress.

Two days before the wedding, before everyone set off for their countryside day-trip adventuring, we asked each person to bring something back for dinner: a local specialty from wherever they went. That night, we gathered around a picnic table with wild boar sausage, buffalo mozzarella, aged local pecorino (sheep) cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and 5-liter jugs of table wine purchased on impulse from a restaurant in the nearby hill town of Cortona.

In life, simplicity often means lower overhead and more flexibility. Living simply is something we value. It is one of the key reasons why we were able to pick up and move to Prague, pick up and travel the world. Pick up and do.

4. Perfection is overrated.

By no means was our wedding perfect – it poured on the day of, we had Italian funeral flowers at the reception (until Luciano’s wife rescued us from our ignorance), there was way, way, way too much food, and the marriage was almost not legal because our witnesses didn’t have their passports. The whole thing was pretty much made up as we went along.

Tuscan Wedding

But that’s what made our wedding an engine of fond and funny memories. In its own way, just about perfect.

Some say that perfection is the enemy of the good. I’d offer that perfection can be the enemy of the great.

And when it comes to your wedding – or your life — ask yourself: What is it that you are perfecting?

5. Create your own style.

Tradition and society often dictate what life and the events that fill it ought to look like, leaving you to simply plug pieces into a predefined equation.

Before you fill in the blanks, ask yourself: Is this what I really want?

We printed out poems about love and life from an internet café in Budapest and read them on an overnight train to Venice. By the end of the 15 hour train ride, we had our ceremony worked out. Some of it traditional, much of it less so.

Mix things up, do what feels right to you and make it your own. You’ll learn more, and you’ll likely be happier for it. And best of all – it will be yours.

6. Dissatisfaction is OK, so long as it spurs action.

Three weeks before the wedding, we drove up to the hotel we had booked on the internet. Our hearts sank: instead of the peace and tranquility advertised (keep in mind this was in 2000, before the endless hotel reviews we expect now), the hotel we booked overlooked the best of Italy’s highways. Sure, we could have made the best of the situation, but we examined our priorities, decided the setting was important to us, and took action.

We hopped back into our rental car and drove around Pienza and into the hills looking for road signs with a bed and a fork and a knife (indicating accommodation and food). After a few hours of pulling off a dozen country roads, we found exactly what we were looking for: a valley setting looking up to nearby hill towns, simple accommodation and great food.

Tuscan Agriturismo (Tourism Farm) - Tuscany, Italy
The agriturismo in the Val d’Orcia we rented for our wedding.

Life often doesn’t turn out as planned. Sulking doesn’t help. Size up the situation and then do something about it.

7. Provide a context for others to create their own adventures.

When it comes to events (or life in general), planning every little detail is for the birds. Besides being stressful, it can detract from the beauty that comes from spontaneity and unexpected turns.

For our wedding, we provided a framework: Tuscany and Italy. But our guests created their own adventures. We strategically advised friends and family to first plan a vacation to Italy, then to join us for our wedding. We didn’t plan many activities. As a result, each day everyone created their own adventures to nearby Tuscan hill towns and each evening they returned full of stories.

Road Trip Tuscany 2010
Road trip, Tuscany style.

Guests used our wedding as a platform to travel in a way they may not have normally chosen to do without the excuse of an event. My mother had never been outside North America, but she used our wedding as an opportunity to drive around and explore Europe for a month. My father had not been outside the United States for over 30 years, but he picked up the travel bug and now finds his way to Italy every few years.

We hope that by sharing our travels through this website, we provide another context that inspires you to create your own experiences and adventures.

8. Things change.

Appreciate the moment. There is no going back.

In one respect, our return to Tuscany was bittersweet. Because of the economic crisis, the agriturismo (farm guest house) where we celebrated with family and friends had closed. The medieval stone buildings are still in place, but the property has been abandoned and is falling into disrepair. Its gregarious owner and the man of great steaks, Luciano, is now incapacitated and bedridden in nearby Montepulciano.

Walking around the place and absorbing the news from the next-door neighbors was profoundly sad. I had harbored visions of sharing a glass of vin santo with Luciano and his wife at sunset upon our return.

But the reality remains: things change, people grow older, places evolve.

All the more reason that when you have an experience of beauty before you, bask in it. Appreciate the moment, for the moment may be more fleeting than you think.

9. It takes a village

The village is what makes an experience. And by village, we mean the people whom you enlist to help you create and share an experience.
Tuscan Wedding
Don’t just ask people to show up; get them involved.

We not only invited people to our wedding, but we asked them to participate. Everyone helped out in one way or another to make our wedding week well beyond something special – from the music to the programs to the flowers to even a magic show.

And for this opportunity, we are grateful. For the involvement, excitement and support of family and friends that ushered us into married life, we are thankful.

Ten years later, that week still brings a smile and more than a few laughs.

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Comments

  1. says

    Excellent, excellent article. I think this needs to be required reading for any newlywed or couple getting married. It’s easy as a new couple to try to plan every bit of your future because, well, that’s what people talk to you about. You plan to have a house, plan to have kids by a certain age, plan on retirement, etc, but then when those plans don’t manifest in real life how you want them to, then what? That’s when discontentment sets in, even though there are so many things to be happy about. I wish more couples would start out their lives in a “haphazard” fashion: not only does it mimic “real life”, it gives them memories that will keep them together.

    Congrats on 10 years! Imagine what 10 more will bring!

    P.S. That’s quite the professional looking hairdo, Dan :) Are you going to bring it back?

  2. says

    “Simple is not only beautiful, it’s often less expensive and it reduces stress.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. My husband and I have also found that there’s no correlation between cost and happiness, and that the details are often the things that stick with us most.

    Happy anniversary! Here’s to another ten years!

  3. says

    Congrats!

    “Life often doesn’t turn out as planned. Sulking doesn’t help. Size up the situation and then do something about it.”

    Exactly!

    Perhaps that kind of flexibility and “can do” attitude makes the best travelers as we are world travelers who have always worked on the same principals. Our wedding venue was changed the night before our wedding, but turned out more than perfect. ;)

    We just celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary in Paris and the celebration was just as impromptu and lovely as our wedding. Some might not have liked enjoying the romantic anniversary celebration with their child, but we thought it was wonderful to have her along to pour the wine and take the best kissing photos! ;)

    Happy Anniversary! Looks like the perfect plan!

  4. says

    What a wonderful experience… the wedding, the anniversary, and the full ten years in between… So I’ll raise a glass of Chile’s finest–to your health and many, many more anniversaries to come!
    big hugs to you both!
    Margaret.

  5. says

    An illuminating experience! A special toast to life lessons, 10 years and many more of both. Every couple should read this, even the single folk who need to be reminded of how life can unfold.

  6. says

    Beautiful post guys and congratulations on 10 glorious years. Although you things change and you can’t go back, you certainly have made wonderful memories. Not only from your wedding day but because of the excellent life that you have chosen to live together. Here’s to the next 10, I know I will be around reading your blog (one of my favs.) still so I look forward to seeing where you will be spending your 20th anniversary.

  7. says

    First of all congrats on a wonderful 10 year marriage. I love this post and the lessons you have shared with us here. What a beautiful experience it must have been for you reflecting on your wedding, marriage, and lessons learned. Thanks for the inspiration today.

  8. says

    This is so sweet! I’m glad you made it back for your anniversary and it’s great that you did something unconventional that suited your style. I loved the idea of your guests bringing something back at the end of the day from their trip to share with everyone for dinner. A great read :)

  9. says

    Congratulations on ten years and your wedding experience really jives with what I’d like down the line – there is so much pressure to have it one certain way to have a perfect day but your wedding experience with friends and family traveling to Italy sounds really lovely. I love that the wedding is such a clear reflection of the same spirit of adventure and (dare I use the trendy word) non-conformity that you’ve used to tackle the world these past few years. Happy 10th!

  10. says

    Thanks, everyone.

    @Kyle:  ”…when those plans don’t manifest in real life how you want them to, then what?”

    That is the magic query.

    I was having such a good time until I read that last sentence about my hair.  Believe me, it looked even more, well, metallic.  And no, I’m not bringing it back anytime soon.  Though Audrey might get a good laugh out of it if I did.

    @JoAnna:  Endless studies showing limited connections between expenditure and happiness.  Some people will never be convinced.

    And those details, the little things — that’s what sticks with us.

    @Wendy:  Thank you.

    @soultravelers:  ”Can do” definitely helps on the road, and in life in general.  

    A wedding venue change the night before?   That will keep you on your toes.

    @Margaret:  Big hugs right back at you!

    @Greg: When it comes to time in Tuscany, take what you can get.

    @NC:  When we wrote this, of course we thought of couples getting married. But I’m inclined to agree that the truest of life lessons are those that apply irrespective of one’s relationship status.

    @Dave and Deb:  Thanks for the kind words. 20th anniversary:  should be interesting, but I’m still catching my breath from the 10th!

    @Caz:  Glad you enjoyed it.

    @Laura:  We ate so, so well throughout our time in Italy.  (We always seem to in Italy.)  But the “bring something back” picnic carried some of the best memories.

    @Shannon:  It felt very refreshing to be doing something that felt (at least to us at the time) new, wide-eyed, different.  We just did things that matched our values, that felt right — without considering our level of (non)-conformity.

    Your comment makes me wonder what the next wave of non-conformity will look like.  Surely it’s coming.  I also wonder how and when we’ll catch it — if we choose to do so at all.

  11. Pete De Ritter says

    Beautiful pictures. Love the sparkle in Audrey’s eyes while knocking down that huge glass of wine.
    Diane and I had the simplest of weddings on a friend’s lawn overlooking a lake. Then we grilled steaks for the reception. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it and I’ve had 35 years to think about it.
    I hope you guys have as much happiness as we have had.

  12. says

    Nice post. I share a lot of the same thoughts on weddings… and weddings that have the elements you described are typically the most enjoyable and memorable!

  13. says

    @Pete: The simplest of weddings (and receptions) are what we remember. I’m reminded of one of my favorite wedding receptions — a DIY burrito bar after an outdoor ceremony.

    “I wouldn’t change a single thing about it and I’ve had 35 years to think about it.” — Well said. We hope to be in the same position one day.

    @Ekua: Glad you enjoyed it. See my comment to Pete above — one of the most memorable wedding receptions was a very simple DIY burrito bar. There are so many ways to leave memories and impressions without spending a ton of money.

  14. says

    Spectacular! So happy that the 2 of you had the opportunity to return to Tuscany for your anniversary. I couldn’t agree with you more what you bring about about accepting change- you have to appreciate what you are living in the moment because you just never know that you’ll have that chance again.

  15. says

    This is really a fantastic article. It’s much more than a traditional wedding article, it’s really life lessons.

    I loved so many parts, like this one: “When it comes to events (or life in general), planning every little detail is for the birds. Besides being stressful, it can detract from the beauty that comes from spontaneity and unexpected turns.”

    The best part of life is the unexpected and I guess when we travel to a place far away from home the idea is this: to be open to the unkown.

    All the best,

    Barbara

  16. says

    Love it!

    Happy Anniversary! We’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in 2012. We, too, got married in the Val d’Orcia in an outdoor ceremony and I know I gave several people gray hair by being too relaxed – by American standards – about what I considered details! Looking back, I would do it all over again without changing a thing.

    Tantissimi auguri!

  17. Zoe McAlear says

    Great piece you guys, I love hearing about your wedding because I remember when mom left and how much I wanted to go and see Italy, it was that inspiring to travel thing you always talk about.
    And I wanted to let you know that I love the family photo of everyone above, it’s quite beautiful.
    Happy Anniversary you two.

  18. says

    @Bessie: Sometimes, life has its ways of gently forcing the issue that change comes, whether we like it or not.

    @Barbara: “To be open to the unknown.” I like it. That concept certainly resonates with us.

    @Sabine: Thanks! We wondered whether Val d’Orcia was really as beautiful as we remembered. And it was. The color of the soil and the contours of the land are truly exceptional.

    For the people who attended your wedding and got a few more gray hairs because of your relaxed attitude about details, you can tell them that gray hair is rather becoming.

    @Jenny: Thanks!

    @Zoe: Glad you liked it. I remember either you or Zach (or both) asking your mom to bring back photos of us kissing. Good memories, for sure.

  19. says

    I love this post! Happy anniversary you guys – you don’t look old enough to have been married 10 years though. Simon and I have been together for 11 years and aren’t getting married, but if we did this sounds like the perfect way to do it. I love that you did it your own way, without feeling the pressure from others that so many couples seem to succumb to.

  20. says

    @Lola: Thank you! About life’s lessons: we’ve only passed them on. We were just fortunate enough to have them presented to us so beautifully in the form of a wacky wedding week.

    @Erin: Big thanks on all accounts — particularly the comment on age . I had been to a lot of weddings, many of them beautiful in their own way. But for ours, I wasn’t left wanting for something more, something different.

    I think we are all very fortunate to be able to freely choose to do life the way we’d like.

  21. says

    This is the first time I’ve read one of Daniel’s articles here (rather than Audrey’s). I am so glad you enjoyed Tuscany the second time round and that my travel advice came in handy. But I am seriously trying not to cry when I read the news of Luciano’s illness and his agriturismo having closed down. Sometimes I think it’s best not to revisit certain places in order not to put a damper on the original emotions.

  22. says

    @Alexandra: Thank you again for your help. I’m sorry about the Luciano story. I’m glad we returned. We must always follow our curiosity. It was sad, but it really put that first visit and the good fortune of our wedding week into perspective.

    And as sad as it was, it really underscored for us why we’ve chosen to travel how we do, when we did. There’s a sign underneath life that reads: Subject to Change.

  23. says

    Such a moving tale! I think I’m going through exactly what you guys went through 10 years ago. I’m getting married this July in Spain – and it’s an excuse to get all our friends together and have a giant feast. I’m not expecting a perfect wedding and I’m sure things are going to fall to pieces but to hell with that, I’m just going to enjoy the day! :)

  24. says

    @Nellie: Friends and feast — that’s the right idea. And if some stuff goes wrong or falls apart, that’s part of your story. So long as you are there and having fun, that’s all that will matter. Enjoy!

  25. says

    hey,

    loved ur picture coz u r so looking happy and nt bcoz of the clothes or accesories. simplicity is what everybody forgets. we get so stuck up in so called perfection. I will have an arranged marriage(it might sound crazy..but it is very common in my community..and i am nt complaining). I have met some interesting people in the journey which made me share it on the blog.btw i will definitely keep the lessons in mind before planning for my wedding.

  26. says

    I really enjoy this story guys! I lived in Italy long enough to believe in every word. Sounds a really cool experience! Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Agata, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Italy is certainly a special place – hope that never changes! And congrats on your upcoming 10th anniversary!

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