As I’ve said before in earlier reasons, in the months before I met C, I had actually come to terms with the fact that I’d probably never be getting married. Seeing my little sister go through the intensely chaotic, yet ultimately satisfying-for-her process of getting married in a large venue with hundreds of people got me thinking about what I truly wanted for myself. I thought it poignant that even then, without a boyfriend to imagine standing with me at the altar, all I could really picture in my head was the quality of the food and wine served at my reception. For me, this was all the planning that needed to be done.
But that being said, the things that were done for me over the past year by my friends and family, in preparation for my eventual wedding to C, were all completely perfect and necessary to my enjoying the process of marriage to the fullest. For the subsequent big day, I wore shoes picked out by Sharon, and a dress chosen by the women of my family after a beautiful surprise wedding shower. I had sapphire jewelry gifted to me by my mom, and the garter she wore for her own wedding, like my sister did in hers four years prior. Lastly, I had a good-luck handkerchief—my “something old”—from my late great-grandmother, gingerly folded and resting on my guitar in its case as it traveled with me to the courthouse. The Saturday before C’s cousins arrived, C and I received a call from a local florist, in order to confirm a time for that day when a delivery would be made to our apartment. When two o’clock rolled around later that day, we were dumbfounded to receive the largest single arrangement of white, pink and cream flowers that I have ever encountered in a living room (by a longshot}, courtesy of C’s mom and sister in France.
It all went exactly the way it was supposed to go. So here’s what happened.
-Monday, May 27th, 2019-
I stood facing the bathroom mirror, staring blankly forward. My left hand was holding my paddle brush, while my right grasped my steaming straightener. I pulled it slowly down the entire length of my hair, methodically.
Underneath the door frame, leaned against the wall stood Claire, the partner of C’s cousin Tristan. they had both moved appointments and work schedules around to come down from Alsace to bear witness to our marriage on a Monday. Both she and Tristan speak French and English fluently, which is not only useful in a legal context such as this; but also served as an emollient on my peaking performance anxiety. Nervous as hell; I was genuinely glad that I could communicate this to Claire in my own language, as I stuffed pieces of rye bread in my face to settle my stomach. Claire continued to diligently snap pictures of me getting ready with her nice camera, as I continued to mentally bat away my burgeoning flop sweat.
By this time, C had already left for a prenuptial beer at a nearby Irish pub with Tristan; there they would meet our only other guest in attendance, Flavio, a longtime friend of C’s and the quintessential Italian of the party, who was riding over from his home in Geneva on the train. This left Claire and I to taxi to the city building by ourselves.
It was about ten minutes until our ride would be due outside of my apartment complex; I was getting everything situated: I poked my sapphire earrings into my ears; I slipped the family heirloom lace garter around my lower right calf, as my upper thigh was being hugged too closely by the sheer fabric of my loose mermaid-cut dress; and finally, I strapped on my shoes with just a few minutes to spare, cinching them quite tightly in the process.
Claire, true blue at my side, carried my guitar on one shoulder with her camera on the other. She even trailed slightly behind me to make sure my dress wouldn’t be caught in the taxi door. We were ready.
Claire and I arrived at l’Hotel de Ville 20 minutes before our appointment time. My hands were clammy as I stood in a skintight white dress, smack-dab in the middle of the main city square of Lausanne at late lunchtime on a school day; the students were seated outside of their classroom on the steps. Some were smoking, and eyeing me quizzically. One of the teenage girls gave me a look that read, “does she know she’s standing out here in the middle of everything wearing a wedding dress?” I attempted to paste my most confident, unwavering look of solemnity and maturity across my face in retort.
Upon passing through the centuries-old, siege-proof iron front doors at the building’s entrance, I peered up the stairs and saw a medieval mural, vibrant and perfectly preserved on the smoothed stone, depicting infantrymen marching down an idyllic country road, closely followed by judges wearing powdered ivory wigs and fine royal blue robes, presumably on their symbolic journey to defend this great city from the nonexistent threat of outside subjugation. I asked Claire to take a picture of it, as she had both my phone and her camera in hand; I was struck by its beauty.
Just as the shutter went click, the great door behind us opened again with a creak, and C entered in from the bustling square, closely followed by Tristan and Flavio. Both men had definitely gotten the same memo as Claire, and the three working together let loose a maelstrom of picture-taking spanning several different devices, in several different poses, lights, and locations within l’Hotel de Ville; so many that I felt compelled to periodically thank everyone for their diligent work every few minutes or so. Truly, with only the five of us there and three taking pictures, capturing nearly every angle, it was hard not to feel like we had hired these three people to be our friends and family, as well as our dedicated professional photographers.
As we walked together past the mural at the top of the stairs, and through the high chateau archways made from toddler-sized boulders of rectangular limestone, we curved around a few times, pausing at any distinct doorway or window that looked like it would make for a nice photo.
At last we arrived outside of the marriage office on the second floor; in front of another ancient wooden door braced with thick iron. There was an antique wooden coat rack stained dark with time, with a matching trough at its base, already filled with a few dry umbrellas, modern in style, contrasting starkly.
I scanned the walls as we prepared to enter the final room. At what felt like the last moment, I saw an inconspicuous plaque adorning the opposite wall from the coat rack, its gold letters on a painted black background freshly shined and reflecting the daylight spilling in from the bright corridor. It stated, in French:
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
On the 15th and 18th of September, 1766, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played two concerts in Lausanne.
The first was at l’Hôtel de Ville.
The young prodigy was 10 and a half years old.
He was on a European tour.
The door on the far side of the hall opened, and a woman wearing a sage green and white sash appeared, the colors of the canton of Vaud.
We found ourselves in a large, empty room constructed from floor to ceiling in finely polished wood: the walls, a golden, warm hue; the floor was made of a handsome knotted pine. The room was inviting, calm like one was standing at the center of a snow globe. The grand southern-facing windows were wide open, letting in a cool afternoon breeze mixed with the sweet scent of spring flowers clinging to the outside railing. There was a beautiful stained glass pane above the far left corner window, casting down colored light onto the desk below, spotlighting a single document with multiple lines beneath a small amount of text. Beside that lay a single pen.
The woman sat us down, and tucked into the details of the day. She spoke no English. Almost immediately she registered a look on my face that I so sincerely had hoped I could hide, one of obvious confusion and an incomplete grasp of the French language. She paused the ceremony to ask C if there had been arrangements made for a translator.
C quickly replied that Claire would serve as translator; she is technically not in a marriage with Tristan, just a legal partnership, therefore not technically related to C by law. He also mentioned that our marriage preparation clerk had signed off on the arrangement.
Unfortunately for us, this clerk was not satisfied. We were standing for the “reading of the legal documents” portion of the proceedings at this point, and I felt a shock wave of panic roll down my left arm, and transfer to C’s body via our intertwined fingers. C froze for a second, and looked at either Tristan and Claire, who stood on either side of us, looking concerned. From just a few feet away, up until now having been quiet as a church mouse, filming the entire ceremony in HD on his smart phone; Flavio spoke up, in French.
“Hey, I could do it.”
And just like that, the woman accepted Flavio as our impromptu translator, with no questions asked. He even got a much better seat than he had had previously, now sitting at the other side of the desk at the right hand of the officiant, continuing to film the entirety of our 15 minute ceremony.
(Just a note: thanks to Flavio, I now possess footage of my one and only bridezilla moment. As the translator kerfuffle occurred, my face slightly, though visibly changed. I didn’t yell or make a fuss; my tone still remained stable and congenial, yet with a new hint of defiance; I had gone into boss mode. Pointing my finger down at the ground, my Texan accent poking through, I proclaimed: “I WILL be getting married today.”)
From there, things continued on smoothly. Despite the pragmatic efficiency of the proceedings, I felt the occasion was still given its own special moment in the sun, there in that busy courthouse. Time truly felt at a standstill in that ages-old room; we at that moment were one with all that had come before, and all that would occur long after we would be gone. Despite my asking her to try and speak slowly for me, the city official continued on with her well-rehearsed speech, at what I perceived to be a breakneck speed. I did, however, pick out a few key phrases: she mentioned the storied past of the building, Mozart’s concert, and the marriage of David Bowie and Iman, which occurred in the very same room where we stood. For their ceremony, they had had just two witnesses and a translator.
The last thing I did before leaving l’Hôtel de Ville was retrieve my cherry red acoustic guitar from its case (which had been resting on one of the many uninhabited pews), and play my new husband my favorite song. Somehow, in that moment, amidst all my swimming emotions, it was the best that I’d ever played it. The green-and-white-sashed woman, having just pronounced us man and wife, excitedly took a video of my performance; apparently this was a rare occurrence for the courthouse. All that mattered in that moment, of course, was C. My one audience member, my friend forever standing just offstage.
We walked back up the hill and across town, back to our apartment. Making noise, excited, not caring who saw our happy kisses or my tight white dress and heels. The heels, unfortunately, claimed their own price over the course of our walk: by the time C carried me into our apartment, our friends hooting and laughing, both of my ankles had open, bleeding sores thanks to my tightly-cinched stilettos.
After wringing my hands for a week trying to decide what I would wear for our post-nuptial festivities, I reached without a second thought for my soft purple hammer-pants romper, feeling the polar opposite sensation that I had experienced from my hip-hugging mermaid cut of a wedding dress. Who wears a muumuu to her reception? Allie wears a muumuu to her reception.
C and I took time to change, and as I sat with Claire in the living room, the boys put our wedding cake on the stove to cook.
Way back in January, C and I were walking through Globus admiring the sale items left over from the Christmas holidays. Mostly candies and spices, but with the occasional stragglers of imported iberico ham or truffle-infused products of many iterations. But hiding around the back of a large table of sweets was a small black box, in which contained the fanciest Christmas english pudding Globus had in stock, made with fine spirits and specially chosen fruits dried at their peak. This cake had been priced exorbitantly just a month ago, but now bore a “50% OFF” sticker on the bottom of the box. C checked the expiration date: September of 2021. We bought it then and there, along with a jar of brandy butter (butter...made with fancy brandy) that was wedged in between the black box and some nut-encrusted chocolate santa figurines. We had no idea when we would eat this cake; all that we figured was that it would be saved for a very special occasion.
The timer dinged and C and Tristan deftly moved to the kitchen; the sound of clanking dessert plates could be heard as a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, C’s favorite champagne, was opened and poured. A minute later, with a foamy glass of bubbles in hand, I was served a warm, sumptuous fifth of the english pudding, drizzled all over with brandy butter. Upon taking my first bite, I looked over at C, who looked back at me, his eyes wide. First: best wedding cake ever. Second: new yearly family tradition.
Over the next two hours, that bottle and then another of Ruinart were extinguished. We played the card game “Munchkin”, which is an illustrated fantasy game depicting various humorous monsters drawn from a dense communal deck; each player simultaneously aims to build up their individual strength and stamina throughout the course of the game in order to beat the most monsters during their respective turns and win. Creatures like the “Abominable Snow Monster” and “Squidzilla” were brought forth from the deck, and with each new card I felt myself growing drunker and drunker. By the time of our dinner, I was sipping water and trying to pull myself together.
Wearing swirled purple, pink, and blue Nikes, my hammer pants/romper, and my spiked jean jacket, my new husband and I (along with our guests) walked across town in the dusk towards the storied Lausanne Palace. We were seated and C ordered a bottle of Italian red for the table to sip on, and I proclaimed my love for the escargot, a statement to which Flavio gave a violent shudder. Tristan gazed over at me from across the table. “You really must be French,” he said.
My shelled snails came, swimming in hot tubs of garlic, parsley, and butter, and for the entertainment of our table and those in the vicinity, Flavio partook in his very first bite of escargot ever. He made a face like he was biting into a lemon, and then chugged an entire glass of wine from his home country.
On the morning we left for our mini-honeymoon in the nearby mountains of Vevey, C had to head over early to the post office to retrieve a package we had missed the day before, on account of our wedding ceremony. As I was sipping my morning coffee, he texted me on his way home.
See you soon, Madame [C].
Nothing like this was ever planned out ahead of time in my mind, which is rare for me. I actively avoided having a set rulebook for the day I might possibly say “Oui” to one man for the rest of my life. This led to a quiet Monday afternoon in a quaint Swiss town, standing in a room where Mozart had once played. I wore my mother’s lace garter around my calf, a dress my sister had once helped me slip on in a dressing room in Dallas, shoes my best friend found on Amazon, and then, thanks to a pep talk from my dad, I played a song I have carried with me in my heart from the very first moment I heard it, very much like the man for whom I played it, on guitar, on the day we started the rest of our lives together.
In the mail last month, C received a signet ring he had personally designed with my help. An inverted design for the old-school use of stamping wax seals onto letters (like the seal C used to close my proposal letter), the ring is the crest of our new family. In the center is a fleur de lis, and carved onto its band: a single, lone star.
There is an inscription on the inside of the band, which is written in latin. On a train ride together earlier this year, C and I were pouring over various short sayings and phrases. Though not the most original of ideas, using latin meant we could squeeze a lot of meaning into just a few words. The words we chose were ubi bene, ibi patria.
“Where you are happy, there you are home.”