On the altar of the Colosseum

Eloping from the wedding industry to exchange vows in the Eternal City

'Auguri, tanti auguri!' Romans everywhere said, smiling, as we made our way to the government offices where our marriage was recorded, by hand, in a pink, hard-covered ledger. 'Best wishes'

By Tatiana With Ribadeneira


The happy couple at the Forum, one of the several stops for wedding pictures after the ceremony.

  ROME - We didn't know our witnesses nor our only guests. But that made our union even more special, exciting, romantic. And hassle-free.
   Seated in regal, gold-trimmed red chairs, surrounded by thick marble columns in a room with candle chandeliers and brocade, red satin walls, my fiancÚ and I looked more likely to be pronounced king and queen than husband and wife.
   But it was there - on Rome's most sacred hill, Campidoglio in a piazza designed by Michelangelo, where an Etruscan temple to Jupiter once stood - that, prompted by our translator, we said "I do".
  We eloped in the Eternal City. And while we hadn't quite planned it that way, we couldn't have planned a better start to our life together.
   No expensive white gown. No embossed napkins that match bridesmaids' shoes. No brides-maids. No three-tiered, flower-laden cake. No photos of him shoving said cake in my face.
   Our wedding photos show us laughing in front of the Colosseum, kissing on the Spanish Steps, hugging at the Forum.
   They say all roads lead to Rome. If that's true, then the one that got us here was circuitous.
   A little history: We had begun 1996 blissfully engaged and eager to plan the lovely ceremony that would bind our lives forever. But two months and an excruciatingly painful bridal expo later, we had scrapped our plans to marry in any conventional way. Angry at a wedding industry bent on breaking us, we opted to use the wedding funds to buy a house i
nstead. Our own sanctuary would be the perfect place to wed, we decided.
   Thus unbridled, we set off to build a new home. Our parents and friends - and even strangers - lauded our judgment.
Fast forward.
   "Do it in Rome," said one of our friends when I told her I would be joining my fiancÚ for a one-week business trip.
   "I always wanted to elope," said another, who had spent $ 10,000 on her wedding a few years ago.
  We had talked about eloping before - mainly when frustrated by the

ordeal that getting married has become. But having spent several months engrossed in the house-building process, the idea seemed even more appealing.
   We investigated. I could be done but it was a gamble, a hard one to pull with only five business days in Italy. We'd have to shuttle papers here and there, get them, approved by the Italian government, and pray we could book an appointment for a civil ceremony.
   We gathered documents, raising the suspicion of my mother, who wondered why I need a birth certificate to go to Italy.
   I had to tell. Mom e-mailed: "Your Dad thinks it is incredible romantic. I can understand your hesitation to tell us; all parents want to see their children get married. But this will be special and you have our blessing. All we ask is that you hire a photographer to record the moment for us."
   His parents were equally supportive and excited about the idea.
   We let four friends in on the secret. They vouched for us at the Italian Consulate in Boston, swearing we were single and could marry each other. It was the first round of paperwork and all we were allowed to do in the United States.
Embassy gives green light
   In Italy, we started at the American Embassy in Rome, where we got the official go-ahead from our government to marry. It was there we had to fortune of finding Gabriella LoJacono, who became our translator, point person, and surrogate mother.
   I hired Gabriella Monday evening to inquire whether we could get the appointment to marry. If we could not tie the knot by Friday, we would simply go back without swapping rings. I told her. She called back the next morning: We'd be married on Friday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m., she announced.
 We had work to do. While I ran papers from the embassy to the Italian government offices, Gabriella,
a Milanese who had worked in England,

arranged for a bouquet of white roses for me. She hired a chaffeur, Dante Pucci, who would both drive us and our photographer to picturesque spots after the ceremony, and also serve as a witness. She enlisted a friend, Gina Antonelli, to be the other witness. Keeping an eye on the weather - rainy and chilly - she nagged me, too.
   "Have you got a shawl?" she said in her Italian British accent, after seeing the delicate off-white lace dress I had bought for less than $ 100 for the occasion. "You must buy a shawl and a pretty umbrella for your pictures."
   At the Hotel de la Ville Inter-Continental Roma, Gianfranco Monnati, the head concierge, worked hard for us too. Gianfranco, who has been working at the lovely 19th-century palace atop the Spanish steps for 37 years, not only knows everything, but also has two little books filled with resources. From whence came photographer Roberto Cangi, who for 650,000 lire (about $400) snapped nearly 100 gorgeous shots of us, printed photos of all sizes, and shipped them and the negatives to Boston.
Champagne and roses
  With everything set for the big day, I ran next door to a salon for a haircut and a manicure. Back in our room we reveled in our last night as single folk with a bottle of champagne Gianfranco had sent up along with a dozen long-stemmed pink roses.
   And although Gabriella had shared with us that "Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata" - a wet bride is a lucky bride - we hoped we would not have to use the pretty umbrella she urged me to buy.
  "Auguri, tanti auguri" Romans everywhere said, smiling, as we made our way to the government offices where our marriage was recorded by hand in a pink, hard-covered ledger. "best wishes."
   At Campidoglio, we were greeted by Ana and Guido Airoldi, friends of friends of ours in Boston. The Beatles "Yesterday" and a couple of other songs in English played in the room as we assembled. A mayoral representative, a woman wearing a sash with the red, white, and green of the republic's flag, prepared to marry us.
   We looked at each other and laughed. It was funny and wonderful. It was not how we imagined it. It was not how we had planned it. It was better. It was perfect.
   It sprinkled. And I could not have been luckier.

Top of the article