December 16th, 2002


'You get St. Peter's, the Forum, spaghetti':
Weddings in Rome: Some Italians can't fathom foreigners who marry far from home

Jeannie Marshall
National Post

Monday, December 16, 2002

ROME - There are no really obvious signs about Gabriella Lojacono or anything in her office that would tell you that she is one of the busiest wedding planners in Rome. She is a tiny, neat woman who sits at a sleek modern desk in a relatively new suburban area of the ancient city of Rome.

There are a few thank you cards sprinkled around on shelves and a few files of information on ongoing weddings, but the main proof of Lojacono's occupation is in the heavy wedding albums she keeps that document some of the more than 300 weddings she has helped to produce for foreigners wanting to get married in one of the world's most beautiful cities. "In Italy, it's really only foreigners who would hire a  wedding planner," says Lojacono. "Italians have all of these traditions and there are specific things that the mother does and the aunties do and the cousins. They don't like the idea of having someone organize it for them. But foreigners are willing to accept suggestions. They need the help." And there are enough non-Italians who want to get married in Italy, particularly in Rome, to keep dozens of wedding planners busy. Lojacono's wedding albums are full of beautiful couples posing in front of the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, the three main wedding photo sites in  Rome.

Most of the brides are wearing long white gowns even though the majority of the couples get married without family and friends, and a surprising number of the men get married in Rome in kilts. "Scottish families, I guess," says Lojacono. She can arrange for civil weddings at Campidoglio, where there is a square designed by Michelangelo, or in a deconsecrated monastery near the Baths of  Caracalla. If the couple is Catholic and meet all the strict Catholic criteria for marriage, Lojacono can even arrange for a wedding at the Vatican  inside St. Peter's Basilica. She knows a good photographer and can recommend places for flowers, food, hotels, even shops to buy a dress and salons for cutting hair and  doing makeup.

Lojacono has had clients come from all over the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. Many have never been to Rome but only know it by reputation and from movies and photographs. They usually contact her once they start getting tied in knots by the famous Italian bureaucracy and need someone to sort it out.

She lists her services on a Web site ( and she's also listed  with several foreign embassies. "These are people who want to get away from the traditional wedding at home," explains Lojacono. "There are so many guests and it costs so much money. This way they come abroad and they can have a honeymoon and a wedding all together." This is an idea that Lojacono readily admits is extremely foreign to Italians. For them the wedding is entirely bound up by culture and tradition. And so the idea of foreigners coming to borrow some of their culture, if not their traditions, seems more than a little strange. "It sounds ridiculous to me that someone from the United States who has nothing to do with Rome would come here to get married because they think it's cool or that it's romantic. It's pathetic," says Carola Vannini, an architect who was born and raised in Rome, but has lived in the United States. "You are just buying a package. You get St. Peter's, the Forum and the spaghetti. Why would anyone want to do that just so they can tell their friends they got married in Rome? It's no good, there's nothing behind it. It's superficial. That would be like me going to get married at the Empire State Building or in Niagara Falls -- it's not my culture, I wouldn't do it."

But Lojacono believes non-Italians look at weddings differently -- there is much less tradition, there's more fantasy and foreigners see romance in Rome where Romans just see familiar, though well-loved, landmarks. 

Jason and Suzanne Knibbs came to Rome from Canada to get married as a way of avoiding a big expensive wedding. They wanted to visit Venice and, since they are both fans of the Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck movie Roman Holiday, they decided to get married in Rome and make Venice the honeymoon. "We wanted a small wedding and we thought eloping to Italy would be a great adventure and a romantic story," says Jason Knibbs. "The day before we left Canada we sent our family T-shirts that read 'My son got married in Rome and all I got was this lousy T-shirt'."

Wedding planner Gabriella Lojacono  helped Craig and Elvira Yarmey marry in Rome. "The Italians were accepting of our adventure."

The whole experience lived up to their expectations, from the beautiful site inside the former monastery  where they were married to the enthusiasm of passersby. While they were out having their photos taken in front of the Spanish Steps people on the street shouted their congratulations and best wishes to the couple. "I think the reaction [of some Italians] might be based on their expectation of a traditional, large family wedding, but we had no problems leaving our family out of it. As long as our parents received pictures, they were happy."

For Craig and Elvira Yarmey, their lives were already spread across continents. Craig is Canadian; Elvira is Russian. They met when Elvira was trying to improve her English language skills. A professor in Moscow suggested Elvira correspond with Craig in Kingston, Ont. The professor knew Craig through an exchange program at Queen's University. Before long they were writing daily e-mails and Craig made a visit to Moscow. They met again in Helsinki and next in Cuba where Craig proposed. They tried to figure out a reasonable place to get married and eventually decided to ask their families from Canada and from Russia to come and meet them in Italy for a wedding. "I have observed that people are by their nature conservative," says Craig Yarmey. "They like what they know while at the same time underappreciate the uniqueness of their own lives. The idea of going to a foreign place to get married is not very conservative ...

The Italians we met were completely accepting of our adventure. Elvira and I came to believe that it is not the French who are the most romantic Europeans, it is definitely the Italians." Lojacono can sympathize with her clients because, although she is Italian, she married a Hungarian in Rome. "We went to the church like good Italians, but we got married without our parents. His mother couldn't get out of Hungary at the time, so I said, 'Well my family won't come either.' There was just the two of us and some witnesses. In the evening we went out to a Hungarian restaurant." Carola Vannini says it's not that she thinks people should have big weddings, but their weddings should have some relationship to their lives. She has an American friend who is getting married in Rome, but since the friend lived in Rome and met her future husband in Rome, it seems to make sense. "But I heard about Sylvester Stallone wanting to get married in St. Peter's and I laughed. I thought that place was made by Michelangelo and you stupid actor from Hollywood want to get married there? These are people without history trying to buy history. You have to make your own, it's not a product you can buy." But maybe you can borrow it, at least for the photographs.

Lojacono has a book full of letters from happy couples all delighted with their Roman weddings. Everyone gets an album full of photographs showing them playing with the cats at the Colosseum and dancing down the Spanish Steps. No one has ever written to tell her that they were sorry they got married in Rome and only wish now that they had splurged for a big wedding in Sudbury. Craig Yarmey still can't think of a better place for his marriage to Elvira. "I would recommend getting married in Rome to anyone who wants something unique."

 Material reprinted with the express permission of"National Post Company", a CanWest Partnership.

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