Simon and Julia exchange rings at their wedding in Venice. See the teaser gallery here.

Saturday morning I rose from the couch: wedding preparations were soon to descend upon the living room. It’s a hilarious contrast between men’s and women’s styles of getting ready: The women are a flurry of chaos, with mirrors, exploded makeup boxes, a surgeon’s array of tiny brushes and tweezers, all the while cooing over each other and hming and hawing and cooing and fussing. The men, on the other hand, are boring. Walking into Simon’s room, the lights are dim, one man taps quietly at a laptop, and Simon’s just trying on his coat. And that’s it.

I depart with Julia, resplendent in her cream and gold dress and brilliant one-of-a-kind custom brass laser-cut Venetian half-mask (on a short handle) and other members of the wedding party via water taxi directly to Torcello (much faster and more private than taking the Vaporetto, the public water bus). The bride’s attendents (and your intrepid narrator) ensconce themselves in a wing of the Locanda Cipriani (hangout of Hemingway) while the rest of the party arrives. Random Italians periodically pop by to take pictures of Julia: we’ve caused something of a stir. Finally, it’s time for the ceremony — game on for me.

The crowd is assembled underneath large umbrellas (so crushing the heat of the sun) on the lawn in a beautiful garden; Julia walks, alone, down the verdant green covered walkway with stately grace. Simon’s grin splits his face. The ceremony is brief, personal and sweet; Julia and Simon have asked the guests to, on their own, come up with and provide vows for them to swear to each other. As this draws to a close, Julia’s sister, Diana, is to present the rings… and they’re missing. Her husband, Todd, runs off to find them, only to return moments later empty-handed. Diana hurredly whispers “We could make a ring…” but Todd runs off again and finds them, thus averting a crises. The crisis turned out to be more of a blessing, because people then felt compelled to fill the intervening space with something… and thus provided even more vows, promises, and pieces of advice; people that would not have done so if the ceremony had run its intended course.

Then it’s my turn to be in charge and — viola — group photo. Now, drinks and service. We eventually make our way over to the two large party boats we have reserved — carrying about thirty people each (so the entirety of the wedding party and guests and a few random Italians) and we slowly make our way to the harbor in front of the St. Marcus Square, near the Salut and the Church Redentore while storm clouds move in, finally obscuring the malevolent sun. From one boat’s rooftop to another we have the bouquet toss, and the water fills more and more with a tremendously large flotilla of revelers on all matters of craft: From massive three-story yachts (one was named “Quantum of Solace.” There were *three* of these damned boats!) to a pirate ship, and even single-person inner tubes (with an outboard motor). The party continues into dusk, and the clouds have moved on letting the last rays of sunset strike us before dipping behind the churches. As a prelude to our fine firework show, lightning flickers continually and ominously in the distance (but without rain or thunder).

The fireworks display is one of the best I’ve seen, with both technical and aesthetic artistry. It also helped that we were atop the roofs of boats and could actually *see* the mortars firing and the fireworks launching into the sky. It was an unforgettable moment, and all the while an Italian bluegrass band from Trieste played on saxophone, violin, trumpet and the like, singing songs in accented English and Italian (Bella Ciao!).

After they wrapped up, one boat — the varsity partiers, mind you — went to the island of Lido, the long and straight seawall running north and south at the mouth of the harbor. At the souther end we disembarked and hauled our gear out onto the beach where a long row of bonfires were lit, revelers all about. Lightning continued to puncuate the darkness, as the half moon had set after dark but long before midnight. The air is great, and the water perfect. Twiddling one’s fingers in the sea was met with green flickers and flashes of the phosphorescent plankton. Kicking one’s foot lit the water from below with a flash; walking forward in waist deep water, you send a gentle circular ripple atop the inky-black glassily-smooth warm Venetian water, a ripple glowing green at its crest. My mind is still blown: Words cannot possibly do this wonder justice. Flashes of lightning still lit the silhouettes of the partiers from behind.

A few hours later, the wind abruptly changed: this was a sign of worse times to come. Soon the first rain drops fell, and the wind picked up and battered us with fine scouring sand. I hunkered down and kept my eyes shut (so bad was the blowing sand) until we decided to quit this place. Cut to a textbook-wrong exodus, and you have us arriving at the door to our flat the same minute as Simon and Julia–who left the beach over an hour later than us. Oh well. If that’s our only complaint from the Big Day, I’ll keep my mouth shut. (Long story short: we departed, got caught by the beginnings of thunderstorm downpour (wearing only light summer clothes, took a bus, waited forever at a packed Vaparetto station with drunk revelers (and the rain), couldn’t get on the first boat because there were so many people, ended up being on the wrong line and having to transfer, and finally walking the distance back to the flat, schlepping gear all the while).

Congratulations to Simon and Julia on their fairytale wedding: it was quite the splendid gala, one I’m sure will be spoken of for quite some time yet.

See the teaser gallery here and the rest of my Europe travels in this collection.