This is the continuing story of what happened to the couple, Rosie and Rolf, who were introduced in my November 11/00 article,”Freckles.” Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Follow them in the ups and downs of that most cherished of rites – the honeymoon. It has been said that if you can survive the honeymoon, you can survive anything.
Freckles: The Honeymoon or
(The marriage was a success but the honeymoon flopped)
I knew on that New Year’s eve that Rosie was the girl for me. In fact, I’m sure I knew even before that night, but I guess I just couldn’t believe my luck. I had been a bachelor for 30 years and I had almost given up the thought of finding someone. On that fateful moment after the party, at the home of my best friend Moe and his wife Glorianna, we were together in a quiet moment and I uttered the fateful words, “Rosie, I think I love you.” In retrospect, it was a pretty damn stupid thing to say. Why think? I knew I loved her. It was that old commitment crap. Don’t appear too eager in case she has a laughing fit. Besides, I was pretty sure of her feelings for me even though she had plans to go to Europe that summer with another chum. Yet, clumsy profession of love aside, that was the moment that changed everything.
A few months later at Easter, I was staying the weekend at Rosie’s house in Bedford Falls. Let me hasten to add that the accommodations were most definitely separate. Rosie lived at home with her widowed mother of one year in a large two storey home. In my pocket was a piece of compressed carbon, called a diamond, clamped on to a white gold band. When I looked at it, the reflection rivaled the high beam head lamp of my Oldsmobile 88. Okay. I’m exaggerating, but I don’t buy diamonds on a regular basis and for me this was a big deal. Rosie’s home was always bustling with visitors. That day, an old friend of her mom’s dropped in for tea and they were sitting in the parlor chatting. I asked Rosie to come out to the kitchen and after some hemming and hawing, I pulled out the velvet covered box. No, I didn’t drop it into a half full champagne glass – that was not my style. I picked a classy place like her mom’s kitchen. I still wonder why she said yes. Rosie rushed back to tell her mom and show her the ring. During the commotion, the visiting friend looked at me sternly and said, “I hope you didn’t give her the ring in the kitchen. That’s bad luck.” I shook my head vehemently. “No, no, I lied.” Great start, I thought, bad luck and I lied, to boot.
From that point on, things got a touch – how shall I put it delicately? – crazy. Suddenly the most important things in the universe became the reception (where and how large?), the food (what to serve and how many courses?) and the guests (who and why?). Nothing else mattered, least of all Rosie and me. We realized, though, that in many ways, it was not only our special day but her family’s and mine. The last major hurtle was when I convinced my father that no way was his barber being invited. He was only miffed for a few weeks. I wisely chose to go to a different barber on the day of the wedding, as my Beatle hair cut needed some careful professional attention.
Our wedding party was made up of our personal friends. Normal, you say? Not in first generation Italian-Canadian marriages. Somewhere, in some backwater village in Italy, tradition expects that the bride/groom must have their sister/brother or some close relative in the wedding group. We chose to disregard that law. There. Did you hear it? There it goes again. An unmistakable “tsk, tsk”, still reverberating after more than 30 years.
The Church of St. Ann did not collapse upon us that day as the bridesmaids and ushers helped us celebrate the auspicious event. If others had their way, though, it should have because we seemed to have tweaked some noses with not only our non-traditional wedding party but also the outfits we wore. The bridesmaids wore pant suits with very wide flared legs that still gave the illusion of a traditional dress. The colour was a strawberry sherbet. To add some flair to the ushers’ tuxedos, I had the dress maker supply them with loose cravats of the same material. My cravat was white, befitting my station as the groom and matching the utter fear that showed on my face. At the most sacred moment of the vows, my legs shook noticeably. Mercifully, my voice was not affected.
The following hours were a blur of excitement, joy and a few tears. The reception was a great success. The seven course meal was delicious, my father’s home made wine was a hit and the orchestra (no disk jockey for us) played exactly what we requested. The hours passed so quickly that we suddenly found ourselves bundled into our car with family and well-wishers shouting and waving good-bye as we drove into the night.
Our honeymoon flight was leaving the next day. We were flying to Italy for three weeks and looking forward to being alone together. I remember we arrived at the airport early. So early that the flight was not even registered on the airport monitors. We checked our luggage through and headed for the lounge to relax and wait. To this day, there is still some confusion as to what exactly happened. My father’s theory was simple. He insisted that we were so “gaga” in love that we didn’t hear the flight called. I can vouch that, yes, we were in love and that, no, we did not hear a flight call. What I know for sure was that when we finally checked the monitor and found the departure gate, our plane was taxiing down the runway without us.
There is no feeling of desperation quite like the sight of the rump of a jet plane leaving you behind. To add a touch of tang to the pot, it was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend (second week in October in Canada). Traffic was heavy and seats booked solid (or overbooked, as we later discovered). We went on standby. Flight after flight departed, but Rosie and I were not on them. We almost decided to cancel the honeymoon trip. One thing stopped us – our luggage was on our original flight. At least those suitcases would have a honeymoon! Rosie asked if I had padlocked our luggage. Was that what those itty bitty locks and keys were for? At that moment they locks were in my trouser pocket.
The Air Canada plane with our luggage was on its way to New York. In New York we were to connect with an Alitalia flight to Milan. When finally we got a flight, the plane left Toronto for New York at the exact time our Alitalia flight was leaving New York for Milan. Another missed flight! In New York the Alitalia personnel were very helpful. They would put us on a midnight flight to London where we would change planes for our original destination, Milan. Not to worry. All would be fine.
We arrived in London. Nice airport. Nice washroom. We cleaned up. I shaved. We waited. At last we left London for Milan. We saw no London Bridge, no Buckingham Palace, no Soho. We were also exhausted. Surprisingly, though, we were coping quite well. Still, I felt somewhat responsible for our troubles. For instance, those padlocks, the itty bitty ones, were of no use in my pant pockets. God knew where the luggage was and if we would find the bags at all. If we did find them, would the suitcases be as empty as a bank account after the embezzler departed? Rosie was more pragmatic. You could always buy new clothes, she said, with a gleam in her eye.
The air approach to Milan is spectacular and scary. The aircraft dives into one of the many alpine valleys and suddenly huge mountains are whizzing by on each side of the plane. It’s not long until you feel the jolt as the wheels touch down on terra firma. Once in the airport, we found, to our dismay, that we were in the Linate Airport which is for inter-European flights. Linate was to the northeast of the city. The international flights use the Gallerate Airport on the opposite side of Milan, northwest of the city. Naturally, you cannot drive directly from one airport to the other because of the mountain valleys. One must go into Milan and back out the opposite side. Wearily, we climbed on a shuttle bus for the trip to downtown Milan. It was only a half hour’s drive and we were dropped off at the Airline Terminal in the heart of the city, not far from the ornate gothic Cathedral.
It looked like our luck was changing, for across the street from the Airline Terminal were all the rental car agencies. Although we had arranged to pick up our car at the airport, I thought it would be to our advantage to grab the car now. It was getting late and darkness was settling in when we finally drove out into the maze that is Milan. Of course, we got lost immediately. That’s when the light indicating low fuel started flashing. I quickly pulled into a curbside station – literally two pumps at the curb separated by a stand of oil cans. The chap was closing for the night and placing barriers around. After much cajoling on my part, he filled the tank to the brim as I insisted. He appeared amazed at my demand, as most of his customers, I learned later. would buy only a few litres at a time.
Into the night once more. I had asked for directions from the gas attendant, but after fifteen minutes we were hopelessly lost again. But luck was definitely with us because up ahead was a neon sign spelling out “Hotel” in hot pink neon. Luck again. They had a room. A double bed. Clean sheets. Heaven. We tumbled into bed exhausted. This honeymoon was not what I had expected.
Next morning we were refreshed and ready to start our trip with vigour. We headed for the Gallerate Airport which was on the way to Lago Maggiore, one of the breathtaking alpine lakes in the north of Italy and our first honeymoon stopover. Everything was finally falling into place. We arrived. We rushed to the Alitalia counter. Boy, were they efficient. They told us they knew we had been rerouted to Linate Airport and they transferred our luggage there. Did we pick them up okay?
It was head-banging-on-the-counter time. In a daze, we wandered back to our rental car. How we managed to drive back to Milan, then northeast to Linate Airport and back to Milan and out to Gallerate Airport, I’ll never know. It must be the fierce determination of newlyweds to get the job done. In the final analysis, we found our two large, unlocked suitcases sitting in the middle of the arrivals concourse. Nothing was missing. Everything was in order. Relief! I’ll repeat that. Relief. There was no longer any reason for Rosie to have to spend hours or days looking at and buying haute couture ensembles in Milan.
The first official day of our European honeymoon started a few days late but in its original location of Stresa, an idyllic town on the shore of Lago Maggiore. Stresa is located on Lago Maggiore one of the six alpine lakes in the north of Italy. Stresa had appealed to me ever since I read Heminway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” Rosie and I would travel the shoreline of each of the lakes and then head south to Florence and Rome. But it was important to start off this honeymoon right. We had to make sure there were no more snafus. I never prearrange our hotel accommodation and have never run into difficulties. On entering the town we began to explore the small side streets that rose up the mountain side. We passed many small hotels as we meandered along. At one point we ran into a dead end. The hood of the car was steeply angled up. We were in the driveway of a small inn. We parked the car. Went in. Destiny. We had found our accommodation: The Hotel Paradiso. From our room we had a stunning vista through grape vines of Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) just off shore. We were the only guests that night. It was truly a memorable stay.
At the start of our marriage, we had triumphed over our first major trial – the adversities of air travel. We wondered how many such roadblocks we would encounter on the life road we had chosen to travel together? One discovery we made was that humour was a great equalizer and, if we would remember that in the future, we would make out fine. In the end, it turned out to be a very rewarding and invaluable lesson.