For Geraldine and Paul's wedding mass was performed in three languages Eurovision-style, the presiding priest Don Giuliano leading in Italian, assisted by a giggly co-compere that did her best to track him in both English and French. The Don, a full-sized character, went on to take more snaps of the happy couple with his pocket camera than anyone else on the guest list.
Paul appeared a little unpracticed during the French parts of the promesses, inadvertently delivering his acceptance of marital responsibility in the future tense. "Oui, nous acept-ONS" his bride corrected him sternly, and then lifted her eyebrows demonstratively to the congregation as if to deliver a Crowe-like "are you not entertained?". We were. Another batch of stifled sniggers arrived just after Paul's recitation of the line "When I grew up I finished with childish things".
The weather, which had been uncomfortably hot outside the hilltop Church while we awaited the groom, had turned decidedly nippy by the time the bus finally managed to cram itself into the lane leading up to the Villa Grazioli- on its third pass. While white-jacketed waiters scrambled to move the champagne reception indoors we fingered a buffet on the front lawns and shivered to a selection of lift music classics delivered by a bloke with an electric keyboard.
Premium quality was reestablished in the grand frescoed hall where the sumptuous binge was formally opened with a speech from our elegant and gracious hostess, Kirsten, whose birthday it would also serve to commemorate. (Paul should have little trouble remembering this most important date in his mother-in-law's calendar!)
At dinner, we found ourselves posted to the 'couples' sub-section of Paul's circle on a table rather suspiciously called The Untouchables. Each little grouping had been christened with the name of a memorable movie, but we were not alone in detecting an intentional subtext in this instance. Neutral territory it might have been, but being part of the groom's numerically-outnumbered contingent felt very much like belonging to the away supporters section. Like the pomerium that used to separate the ancient Roman urbs from the infames living beyond the walls, there seemed to be an intangible buffer zone between us and the semi-impermeable set of European socialites that made up the bulk of the bride's tifosi. Perhaps this existed in order to prevent verbal transmission of the folklore of Paul's bachelorhood, or perhaps it arose because we were regarded as a bunch of uncouth barbarians from the north. The (inevitable) man in the kilt probably wasn't helping our cause all that much.
Ours was a fine company though - Sam and Steve, Tony and Katy, Edward and Hisham. We were missing them all when we set off south the following afternoon. After a week of solitary adventure it had been both strange and agreeable to suddenly find ourselves amidst such a large gathering of friends.
Before the main course was served we were summoned outside for a "special event". V, accustomed to Guatemala's multi-casualty firework extravaganzas took a seat on the lawn well back from the gasp-inspiring display. I stood half way between her position and the main crowd, but still ended up with a speck of warm debris in my eye.
The night's other entertainment included a magician, a caricature artist, a mad waiter and a powerpoint deck packed with images from Geraldine's childhood and adventurous life before her fateful encounter with the "perfect English gentleman" - who merited a couple of slides at the end. The best man's speech was initially suppressed, but later allowed in a closed-doors session in the bar to a fairly select audience. By this time some of the guests were sporting their third outfit of the day.
The eating, drinking and dancing carried on for hours throughout all the interlocking, painted antechambers of the 16th century villa's primer piano. The building was used by the German High Command during the Second World War and trashed by squatters after it. In its reincarnated form as a fine hotel it would be the ideal venue for one of those Eyes Wide Shut-type parties, but the groom has put such childish things behind him now!
However much you eat, you're always able to find room for some tiramisu; but an end to the evening there eventually was, and when we returned to the Verdeborgo with the Cottages we found our way blocked by another vehicle seemingly parked at the main crossroads. The driver inside looked dead, but was in fact merely taking an overdue siesta. V bravely knocked on the window a few times until he came round and squinted at the four of us in abject bewilderment.