The Year of the Bridesmaid Part 1: A New Orleans Wedding

If one word could sum up 2014 for me, it would definitely have to be ‘weddings’!  I took a total of 12 flights across Europe and America in the name of hen parties, dress fittings and of course the weddings themselves!  I also exchanged well over a hundred emails, texts and Facebook messages, concerning dress colours and measurements, shoes, wedding hair and make-up and hen party organisation! No, I am not a wedding planner (although I think I would love this job!) but I was instead honoured to be bridesmaid at three weddings and for three of my closest and dearest friends!

The first wedding was for my friend K and her now husband B. K and I met at the Univeristy of Urbino in Italy, where we were studying on our year abroad.  Within minutes of meeting I knew I had made an amazing friend and we spent the next four months attached to one another like glue, before K came to spend a week in England with my family and then headed back to New Orleans.  Two years later in 2013 I flew to stay with K and her family and she asked me to be her bridesmaid the following year when she married B!  I remembered her talking about him when we were studying together and how their parents wanted to set them up but it had never happened, so when she got back to New Orleans and was still mentioning him, I knew this was going somewhere!

It was the first wedding I had been to outside of the UK and I really didn’t know what to expect, but it was so great to be a part of their day and experience a ‘New Orleans wedding!’ Growing up I watched countless films and TV series about America, and used to be fascinated by the trends for Sweet 16 parties, Prom, engagement parties, engagement photos, bridal showers, bridal luncheons and rehearsal dinners to name but a few! When I reached the last year of high school, prom was starting to become much more common in the UK and now, is more or less a given to celebrate the end of year 11, but we are still to catch on to many of the other ‘American’ traditions! So after hearing K telling me all about the many bridal showers she was thrown, by her family and friends, but being unable myself to attend any of them, I was super excited for the bridal luncheon and rehearsal dinner.

After running errands all over town, stopping off for a pedicure and having a dress fitting, we got all dressed up and headed to her Bridal Luncheon! The idea of the luncheon, is to bring together the female members of the bridal party, so the bride and grooms’ mothers and grandmothers, bridesmaids and a few close family and friends. We all met at Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans landmark in the Garden District of the city and which has been open since 1880!  The lunch took place in a small private room, with floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the tree-lined street and we feasted on some delicious creole cuisine.  Note to self: If you haven’t eaten much all day, go steady on the welcome mimosa’s before lunch…or you end up a little tipsy! The rest of the day was spend doing last minute preparation, before we drove the next morning to a beautiful house on Bourbon Street in the centre of the city, where I stayed with K and her family for the wedding weekend!

In the early evening, we got all dressed up again,this time for the rehearsal dinner which takes place immediately after the rehearsal at the church.  This was completely strange to me! In England of course we have a rehearsal, but then for the majority of brides and bridal parties, the evening is spent relaxing at their homes or in a hotel and getting an early night! Not the case on this occasion! After the rehearsal we all walked back to the house on Bourbon Street to be greeted by a large party of K and B’s close family and friends. The party is traditionally hosted by the Groom’s family who provided a wonderful spread. A further surprise to me was that there were speeches at the rehearsal dinner rather than on the day of the wedding! So we toasted the bride and groom before a group of us headed out to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar and then to Pat O’s for a few more drinks! Eventually we crawled into bed and caught up on our beauty sleep before the special day arrived!

The wedding itself took place in the early evening, which meant we had all day to be pampered and slowly prepare ourselves. K had her dress made for her, based on one she had seen and fallen in love with and she looked absolutely beautiful! Everything she had chosen was just perfect, the bridesmaid dresses, the flowers, the Church – Saint Mary’s Italian Church. The service which for K and B really meant a lot, was a very emotional affair and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church! As soon as the service was over, we were back in the cars and making our way to the reception at Gallier Hall, escorted by the police! I thought this was pretty cool and very ‘American’ but apparently in a city where parades and heavy traffic are part of the daily life, it’s quite a normal thing to have.

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K and B both come from Italian American families and so this was reflected in the food they served for their guests! All the food was prepared by the families and they did a superb job, it was mouthwatering! There was a buffet style meal, with dishes including mini muffulettas – (a classic New Orleans sandwich with a Sicilian twist), crawfish pasta and artichoke balls. This was followed by not one, but two enormous wedding cakes! The traditional three tiered one and then a Groom’s cake, for which B had chosen a Cassata Cake with Sicilian Cannoli on the top! But probably one of my favourite things about the wedding, was that in the traditional cake, they had placed cake pulls for the bridesmaids and K’s cousins. We all stood around the cake and chose a pull at random, which were in fact, freshwater pearl bracelets with a charm attached to each one. Then on the count of three we all pulled them out, to reveal the charms, each signifying something different, like love, luck or money. I just so happened to pull out the charm of a street car which apparently signifies travel or traveller – which seemed very apt for me!

The rest of the evening was spent dancing and singing away to BRW a wonderful jazz band – because lets face it, it really wouldn’t be a New Orleans wedding without some jazz, would it?!

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B’s Groom’s Cassata Cake with Sicilian Cannoli – delicious!!

Cake pulls

The cake pulls ready to be pulled by K’s bridesmaids and cousins!

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The wonderful BRW

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Thank you to K, B and CG for the fabulous photos!

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The Beautiful Newly-weds outside Gallier Hall!

When it came to say goodbye once again and head home to Milan, I was very sad to leave K, B and their family, as I have always been made to feel so at home and they couldn’t have shown me more kindness. However, as is true with most weddings, they are very family orientated and for the first time in a long time, I was feeling a little home sick, which is why wedding number 2 a little later in the year was the perfect antidote!

Anna

L’altra Venezia

When one of your dearest friends messages you to ask whether you are free to meet them in Venice for the weekend, it really would be rude to say no! So on Friday morning, I popped myself on a train and less than three hours later, pulled up at Santa Lucia station.  My friend Grania was there for an event with the company she works for, so I was really lucky to be able to join in with some of the things they had planned, such as a presentation on Italian Art from a well known art historian (more on this in another post) and a beautiful dinner on the Island of Torcello! However on Saturday after the event had finished and before I had to catch my train back to Milan, we went on a little adventure!

Hello Venice!!! #venice #catchup #Italy #wheninveniceswiminthecanal #musingsinmilan @graniachesterton

The two of us had lived together whilst we were on our Erasmus year in Modena and had both previously been to Venice on more than one occasion, so when Grania’s friend asked her if we wanted to go with him to meet his friend and go on his boat, we jumped at the chance! It wasn’t until we were at dinner on the Friday night that he told us it was a rowing boat and to be honest, this did fill me with a little bit of dread! I had rowed once before with a friend at Flatford Mill in Essex and we spent nearly the entire hour getting tangled up in weeping willow trees and crashing into the sides of the river. Much to the disapproval of the cows grazing on the river bank!  I was imaging the four of us in a situation like this, seated with two oars each and me being utterly useless! However, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

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After a speedy twenty minute water taxi ride from our hotel to Sestiere Castello, we meet Luca’s friend Walter.  Walter is a Venetian tour guide and runs ‘L’altra Venezia’ – The other Venice – a company which offers visitors to Venice something a little different, like tailored tours of the North or South Lagoons or their “Murano Exclusive” tour, visiting the Murano glass factories. We however, had a Venetian Rowing Lesson and what a fabulous experience it was!

As we walked along to meet Walter at the boat, I realised my expectations were completely wrong! The boat was larger than I had imagined, and had only two oars, meaning two people row at a time whilst the other two sit, one in the middle and one at the front of the boat (maximum 4 people).  Have I mentioned you row standing up?! At this point I resigned myself to the fact I probably shouldn’t even try rowing as I am extremely prone to falling over even when on dry land!

After a few minutes working out how best to jump down into the boat, we set off out into the open water!  Luca first tried his hand at rowing, with Walter at the back of the boat instructing him on everything from posture and wrist movement to the position the oar must be in when it hits the water, but it was not to be his forte, so Grania stepped up and had a try.  Well, she was like a duck to water and within a few minutes was rowing like a pro! Walter was an excellent teacher and helped coach her to move her body with the oar rather than her arms and anchor herself with her right leg forward and left leg towards the back of the boat. At this point we were in the open water in front of the Island of San Michele, but we now were moving inwards to the tricky narrow canal streets of Venice!

As we worked our way through the quiet, tourist free streets, we asked Walter lots of questions about the buildings and palaces we passed and life in Venice.  He was extremely knowledgeable and it was really interesting listening to his stories and anecdotes!  Soon we emerged out into the open waters again, right by Piazza San Marco, where all the traditional gondolas are harboured.  But we didn’t hang around for long and took a new route back into the winding streets of the city. I was feeling super relaxed but as we made our way back, I decided to have a go at rowing too, so I took over from Grania. After an initial few minutes of adjustment and coaching from Walter, I soon got into the rhythm of it and found out it was really fun and not as difficult as I had imagined!  It is so true that time flies when you are having fun and before long we had to make our way back to the hotel.  I had just about enough time to grab a coffee and warm up a little before heading to the station to catch my train back to Milan.

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#Venice #Italy #venicerowboats #laltravenezia #travel #musingsinmilan

If you are planning a trip to Venice and are looking for something a little different to do, I can not recommend highly enough a tour with l’altra Venezia! It really was a unique experience and fabulous way to see the city! If a Venetian rowing lesson isn’t for you, they have plenty more options to check out on their website and next time I’m in Venice I will definitely be trying another one out! http://www.laltravenezia.it/

Anna