Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Wedding Day

I hadn’t managed to snag a copy of the Groom’s Manual before we left for Vegas, so I was pretty much at a loss on our wedding day.  And the residual martini fog that was swirlin’ round my brain didn’t help matters.  But the sun was shining brightly and the marriage bells were ringing in my head, so I kissed Inna good morning and we instinctively set off on our own courses.  I think that’s probably a universal imperative on one’s marriage day.  Get your bearings.  Gird your loins.  Give one another some space.
“Coffee,” mumbled Inna.  “I need to go down to Starbucks and get some coffee.”

I am not a coffee drinker, but I did have a strong hankering for bacon and orange juice, so I headed for the Beach Café.

There were still four more Vegas wedding guests who had flown in the previous evening and were still unaccounted for.  I ran into the Annapolis contingent out on the veranda, eating breakfast and fending off the relentless sparrows.  Rob and Molly recently got married and Molly was going to be Inna’s bridesmaid.  We all belong to the Chesapeake Outdoor Group and often play together outdoors.

After explaining the pool setup and confirming that the limo would pick us all up at 2:30 in front of the hotel, I told Molly to call Inna in a few hours so that she could help her get ready for the wedding.  Molly is very sweet and easy going and I knew that Inna was now in good hands.  Rob is an explorer by nature, who used to teach Outward Bound, so I figured he would have no trouble finding places to investigate around the Tropicana.

After breakfast, I returned to the room to make sure Inna had not gone back to bed or fled the scene.  She was sitting on the balcony enjoying the morning sun and drinking her coffee.  “Good Thing” by the Fine Young Cannibals was playing over the pool sound system and I snapped my fingers in time to the beat and smiled.

“I ran into Molly and Rob at the café and Molly is going to come by around noon and help you with your wedding dress and stuff.  I’m going to go look for Larry and Teri, and then I’m heading for the pool.  Do you need anything?”

Inna said she was quite content.  She had a 10 o’clock appointment at the Tropicana’s Glow Spa to get her hair done and she was just going to chill.

I ran into my friends Larry and TC on my way to the pool.  This was the beauty of trying to get our wedding party to all stay in the same place.
I worked with Larry and TC at Grand Canyon for fifteen years back in the 80s and early 90s and I was Larry’s best man at their wedding out on Shoshone Point on the South Rim many moons ago.  These days they live in Florida, after long careers with the U.S. Forest Service, and we manage to get together at least once a year.  They love Inna like family.

After much hugging and rejoicing we went over the game plan.  I explained that the wedding was scheduled for three, and that the limo would take us all to the chapel, other than the Olgas and their spouses, who were staying at other hotels on the Strip and would catch a cab to the wedding. Everything was under control.  Let the games begin.

We took a little spin around the hotel and they invited me back to their room which happened to be in the cabana section where we were staying, and as luck would have it, on the same floor.

We tried to stop in to see Inna, but she was spinning off into meltdown mode and we quickly fled.  As I left, I told her I would come back around two.

“Just leave!” barked Inna (with great love, of course).

I went back to Larry and TC’s room and hung out on the balcony for a while.  They had opted for the “king balcony overlooking the Strip”, and I had toyed with that option when making my reservation.  In front of their balcony stood the hulking Tropicana parking garage, but because they were on the third floor, they were above the top of the garage and had an amazing view of Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur.  If they had been anywhere on the first two floors of the hotel, their Strip view would have been a bit less than spectacular.

And therein lies another lesson, you have to be really careful when booking a room in Vegas because everything sounds all grand and wonderful, but the reality can be far different than what you might expect.  Many of the nicer hotels have thousands of rooms, and they all can’t have a great location.

That said, our buddy Jimmy didn’t get the room he asked for that first night, but he stayed in the room they put him on the fourteenth floor of the expansive Club Tower, and he was as happy as a clam.  Rob and Molly had the same thing happen to them, and they were quite pleased with their alternate room in the Garden Tower.  So, I guess it all boils down to how picky you are and whether you suffer from great expectations.

Larry and TC regaled me with their recent travel stories now that they are both retired from the Forest Circus.  Some people love being retired and find plenty to keep them busy and happy.  Larry and TC definitely fall into this category. 

“So, are you nervous?” asked TC.

That was a very popular question.  I had been asked that question at least a hundred times over the past week.

“Nope,” I replied.  “Inna’s the one for me.  It took a long while to find her.  And we spent a few years living together and figuring out what made each other tick.  But at this point, I think we both know what we’re getting.  Friendship, support, and no holds barred love.  I’m a thousand percent better with Inna than I am without her.  And as long as we can put up with each others foolishness, then I will thank my lucky stars and look forward to spending the rest of my life with the woman I love.”

And then I headed for the pool.  Because, in my humble opinion, everything goes better with water... and bacon.

I spent the next few hours lounging by the pool and swimming laps.  My friends drifted in and out.  Jimmy came by to see if he could help with anything and to tell me about the cool Shark Reef Aquarium he found at Mandalay Bay.  Vegas is filled with neat stuff like that, some of it free and some that you have to pay for – Chihuly glass flowers covering the roof of Bellagio, roller coaster rides through the New York-New York skyscrapers and gondolas floating along Venetian canals, the Fall of Atlantis Aquarium at Caesars, transparent human bodies playing poker at Luxor, the jungle rain forest at the MGM Grand, sky jumping off the Stratosphere, a volcano spewing fire and smoke a hundred feet into the air at the Mirage, blasting targets with machine guns, elevator rides to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or just the endless array of street performers doing their thing along The Strip.  Our wedding guests were always off discovering fun things to do.  That’s why Vegas is such a great place to get married.  You never have to entertain your friends and no one ever gets bored.  I’m telling you, there’s no place like Las Vegas to get hitched.

Anyway, by noon I was getting excited.  I wasn’t hungry.  I didn’t feel like drinking.  And I didn’t have time to check out the sights.  I just wanted to go get married.

I headed back to the room a little before two.  Molly had brought a nice bottle of champagne and she and Inna were giggling merrily as they worked the bride side of the street.  I tried to stay out of their way while I donned the new tan suit that Inna chose for me back in Annapolis.

And from that point on, time seemed to speed right on by; and while I distinctly remember images, time was not linear; nor did it slow down or speed up; it was more photographic, like snapshots taken out of time.

The next thing I knew, we were all walking toward Kevin, our friendly limo driver, and then piling into a long, white limousine that seated all seven of us.  I suddenly realized that had actually never ridden in a limo, and with only one door, it was like crawling headfirst into a slick, black naugahyde sock.  With my new hip, it was a bit tricky.  And since we went in first, we sat facing everyone else and I felt like a big fat baby, with everyone gushing over me non-stop.  It was nice, but a bit weird.  We should have brought some whiskey along for the ride.

We arrived at the wedding chapel right on time. The Olgas and their spouses had taken taxis.  And Inna’s English friend Sarah, who lived with her husband Tom and their kids in Vegas, showed up at the last minute.  All systems were go.

Inna had left it to me to pick the wedding service and I had spent a fair amount of time and angst trying to choose something “unique”.  I had started with the obvious, an Elvis wedding, and Inna would have gone along with such stupidity, though she did mention that it would be weird getting married by a “dead guy.”  But Larry told me that a wedding is not a joke, and that I would later regret turning it into a farce. 

The plain and simple fact is this: if you can dream it, they can make your dream a reality in Vegas.  You can have a traditional wedding in a beautiful church, get married at the top of the Stratosphere, take a chopper to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and be serenaded by a string quartet, dress up like Star Wars or Phantom of the Opera, or tie the knot under the historic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada neon sign.  

Being a mongrel Scott, and having traveled to Scotland many times, the Celtic Wedding Package jumped right out at me when I was doing a Google search.

For those of Irish or Scottish ancestry, the Celtic Wedding Package is just the ticket. Of course, anyone who wishes can also be a Celt for the day with this unique wedding ceremony. The Celts had a love of nature and a passion for the wild and elemental; they relished the sacred space, whether it be indoors or outdoors; they had love and respect for art and poetry; love and respect for the great stories and higher learning.

Your Celtic wedding will take place in the intimate Tuscan Garden chapel complete with special lighting, plants, and a fountain.

The Celtic marriage ceremony embraces the four elements; fire, water, earth, and air - along with respect for the "old wisdom", storytelling, and the importance of kinship and community. Included in the ceremony are; the "Holy Well", the "Blessing", the "Standing Stone", the "Rose", and several Celtic prayers and poems.

This wedding ceremony incorporates Celtic elements passed down from the times of St. Brigit of Kildaire, St. Patrick, St. Hilda of Whitby, and St. Brendan the Navigator.

Included in this unique ceremony is the ritual of "Handfasting". This is a revival of the custom which began in medieval Scotland, Northern England, and perhaps Ireland. It is a symbol used in Celtic and other cultures to express marriage. It is non-religion-specific. The four cords used in this "Handfasting" are yours to keep!

As soon as we arrived at the chapel, Reverend Dr. Aurore Leigh Barrett introduced herself and explained the basic gist of the service.  She was a no-nonsense Scott.  She asked us if we had any questions and we just nodded like happy children.  We didn’t have a clue. 

A few minutes before three, Reverend Aurore told us all to take our seats in the tiny chapel and we were off to the races.

The service was a blur.  Thank heavens they filmed it, so Inna and I could look at it later.  And while I remember flashes, the Robert Burns marriage poem, the handfasting, getting sprinkled with water and sand, holding a pretty piece of pink granite, repeating solemn oaths, the Irish “wind at your back” poem, and something about me giving Inna “my first cut of meat”, the highlight of the ceremony turned out to be a last minute addition.

When Inna’s brother Dymi, and her parents, Valentina and Gregory, came to visit us in Annapolis, I fell in love with them. They are simply the nicest and happiest people I have ever met, like little Russian dolls.  But language was a bit of a problem.  So many nights were spent on our patio with me singing to them. They loved to hear me sing.

Inna and I were talking to her parents a few days before we left for Vegas and they were saying how much they wished they could be there for the wedding, and I suddenly blurted out, “I’ll sing you a song at the service.”

And so, at the end of the wedding, after we had been declared man and wife and I had kissed the bride, I cued up James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” on my iPhone and began singing from the heart, fighting back some tears at the beginning, but finishing strong.

The minister had been a tad pissy when I told her that I was going to sing my song, but I noticed that near the end, she was softly singing along.  And when it was all over, she said it was the neatest thing she had ever seen at one of her services, and she had been marrying couples for a quarter of a century.

Inna told me that my song was the best part of the whole ceremony.  Our guests were crying.  Even the photographer said it was way cool.

After the service, we all went outside where many photos were taken in a myriad of combinations.  I was pretty much trance-walking.  Basically, I smiled a lot and did whatever I was told until our wedding DVD was finished.  Then we piled back into the limo – this time Inna and I got in last so we didn’t have to climb along the seats on our hands and knees like big babies – and then our driver Kevin took us over to the Venetian.

I remember tipping Kevin as we were all piling out of the stretch limo and he said, “You know, I’ve been dropping people off here for years and I just noticed the ceiling.”
I looked up and there were frescos painted on the portico, like those at the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  Maserati’s lined the driveway.  Were we still in Vegas?

The lobby of the Venetian was as crowded as an NFL football game.  Hordes of guests waited with their luggage to check in at the elaborate reservation counter that was framed with a giant map of Venice.  The ornate arched ceilings rivaled the world’s grandest cathedrals; and musicians in black and white striped shirts, wearing those cute little straw gondolier hats with the red ribbons, strolled through the crowd, playing accordions and singing.  A golden statue adorned with giant wedding rings and a naked woman figurehead like on the bow of a ship towered above the main hallway.  It was all pretty overwhelming.

Our dinner reservation at SUSHISAMBA was for six, so we had some time to kill. 

We slowly strolled toward the Palazzo , the sister hotel of the Venetian, checking out the Grand Canal Shoppes.  This is something I will never understand about Las Vegas.  Every fancy hotel has their very own niche zone for the filthy rich, with the standard assortment of Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, Chanel, and Armani.  I mean, there must be twenty of each scattered throughout Las Vegas, and I don’t understand how they all can stay in business.  But they definitely add a touch of class to the whole atmosphere.

And that’s the thing about Vegas, there is plenty of cheesy crap to go around, but when you’re in a place like the Venetian, everything you are looking at is the finest of the fine.  No expense has been spared, from the grand master paintings and Milano glass flowers on the ceilings, to the blue sky above St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.  Vegas fancy rivals any place on earth.  And it’s all open to the general public at no cost.
We stopped at the Taqueria Cantina’s “outdoor” café, ordered a few pitchers of beer, and people watched at the edge of the Grand Canal, watching the gondolas float by as the gondoliers sang, “O sole mio”.  It was the perfect romantic complement to our wedding, and a great way to get our bearings and prepare for the wedding dinner.

The only instruction I had received from Inna was, “Our wedding dinner needs to be somewhere very nice that features fine dining.”

The Venetian and Palazzo have like a zillion restaurants and many claim to be fine dining establishments.  Should we do Italian?  French?  A steak house?  The pressure was definitely on, and I couldn’t afford to get this wrong.

In the end, I decided to pick something different, like the Celtic wedding, and I settled on SUSHISAMBA.  What first caught my attention was the décor.  It was all curved orange glass and strange oriental paintings.

And the ad sounded totally off the wall:
From the sizzling meats of the robata grill to super-fresh sushi, sashimi and seviche, SUSHISAMBA has something for everyone. The menu offers a unique blend of fiery Brazilian, zesty Peruvian and fresh Japanese culinary influences. Colorful design and Brazilian beats infuse fun into the one-of-a-kind SUSHISAMBA experience.

Step through the glass façade inspired by the linearity and color of Mondrian and join the SUSHISAMBA energy under a 16-foot ceiling and soaring atrium. Surrounded by curving ribbons of brilliant color, you'll visit Rio's Carnaval by way of video screens peppered throughout the space, losing yourself in artful projections that feature the colors, flavors, and cultures of Japan, Brazil, and Peru.

But what ultimately sold me on the place was that we didn’t have to order anything.  We told the waiter in advance how much we wanted to spend per person, not including liquor, and after asking each diner what they liked and disliked, they started bringing us plate after plate of interesting food which we all shared.  We dined for hours and most of the time we had no idea what the hell we were eating.  But it was all delicious.

My canyon buddy Larry bought a couple of bottles of champagne and delivered a very touching wedding toast. 

Our Vegas friends Tom and Sarah were wonderful additions to the feast and offered up several suggestions about things to do in the upcoming days.  The two Olgas and their husbands had us constantly laughing.  Rob and Molly kept winking at us with smiling approval.  Jimmy, who has a bottomless pit for a stomach was brought to his knees.  And everyone agreed that SUSHISAMBA was an inspired choice.

I have no recollection about how we got back to the Tropicana.  I assume we caught a cab.  But we may have taken a magic carpet, for all I know.

I do remember Olga from Seattle talking about “going dancing”, but by then, Inna and I were running on fumes.  We needed to crash because I had a special treat in store for everyone the next day and it was going to be a wild ride indeed.

1 comment :