A real Pugliese wedding tests Americans
By PAMELA HASTEROK with photos by DON LINDLEY
The celebration of Maria and Fancesco's marriage at Monopoli's Baroque cathedral included a choir, concert, plates of carpaccio, a cocker spaniel puppy, a conga line and a great time by all.
The celebration started with canapés, little bites of rolled anchovies with mozzarella or cucumbers topped with tuna. Then came miniature turnovers and chicken on a stick. Plates of burratina arrived, pockets of fresh mozzarella bursting with creamy centers. Next, a seafood confection, then sausages. The third bottle of Prosecco showed up and the couple’s Cocker Spaniel puppy made a grand entrance wearing a wedding bonnet.
Somehow, I found myself in a conga line.
We hadn’t even entered the dining hall.
This is marriage Pugliese style, a wedding as large, loud and welcoming as the people themselves. Our friends Maria and Francesco stood joyously in front of Father Don Pasquale in Monopoli’s Baroque cathedral to seal the commitment they made to each other two decades before (good jobs are scarce in the south of Italy and delayed marriages are not uncommon).
Call it grand, call it over-the-top, call it a spectacle. Don and I will simply call it the most memorable wedding we have ever attended. For grandeur, you can’t beat the 18th Century cathedral’s ornate and gilded interior, accented by the Byzantine painting of the Madonna and child. For atmosphere, what can compare to the heavenly sounds of a choir composed completely of friends and relatives? And no one could contain their emotional delight, from the elated couple to the family and friends who streamed to the podium to offer prayers for happiness.
It was, of course, Italian, with the ceremony beginning 45 minutes late, congregants clustering near the altar to photograph the couple taking their vows and a beautiful mass delivered by a priest who spoke of Maria and Francesco’s tenacious love for each other. You could see Francesco’s smile from the back of the church when Don Pasquale pronounced them husband and wife.
We caught a ride with friends Mara and Vito to a countryside masseria (aristocratic farmhouses cum event centers and hotels) for the party. Don and I, veterans of many an elaborate political reception and restaurant excess, have never encountered so much food. Local friends warned us to consume only salad and water the day before, but even so, we were stunned by the prospect of a nine-course, sit-down meal, not including the afore-mentioned appetizers.
I mean, how does one manage a 12-hour event, eight of them devoted to dining? Not even my well-honed techniques like dancing between courses, walking around the grounds and trading wine for water, seemed adequate. It started out simply enough, with platters of delicious oysters, scampi, clams and squid. Another seafood course, seared tuna and shrimp on couscous, followed. Then plates of beef carpaccio appeared.
Somewhere between the first and second pasta dishes, the Prosecco wore off and the yawning set in. We wondered if the masseria might have a room for us to nap. We considered sneaking away by taxi. But our friend Roberto saved us and the evening with espresso for Don and high-test tea for me.
Suddenly a concert broke out – no surprise as Monopolitani love to sing – with Maria and Francesco and others seizing the mike and belting out their favorite songs (holding up mobile phones to recall the lyrics). That bought us a blessed break before the final fish and meat courses, which even some Pugliese were leaving untouched.
After that, things grew fuzzy…more singing, more dancing, more Prosecco, cutting the 3-foot tall wedding cake, mobbing the myriad dessert tables, more Proseco and dancing with 100 Italians to that much loved wedding song, “YMCA.”
The bride sent us off with kisses and gifts of live herbs and then a request – would Mara help her take out her contacts? I let out a contented sigh. We made it to the end.