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A Wedding Celebration Staged in the Ancient Wash Houses of Rio nell'Elba
by Rossella Celebrini
There are places that are just simply charming! Always! It had been many years since I had stood in the doorway of the "Public Wash Houses" of Rio nell'Elba, and when I did, I could hear distinctively the sound of water spouting from its 16th century brass mouths. So, I closed my eyes, like I did when I was a little girl when my grandmother Filomena told me the stories of so many women whose life represents the 'historic memory' of this place, which used to be the symbol of socialization. Women with a "pezzola", a kerchief to cover their head, or with their hair pulled back in a bun, who worked so hard for years over the granite slabs of the tubs with their tired feet and wrinkled hands, washing and wringing out the clothing of their children, their brothers or husbands, almost all of whom were strong and proud miners who had extracted the rich iron minerals from their native soil.
On April 25, in this place with an ancient atmosphere, a suggestive civil wedding was celebrated that saw the active participation of not only the parents and friends of the bride and groom Valentina and Gianni, but also of the community of Rio, whose people are known as being tenacious and hard working. To organize the crowning of their idyllic love on such an important 'stage' was, once more, an occasion to "dive" into the past. In the verdant and water rich town of Rio nell'Elba nestled on a hill that towers "The Valley of the Mills", I once again tasted the authentic flavor of an ancient hamlet and soon rediscovered the unique and rare warm generosity of the townspeople. I breathed in the perfumes and the colors of its vegetation and listened once again to its "music": the roosters crow echoing through the valley at dawn, a babbling brook, the constant gurgling of the water rising from the Canali fountain and, for those who knew him, the noisy cries of Ciccillo, the fisherman who came every day from Porto Azzurro to sell his fish, making the town a joyful place.
Valentina and Gianni crowned their love dream in the magical aura of a place enveloped with enchantment. They arrived together with their marvelous daughters, Martina and Caterina, who began the wedding procession as the bridesmaids of honor, refined and impeccable in pure white dresses with peach-colored ribbons, followed by Simonetta and Bruno, the maid of honor and best man, along with some of the guests. Inside, the mayor awaited them, nervous about his first wedding ceremony in such an unusual place. Friends and family were awestruck when they saw the "Antichi Lavatoi" (Ancient Wash Houses) transformed into a "Wedding Theater", with a stage set up behind the ancient tubs to celebrate their love.
When I first began to study the scene for the wedding, I thought of an important and symbolic setting, elegant yet sober and cared for in its smallest detail. Taking inspiration from its history, I used fabric to wrap the last of the imposing beams of the ceiling. A soft and sinuous drapery to the sides of the beam created a frame for the "painting", magnificently reflected in the water of the wash tubs together with seats made of silk and floral decorations adorning empty spaces. White Amaryllis wrapped with papyrus leaves, and ivy, peach-colored roses, candles and water lilies floated seraphic on the still water. A triumph of silk, satin and georgette, a jubilee of flowers and color, and the slow and silent whisper of water accompanied the wedding ceremony.
Everything that came after was a grand celebration! While the bride and groom, still moved, greeted their friends, a few children happily distributed cones made of precious rose-inlaid paper, filled with flower petals and rice from tiny baskets finished with white lace and satin. Soon the couple said their emotional good-byes, after greetings and ritual photos, to celebrate with family and friends. Adjacent to the Wash Houses, where the sound of water gushing from the fountain still reigns queen, a luxurious party took place in a theatrical setting with a rich buffet of finger food served on mirrors and pearly trays, wed with prosecco and fruity cocktails, and a delectable array of Jordan almonds prettily presented in little sacks made of satin; with a cloud of organza and roses on which rested delicate guest favors in the shape of flowers. All things came together in the end with the traditional cutting of the layered cake covered with a shell of frosting dense with roses and ivy garlands and then... dulcis in fundo...their romantic and passionate kiss. The people of Rio fondly and proudly remember the wedding ceremony in the ancient 'Theater' of the Wash Houses of Rio nell'Elba.
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