Aiyana & Matt // A Seashore Wedding and an Italian Adventure

 When my dear friend and agent, Aiyana, first asked me to be her photographer to capture, not only her wedding day, but all of her and her bridal party's Italian adventures for five days I was in disbelief. I thought she was kidding. It sounded like a dream. I gave Aiyana and Matt a week to seriously think about it and time to change their minds. Obviously, that did not happen. Aiyana and Matt's trust in me and my work diminished all doubt and I accepted the challenge and experience of photographing my first wedding in another country.

To say that my week in Ischia was incredible is an understatement. I am going to try and explain to you all each and every day of our Italian adventure and the details since there were so many wonderful and humorous experiences that I absolutely have to share with you all. I will never be able to thank Aiyana and Matt enough to have trusted me with such a job and for allowing me to join them on their once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Arrival (Day One)

Arriving in Naples after a connected flight in Paris (where we lost Aiyana, Matt, and Matt's parents due to an extremely short layover where if you had a checked bag, you were a goner), I was disoriented. Much of it was the combination of not sleeping for thirty hours, being extremely excited to be back in Italy, and the hotness. The heat was very similar to what is felt during a Minnesotan summer (yes, absolutely lovely) but the ocean gave you a salted cool breeze, something that Minnesota is unable to provide.

Since there is no road that connects the island of Ischia to Naples, you take a ferry. Riding on the second and outdoor level of the ferry along the Mediterranean was a surreal experience. It has been an incredibly long time since I have seen the ocean. Feeling the cold breeze erratically whip my hair in tussles and the swaying of the ferry along the tide had reminded me how much I have missed the ocean.

Ischia is a volcanic island that lies within the Gulf of Naples, located off of Southern Italy. It is the largest of the Phlegrean Islands and is within reach of the Amalfi Coast. It is almost entirely mountainous and the island is densely populated 60,000 residents (more than 1300 inhabitants per square km). Most of the tourists that visit Ischia are Italians and Germans and the high number of thermal spas the island make it a popular tourist destination particularly for tourists seeking a "wellness" holiday.

Once I arrived at Port Forio (one of two main ports on Ischia) my lovely host, Antonia, picked me up in her small and charming European car. Instead of directly taking me to her home, she brought me to a vineyard and restaurant that rests on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea (a part of the Mediterranean) because she knew I enjoyed taking photographs. The restaurant is called Da Gisella. Da Gisella is not only a place to eat, it is also a vineyard and houses onion patches.

After visiting Da Gisella, Antonia took me to her home. It is an adorable, small villa hidden among the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. As you ascend the staircase past the gate, you walk underneath a beautiful overhang of flowers. Her villa, and many other homes in Ischia, adopt an open concept of minimalism and having the home all flow as one space. On the table on the outside portico was a delicious surprise treat comprised of sweet rice and cut up fruit. After a light conversation in very light Italian and English, I went to my room to prepare for rest. Once the sunset, I opened up the doors to my room that led to the portico and allowed the cool, salty breeze lull me to sleep.

A Warm Meeting and An Evening Boat Ride (Day Two)

When I woke up and walked to the kitchen, there was tray of an assortment of breakfast items. Hidden within this tray of goodness was an adorable note from Antonia and a couple of seashells. The note read "Good morning, Mister Bryden. Here is breakfast for you. I hope you have a great day adventuring and taking photos! Kisses. - Antonia." Antonia's warmth and generosity continuously surprised resurfaced throughout my stay, and she will forever have a special place in my heart.

This day started with a food tasting at Ristorante da Peppino, a restaurant owned by Katia and Katia's mother. Katia is a long-time friend of Aiyana. They met while Aiyana was in Milan, Italy studying fashion management. Katia is an incredibly warm individual. After talking with her for just an hour, you feel as if you have known her all her life. At the food tasting joining Aiyana and Matt were an assortment of individuals that, at that moment of meeting them I had no idea how connected I would feel with all of them. At first I was worried, knowing that I would be spending the next week with these individuals and was worried that I would not connect with them. Now, I realize that I could not have been more wrong.

There were Matt's parents, Lori and Al, and Lori's sister, Ricki. This felt like a mini reunion due to me traveling with them from Minneapolis but then losing them on the flight from Paris to Napoli. Then, there were the two amusing and compassionate couples, Adam and Shawna and Suzanne and Mike. Adam and Shawna are a couple that I felt like I have known my entire life. Adam is an adorable, calm, kind-hearted joker and his wife, Shawna, is a hilarious, informed, and gracious woman. Suzanne is an intelligent and caring woman and her fiancé, Mike, is a relaxed, sympathetic, and interesting man. I felt as if I could talk about anything with these two, and not feel a single bit of embarrassment or shame. When I arrived at the restaurant, they immediately introduced themselves and offered me food and wine. Shawna pulled up an extra chair for me and invited me to sit next to her and Adam. At this moment, any doubt that I would not be able to connect with them instantly vanished.

After the food-tasting and lunch, the next plan was to attend the firework ceremony on our private and personal boat tour taking place at the Aragonese Castle. After adventuring around Sant'Angelo, I took a taxi with Lori, Al, and Ricki to get to Forio. At Forio, met up with the rest of the wedding party at Bar La Cambusa and had a snack and wine. Once our boat was ready around 7pm, we headed out to the Aragonese Castle via the Tyrrhenian Sea. The journey to the castle was magic in itself. The sun was setting on the horizon and while doing so, dispersed a beautiful splash of gold on everything. We all joked, laughed, told intimate stories about our lives, and genuinely became present to soak it in that we were on a boat coasting around an island in Italy. Honestly, I fell in love with everyone on this boat. These kids became the primary reason why my Italian adventure was as marvelous as it was. Throughout the boat ride to the castle, the boating crew supplied us with an assortment of snacks including fresh fruit, fish, bruschetta, and white wine made right here in Ischia. We made it to the Aragonese Castle around 9:30pm.

Arriving at the Aragonese Castle felt like a dream. The scenario is the magic of the Bay of Ischia Ponte: the Aragonese castle emerges from the water as symbol of history, culture and architecture of the past becoming main interlocutor of the village of Celsa that elects it landmark to love and respect. The Bay is bounded by a long bridge that connects to the castle in accordance with the access to the Tower of Guevara, another monumental structure of the island, and the small Church of St. Anna, overlooking the sea, becomes the focal point for those who cross the Bay by boat. Dedicated to this Saint is the feast on day of July 26th , which originates in the ancient sacred tradition of the island. According to the tradition, on July 26th, the feast of St. Anna, Patroness of pregnant women, the women during puerperium went in procession up to the Church, located on the West side of the Bay of the Castle, directly opposite the Sun, under the weight of the tower. The procession went through the sea and the procession was done mostly by boats of fishermen that were, for the particular occasion draped the hull with boughs and garlands of flowers. This happened in the last century and probably even before. Since then the parade, born out of pure randomness devotion to the Saint, becomes a race, so boats, allegorically representing episodes, stories, myths and characters related to the island of Ischia, they become veritable theatrical equipment where technology and construction, are at the base of the scenic, useful mechanisms to less obvious and striking, while workers, technicians and artists are put to the test for the creation of the most beautiful boat, exciting and unexpected. There were hundreds of boats lining up along the coast of Ischia Ponte around the castle. It truly was a fantastic display of fireworks and theater intermixed with Ischian culture.

On the boat ride home, it was 2am and there was not a single cloud in the sky. I lay out on the second level of our boat on a mat and watched the stars the entire boat ride home.

Both a Mistake and a Blessing, and a Castle (Day Three) 

This day consisted of adventuring to the opposite part of the island to the Aragonese Castle and the Groom's Dinner. Many of the bridal party members suggested to me to rent a scooter for the duration of my stay, since the bus system was not always reliable and it would be too expensive to take a taxi to get somewhere (about 25 euro one way). Renting a scooter would cost me about 30 euro for the entire day, and I figured having it for five days it would be well worth the price and sense of adventure.

So, I went to the nearest scooter store by my home (Autonoleggio Schioppa Servizi). When I was speaking with the owner and paid for a rental scooter for the duration of my stay, it occurred to me how far away the Aragonese Castle was (about an hour scooter ride) and how little I knew on how to get there. I also started to think of the dangers of falling off the scooter while on the extremely busy roads and what could possibly happen to my camera. When the owner gave me the keys to my scooter, I thought I made a massive mistake. I struggled even lifting the scooter off the ground to release it from its brakes and I already had to get fuel for it, which I had no idea where to go. I started to become frustrated and disappointed with myself in thinking I could handle this. My scooter was parked inwards away from the street, so I had to pull it out into the middle of the busy street to even get it started. After struggling to close and lock my cubby, I put my helmet on. Oh boy, was I nervous to pull the scooter into the street and ride it to the nearest fuel station. After waiting nearly five minutes, my sense of adventure and submitting to the fact that I am stuck with this scooter overcame my nerves. I forced my way into the middle of the street, fired up the scooter, and propelled my way towards Ischia Ponte.

Within minutes, the nerves left me. Riding the scooter amongst the locals and other adventurers filled me with a newfound energy. Speeding past mini shops and homes at 50 km/h definitely felt fantastic. I traversed many intimidating roundabouts, dodged carts, scooters, and cars, and rode directly along the Tyrrhenian Sea. A few wrong turns and near accidents later, I arrived at the Aragonese Castle.

If castles are fascinating, the Aragonese Castle of Ischia is even more mysterious, as it stands out of the sea, detached from the rest of the island. But it maintains a strong bond with the island, which goes beyond the bridge – umbilical cord that connects it physically to Ischia Ponte. Its old name was “insula minor”, matched with insula major, which clearly indicates that it is a different place, a small island beside the mother island. But it was precisely its further insularity that allowed the Castle to keep the genius loci, the historical identity of a wider territory. Most of the events, the battles and Ischian courtly life took place here, on top of this cliff in the middle of the sea, and this can be perceived also by whoever does not know its history. It is enough to cast a glance at the Aragonese Castle to feel like being back in time, in the dreamlike Middle Ages or in a Renaissance coterie, periods that have left more than a trace here. The ancient walls, the churches, the ramparts of the Aragonese Castle were built mainly between the 14th and 17th centuries. They blend perfectly with the islet’s dark and indented rock-face, which is also an extraordinary tower garden. When climbing up the Castle, in fact, you discover another world. The austere and closed aspect one beholds from the ground gives way to a citadel made up of sunny gardens and small tracks that always lead to incredible views. The Castle top smiles, animated by sea birds and big cats, olive groves and vineyards. In spite of its reputation, the Castle has today a heart that can be conquered by everybody who climbs its 113 metres by foot or by elevator. But only when you are on the top can you enter Ischia’s history. Cocooned in the mystery of time, you will find the 16th-century cathedrals and churches, frescoed catacombs, arches and vaults, walls of many centuries,and Bourbon prisons. The silence of the Castle speaks with words in the shape of architecture, like a giant stone book to leaf through with no hurry.

At a high peak outside the castle was an adorable mini cafe called Caffetteria del Monastero. Caffetteria del Monastero is located in front of the church of the Immacolata and is a small building with terraces overlooking a wonderful view.  From here one has a favourable viewpoint over a truly romantic scene: the ruins of the Cathedral of the Assunta in harmony with the mellowness of the bay of S.Anna. This Cafeteria is a site that invites one to pause, a garden terrace with tables immersed among bougainvillea, broom, jasmine and lantana. And on the sunniest days or in the cool evenings there is a pergola with a long stone bench and low tables with top made of hand-decorated majolica tiles. After spending the day taking a walk through history at the Aragonese Castle and drinking my freshly squeezed lemon and pineapple juice, it was time to meet up with the clan at Aiyana and Matt's home in Forio, Ischia.

Aiyana and Matt's home is a tremendous and beautiful villa covered in tropical vegetation. It appeared as a mini temple out of The Jungle Book, with its stone staircase leading up to the entrance and it's resting area surrounded with mini ponds and trees. The group was resting on the second floor, having wine, cheese, and fruit for an early afternoon snack. After catching up, we decided to head to the Citara Beach to soak in the Mediterranean water and relax before the big day tomorrow.

Going to Citara Beach with the bridal party reminded me why I adored them so much. Soaking in the Mediterranean and simply being present with them was one of my highlights. Matt told us all how much he appreciated us being present here in Italy for him and Aiyana. We all greatly appreciated each other. After time slipped by, mistaking the time and recognizing we needed to be back 20 minutes ago, we rushed back home to the villa.

For dinner, we met with every one else attending the wedding at La Tinaia. It was an incredible amount of fun eating a courtyard being surrounded by the Italian zeal for food and life. You felt like a proper local eating here. While we were eating here, Aiyana surprised Mat with custom-made shoes they would wear the next day for the wedding. The colors were decked with red, white, and blue and one shoe had "Il Sposo" (the groom) and "La Sposa" (the bride) engraved on the heel. Matt was surprised and absolutely loved the shoes. Once it got dark, Al and I left on our scooters to traverse the ride back to our homes in Panza and Sant'Angelo. Tomorrow was the big day, and I wanted to make sure that I was as ready as I could be.

The Golden Wedding (Day 5)

Today was the day. I had never felt a severe combination of nervousness and excited-ness before. This was the day that I needed to capture with the upmost best of my ability and to create photos that Aiyana and Matt can treasure forever. Taking this into full perspective, this also meant that I had to be less nice and more blunt; we had to stay on schedule, since timing was absolutely essential for this wedding. Photos of Aiyana and Matt were planned to happen an hour before the wedding at 7:30pm during the start of golden and before the sunset. If the wedding was pushed back or we had to take photos after the wedding ended around 8pm to 8:15pm, it would have been too dark and too late.

I arrived at Katia's mother's home located within the plaza in Sant'Angelo at 2:30pm, a half hour before the arrival of Aiyana and the women of our clan. Matt was getting ready on the terrace of the hotel where his parents and Ricky were staying on the other side of the bridge in Sant'Angelo. Covering the door between the bedroom and Sant'Angelo was an intricately woven Italian cloth. Aiyana and our lady friends arrived a little past 3pm, and it was time to get ready. Shawna, a jackie of all trades, did Aiyana's hair and makeup. While we were getting ready, Lori (Matt's mother) surprised Aiyana with a golden bracelet as her wedding gift. After snapping photos of Aiyana getting ready, I dashed to the other side of the bridge to take photos of Matt getting ready on the terrace. Matt truly looked handsome. I also gave him a card from Aiyana that Aiyana wanted him to ready before seeing her in her dress. I sprinted back to the plaza towards Katia's mother's villa to meet up with Cassandra and Kaija, a model and friend of Aiyana's who traveled from Scotland. They prepared a beautiful surprise bouquet for Aiyana. We darted back to Aiyana, and we finalized Aiyana with her wedding dress, circlet, and veil. Once Aiyana was ready to go, her Uncle James walked her from Katia's mother's home across the Sant'Angelo bridge for her first look with Matt at the cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The first look was magical. I have never seen a couple look at each other like Aiyana and Matt do. It's a combination of passion and true friendship, and these two fit like the finishing pieces to each other's puzzle. The love was astounding. After the first look at the cliff, we made our way around Ristorante da Peppino to the terrace overlooking Sant'Angelo. As we were walking to the terrace, local children were smiling, pointing, and following Aiyana and Matt. The joyous cheer was incredible. After taking photos of the fantastic couple, golden hour was starting and the wedding was about to begin.

Everything about this wedding was original. Their custom-made shoes, the combination of American traditions with the Italian, the warm surprises including the surprise bouquet, the floral decorated arch, the decorations, and even the pamphlets waiting for us at our seats at the reception! Suzanne, one of Aiyana's best friends, ministered the wedding and she was absolutely lovely. Leah, Aiyana's sister, read of a few entrancing poems about love. The vows spoken by both Aiyana and Matt in unison had Game of Thrones references, paying homage to their favorite show and their dorky-ness. Upon Aiyana's requests, every single guest were wearing white. Throughout the ceremony, none of the guests sat and instead stood on the warm sand, enveloping the couple with their warm presence. Before Aiyana and Matt exchanged rings, they passed a red ribbon through the center of the rings. This red ribbon created a large circle and every guest held a part of the circulating ribbon. Aiyana and Matt passed the rings along to each guest around the circle for them to touch and give a blessing to the couple. Once the blessings completed, Aiyana and Matt exchanged rings. The light of the sunsetting sun lit up the beach in a golden fire and with the exchange of rings, Matt and Aiyana kissed. After they kissed, everyone stepped inside the red ribbon circle and came in for a massive group hug. The strong hugger within me wanted to drop the camera and join the warm embrace, but it was completely magical watching it happen.

The reception took place at Restaurante da Peppino, and Katia and her family surprised Aiyana and Matt with beautifully done table settings. Our night included four courses (originally five), a fantastic singing duo, and amazing dancing. We even had Italians surround the exclusive restaurant and danced outside. I will admit to joining some of our wedding crew and joining them. It was a phenomenal night and my lower back was killing me the following morning. I could not have been happier.

Addio, Ischia (For Now)

My following days at Ischia consisted of visiting Sant'Angelo on a regular basis and relaxing at the beach where the ceremony was held. I left for Naples on Monday and stayed with Annamarie, a fantastic and wonderful host. Traveling away for my first wedding was a challenge that I am very thankful for accepting. I will never be able to thank Aiyana and Matt enough for trusting me with such a venture. Thank you, wedding party, for inviting me as if I were one of my own; you truly were the greatest part of our Italian adventure.

- B