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Updates from Elise and Matty Hu-Stiles

Archive for June, 2010

The Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner Album

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God, that was an awesome 14 course meal on the water. And those touching family tributes … tears to everyone’s eyes. Channing deserves all the love, of course, for capturing the day and night BEFORE the wedding.

His day-of wedding post is here.

Written by elisehu

June 29th, 2010 at 2:01 am

Posted in Wedding

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The Amsterdam Wedding Memory Project

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It makes me sad that the wedding weekend is over, but we’re lucky so many of our friends are journalists or photographers who captured images and collected stories all trip long. So we asked our friends to help us aggregate a collection of photos and stories from the weekend. It gives all of us who shared in the revelry a one-stop-shop for one another’s photos and a cyberspace spot to park our memories. Everyone was asked to send in a memory (or more, if they were so inclined), along with their favorite photos or a link to their online albums. We’ll keep updating these as they come in. I’ll go first.


A 900 year old city. A hotel once part of the city wall, where Rembrandt painted The Night Watch. A morning run with Alexis through Vondelpark. Partying next to the Holland World Cup team, we think, and their lady friends. “Old” Cheese sandwiches on “brown” bread. The ceremony on the grandest canal. Finding out the bridal party put their hands together for a “Gooooooo Bayside” before the processional. Blake’s Dutch boy haircut. Brett’s exploration of white beers in brown bars. Getting mooned by that guy taking a leak in a public urinal, and Roger’s subsequent idea to take those urinals to China and call them “Reddy on the Spots.”

“Cocaine? No. Have you tried the hallucinogenic mushrooms?” -My Dad, to a group of us, at lunch May 27th, 1:44pm

“How’s the red wine of nondescript varietal or vintage?” -Blake, to April, after our Dutch waitress served her “red wine” without any particulars, May 27th, 5:23pm.

“If you don’t want to spent the rest of your life craving Heineken at the expense of all other things, so be it.” -Chase, after going on the “Heineken Experience,” which included videos on multiple screens with flashing images of sex and Heineken, May 27, 9:15pm

“I made it, without dying like Anne Frank.” -Fiscus, coming down some steep stairs at the rehearsal dinner. May 28, 10:34pm

“You know they say it’s good luck for a bride to get poked by a tranny on her wedding day.” -Drew L@wrence, as two drag queens came to sit in our VIP area at Club Air after the wedding, May 30th, 1:24am

“That girl who blew smoke rings from her … she’s probably going to get lung cancer.” -Brett, on the live sex show the boys saw the night before the wedding


There are a few things from the last five days that I will never forget. Dancing until 4 in the morning, drinking champagne on a canal with some amazing new friends and watching a stunning bride marry the man she loves definitely top the list.

Besides all the awesome people I got to meet and hang out with, one of my favorite parts of the Hu-Stiles extravaganza happened just before we left the hotel for the wedding. Elise had just finished getting her hair and makeup done and was finally in her dress. She was glowing. Channing, the photographer, wanted her to pose on the little balcony of her hotel suite for a few pictures. We didn’t know the balcony was there, hidden behind a small door in the bathroom. When we walked out, the view of Amsterdam was breathtaking. Taking in that scene, the joy and excitement of the day bubbled over. Her face was the picture of pure joy. I’ll never forget that moment.


Matt might have been a little nervous on his wedding day. He wished the hotel had a treadmill, he said, so he could run a few miles. We sought out the next best thing to sooth his jitters: WiFi. A few minutes of Twitter nooky must have done the trick, because when it came time for Elise to walk down the isle, while everyone craned their necks to get their first glimpse of the gorgeous bride, I looked back at Matty, who gave a thumbs up. Ready to go down in Hu-Stiles history.


(Cross-posted with his amazing photos at Channing’s photo blog)

[Elise and Matt] both live and work in Texas but decided on an intimate wedding celebration in Amsterdam. The destination was a wonderful treat for their friends and family traveling from the States as well as from China and Taiwan. Even though my roundtrip travel time almost equaled my hours there, it was still one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had shooting a wedding (or at all). The setting was second to the witty, generous and charming people I had the pleasure of spending 48 hours in Amsterdam with.


The mundane moments, rendered memorable by spending them with good friends:

Waiting in line for nearly an hour at the Anne Frank House with Sudeep, Andrew and Tim; riding the tram to the Van Gogh museum, aboard which Tim had momentary passport panic and April and I nervously checked the map at each stop, then, the two of us sure we had one more stop to go, Sudeep calling out, “There it is!”; lots of late-night and midday giggling with my hotel roommates (all those “Let’s meet back in the lobby in an hour” just became an excuse to go laugh for an hour); bravely setting off with fellow bridesmaids through the bustling flower market and finding our destination, the drugstore, amid the mangle of streets; Elli and Tim (ages 2 and 28) each playing with my bouquet.

And the magic moment: Right after the ceremony, the wedding party and guests all headed to the boat by crossing the street – which in Amsterdam means walking halfway up the block, over the canal bridge and down the other side of the block – as the Dutch people stopped walking, idled their motorbikes and threw open their windows to stare, clap and cheer for the just-married. Even as the rain began to fall, was anything all weekend fused with more light, joy and love?


(And check out Melissa’s photos from Amsterdam)

This task has been challenging, not because of fading memories, but because there are so many vivid moments crowding for limelight:  Relaxing in a very old pub with a cat called Snoopy and a massive guy on rollerblades; encountering funny fellow Americans who paid dearly for their ignorance of proper mosquito netting technique (ideally, with mosquitoes securely outside, rather than trapped inside); looking up to realize the historic home of Hans Brinker (the boy who saved Haarlem by plugging a leak in the dyke) is squarely surrounded by red-light windows; hearing of water-skiers on the quiet canal outside our b&b; successfully confronting my deep-seated personal prejudice against mayonnaise — accompanied by Vlaamse frites from a hundred-year-old stand.  From the simplicity of a perfect “new/old cheese” canal-side sandwich, to the depth and complexity of Rembrandt’s work (and all the narrow alleys, monuments, antique button shops, World Cup pomp, and exquisite meals in-between), exploring such a wonderful new place with new/old friends made for a truly unforgettable weekend.

One of the most memorable points in the wedding itself: dashing to the far side of the canal to board the antique canal boat, just as rain began softly falling; we received champagne from the crew and headed to the stern end. The party sort of naturally gravitated there, to the seating around the natural focal point — a three tier cake, adorned in peonies.  Elise and Matt embarked to the cheers of wedding guests and locals alike, and champagne-flutes-in-hand, continued to the back of the boat.  Radiating pure joy, as Elise’s eyes finally lit on her wedding cake**, she couldn’t wait to share it with the rest of us.  Elise’s delight in sharing (from her own fork, even) was much like the entirety of the Amsterdam Experience, in which the new Hu-Stiles family so happily included us all.

**incidentally, one of the most delicate, delicious wedding cakes ever constructed (even the fondant was delightful!).  The Dutch surely know their way around a stick of butter.


If I take one thing away from my first-ever trip abroad, it’s this: The Dutch are tall. I mean really tall. I’m convinced that the average resident of Amsterdam could post up Yao Ming with six inches to spare. It took about three seconds after boarding the plane from Washington Dulles for me to realize this, mostly because Matt couldn’t stop gawking at the flight attendant whose head looked like it could scrape the cabin ceiling sitting down.

If I take away two things, the second is that Heineken cures cancer, leads to better sex and can power a rocket ship to Mars. If Kim Jong-Il drank a Heineken with dinner tonight, North Korea would not only be a democracy by morning, it would be richer and more prosperous than any nation on Earth. Heineken is so amazing that all pronouns referring to It should be capitalized. And if you don’t feel the same way, you should visit the Heineken Experience. I dare you.

Chase, giving his toast on the boat.

At a distant third are Matt and Elise, who I’m told got married at some point during our trip. At least that’s what I think that ceremony was. I was still a little hazy from the bachelor party, which was a completely wholesome affair involving tulips, windmills and one too many glasses of very classy but minimally alcoholic chardonnay. And Dutch Hercules, who didn’t waste any time showing those girls who was boss. But that’s a different story.

What’s amazing to me is that there’s so much to remember about such a short trip that it’s been a challenge not to forget the details. And the details, from the awful Europop thumping across the bay from the rehearsal dinner, to the V&D gift bag odyssey, to the way Roger’s face turned upside-down when he swigged that rice wine, are what made Matt and Elise’s wedding so incredible for all of us.

One last moment that really sticks with me: Matt and I spent most of the wedding day sitting in our room, serving as a persistent disappointment to Channing, who kept popping in with the hope that Matt was up to something more interesting than looking for a Wi-Fi signal. Matt was anxious at first, which was obvious because he was trying to play it cool, but a couple hours before the wedding — I don’t remember his exact words — he said something like “I was nervous before, but now I’m ready.” From then on, for maybe the first time since I’ve known him, the dude was a picture of calm.


There is nothing average about Elise and Matt or their relationship, so why should their wedding be the typical whoop-de-do? This was the first time I ever: rode a rented bike–to meet a boat–to take us to a museum dedicated to purses–to see my friends tie the knot. My favorite moment of the ceremony was when the officiant rang a bell and authoritatively declared: “I pronounce you husband and wife.” It was like the bell signified the transubstantiation of Elise and Matt’s marriage; that bell made it official.

Of course, that bell signified something just as important: it meant it was time to celebrate. Everyone knows that every wedding ceremony is just the prelude to the real reason everyone comes to a wedding: the reception. But of course for Elise and Matty, there was no typical reception with the bouquet toss and garter throw. Instead there was:

+ swigging from a communal bottle of Chinese rice wine
+ the VIP section of Amsterdam’s hottest night club
+ a visit from a couple of transvestites who obviously wished that some of Elise’s glamour would rub off on them
+ “entertainment” by a couple of guys bathed in gold glitter, pacing and posing across a raised section of the dance floor
+ getting to bed after 4:30 in the morning

The canal boat reception

Amsterdam itself was not new or different to me. I had been there almost three years ago to the month during a solo trek across the continent. I loved the city and the people, but I left without making a single friend, and as I left, I told myself that I would someday return, but this time with friends. And this time was definitely about the friends, not about the city.

One of my most favorite photos of Channing’s series from the weekend is a fabulous shot of the group of us on the boat after the ceremony; everyone is laughing, taking photos, blissed out after eating the world’s best strawberry cake, and engaged in conversation with each other…but just off center, yet still in the middle of the action, are Elise and Matty, totally consumed in their own post-nuptials bubble. I love this shot because it encompasses the theme of the weekend: reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, and celebrating the amazing love of two dear friends.

And, oh God, that strawberry cake. It was like the chorus of “Strawberry Fields Forever” come to life in every bite.

Written by elisehu

June 13th, 2010 at 3:15 am

We’ll Always Have Amsterdam

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Did we really get married in Amsterdam? It still feels like a dream. Neither my Matty nor I am Dutch, but Holland is my diplomat mother’s latest post. When I first visited the 900 year old city, I fell in love with its old-world charm and progressive style. Every block is infused with history or lore; it’s replete with more canals than Venice, a mix of modern and medieval architecture and a vibe that makes me feel more alive. For a nostalgic like myself, it seemed the best place to make long-lasting wedding memories with the people we love the most.

Because of the strong sentimental streak, the first thing I did after selecting our unusual locale was hire someone to document the celebration. There was no one else in mind to shoot the wedding besides my college friend Channing Johnson, a news photojournalist who is now making beautiful photos as a wedding photographer in Boston. So we’re really fortunate he said yes. We booked his ticket abroad before ours. His photos (seen throughout this post) explain why.

It took blind calls to 27 Dutch wedding planners to settle on Tim Laan, a successful planner based near Amsterdam. Tim got started right away with finding venues for the 35 people we expected to take part in the late May fete. During our holiday break in December, Matt and I traveled to a freezing Amsterdam to meet Tim for the first time and check out what he had planned. Highlight? My first taste of the cake that we would settle on for the wedding reception. (It ended up being among the favorite food served all weekend.)

Stateside, I found a dress in 45 minutes and husband Matt has a knack for graphic design, so he custom-designed our Save the Dates, invitations, programs and menu. The paper store employees liked his work so much that they saved it in their books to show to future clients. For the bridesmaids, I chose a designer and color – fittingly called “Euro” red – and let the girls pick the cuts of their dresses on their own.

In the remaining months before the wedding, I spent little time fussing over details, since my job as a journalist consumes most of my days (and nights) and with a destination wedding, I found that the particulars matter less because just being on vacation with dozens of your favorite people overrides other concerns. Moreover, being thousands of miles away means you pretty much have to relinquish control.

Wandering around Amsterdam together...

Serendipity carried us through the weekend. The wedding itself was set for Saturday, and Matty and I flew in on Thursday morning. In the first great coincidence, Matt’s best man Chase happened to be on the same flight overseas, and even better – he had unknowingly chosen a seat right next to us. The three of us arrived at Schipol airport to find our friends the Rocap family – Blake, Nisha and their 2 year old, Ellie, waiting for us at the airport Burger King. It brought immense joy to arrive on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to see faces from home.

Getaway weddings certainly weed out random acquaintances, so we were delighted that more than a dozen of our fun, successful friends hopped over to Holland for a long holiday weekend. Family members and longtime friends of parents accounted for another dozen or so guests to fill out a roster of just over 30.

We put up the wedding party and my family members at the NH Doelen Hotel, located right in the historic city center. It wasn’t until after we arrived that I learned the hotel’s building had been around since before the canals – it used to be a Dutch defense post — and in 1642, Rembrandt painted his most famous work, The Night Watch, on the third floor. Most wedding events were set for late afternoons and evenings, allowing guests plenty of time to wander the sights and sounds of the city – they dispersed to visit the home where young Anne Frank hid with her family from the Nazi’s, or the Van Gogh Museum that houses the largest collection of the impressionist artist’s work, and those less concerned with history or art went on the “Heineken Experience” at the old pilsner beer brewery.

Thursday afternoon, with more friends having arrived from Texas, New York, Arizona, California and Washington, we wandered the streets to the city’s famous Red Light District and found ourselves sitting at the outdoor patio of a bar near Yam Yam Sex Shop and Favorite Chicken and Ribs, not far from what the tour book called the area for the “less expensive prostitutes.” The old Dutch waitress offered plenty of beers, but just “red wine”. Bridesmaid April enjoyed a red wine of nondescript varietal or vintage.

On Friday, more family and another bridesmaid arrived under blue clear skies and Tim Laan the wedding planner took us to the ceremony location for a rehearsal. We were to be married the next day in a 17th century mansion along Amsterdam’s most prestigious canal – Herengracht. The patrician place is now the home of the Tassenmuseum, the museum of handbags and purses. While this was also unplanned, a purse museum is a most fitting tribute to my mother, whose extensive designer handbag collection has long been the source of much laughter and derision in my family. Since Dutch ceremonies are so low key, neither our officiant nor the musicians attended the rehearsal. We basically had to wing it.

The whole gang met up for Friday night’s rehearsal dinner, a traditional ten-course Chinese banquet style fete on a floating restaurant – the Sea Palace. Our private dining space included a sprawling patio on the water where we all reunited as a group before sitting down to dinner. And oh, the dinner. The courses just kept on coming. The chef chose sublime seafood creations of whatever was caught that day – lobster, shrimp, fresh fish and more, and we took a culinary tour through one authentic Chinese dish after another.

Since the focus that night was family, both Matt and I made thank you remarks and presented gifts to my parents. Matt lost his mom and dad nearly a decade ago, so in a touching moment, he presented my father a #1 Dad pin that he’d given to his now-deceased dad when he was just a little boy. We all got a good collective cry out of that one.

Mom and Dad speaking at the rehearsal dinner.

On wedding day, skies were blue over the city and Tim Laan took care of the “work” of the day, allowing me not to leave the hotel until ceremony time. The hairdresser and makeup artists came to my suite, where they worked on the bridesmaids and me. Flowers fresh from Amsterdam’s famous flower market were arranged by a nearby florist and delivered to us by Tim sometime late in the afternoon. Moments before I had to leave for the museum, we stepped out onto the balcony outside the bathroom of the suite to a gorgeous city below for an abbreviated photo session.

The girls and I waited in a separate period room in the museum as the groom and the rest of the guests were picked up by canal boat at the hotel and transported to the ceremony.

My father’s connection to classical music is deep. He named me Elise after a Beethoven piano piece, and I spent my childhood playing and competing in classical piano. He says that while growing up during Mao’s terrifying Cultural Revolution in China, it was the destruction of music that told him the government’s actions were wrong. Decades later, it was the music of Bach, Mendelssohn and Mozart, performed by Dutch violinist and cellists, that welcomed guests and served as soundtrack to the ceremony. True to Dutch tradition, we sat down at a desk for the ceremony until the part we stood up to say ‘I do’. We were married in a centuries-old period room, under a ceiling fresco of angels, with our best friends and family members looking on.

We exited the mansion to a shower of rose petals and the start of a light rain shower.  Together we all boarded our canal boat for a lazy cruise through the city, filling ourselves with champagne, cocktails, canapés and the most delicious strawberry creme cake. As our boat wound through the maze of circular canals, we passed under hundreds of the city’s unique bridges and rushed to steal a kiss under the famous “Skinny Bridge.” Tradition governs that kissing under the bridge will make your love last forever. The best man gave his toast while on board, and we all ate, drank and laughed for hours, enjoying all the cheers and honks and raised glasses from random Dutch people who passed by on foot, bike and boat.

The canal boat ride concluded by returning us to the NH Doelen Hotel for a feast of dinner. My younger brother, male maid of honor and 87 year old grandma all gave fantastic toasts to end the dinner.

Our stomachs full, the younger crowd continued the celebration, stopping at De Jaren, a well known bar next to the hotel, for a round of drinks before Tim guided us through the rain-soaked streets, our long dresses swooshing along the pavement, to Club Air, a hip new dance club in the city’s Rembrandt Square. We reserved a V.I.P bottle service area with easy access to the dance floor so there was plenty of seating and libation. We drew much attention since I remained in my wedding gown. The drag queens, scantily clad performance artists and crowded dance floor kept our party going until past three in the morning.

The official wedding festivities concluded with a brunch at Brasserie Harkema, an old tobacco factory converted into a modern restaurant serving traditional French brunch fare. We all sat around one long table, and my 87 year old grandma, looking out at the crowd of loved ones from the U.S., Holland, China and Taiwan, with Indian, Jamaican, Mexican and other assorted heritages represented, said it looked like a meeting of the United Nations. We felt so proud to have such a diverse crowd join us to celebrate our marriage.

Worth noting: Moments before he gave me away, my dad and I entered the ceremony to Robert Schumann’s Traumerei, which means “dreaming” in German. Looking back, that song selection was more appropriate than I could have known.

Written by elisehu

June 13th, 2010 at 12:45 am

Back from Greece

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The epic wedding weekend was so amazing that it’s hard to believe it’s real, but I’m pretty sure it actually happened. The travelogue and all that is to come, but first, a look at our week in Crete, Greece’s big Southern island and the birthplace of Zeus. And the home of the most delicious tomatoes and honey. (Not to be eaten together, of course.)

Written by elisehu

June 9th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Travels

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