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Updates from Elise and Matty Hu-Stiles

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

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