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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