Andrea was super bummed because he had planned to drive us out to his favorite spot in the woods to show me all the baby animals that were born this Spring. "A celebration of new life," he said.
I, on the other hand, was perfectly content staying hungover at home. I kept telling him that we could just go some other time, but he was quite determined that it HAD to be today...
At one point there was a break in the rain and we decided to make a run for it. With no time for lunch (or even a shower!) lest we lose this tiny window of dryness, we just grabbed whatever was in the fridge and the bottle of champagne on the counter, stopped to buy a couple of picnic chairs (and an emergency hair dryer so I could be presentable for dinner with the FranKats later that night) and off we went...
There we sat, enjoying the pastoral Dutch countryside and a beautiful blue sky that came out of nowhere, laughing at our good fortune (the Universe was CLEARLY conspiring with us) as several cows, a few sheep, and many passersby on the road, bore witness to our impromptu pot-luck picnic atop my emergency hair-dryer box.
It is worth noting that we had actually been planning the wedding together for the past month and even started designing our rings. And although my spider-sense is usually pretty perceptive, nothing about this particular day or series of events struck me as all that unusual. In fact, we were musing at the fact that this seemed like a perfectly normal thing for us to do on a random Saturday. So even when he broke out the lovely bottle of Veuve dressed in a cute little orange scuba suit, the fact that we would normally have grabbed a 5 euro bottle of prosecco still didn't phase me...nor did I flinch when he whipped out a long letter that he had written me which he wanted to read "so he wouldn't forget anything."
Ummm...Hello, I'm Clueless. Nice to meet you.
In fact, I was so clueless that I kept interrupting him with random fits of laughter and smart-ass commentary - all of which are now immortalized on the iPhone recording he made of the whole thing. And even after hearing the most beautiful words, thoughts, and sentiments, again, nothing about this scenario struck me as unusual.
I do realize that I am the luckiest woman in the world because of this.
Eventually, as he neared the end of his letter, with both of us crying and laughing and looking generally ridiculous to everyone driving past us (including the guy with the giant teddy bear in the passenger seat of an Airel Atom), despite the fact that this was probably one of the most obvious proposal set-ups in the history of man, I could not have been more surprised when his last words were...
"Will you marry me?"
I'm not sure a burst of hysterical laughter was exactly the response he was expecting, but at some point in between breaths I said YES!!!!
As if on cue, some bikers and cars came by, honking and cheering - I swear I think it was more obvious to the people on the road than to me what was transpiring here - and we toasted to the pure simplicity and spontaneity of the moment...
Apparently the original plan was to do this in some magical Tuscan sunflower field during the Mille Miglia the next week. But alas, that would have been far too predictable. No, it had to be done here, at this time and in this place: under a gorgeous blue sky (sadly, a rarity in Holland) surrounded by green spring grass and fields of nondescript yellow flowers, on the side of a dirt road with a makeshift picnic in the trunk of the car, in front of random bikers and a herd of cows (come on, COWS???), with me unshowered, un-madeup and definitively unglamorous wearing cargo pants, a plastic hair clip and gym shoes.
Said fashion abomination notwithstanding,
it couldn't have been more perfect.
I mean really, what other circumstances could have made it more special for us? A weekend trip to Paris? Did that in November. Fireside in a cozy Alpine mountain chalet? Already there twice this year. The Piazza Navona in Rome next to the Fountain of the Four Rivers? Been there, done that. Channeling Yuri Orlov and commandeering a private beach? Hmmm...
No, like many of my other ex-pat friends, I am slowly coming to realize that such things are just part of a "normal" life here in Europe...but as amazing as they are, in the end, it is always the simple, boring, everyday things that bring us the most joy.
Like singing Ligabue songs (really, REALLY badly) at the top of our lungs in the car and laughing all the way home...
All you really need for a great picnic is some food (whatever is in your fridge will surely do) and a little spontaneity. It also helps to have a sense of humor and to fondly embrace imperfection.
And if you can time it with the completely random and inexplicable launching of a hot-air balloon branded with the initial of your finance, well...
all the better.
This is what we grabbed that morning:
1 bottle of Veuve Clicquot (though a 5 euro bottle of Prosecco works fine too)
A day-old baguette
Near-empty bag of crostini
Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
A block of cheese
Half a salame
Wine Key* (obviously didn't need it for the champagne, but force of habit)
Picnic chairs* (with beach towels and a blanket as back-up)
Hair-dryer box, optional but surprisingly handy
*These 5 things now permanently reside in the boot of our car
3/4 pound pitted black and green olives
3 to 4 ounces capers, rinsed
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 bay leaf, finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse to combine well, then process until coarsely pureed. Serve with crusty bread or crackers. Hand-feed to someone you love.