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Go Back to Phase Two: Getting married backwards.
Along with the miriads of other people, we watched the Towers fall on the news and the world change as we were stranded in Bucharest for four days. Most of you know how empty and chaotic airplane flights were in the subsequent month as we did our touring. Everyone has their story about the long lines of people trying to pass through security checks, the rather draconian measures to which such checks were taken, and the rescheduling needed to arrive at the airport written on the ticket. But acknowledging the risk that I may be compromising truth for the sake of one-upmanship, I'll share a couple of things that might bring a smile to your face or a sigh of relief that you had a different fate than we did.
When my travel agent Ms. Expedia Dotcom presented me with my choices for routes a month before the attacks on the U.S., the cheapest choice was through a place called HELL. At least that is what the airport symbol was. I'm serious, our first stop on my poor fiancée's first trip to the United States was supposed to be in HELL! Not only would this selection cast a pallor over her visit, but it would be too ironic as she already was not looking forward to her first visit to my motherland. If her ticket listed IAD (which translates to the land of eternal ppunishment in her native Romanian), I imagined all the sly remarks that I would hear from her for the rest of our lives. "Laurentiu took me through HELL." "I went through HELL to marry him." (As you can tell from our story to this point, religious leaders had already put us through Purgatory so far so calling it hell was not too much of a stretch.) "America is the other side of HELL." Or "Los Angeles isn't HELL, but you have to go through it to get there." I figured that IAD was an airport in someplace remote like Iceland. But it turns out to be the abbreviation for Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. And you always wondered why our politicians are so devilish. With the crime rate in DC, I should have guessed that was HELL. Needless to say, I picked another route through Detroit. When we finally flew, our Detroit from Detroit to LAX was rerouted through Las Vegas, where we arrived at midnight for a five hour layover. If you must spend the first three ours of a day in any city, I suppose Las Vegas is the place to do it. True, the Big Apple never sleeps either, but it is mostly the criminals that are nocturnal. Las Vegas has legalized what most places deem criminality to oneself and one's family. In any case, despite not having money to hand over to theone-armed bandits, we found the city active, interesting, and most importantly safe even during the dark morning hours. I had always wanted to propose to Aurelia in my heart's home, Italy, the Venetian Hotel would have to do. Since no gondoliers were on duty, I asked for her hand in front of the Bridge of Sighs.
Another escapade that is probably never to be repeated in our lives or yours was flying into and out of the same airport twice in the same day. Yes, Mr. Ripley, our flight from Raleigh, North Carolina to Detroit, Michigan got so discombobulated by the 9/11 aftermath that we our path went Raleigh-Atlanta-Toledo then back to Atlanta because we missed our short hop to Detroit, and finally to our destination. I suppose they figured that since we paid more for our round trip Detroit-Raleigh-Detroit than from Europe to Los Angeles, they should give us our money's worth.
After got Aurelia a fiancée's visa and flew to the US to meet relatives, friends, colleagues, church, and most of all, for us to finally meet Sandy for our final face-to-face counseling in Portland, Oregon. Aurelia also got the chance to see the magnificent Portland rose garden. A typical woman, she went wild over the tremendous assortment of flowers she found there. The Japanese garden was fascinating also.
All our friends and counsellors encouraged us in our plans to get married, perhaps being even more positive than we were. Having lived single over thirty years in different cultures, we weren't without reservations despite having dated more than 3 years.
However, we returned to Romania encouraged by those with more knowledge and experience than we had. We were conscious that that few couples have stayed together as long and through as many setbacks as we had. However, with apologies to The Carpenters, we were to find that the comical tragedy 'had only just begun.'
Upon arrival in Romania, we called the Betel Baptist Church in Timisoara and scheduled our wedding ceremony for June 5, 2002. On the phone, we discovered that there had been a change of pastors and the ubiquitously respected Petru Dugulescu had been replaced by Petru Bulica.
Mr. Bulica assured us that we would still be permitted to wed in the church despite the change of power. Since we had known and worked much more with Dugu, we asked for permission to have him officiate our wedding. He was willing but said that unfortunately, he was going to be in Turkey. So, we set things up with Mr. Bulica to officiate.
Now, I was used to the American order of priorities, where the Church called the shots. Like most Christians, we consider ourselves first of all married before God, regardless of how other people, principalities or authorities consider us. 'What God has joined, let no man put asunder.' Following that rationale, Americans get married first before God, usually in a sacred place, and then the pastor signs the legal documents. (I remember what an issue it was when I was best man at my friend John's marriage when the pastor left before signing the documents. We chased the man down.)
Little did we know, that isn't the way things work in Romania. Perhaps the procedure was leftover from the communist days and then adopted by the churches. We were about to get another rude awakening.
A month before the wedding, Aurelia was in Moldova, making preparations for the reception planned for the weekend after our wedding. I was in Transylvania taking care of my portion of the process, the religious ceremony. During the discussions, we discovered that the civil service must come first.
I couldn't imagine how a religious group could relegate the joining of man and woman to a secular organization. They said it was illegal to pronounce someone as husband and wife when they aren't. While it is true that governments can set whatever procedure their hearts' desire in order for them to recognize two people as united for legal and tax purposes. However, for the Christian churches to require Ceasar to approve what God approves before they approve it is questionably bordering on blasphemy. The Church already has little power in the secular society of the 21st Century. To give away all authority, even over spiritual things, goes against this American's sense of separation of church and state.
Then I asked the missionary friend that works with the baptisti if, once we got married, would be able to sleep in the same bed. He said the Repenters would not consider us married until we got married in their church. I laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn't.
The churches haven't had the courage to put up any resistance to the government. Perhaps it can be argued that this is the absolute application of being "submissive to rulers and authorities." However, they had chosen to take a path of passive resistence, trying to convince themselves after the fact that what had happened wasn't very important. This unhealthy attitude may have come of necessity, but it probably is not facilitating healthy mental conditions in those groups.
Still incredulous about the whole process, I immediately ran down to city hall to discover how to get the civil ceremony done. The first question they asked me was, 'Are you a resident of Timisoara?' It turned out that renting an apartment there didn't qualify me as a resident. Officially, I resided in Curtea de Arges, an overnight train ride and two bus rides away.
"Is your fiancée a resident here?"
Although she hadn't lived there in years, her identity card listed her as residing in Bucharest. So, the government official informed us that we would have to get married in the capital. This meant we had to both travel overnight to Bucharest and get everthing done before another overnight trip back Timisoara. Additionally, she had to get a health exam, which requires a few days in order to get the results! (Unless you pay under the table.) So, that night, I called her with the new twist to our adventure.
"Sweetheart," I said in a panic. "We have a third ceremony to plan! You have to get here next week so that you can get your medical exam and then we have to get married at the town hall before we come up to Timisoara. We need another best man since Andy can't come to Bucharest. We need a new maid of honor since my sister can't change her flight this late!"
This late in the game, getting a medical exam without a bribe was out of the question. So, we had to do things the conventional way, by greasing the pockets of the physician. Normally, I wouldn't ascribe to such primitive tactics, but desperate time demand desperate measures. It wasn't of major concern for us also because we knew she was healthy from the medical exam for her visa. So, a hundred thousand Lei (about $30) to a female doctor at Titan Hospital and she had her clean bill of health.
We quickly called the city hall for Sector 3, where Aurelia's residence was. To get our witnesses, we called on Aurelia's sister Lili and her boyfriend at the time. They consented to doing the task.
Finally, on Friday, May 31, 2002, the four of us appeared at city hall of Sector 3. The city hall is a small yellow building surrounded by a black metal gate looking more like a large villa than a public building.
People that are still unmarried have this image in their heads that when something so momentous occurs, the heavens open, the angels sing, and the rockets' glare like they did over Ft. Mc Henry. I was no different.
But, at least in Romania, it was closer to a trip to the local alimentary shop. Don't get me wrong, Aurelia was the most radiant of God's creatures that had ever walked the earth. They had set the time for us to be there. We waited about 2 hours and then had about fifteen minutes for the ceremony. Presiding over the ceremony was a kind and thin, yet pretty lady in her mid forties, with shoulder-length brown hair. If her appearance weren't pleasing enough, she wore a sache like Miss America, yet in the Romanian colors of red, yellow, and blue which made her appear more like a birthday gift than a beauty queen. She stood flanked by two assistants in front of a Romanian flag posted on the wall. Though it was evident that she served as many people as a waitress at Denny's, the ceremony wasn't as impersonal as ordering a Big Mac and fries. (For pictures of the wedding, click here!) After the wedding came the signing of the documents.
That is when I noticed a peculiarity that the two Romanians who had already signed hadn't noticed. Next to the best man, was the place that the maid of honor was supposed to sign. However, Aurelia's name was written there. And next to my name, the maid of honor had signed! Thus, after three years of counseling, filing petitions with the government and waiting for visas, after books, surveys, and thousands of dollars exhausted more than anyone else on the planet to ensure I was marrying the right person, the one human being in five billion divinely selected for me, I had married her sister! At that moment, I was reminded of the sense of humor of our Creator.
I brought the discrepancy up to the official and she said she'd take care of it. We trust that she did. Poor Lili had to get her ID card replaced since they destroyed hers. Lili and I still celebrate our "anniversary" on May 31. Fortunately, Aurelia has a good sense of humor. That sense of humor would come in handy the following week.
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