As Italy continues its re-opening post COVID-19 lockdown, it’s been refreshing to see stores reopening with summer clothes, restaurants adding tables outside to accommodate more people at a distance, and businesses coming up with ways to adapt to stringent safety measures.
Some businesses may not have the opportunity to open anytime soon, namely those that involve events with large gatherings of people. Destination weddings, in particular, hold a perfect storm of every COVID-19 related safety concern- lots of people of all ages “gathering”, many that need to travel, advanced planning, hugging and kissing, etc. Add to that the once in a lifetime (or twice or three times- we don’t judge!) importance of the event, and it’s no surprise that many couples have rescheduled their wedding plans for 2020 - leaving those in the wedding industry to wonder- what’s next?
We spoke with Melanie Secciani, artisan at Tuscan Wedding Cakes, to get her perspective on how the wedding industry is adapting to the situation. Rated #1 cake designer in Italy by destination weddings and honeymoons magazine, Melanie has a passion for creating memories by delivering a 5-sensory experience for couples and their guests.
“The cake cutting ceremony is a special moment, one of the last during the wedding where everyone is focused on the couple at once. First, they see the cake, and because the designs are so unique, people often don’t believe it’s real, they are expecting a flat sheet cake to be brought out from the back,” says Melanie. “Then they hear the sound of the knife going through the cake, and it's clear that it's real. Then they smell the flavors that open up, and touch the delicate frosting. Then finally they taste it. Each sensory moment is as important as the taste, each adds up to creating a memory that I hope will last a lifetime.”
When she thinks about the importance of these memories, she understands completely why couples would choose to postpone - no one wants the weight of COVID-19 fears hanging over their destination wedding in Florence and in Italy. She is heartbroken for her brides that spent their whole lives planning their wedding in their heads, only to have to reschedule. And she’s heartbroken for the small business owners such as photographers, florists, stationers that are hard hit financially. But even more than the financial loss- the thing many in business don’t talk about- is the loss of doing what you love.
“Small Italian artisans that provide wedding services are passionate about what they do, and they just want to work,” says Melanie. “We all have the perspective that we’re lucky to be healthy and live in Italy where destination weddings will ultimately continue, but for this summer, we’re facing the triple sadness of feeling compassion for our couples, struggling with financial realities, and missing what we love to do every day.”
A city like Florence that has survived plague, floods, wars and those preaching condemnation will not only survive, but thrive in the long run. But as we rebuild, it’s important to take a moment to recognize both the challenges and ultimately the hope that we all feel. We love Melanie’s fortitude, compassion, honesty and optimism- summarized so beautifully in her own words in a Facebook post she wrote last month- adapted here with her permission:
"No one has come out and said when the wedding industry will reopen in Italy. Some are hoping for September/October - and maybe? But since most weddings are planned at least 6 months (and destination weddings 1-2 years) in advance, that will leave tens of thousands of photographers, videographers, musicians, florists, calligraphers and yes cake artists...income-less and paying to keep their businesses legally open for probably the next year, maybe 2. There’s no good way to write that.
But far more hopeless is some of the advice that has been given.
On a Zoom conference with a prominent wedding planner - the best advice was to “Lengthen your runway” (make your money last as long as possible by cutting all expenses because you won’t be making any for a long time) -obviously - and think about sequined covered face masks (not kidding). That, by the way, was the most helpful advice I’ve heard. More than one newspaper has suggested Italians left without work, return to migrant farming. The NYT picked up on the trend and even published their own article on that particular solution.
And, of course, my personal favorites are all the people who suggest unsolicited business pivots, or completely new ventures. Did you forget already I am supposed to be “lengthening my runway” to last a couple of years?"
"I don’t think I’m so very unique in the way I coped/ or didn’t in the weeks after the lockdown. There were days I cried as the world shifted and became more precarious. Days I couldn’t read the newspaper. Days I couldn’t not. I felt powerless as my business evaporated. I felt impotent as people I knew, whose work I consider essential, saw everything just gone. Fear fed fear, as the bills kept coming in. And online schooling. And it wasn’t working. And how can I help navigate the kids? And what, what next, what?
More than anything: the Sirens. Constant. And more so, because they were the only noise. And the grief they carried, as thick as fog. Those sirens, I swear, they had their own field of energy. And it felt as physical as any bullet. And then, well-meaning people asking, “What’s my plan?” I couldn’t even legally leave my house. And even if I could, I didn’t want to. Plan?
I think a lot of people felt like that. I think maybe a lot still do. When the fog lifted, I found a way to breathe. I started painting everything: tables, dressers, vases, floors. Any surface I could, with anything that I had. At one point, I ran out of brushes and used the grass.
So air and grief and desperation, but also a BUT.
At this point, maybe you need this as much as I do - the plague of 1400. I know it’s supposed to be the high note. 12,000 in a city of 50,000 died. And that wasn’t even Florence’s worst plague year! Yep, I’ve got hope nailed!
In 1401 in response to a plague, maybe to ward off bad luck, Florence’s Wool Guild announced a contest to create new doors for the baptistery. New doors. Think of that. I mean of all the things a world consumed by plague might need, DOORS. And the theme of the panel for the doors was salvation. The moment when God spares Abraham from killing his son. The door commission put money into the local economy and filled the need for something demonstratively beautiful, hopeful and skilled after so much devastation.
They were a reminder that salvation is possible. They were a call to create. A young unknown goldsmith named Ghiberti beat out another young unknown goldsmith named Brunelleschi for the commission. For Ghiberti, one door led to another, and because of that “The Gates Of Paradise” and a legacy were created.
Oh, but there’s more. This is a really hopeful story.
There was still Brunelleschi. I imagine him feeling pretty hopeless, knocked down in an unfair system. I mean contests are never fair, and they’re almost always about who you know. He was more solitary, not as skilled at art politics as Ghiberti. Feeling like the whole city was kind of against him. Also he’d just survived a plague. Because of this, he went off to sulk and study architecture in Rome. He packed up, and decided to become better. And man, did he carry a grudge. 16 years later he came back and entered another contest - also against Ghiberti - to build the dome on the cathedral. And that’s now the Duomo of Florence. In the story in my head, he did that because he lost the doors. And the doors happened because of the plague. And the Italian Renaissance - I don’t know when that actually started (I’m almost sure there’s an argument in art history) but Google says 1420, the same year construction on the Dome began. So maybe also the Italian Renaissance, at least in part, happened because of that plague.
The city is who I’m going to take my advice from. Knowing that at the very least, what’s been done before is at a minimum possible. In the not too distant future there will be weddings, and parties and celebrations again. They are the stuff of life. And I will make cakes, because they are the medium I use to create memories and share joy.
In the meantime, I’m going to take each day as the gift it is. That’s my plan. I’m looking forward to a year of miraculous ideas. To painting and cooking and learning. Tomorrow I’m taking my third trip outside to go look at those doors to paradise. To look at the possible."
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