Nine thousand miles from home, I tied the knot like a princess when I married my Turkish fiancé in the moonlit gardens of an 18th century Ottoman palace, surrounded by 160 friends and family. My bridal hand in that perfect Istanbul evening was nearly invisible. No intercontinental bridezilla, instead along with my fiancé I had invited loved ones to contribute what they distinctly do best.
When Burç and I became engaged in January 2001, we led busy 30-something lives in New York City and felt that our official union would be meaningful to us no matter what it was, or wasn’t.
We already had what we wanted, each other. Even so, we appreciated the importance the nuptial ritual plays in our wider community and the potential complications of two cultures meeting and melding.
We decided foremost to involve others in the new life we were beginning. How better to achieve this than give them all a chance to shine? Our plan was to abdicate responsibility to family whose enthusiasm and talent eclipsed ours and to relieve others of commitments they might find a burden. We would be guests of honor. We’d show up, dressed and ready to wed. As a professional manager, Burç was comfortable with delegating responsibility. Normally the micromanaging type (high standards, eagle eye ), I recognized a positive result would be best masterminded from afar.
First we needed to choose a location and the major players. Mapping possible guests, my small nuclear family bunches in casual Northern California, extended relatives in Illinois and New York, friends speckle the globe. My fiancé’s large family cluster in Istanbul and his best friends dot the nations around the Mediterranean. We opted for the most family in one place: Istanbul, Turkey.
The weak exchange rate of the Turkish lira to the U.S. dollar ensured our production costs would be a fraction of a comparable American wedding, and my adventurous relatives could learn more about my new family and treat our happy occasion as an affordable summer trip to the legendary capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Burç’s celebratory family was ecstatic at the opportunity to throw a wedding, particularly his decorative mother Ayten (on her dining table the salt is dispensed from a crystal container in the shape of a swan with silver wings). She’d have a lot of help from her five sisters including Muko, a public relations veteran specializing in staging splashy events. Their taste wouldn’t match mine, but aesthetics seemed a fair exchange for the months of responsibilities they would shoulder. The Turkish siblings prepared for an August date.
In California my family launched into exciting travel research by spring while across the Atlantic, the Turks were already celebrating us a couple. Through Burç, news trickled in. Being handed the reins with such confidence led them to think hard about pleasing us and I sensed his family’s growing embrace of our marriage. The historic open-air setting of the Esma Sultan Palace his family chose felt as perfect as if we had selected it ourselves.
A three-storey colonnaded ruin on the Bosphorus Strait, gorgeously renovated by a luxe hotel chain, it was once the private residence of a particularly brainy daughter of a sultan. The waterside venue seemed like both a nod to my intellectual nature and archaeological studies as well as to the roots of my groom’s culture.
The week before the wedding we hosted gatherings in Istanbul hot spots and spent an afternoon reviewing the proceedings.
The Turkish sisters briefed us: parental receiving line, sunset cocktails, civil ceremony, dinner, dancing, cake at midnight. As long as we were happy with the plans, the sisters said, they were happy. It all sounded spectacular. Mother in law Ayten offered last minute choices. Since I hadn’t exhausted my bridely veto, my few verdicts were accepted with grace. Imagining the ungainly hoisting from sea to land I politely rejected arriving by boat, turned down an offer to shop for a veil, and nixed a noisy plan for fireworks. Ayten smiled and agreed, too noisy. Burç and I composed a blanket thank you card to be printed and sent after the wedding in the Turkish fashion -- not a newlywed minute was to be spent composing humorous letters of gratitude for gravy boats!
In another local custom -- an unconventional twist on the destination honeymoon -- ten camera-wielding friends accompanied us to a resort in Southern Turkey for a week of boating on the Aegean, dining and belly dancing under the stars.
Rather than over-exposed snapshots taken by a rushed waiter, their intimate photos are priceless reminders of our ensemble holiday.
At the airport newsstand, Aunt Muko shocked us with a final memento: glossy society magazines featuring spreads on the wedding. Releasing the notion that our wedding served primarily as a vanity vehicle for us, Burç and I saw a chance to blend our families at their best. Reward for the insight was a fete beyond our imagination.