When life gives you a pandemic and a 50th birthday what do you do? For about 10 years I had a plan of what my birthday was going to be. But that was going to be impossible given the travel restrictions. So the question was how could I have the perfect 50th birthday anyway? Especially when my initial birthday plan included family who do not live in Italy with me. After a lot of contemplating, sometimes over wine with very accommodating friends, I decided to let it go by without much fanfare. J. was going to be away in the States until 3 days before my birthday so we couldn’t really travel somewhere local so the perfect 50th birthday for me was going to be a low-key affair.
Now, I have to divulge that I am not one to skip, or ignore a birthday normally. They are big deals to me-not just mine but everyone’s I know. But no plan I came up with seemed right without my family and the usual getaways were impossible with J. gone. Yet as the day grew closer my friends just couldn’t accept my decision so with their gentle and loving nudges, and a nonchalant mention from my sister that maybe she could fly over since she was newly vaccinated-a plan began to percolate.
How difficult could it be to plan the perfect 50th birthday with only a few weeks notice? Turns out with aforementioned friends, and the rolling hills of Tuscany as my home, anything is possible.
We began looking for a venue. I wanted the perfect Italian villa with a view of Tuscany that could accommodate 27 people for dinner, dancing and drinks. After a lot of searching and nothing ticking every box a friend mentioned a villa, and off we went to check it out. And there it was, the perfect Tuscan villa, the one I had envisioned when I dreamt of my life in Tuscany-Villa Michaela. A walk around, a discussion of a menu, and I had my dream venue. Next a COVID restriction regulation change from the Italian government and a plane ticket was purchased and my sister was scheduled to attend.
The planning came together, the food and wine were chosen, my invitation sent out, playlist composed and now it was all over but the waiting. (I am going to stop here to tell you that it wasn’t this easy, and without the incredible work of several of my friends this party would never, ever have been the perfect event it was).
The evening arrived, guests began to gather on our doorstep to take the black Mercedes vans to the Villa. I stopped for a quick glance at my sister and J. and I knew no matter what the evening had what I needed, family and friends.
The walk to the villa was the start of the dream evening. Everyone dressed so elegantly, laughing, and smiling as we walked up the stone drive to the entrance of Villa Michaela. The huge iron gates symbolically stood open, welcoming us in. The lime green vines on the old buildings hanging down, holding together the stones laid hundreds of years ago. We were escorted into the dining hall, its massive wood table and elegant sofas lining the walls. I stood under the sparkling crystal chandeliers welcoming my friends, watching as each one stepped out of the massive wood doors and into the seclusion of the villas lemon tree garden. The soft splashes of water falling from the fountain, while the sun quietly began to set.
After everyone arrived I too stepped into the lemon tree garden, and as I looked out onto the lawn, there under the arches of grapevines was my perfect 50th birthday party. The servers walked around with food, the tables were filled with wine and Prosecco and the cool night area was filled with the melodious notes of good friends talking.
A surprise had been arranged for me, two of our incredibly talented friends were going to sing opera for us in the cozy chapel built next to the main building of the villa. There we gathered, seated in golden chairs, the doors of the chapel open to the rolling hills of Tuscany, covered in grapevines, olive trees, villas and reflections of the setting sun. We listened. Some of us cried with joy or remembrance of other family members who loved certain songs, some of us smiled quietly appreciating every note. Whatever it was we did, we all knew how special those moments were and all of us were grateful.
From there, we were escorted to our dining table, set in front of a wall of blooming and fragrant white jasmine. Our joy reflecting in the pool behind us we began to drink, and eat, tell stories and share toasts. The night grew darker, the grapevines on the hills replaced by soft lights seeping through the villas windows. Each dish we consumed was a delight, especially the homemade desert lovingly made by a close friend (for 27 people!!). Then the music began. Our feet began moving, some better than others, but it didn’t matter, we were all there together, on this gorgeous lawn in front of the perfect villa, celebrating life, love, friendship and family. And everything was perfect.
As I walked back to black vans, lost in the nights sky, I knew exactly how to plan the perfect 50th birthday party.
All of the photos above are the courtesy of my incredibly talented friend Thomas S England-you truly can make magic!
Thank you to Steve for the fantastic invitation and for the patience it must have taken to listen to me angst over the villa the first time. To you and Maryann for the perfect music-but more importantly for the never-ending love you put into making sure it was perfect.
Karen and Eddie you nudged, you pushed, you pulled and in the end you were right. I needed to have that party and I will be forever grateful for the work, the love, the ideas, the organization, the suggestions, the laughter, for all of it.
J. and K. you know that without you both it would have been nothing.
Michelle Buscemi & Mattia Campetti the night would never have been the same without the sweet sound of your voices, the fantastic show, and the chance to hear Geoff sing again.