Part one of a three-part story

BOSTON -- Rome Business Class (frequent flier miles), the Italian Open (tennis), a beautiful wedding in Florence, sunning on the Tuscan coast and the gift of a transatlantic voyage home, is, as they say, not too shabby.

The Wedding

The bride was Avery Appleton (daughter of Pam and Robert, former Groton residents); the groom, Gary Strack, who came east for his education and stayed to open two restaurants and a bar in Cambridge. And what a wedding it was.

The setting was the Villa Le Plazzole, a 12-bedroom house overlooking Florence with formal garden, solarium, a small amphitheater, swimming pool and two patios, one "Inside" near the kitchen, the other "outside," a wide open pavilion with a gorgeous view.

The four-day event began at the Florence Tennis Club hosted by the bride's Aunt Jodi (a published PhD, Florence University professor and director of the foreign studies program for a consortium of Midwestern colleges) and her husband (the Count), Sergio, an entrepreneur.

The wedding party was a mix of Lawrence Academy grads (Class of '96), Harvard alums, some senior citizens (us) and children of members of the bridal party. There was no planned seating arrangement. This resulted in a delightful mix of all age groups.

Lawrence Academy would have been proud of its graduates. They were doing well in fields of finance, print publishing and advertising; three of the Harvard guys were each writing the great American novel. We suggested a cookbook written by and for men might be more lucrative.

The dinner came intermittently, which gave us all a chance to get acquainted. The menu: Crostini, soup, pizza, pork; in salata, canolas and café with champagne and sparkling water. At the end, there was a toast but it was hard to tell if it was for the betrothed, our hosts or the guests. What a wonderful start for the occasion.

The evening ended early; we retired to the Villa Carlotta, a lovely B&B down the hill from the Villa Le Plazzole. One difference between Italian B&Bs and those here is the buildings. They are probably converted executive mansions including the luxurious furnishings and services that went with such establishments. We managed the comforts. And ... the price was right!

We spent the next two mornings at the Palazzo Pitti, a huge building hosting a half dozen separate museums near the city center. (The wedding invitation included passes to a number of popular places.) We spent the first day at a gallery of works produced by a colony of Japanese artists who settled in Florence in the 19th century. The influences of East and West were apparent in these beautiful works.

We spent the second day visiting the Costume Gallery. Here we saw an exhibit of 19th to 21st century evening gowns. These gowns, designed by Italian couturiers, were intended to reflect the mood of the times. The exhibit extended to a room full of neckties. One silk tie had a portrait of a female painted on the inside. There were, however, no bow ties, direct descendants of the cravat.

The party on the second evening was held on the Inside Patio at the Villa Plazzole. It was make-your-own-pizza night. The pizza oven was on a stage at one end of the patio, with all the necessities (tomatoes, pepperoni, cheeses, dough, etc.) and paddles on nearby tables. At the far end of the patio a shoulder level trench in the wall was filled with ice wine and soft drinks. Umbrella covered tables and chairs filled the space in between.

We stayed out of the line of fire and were rewarded -- pizzas came to us from everywhere. By this time the group was so integrated that conversations from the tennis club could be continued. Another delightful evening.

As all the wedding events were to be held out of doors, all breathing stopped when a few drops of rain fell as the wedding party assembled in the amphitheater. However, when the bride appeared in her beautiful satin gown, the rain stopped and the ceremony proceeded.

The bride and bridegroom met at the altar; the daughter of the maid of Honor, the flower girl, tossed the flowers and the ceremony began. It was quiet, personal and brief. The newlyweds kissed and we all clapped and cheered and congratulated the couple and headed for the reception.

The "outside" patio with its spectacular view was perfect for the celebration. Here, underneath an awning, was a long, shaded table loaded with a variety of hors d'oevres. Over there a table of champagne, wine and juices. A four-piece jazz band (drums bass, piano and sax) was blowing up a storm. The gauntlet was thrown down for dancing. We obliged. Everybody was mellow.

After the sun set, we adjourned to steak dinner in the solarium. A horseshoe table was set for about 50 guests. Since our relationships had become so eclectic, where we sat was irrelevant. My neighbor was a hiker from Boise, Idaho. She and I had a wonderful exchange of hiking experiences.

Brief dinner speeches followed and the party adjourned to the swimming pool where the young were now in ascendance. Time for us to bid adieu.

The next morning there was a getaway breakfast there at the "Inside" patio. A long table was laid out with goodies. Two special dishes were available: Italian tomato soup (cold and hot) and Crepe Suzettes (eggs, cheese, meat, etc.) made to order. Mimosas were the special drink but coffee (latte, cappuccino, regular or decaf) and tea or juice were also available.

What a way to go! And we did, catching a 2 p.m. bus to Siena. It was a glorious four days. Leaving such a friendly group was the difficult part.

To be continued.