Monday, September 3, 2012

Wedding #1 - Pittsburgh

Last Wednesday we arose at 3:30 am to begin our 3,000 mile trek to Pittsburgh for my son Aaron's wedding. Twelve hours later, luggage retrieved, car rented, armed with a folder full of MapQuest instructions, travelling east on I376 we leave the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania to enter the Fort Pitt Tunnel. After three quarters of a mile, the white tile lined route under Mount Washington opens up to a jaw dropping view of the Pittsburgh skyline described by the New York Times as "the best way to enter an American city." We have arrived, the adventure begins.

We look from our freeway vantage point across the intersection of three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio) to PNC field where the bridal couple and many of the wedding guest are enjoying a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. The bride's father and my son share a passion for baseball. After a stop-and-go trip through the almost mile long Squirrel Hill Tunnel, we arrive at our hotel on the eastern outskirts of the city in time to switch on the TV and catch a three run homer leading to a 5-0 victory for Pittsburgh. This is a good omen.

Knowing the late morning sleeping habits of our children, we decide to spend the early hours of the second day sightseeing. Gary has been talking about our first stop, the Duquesne Incline (pronounced "du-cane"), ever since Aaron and Elizabeth moved to Pittsburgh. The Incline is a funicular built in 1877 on the site of an earlier version that carried coal to the top of Mount Washington.

The ride in an antique car is a bit unnerving, but the view from the top is spectacular.

A short distance down Grandview Avenue is a small park with a dramatic sculpture of a 1770 face-to-face meeting between George Washington and the Seneca leader Guyasuta.

Our next stop is the Central Northside neighborhood called Mexican War Streets. The district consists of four blocks filled with restored 1848 row houses. We follow a walking tour down brick covered sidewalks charmed by the architecture and the setting.

The final stop of the morning is the Allegheny Cemetery, established in 1844, where we find impressive monuments for famous people such as Lillian Russell and Stephen Foster along with many of the industrialists who built the city of Pittsburgh.

No, this is not a church or a house. It is the final resting place for J. B. Ford of Pittsburgh Plate Glass.

Lunch and a drive through downtown past the H. H. Richardson designed courthouse, resembling a massive fortress, then we return to our hotel in Monroeville to await instructions for the remainder of the day.

The plan is for everyone to meet at Aaron and Elizabeth's apartment where we join up with Rebecca who traveled ahead of us. This is where we will meet Elizabeth's family for the first time. Just two exits away from our hotel we find the once proud town of Wilkinsburg. The loss of industrial jobs has taken a toll on the neighborhood, but at least the rent is low for struggling filmmakers.

Sharing food and conversation with parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, and friends in this relaxed setting entertains us until late in the evening.

On Friday morning we meet our new extended family over breakfast at the hotel and then load into cars to make the trip to Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece Fallingwater, located an hours drive away. Our route takes us through a rolling countryside of farms and deciduous forests. The vacation house built between 1936 and 1939 for the Kaufmann family, owners of a Pittsburgh department store, is a stone and reinforced concrete structure cantilevered over a stream and waterfall.

I studied this house in Architecture History forty years ago never imagining I would visit some day. It is impossible to capture the dynamic beauty of the house or the setting in a photograph. The experience is like walking through a three dimensional work of art perfectly balanced in nature.

Friday evening the group splits into young and not-so-young to dine at favorite restaurants selected by the bride and groom. Not even half way through our meal, Aaron calls to see if we are having fun. He is surprised we are still eating and chatting because the younger group is finished for the evening. Dinner is followed by a midnight drive to collect Gary's son and fiance from the airport. They arrive a day late from New Orleans due to Hurricane Isaac.

By Saturday morning the full impact of what is happening hits me and I spend most of the day dabbing joyful tears. There is nothing more joyful for a mother than knowing her child is joined to another in a bond of love and friendship.

As a distraction to fill the time before the ceremony, we drive Gary and Elise around to see some sights. One stop is the Carnegie Library. The building is several times the size of our library and the open stacks are filled with many more volumes. In the stacks the floor of each level is made of thick glass to let light into the space below. Windows along the side overlook several reconstructed dinosaurs in the main hall of the Carnegie Natural History Museum.

Finally it is time to dress in our finery and drive to the wedding. The ceremony is in the Broderie Room at the Phipps Conservatory, a late 19th century glass and metal gem, located between Schenley Park and the Carnegie Museum. Rain clouds close in overhead as we wind our way through Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Some say rain on a wedding day is good luck.

We are ushered through hot houses filled with exotic plants to a small indoor parterre similar to the gardens of a French chateau. The room is perfect for our group of twenty, the ceremony is lovely, the bride and groom are giddy, the parents are proud, and everyone celebrates the union of these two.

Champagne toasts are followed by a five course gourmet vegetarian dinner at Eleven, a restaurant located near the Allegheny River. Everyone seated at the table is here because they love Aaron and Elizabeth. It is a blessing to be surrounded by that love. A marriage joins more than two people - it creates an extended family.

Sunday morning we say goodbye to family and friends. The newlyweds leave for Scotland and wedding guests scatter to all parts of the country. Four days ago we left Portland to spend time in an unfamiliar city with people we had never met. Today we return home richer from seeing new sights and making new friends. 

Note: Click on any photo for a slide show of all photos.

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