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Along with the rest of the wedding party, including my 84 year old father, I stood at the altar of the historic São Sebastião Church (Igreja de São Sebastião) just across the plaza from the famous Theatro Amazonas, anxiously awaiting the entry of the bride. It was the evening of July 9, 2005.
The wedding got a late start due to some unexpected problems. First, the singer got in an auto accident and didn't show up. The organist couldn't access the organ because it was locked and even the priest didn't have a key. What was looking to be a wedding without music was saved by bringing in an electronic keyboard and plugging it into the church PA system, which, fortunately was not locked up. The bride and her father stood outside the church in the famous Amazon heat for more than 30 minutes.
After what seemed like eternity, the 20 foot tall front doors of the church opened, and accompanied by our improvised music system the bride entered on the arm of her father. I have never seen a more spectacular sight in my life. I have always referred to Sônia as "Sônia Regia de Amazônia (Sônia, Queen of the Amazon)", and nobody looked more like a queen than she did that night. I felt like I was in the middle of a fairy tale.
Prior to arriving in Brazil for the wedding, I had purchased the house that contains my business, Amazônia Banda Larga, and it's subsidiary, The American Cybercafé of Manaus, and we turned the back part of the building into our residence, while the front contains the office and cybercafé. The day I arrived in Manaus, July 1, we had a civil ceremony with a Judge in the ABL office, then we spent the next two days attending a course for Brides and Grooms at the Church in the Manaus Parish where Sônia lived before the wedding.
After church ceremony, we were put in a horse and carriage and had our picture taken in front of the Theatro Amazonas--a spectacular view. Then we were driven to the Da Vinci Hotel for our wedding banquet in the Michaelangelo Room. After my father introduced himself and gave a short speech and pronounced the blessing on our marriage and our first meal, the guests shared a few wonderful hours of fellowship, dining, and dancing accompanied by our six piece orchestra.
The evening was an unqualified success, and spectacular is perhaps too modest a word.
Then we had to face the real world.
Prior to my arrival in Manaus, Sônia had flown to Brasilia (the capitol) and applied at the US Embassy for a tourist visa. We had tickets on a flight to Houston on July 12th, and intended to make our honeymoon either on the coast of Texas, or somewhere in the Caribbean, perhaps the Bahamas or Cayman Islands. The plan then was for her to accompany me back to work and travel with me in my job for a while then travel with me on Labor Day weekend to the west coast to attend the celebration of my dad's 85th birthday and 50 years of ministry with the Quinault Indians. We planned then to return to Brazil in November to start the immigration process.
Her tourist visa was categorically denied. A one hour telephone conversation with the consul at the embassy convinced me that further attempts to get a tourist visa would be fruitless. So we gave up on this attempt and I extended my stay in Manaus and canceled the honeymoon. We used our extra time there to set up our residence, resolve problems with the startup of our business, and to start the immigration process.
An immigration application takes anywhere from two to six months, depending on the whim of the US Consul in Rio. We are currently separated by 3500 miles (as the crow flies).
Just before leaving, I went to the photography studio to get our wedding pictures, but they weren't ready and they gave us a basket load of excuses--as it turns out, all lies! This week I got the news through my wife that all of the wedding pictures are "missing." Supposedly the store was robbed and our wedding pictures were among the stolen items. I don't believe it for one second!
Meanwhile, they are asking for a private meeting with my wife to make her some kind of offer. They are offering to re-stage the wedding at their expense, an idea that my Father and I think is preposterous. We would both have to fly back to Brazil, her parents would have to be brought back to Manaus (a two day boat ride), the church and the hotel, along with the orchestra would have to be rehired and much more. And how can you re-stage a magic moment?
We have a few photos that were taken at the dinner with my Nikon D70 (in RAW format) by the nephew of my best man. They are OK, but certainly not professional quality. Additionally, I bought 9 disposable cameras which were strategically left on the tables for the guests to use. For those who figured out how to work the flash, even some of those weren't too bad. But I don't think we have hardly any photos from the church ceremony. We are facing the reality that we are going to be the rest of our lives without any photographic record of the most significant event in our lives.
The studio is the largest in Manaus, a city of almost 2 million, and they are scared of a lawsuit. That's why they are trying to get Sônia alone and try to get some agreement out of her. I refused to let her attend a meeting with them without a lawyer present, which is being arranged. They are about to find out that I am not just some tourist who came to Manaus and got married, but a homeowner and businessman in Manaus with a very large law firm at my disposal. Will there be a lawsuit? I don't know yet. It depends on what they offer us.
I have assured my bride that the most important thing in my life is her, and though we may lose many material things in this life, we will never lose each other. Mementos are wonderful, but she herself is the best memento I will ever have.
However, losing the photos is still very significant and a great loss. I don't know how much monetary compensation is appropriate, but there certainly should be something.
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