The Observer

Wedded bliss

Want short, sweet, and stress-free? Head to City Hall

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sam Allis
Globe Columnist / April 6, 2008

Back in the day, the Observer attended weddings in cow pastures, on beaches, in eucalyptus groves. Most took place at sunset. They certainly felt like sunset anyway.

I also attended my share of blowouts, where corps of bridesmaids all wore aubergine and guests ended up sprawled on white folding chairs, glassy with bubbly.

(John O'Hara wrote a great short story about a man and woman at such a wedding, long married to other people, who wondered why they had never had an affair.)

Weddings these days can get really loony. Destination extravaganzas in Tierra del Fuego, custom Vera Wang bridal getups that cost a year at Harvard. I'd rather face a physics exam than a guest list.

A lot of cow pasture marriages went south ages ago. Divorces flowed like flat champagne. Now, the boomers are trying again. They're moving in together. Some actually retie the knot.

Like us. After years together, the Observer and my better half, Barbara, decided to get hitched. Our goal was a tall order: a stress-free wedding. No agita about caterers. No fear of leaving anybody out because everybody is left out.

But where?

A friend told me he enjoyed his ceremony at Boston City Hall more than the big bang that followed at his in-law's house. Bingo. Why not a 15-minute affair in plain English, free of organ music, catty glances, and religious cant? A simple rite that gets the job done. It doesn't have to be magic. That's for the rest of our lives.

Now City Hall may be lousy at fixing potholes, but I'm here to report it does a crackerjack job with weddings. The process is painless and fast. The people involved are uniformly polite. The inevitable bureaucratic nightmare turns out to be evitable.

First thing you do is get an application at the marriage window in the bowels of the place near the dour parking scofflaws lined up to pay tickets. The form is simple. No blood tests anymore, it turns out. No photo ID for us either. Nor proof of divorce unless it was recent.

We fill them out and a nice woman named Terry sends me to another window where a nice man relieves me of $50. Then up to the sixth-floor office of Boston City Clerk Rosaria Salerno, who will marry us after a three-day waiting period. It is here that you make an appointment for the ceremony, much as you set a date for an oil change.

We try for a noon appointment so we can go straight to lunch, but we're told no noon weddings, so we settle for late morning.

The big day comes. Zero jitters. We pick up our friend Charlie to witness the occasion and head for City Hall. Charlie declares it the ugliest thing he's ever laid eyes on. I pick up the ready marriage license - a state document, it turns out - and we head up to il Ufficio Salerno.

There is another couple with guests ahead of us. (Salerno wisely limits guests to four.) They're happy. We're happy. This is extraordinary. I've never been in a municipal office where people waiting for attention are happy. Never.

Anyway, we joke and examine the portraits of past city clerks. The earlier crew comes out from their ceremony, at which point we rise in unison to give them a standing O.

A nice woman says we're next and in the next breath wants 50 bucks from me. No problema. Salerno offers a helluva deal. Show up on time for 50. Show up late and pay the regular $75 freight charged by the state. Grand idea.

We're escorted back to Salerno's office, where the agent of change herself awaits us. I've heard tales about her colorful political career - she served three terms on the city council and ran unsuccessfully for mayor once. Couldn't care less about any of it. What matters are wedding skills, which prove to be extensive.

Salerno is a short, solid woman with gray hair and a gold "Hillary" pin on her blouse. She's an avid cook, a term she concedes is for someone who likes to eat. Anyway, she explains that she marries us in her capacity as a justice of the peace rather than city clerk.

We chat about life and love and kindness. She talks about marriage and commitment. Salerno, a former Benedictine nun and chaplain at Boston College, means every word she says.

The woman emits a warmth that is impervious to my chronic cynicism.

She says with pride she has married people from every continent but Antarctica - gay, straight, you name it. Can't get enough of it.

Eventually, we stand up for the big kahuna. Barbara looks at Rosaria and says, "No 'obey.' " Rosaria nods and agrees, "No 'obey.' " For my personal safety, I nod and agree, "No 'obey.' "

Salerno talks, instead, of honor. She reads our vows - simple, to the point, and, mirabile dictu, we're no longer living in sin. Charlie then uncorks a solo standing O. (Charlie has fallen in love with Rosaria by this point.)

We're all moved by what just went down.

Then it's digital picture time. Salerno knows the drill - where to stand to avoid overexposure from the overhead lights, things like that.

This is fortuitous because Charlie is no Avedon behind the lens. Hugs all around and off to Locke-Ober's for lunch.

So if you're talking destination weddings, consider Boston City Hall along with Bora Bora: A hundred bucks plus Rosaria.

Sam Allis can be reached at

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