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Botswana RPCV Abigail Lattes marries Christopher Hartlove in Baltimore
Botswana RPCV Abigail Lattes marries Christopher Hartlove in Baltimore
"WELCOME TO THE SHOW"
Anything can happen - and does - when Christopher Hartlove and Abigail Lattes tie the knot, unrehearsed, in a sculptor's barn.
by Mat Edelson
When Christopher Owen Hartlove and Abigail Faith Lattes married last October in Baltimore County, one clever guest described it as Martha Stewart meets Fellini. Everything and nothing was in its place: The wedding march was performed on a harmonica, the last-minute maid of honor had four legs, and the bride's elegant mother proudly quoted from John Waters' "Pecker."
From the beginning, the stars seemed aligned for this couple. In an age of singles parties, personal classifieds, and dating services, their initial meeting was deliciously unplanned. Chris' friend, photographer Max Glanville, was doing free-lance work for Abby, then public relations director for the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Because Max didn't have a car (still doesn't), Chris offered his vehicle and driving services. By day's end, the three had agreed to attend an outdoor concert together that evening. But when Max bowed out at the last minute, Chris and Abby opted for dinner at Amicci's, instead. "It was not a date," Chris recalls. "[But] halfway through dinner I realized 'hey, she's pretty cool' and it…became a date."
Chris soon discovered that Abby was, like him, comfortably down-to-earth. "I knew she was the one because she knew all the words to Tom Waits' songs," says Chris with a laugh. Then, there were the power tools. "She wasn't a girly-girl - though she has that side to her - but she has a grinder! And a torch!" he marvels about the tools that Abby uses mainly to make jewelry.
The attraction was mutual, and soon the universe was kicking in its approval. Shortly after meeting Chris for the first time, Abby's mother, Jane, was antique shopping in Maine and stumbled across an old linen pillowcase with the monogram A.F.H. - Abby's initials should she marry Chris and take his surname.
Without telling a soul, she bought it (hey…a mother can hope, no?). One thing led to another. In January of '98, after a year-and-a-half of dating, Chris and Abby bought a house together. Not long after, they turned to each other one day and said simply "so…you want to get married?" No bended knee, no grand proclamations, just an acknowledgment of what both knew would always be. Chris presented Abby with his grandmother's engagement ring.
Then they moved on to, "OK. So how are we going to plan this shindig?" Abby established one guiding principle: They wanted their guests to be relaxed and have fun in a unique setting. "We knew we didn't want it in a generic, country club space. We wanted some place that had character."
Enter sculptor and friend David Hess with a most generous offer. "Hey. You guys should get married in my barn. It's a great place for a party." Other normally angst-provoking aspects of wedding planning came together just as providentially.
Take the band. Early in their courtship, Chris - a nationally renowned editorial photographer - told Abby they had to make a stop before dinner. He was shooting a CD cover for a band. In a field. Between sets of a wedding. The band was the percussively passionate Mambo Combo.
Guess who would play at Chris and Abby's wedding?
Choosing the caterer and floral designer came with equal ease. Abby had loved caterer Peter Halstad's food creations for a dinner she organized at the Roland Park Country School, where she's communications director.
And when Chris came home with a buddy's recommendation for the flowers, it turned out Abby had just met the recommended - Michel Pratka - at a friend's wedding.
With the pieces falling into place seemingly of their own accord, Chris and Abby weren't tempted to play with the fates. Instead of tightly scripting each moment of their impending wedding day, they approached it as a piece of live theater with plenty of space for ad-libbing. No formal seating, in either the barn or under the food tent, to encourage mingling. No bridesmaids or groomsmen, no best man or maid of honor, so everyone could feel equally involved. Not even a formal rehearsal, lest the spontaneity be spoiled. But all the other elements for a successful wedding - site, sound, food, flowers, guests - were in place.
The kismetic nature of the nuptials wasn't lost on the families. The night before the wedding, when Chris' parents, Lutherville residents Owen and Bernadine Hartlove, hosted a dinner, Abby's five young nieces drew up a crayoned banner for the occasion. "Hello Chris and Abby," it read. "Welcome to the show."
"Abby, the great thing about your wedding is that you don't even know what's supposed to happen," her mother commented. "So if anything goes wrong, no one else will know."
To this the bride-to-be could only agree. The informality of the wedding felt right, even though putting so many random elements in play (the unheated barn, on-site prep work for the catering, etc.) left Abby fretfully optimistic. "I sort of resigned myself to the fact that there was going to be a level of mayhem to this," she says with a smile.
There were signs from the outset that the show would be successful. The days prior to the wedding had been dismally gray and wet, but just 20 minutes before the ceremony the sun finally broke through. No one was more delighted than the crowd of Chris' photographer pals who had volunteered to document the day.
"There are more photographers here than at 2131," quipped lensman Jim Burger, referring to Cal Ripken's record-breaking game. In addition to Burger and Glanville, the professional shutterbugs present and snapping included Doug McDonough, Jefferson Jackson Steele and Eve Morra.
While the bride, dressed in an off-white Tadashi satin dress with a hint of peach, resisted the temptation to visit with guests before the ceremony - opting instead for some obligatory family photos - the groom freely mingled up to the last minute, a Rolling Rock in his left hand, his right palm dry as a baby's freshly powdered bottom, and a tension-free "What - me worry?" grin illuminating his cherubic face. "I knew it was the right thing," he would say later. "I wasn't nervous at all."
The bluesy call of Jeff Breland's mouth harp sounded from the barn's hayloft, calling the celebrants to attention. As Breland, also a professional photographer, continued his soul-stirring rendition of Wagner's march, the 150 guests parted to make way for the wedding procession. The six flower girls - Sophie and Emma Lattes (Abby's nieces via her brother Conrad and sister-in-law Loran), twins Anabel and Eliza Carter, and their little sister, Helen (courtesy of Abby's sister Lisa and brother-in-law Hodding Carter IV) and Sophie Hess (host David and Sally Hess' daughter) - led the way.
Dressed in identical flowered dresses with brocade skirts and gold sashes, all hand-sewn by Loran, the kids looked as enchanting as the von Trapp children. They were followed by the bride, escorted by brother Conrad and mother Jane. The procession made its way through the parting crowd to an elevated corner of the barn, where the groom awaited in his natty Brooks Brothers suit.
"Everyone was packed into the barn," Chris recalled later. "It was just such a wonderful vision, looking out and seeing all our friends - who really wanted to see us get married. I wish I'd had a camera. It was a great view."
Abby's dog Daisy, a 4-year-old black lab/Shar-Pei mix, was happily romping the grounds when the ceremony began. Just as Abby ascended the wooden stairs to join Chris and the preacher on the small stage, "Daisy realized she didn't know anyone," says Abby. "She saw us up there and said 'I'm gonna go hang with them.'"
Daisy made a beeline for the pulpit, turning triumphantly to face the audience upon her arrival.
The crowd erupted.
The minister was amazed.
"I've been doing this 35 years…" announced Presbyterian minister Harry Cole, purposely pausing to let the moment play out as the crowd convulsed.
"…And you know what I’m going to say next," concluded Cole, grinning at Daisy.
With Daisy in place as an impromptu bridesmaid, Abby's sister Lisa began a reading Abby had discovered by Anne Lindbergh. "A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules," she began. "The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay, and swift, and free…"
Suddenly another voice rang out. One of Lisa's twins. "Mommy! Whatcha doin' up there? Can we come up there?"
Oh, of course. Mommy resumed her reading to the accompaniment of the twins earnestly tossing the chrysanthemums still left in their flower-girl baskets. No one, after all, had told them to stop. The groom's wedding ring almost fell through a crack in the barn floor, but otherwise the vows were properly exchanged and sealed with a kiss to a hearty standing ovation. More photos, an ersatz receiving line appeared, and as the spirits began to flow, Mambo Combo took the stage. (The barn's acoustics proved so enticing that by the second set the band had decided to record a live album there someday.)
The bar line soon gave way to a conga line, as band, bride, groom, guests and dogs snaked their way past the washtub full of beer, around welder Wayne Koscinski's infamous ArtScape Art Car (a red subaru with a ferris wheel welded through the passenger compartment), and through the dining tent.
Between salsas, the guests feasted on a Northern Italian buffet of assorted pastas and grilled veggies and polenta. Pratka, who had designed leaf-covered baskets for the flower girls, went wild adorning other wedding props throughout the tent and grounds. Various David Hess creations sprinkled around the barn suddenly found themselves Pratka-adorned. Statues were covered with moss, gourds were hollowed out and filled with candles, sage and thyme, even the top-of-the-line port-a-potties were covered with floral wreaths and strings of miniature white lights.
The partying paused only long enough for the cake cutting (Graul's carrot. Yum.) Abby's mom, Jane, surprised the happy couple with her prescient pillowcase purchase, then made a toast that recognized the many guests who trekked from Abby's native New York and as far away as Montana to make the wedding. "As John Waters would say, 'Let them come to Baltimore!'" Jane said laughingly as the crowd roared.
As Mambo Combo's encore reverberated off the rafters (The English Beat's "Save it for Later" - a ska song the band hadn't covered in years), Chris and Abby made their way past the welded trellises commissioned for the occasion and into Chris' Ford-F150 truck for the getaway.
Twenty-four hours later, Abby took Chris to see some of her old work buddies…in Botswana. Abby had worked there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "For me it was a joy being back in that part of Africa and being able to share an important part of my life with Chris," she says. The two-week whirlwind honeymoon through both Botswana and Zimbabwe brought Chris face-to-face with sights he couldn't have imagined - such as watching 250 elephants amble up to a watering hole. Abby brought Chris to the village of Mochudi, where she'd spent 2 1/2 years teaching English. For a photographer it was the trip of a lifetime (even the part where Chris got tossed from a whitewater raft), all of which was duly recorded to be shared with friends back in Baltimore.
To which we say, if the marriage is half as exciting as the wedding and honeymoon, Chris and Abby, you're in for a heck of a ride.
Reprinted from the January/February 1999 issue of Style.