Oheka Castle Weddings
Matt Mendelsohn Photography
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Weddings

Oheka Castle Weddings

I was shooting pictures of the wedding party of Diana Eng and Jimmy Wang outside Oheka Castle when, in my excitement about the wind and the light and the gorgeous allée of trees unfolding in front of my eyes, I shouted out the first thing (well, maybe the second) that popped into my head: "Holy Camoly!!!"

Nothing, I've since learned, dates you faster than saying something like Holy Camoly. It falls into that category of ancient words and phrases like "aw, shucks," "egads," and "brouhaha." Like another of my favorites, the timeless "Geez Louise," using an archaic saying pegs you as someone older than, well, anyone who is within ten feet and laughing. But I'm sticking. My friend Connie Schultz at the Cleveland Plain Dealer once told me that "Geez Louise" is one of her favorite expressions. And Connie won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Call me Ned Flanders, but if it's good enough for her, they're good enough for me.

Truth be told, every single thing about Diana and Jimmy's wedding was worthy of a Holy Camoly. Especially the couple themselves, who staged one of the nicest weddings I've ever shot and still managed to stay completely relaxed. From something as seemingly simple as a soft boiled egg at their rehearsal dinner to the view of their wedding ceremony from the fourth floor balcony, every facet of the weekend, great and small, had me muttering in excitement. So let's go to the videotape.

Diana and Jimmy came to me twelve months ago. I had photographed the wedding of two of their closest friends, Lori and Matt McGill, almost four years ago, a wedding I'll always remember, and not just because Lori and Matt became good friends after the fact, but because the three of us--bride Lori, bridesmaid Diana, myself--almost all ended up in the Chesapeake Bay after the boat ferrying us to the reception hit some choppy water.

That wedding produced great things. For Lori and Matt, that would be two beautiful children, Dempsey and Calla. (To show how time flies, Calla was the flower girl this past weekend, carefully placing each petal into position, an excruciatingly hysterical process that had every guests in stitches. See the photo of her playing drums if you need more evidence of cuteness.) Speaking more selfishly, their wedding produced some of my favorite images of the last few years, one of which hangs at a 30" x 60" print in my studio. (And even sits atop the very blog you're now reading.) As you'll see in a few minutes, it's an image that requires a second look now.

Anyway, Diana and Jimmy told me they were going to have an elegant, fun and sophisticated wedding. I knew they were serious when we shot some engagement pictures earlier last year in New York City at one of their favorite little tapas bars, Bar Jamón. The Iberico ham was off-the-chart delicious, like no ham I'd ever tasted. It should have prepared me for the egg.

That egg came courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant set amidst a working farm on what once was the Rockefellers' Pocantico Hills estate. From the moment you park your car, something tells you that this will be a special meal. Maybe it's the lush, pastoral setting or maybe it's the grazing sheep and clucking chickens you walk right past to get to the restaurant. This, from Frank Bruni's review in the New York Times several years ago:

"This reality, which goes beyond mere novelty, is one compelling reason for people near and far to pay attention to the restaurant, an offshoot of Blue Hill in Greenwich Village, where Mr. Barber also supervises the kitchen. But there is another, better reason: most of the food here is terrific, and some of it is flat-out wonderful. The premium that the restaurant places on immediacy has a culinary purpose, a hedonistic payoff."

Hedonistic payoff, indeed. I'm certain that Cliff, my assistant, has never heard me go on and on about an egg before, but the soft-boiled egg coated in almond and panko, then flash fried, was without a doubt the best one I've ever eaten in my life. But it's just an egg, akin to saying "that was the best glass of water I've ever tasted," right? How good can an egg be? Well, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, right at the moment the soft center of that egg plays against the panko crust, the answer is absurdly good.

The next morning, we left Westchester and headed out for Long Island, but not before a quick stop at nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to pay homage to Washington Irving. Everyone knows Irving as the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, but for me, Tales of the Alhambra is special one. While traveling in Spain at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Irving stayed in the 14th century Moorish palace known as the Alhambra. It was in disrepair, and Irving's subsequent 1832 story is credited with renewing interest and saving it for future generations, like me and my wife, who stayed at the Alhambra on our honeymoon in 1997.

Which brings me from one ancient castle to another, Long Island's very own Oheka Castle, located a scant five minute drive from where I grew up. Though I passed the entrance scores of times as a youngster on a bike, right there off of Jericho Turnpike, I never had any reason to go inside. Oh, what I was missing. Built by financier Otto Kahn, construction began on Oheka in 1917. According to its current owners, Oheka, with its 127 rooms, was and is still the second largest private home ever built in America. (And, more interesting to me, the English major, is that it at least partially served as the inspiration for Gatsby's estate in West Egg.)

Suffice to say Oheka is a fantasy, everything one could want in a wedding venue. That we had one of the most beautiful days of the year, only twenty-four hours removed from the threat of a hurricane, was just icing on the cake. Diana and Jimmy know their food and wine, as evidenced by their rehearsal dinner choice, and the wedding followed suit. It was just perfect.

My favorite part of the day came right after Diana got dressed. One of the staff at Oheka suggested that Diana and Jimmy see each other in a room inside the mansion. But it was so beautiful outside, it seemed like a crime to be indoors. It was the videographer, who, having shot at Oheka before, said, "A lot of photographers don't like this spot for some reason, but there's this beautiful pathway over there." Thank god for that one comment. (And just who are those silly photographers anyway?) It was such a great location. I worried that with the post-hurricane remnant winds still blowing, Diana might hesitate about coming outside. Silly me. Not only was she totally into it, but her laughter became part of all the pictures we made there. As the bridesmaids helped her across the lawn, all of them howling and blowing in the gusts, it felt like a scene from a fairy tale.

(I don't do a lot of product placing in this blog, as you faithful readers know. But JoAnn Gregoli, the event planner for this masterpiece whom I'd never met, was so easy to work with, so much fun, that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her great efforts. I guess the sign of a great wedding, from the perspective of someone working the party, is that it doesn't feel like work.)

Right about now, Diana and Jimmy are staggering back to their hotel somewhere in Vietnam, the jet lag just starting to catch up with them. It's my hope, as they scroll through these pictures, that they're reminded of just how beautiful a day they had.

One last thing before I leave you guys today. I mentioned a picture of Lori and Matt, the couple who made this past week possible, dancing at their wedding a couple of years back. As I was going through the photos of Diana and Jimmy, I let out a little gasp and said, "Holy Camoly!"