Celebrating Christmas in Barcelona when Yasmine was studying Spanish at Universitat de Barcelona in 1998.
A long-distance love story 22 years in the making
CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2019 - 12:00am

She was a young woman when Marco Giovannoli first proposed to Sofitel executive Yasmine Hidalgo. She told him, ‘Will you wait for me?’ He said, ‘I will wait for you even if my hair turns gray.’ But they broke up, remained friends, built their careers, and then got back together. This time, they were both ready to marry.

For her recent birthday, he wrote her a letter that said in part, “Sei il mio sogno che si e rivelato, sei l’aria che respiro, sei il mio tutto. (You are my dream that has revealed itself, you are the air that I breathe, you are my everything.”

Sofitel executive Yasmine Hidalgo received this letter in Manila from her Italian husband Marco Giovannoli, whom she married last year in Frankfurt where he lives and work.  

“Non riesco a dormire perche si celebra la nascita della bellissima donna che mi ha cambiato la vita. (I cannot sleep because we celebrate the birth of the beautiful woman who changed my life.)” The letter continued, “It seemed right to remind you of these things on this day and if our life were a fairy tale you would be the enchanting princess and I the noble prince.”

But it wasn’t always a fairy tale — or it was a long fairy tale with many twists and turns, if you will. Yasmine and Marco’s relationship spanned two decades of growing up together and then being apart, of establishing their careers and then getting back together. And the happy ending was sealed with two weddings and two receptions in Frankfurt.

Yasmine managed to pull off a wedding that caught her friends by surprise when she posted their wedding pictures, wearing an Ivar Aseron dress for the civil wedding at Frankfurt City Hall and Maureen Disini for the church wedding.

The only ones that weren’t surprised were their families, who said, “Finally!”

It took two years to get approval for the wedding because they needed a date from the City Hall, without which they could not get a date for a church wedding. “All that time, we were just holding to that promise that we would finally be together. After all, we waited this long.”

I’ve known Yasmine close to 20 years, when she was a new graduate doing PR for ABS-CBN Interactive. As we grew in media — and she would later start what has turned out to be a brilliant career in hotel public relations — I got to know her well. Well enough to see beyond the glamour of hotel events and get to know her love story.

Last year, when I was going to Frankfurt for work, Yasmine asked me to hand-carry something for Marco. She said, “Just leave it at your hotel concierge and he will pick it up.”

It was one of those wooden Japanese hand fans. She said, “It meant that we would be together forever by springtime.”

Yasmine and Marco Giovannoli met in Frankfurt in the summer of 1996 on a stopover. “I remembered a fellow AIESECer (an international organization of business and economics students), whom I met at a conference in Tokyo and asked if he was still based in Germany and since he already moved to another country, he then referred his brother. That’s how I met my husband Marco.” 

When they were in Frankfurt, he was very generous in organizing a dinner for their parents to meet on their last day in Germany. Yasmine saw that he had a warm relationship with his parents, which made a good impression on her.

“After our trip to Europe, he flew to Manila to ask my hand in marriage. I was obviously young at that time and fresh from college. I was surprised that he seemed very serious about me already. I told him, ‘I am not ready. Will you wait for me?’ He said, ‘I will wait for you even if my hair turned gray.’”

“What I admired was his faithfulness. When I was based in different cities in Europe, he would visit me. At that time, I moved to Europe for higher studies and work. We got together more often when I got a big break and I was awarded a scholarship from the Spanish government to take my master’s in communications and I was based in Madrid.”

Yasmine says that during her earlier stay in Europe, Marco would share with her fashion choices that were true to his Italian roots and she discovered various ancient cuisines like Serbian, Greek and Portuguese.

After being pronounced as husband and wife at the doorstep of the old Frankfurt City Hall – Römer, also one of the historical landmarks of Frankfurt

As for Marco, he began to adopt Yasmine’s extroverted nature, her lifestyle by being more sociable. “Since I was based in Europe during the beginning of our relationship, I was organizing brunches, weekend trips and get-togethers. It helped that he spoke four languages (English, French, German and Italian). Since he was multi-lingual, I was inspired to learn different languages.” 

Was it love at first sight? “Marco says it was love at first sight so he could not describe the feeling. For me, it was the fact that he was very romantic, caring and family-oriented.”

They had many similarities even if they came from different cultures and backgrounds. “We both love architecture, design, food and nice cafes. We are the eldest in the family and both have strong characters.”

They are opposites, too. “I love having an itinerary and maximizing each day in any country and taking lots of pictures. He is the exact opposite — he wants to relax, take his time during holidays and definitely not take too many pictures!”

When Yasmine was finishing her master’s in Madrid, she tried to explore career options in Europe, but when a job offer she didn’t expect to materialize did, she went home to Manila. “I knew it was a risk in our relationship but I also knew that it was for the best. We stayed in touch as friends. When I was a luxury hotel PR manager in Dubai, he even visited me with his parents. Had I stayed in Europe the whole time, I wouldn’t have had the same exposure. So breaking up then worked out for me. It was a blessing in disguise.

“We were on and off — each of us working on our own careers. At this point, my career took me back to Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila and I was given a position that challenged me to do strong branding for some innovations the hotel was doing such as Spiral’s rebirth.”

Marco remained a friend all this time. They would have occasional calls and exchange of greetings for milestone events. “It was the friendship that we treasured. He never gave up on me and was persistent by simply keeping in touch even after all these years.”

By this time, Yasmine was in the middle of Manila’s social scene. “Loneliness is not in my DNA,” she says, laughing. “But I felt something was missing.”

After 13 years apart, they got back together and Marco told her that “his love for me was there all the time. It never ceased to exist. He was just waiting.”

This time around, they were both ready. “He was about to turn 50 when he visited me in Manila to spend the New Year in 2017 and also his birthday. Right after his birthday while having dinner in BGC, he just popped the question and asked me in Italian, ‘Mi vuoi sposare?’ (Will you marry me?)” 

Yasmine continues, “What I love about him is that he has integrity. He always meant what he said. When he said that he would wait for me even if his hair turned gray, he really meant it. I am an empowered female and he complements me. He is dependable – through the good and bad times, he was always there for me even if he had to fly or drive a thousand miles to do so. He is also a romantic. Back in the ‘90s when there was no internet, he wrote me letters expressing his affections for me in either English, Italian or German and would send me by snail mail. I loved it when he wrote me in Italian or German and I had to learn the two languages to decipher what he meant. Later on even when we parted ways, he would still send me Christmas cards and would consistently call for Christmas and birthdays.”

Yasmine’s advice for couples in a long-distance relationship? “Whether or not you are in an LDR, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. When we were no longer formally together as a couple, rather than getting sentimental about it, I saw it as an opportunity to develop myself and explore ways to improve my skills — I started learning other languages. I travelled and met my international counterparts so that I could learn more about our hotel branding around the world. Today with technology, it is easier to maintain a long-distance relationship but what really matters is the foundation: love, trust and commitment. Without love, it’s not be possible to surmount the challenges that will come your way with distance. Without trust, it is not possible for any communication to happen if there are always doubts.”

“Having one’s separate life, interests and career gives you equal footing in any relationship as well as it adds spice to the relationship. 

A long distance relationship tests your love to the limits. That is why I adhere to what the Bible says, ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

In her life as a newlywed, Yasmine says, “ I look forward to honoring him as his prayerful wife. As the Bible says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I look forward to finally spending my birthday and Valentines with Marco as we only got to celebrate my birthday and Valentines together once in our 22-year history.”

Yasmine says the greatest challenge in getting married was accepting the inevitable — that one of them has to move, either to Frankfurt or Manila, to be together. And for love, Yasmine Hidalgo Giovannoli is moving to Frankfurt to be with her husband Marco.

She will continue working at Sofitel Frankfurt, settling at “the end of winter into spring when the leaves burst into colors.’

Just like they promised each other with that wooden Japanese fan.

*   *   *

Visit the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @iamtanyalara.

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