Newlyweds Philippe Gaeng and Michiko Soriano.
Marty Ilagan
‘With the whole world crumbling, we pick this time to fall in love’
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Weddings in the time of COVID

Those words were uttered by Ilsa in the enduring classic, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart (“Rick”) and Ingrid Bergman (“Ilsa”). Though the plot unravels in Morocco, the lead stars Rick and Ilsa fall in love in Paris in the throes of World War II.

But did life and love stop then, even “with the whole world crumbling?”

Nay.

Life and love went on.

The bride blushing under her birdcage veil by Milka Quin.
Photo by Marty Ilagan

***

Because when there’s a will, there’s a way. And when there’s a way, there’s a wedding.

Frenchman Philippe Gaeng came to the Philippines in 2008, coincidentally, the year lovely Michiko Soriano flew to Paris for further studies during her junior term at the Ateneo de Manila.

“I fell in love with France and Paris so much that I found ways to go back there for my post-grad studies. Eventually, a French company brought me back to Manila. A few years later, one of my dreams came true and I launched a co-working space, WeCube, with Filipino-French friends,” begins Michiko, who was named so because her parents JJ Soriano and the former Minette Cruz lived in Japan during their early married life.

She met Philippe, who has roots in Morocco, in the course of her work.

There was one particular meeting they attended that Michiko had to cut short to fulfill a daily pledge — she was 2,000 steps shy of her daily challenge. Philippe offered to walk around the block with her and even walked her back to her car.

“That was the beginning of many steps we would take together,” reminisces Michiko.

Among the first big steps they took together was a trip to France to celebrate Christmas with Philippe’s parents. “I got to know and love his parents. Little did I know that it was actually before heading back home to Manila that Philippe asked for his parents’ blessing.”

Then his mother handed him a five-generation-old heirloom ring designed by her ancestors from Morocco. For Michiko.

But it wasn’t till May 2019, their first anniversary as a couple, that Philippe popped the question.

“We went to Siargao Island to celebrate our first anniversary of being together. On the tail end of the trip, we rode a motorbike and a boat to go to Sugba Lagoon — where we toppled over from our kayak. Philippe popped the question on our way back as the sun set. We shared that moment with our two boatmen. It was simple and funny, very nous.”

That was about eight months till an unseen force changed the world, and left many dreams, many lives crumbling.

The proposal in Siargao, BC (before COVID).

***

After getting the blessings of Michiko’s parents JJ and Minette, they planned for an October 2020 wedding in Tagaytay.

“Who would have thought that 2020 had other things in store for all of us?” says Michiko.

There were a few stumbling blocks, like the rocks spewed by the restive Taal Volcano.

“It started in January when Taal Volcano spewed ashes that left us on an Alert Level 4 out of 5. We had our venue booked in Tagaytay and the alert level was not improving. Come late February, we changed our plans and moved our venue to Bohol,” Michiko shares. Then the pandemic was unleashed on a hapless world and an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was declared during the week Philippe and Michiko paid the deposit for their wedding venue.

“It did not take long for it to truly dawn on us that this situation would last longer than expected. Marrying in Bohol in October quickly seemed like an impossible dream,” says Michiko. What to do then?

As they had done during their first date, Philippe and Michiko decided to take a step forward, and take all steps together to fulfill a pledge to each other.

“‘Marry first, celebrate later’, that’s how we thought about it,” they share.

They applied online and to their surprise, obtained their CENOMAR (Certificate of No Marriage Record) within a week, went to Makati City Hall a few times to get a slot for their pre-marriage seminar. After tying some loose ends, “We felt that everything was falling into place.”

Michiko checked July 14th on her calendar, because aside from it being Bastille Day (a nod to Philippe’s heritage), they had their engagement party on that day the year before. Secretly, it was her way of making sure Philippe could remember all their different “anniversaries.”

***

It was a whirlwind prelude to forever. After all, not everyone gets to marry in the time of COVID.

“I had a couple of weeks to find suppliers. Wedding bands were from my friend Trish Ayson of JMA Jewelry — a unique experience, too, because each client would have to book a proper appointment. I then reached out to Gathered Creative for my bridal bouquet, and they happily helped me come up with what I wanted; and to Mela Garcia of Kasali.ph to design our digital invites.”

Michiko, who is the granddaughter of former National Security Adviser and UP president Noel Soriano and his late wife Angelica Alday, is thankful to stylist Michael Salientes, who had become her friend. “He told me from the beginning how he envisioned me in a solid cowl dress. He connected me with Milka Quin and I remember us hitting it off right away. She did her magic and created a cowl dress with a lace bustier, along with a birdcage veil. So modern and classy, I’ve never felt so beautiful.”

Philippe and Michiko were advised that only seven of them were to be allowed in the courtroom. Philippe took Michiko’s brother Mikael as his witness, and Michiko took her sister Mischa as hers so her parents could attend the civil ceremony as well.

Everything was in place. Or so they thought. Just days before their wedding day, Michiko got a message that the courthouse would probably be closed due to someone testing positive for COVID at City Hall!

(To be concluded on Tuesday)

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

WEDDING
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