Eliav Barr & Paul Koulogeorge
September 4, 2016, in Calistoga, Calif.
Before Match.com, before the internet was much of a thing, Eliav placed a personal ad in the back of the Chicago Reader.
Eliav - a research scientist born in Israel and raised in Haifa until age 12, then in the Detroit suburbs - sought someone kind, well-educated, and grounded, who enjoyed travel, art, and culture and who, like him, was ready to settle down.
Intrigued by what he read, Paul, a marketing, advertising, and public-relations specialist who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, called the 1-900 number to hear a recorded message from Eliav expounding on the print ad. He played it for friends, who all approved. At the beep, Paul left his own message and his phone number. Among the dozens of messages Eliav received, Paul's stood out. "He had a very friendly voice. He had an MBA, traveled a lot, and liked Broadway."
A few fun phone conversations later, Eliav, who is now Merck's senior vice president of infectious diseases and vaccines global clinical development, and Paul, now vice president of marketing, advertising, and public relations for the Goddard Schools, set a January 1994 lunch date at a Mediterranean restaurant.
"It turned out to be the ninth-coldest day in the history of Chicago: minus 20, plus a wind chill," Paul said. His car wouldn't start. He arrived at the restaurant by cab 15 minutes late, and there was Eliav, waiting outside because the restaurant was closed due to the cold. They found an open Irish pub, where lunch lasted three hours.
"Paul's an incredibly sunny and outgoing person. He likes conversation," Eliav said. He enjoyed hearing Paul's international travel stories, his friendly Midwestern demeanor, and his looks. "I was completely smitten," Eliav said. "We decided to get together the next day."
But before Date Two, Paul had other plans.
"I had another newspaper date that same night for dinner, and was meeting somebody else for lunch the following day," he said. Paul didn't cancel, but those other dates stood no chance. "Eliav impressed me," he said. "He's an incredibly smart and intelligent scientist. He chose medicine to help others, to make the world a better place. And the fact that he had waited 15 minutes in 20-degrees-below-zero weather said a lot."
They saw each other every day that week - and have been together ever since. A year and a half into their relationship, Eliav, then an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Medical School, got a job offer from Merck. He sold his townhouse, and Paul left his position as brand manager of Kraft Foods Bull's Eye BBQ Sauce and sold his condo. In September 1995, the two moved together to their St. Davids home.
In the 1990s, Eliav and Paul granted each other medical power of attorney, named each other in their wills, and took as many legal steps as possible to connect their lives and honor their relationship. They wanted to marry. They did not want a commitment ceremony that would not be legally recognized nationwide, so they waited.
In 2014, same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania. In summer 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Paul joked that "after 23 years, people will start talking if we don't do something."
Paul is now 50, and Eliav's 52. They had already built a life together. They pondered a small ceremony in their backyard or at the Media courthouse. Then late that summer, Paul was his older brother's best man. Steve and Phaedra's big, fancy, black-tie wedding was beautiful and special and awesome - and the deciding factor that Paul and Eliav, too, would go all-out.
It was so them
Eliav and Paul so love wine that they plan vacations around it. Scientist Eliav always asks the vintners about the strain of yeast used, and creative guy Paul wants to talk about the time of day the grapes are picked and about label design.
All of that wine-love, plus the couple's fondness for a popular retro TV show, led to three days of Mad Men-in-Napa-themed celebrations. All the guests met for a Saturday mixer, both figurative and literal - a wine-blending competition. The couple grouped people who didn't know one another on teams named after Mad Men characters. After a wine-blending lesson from a winemaker at the Franciscan Winery, they were given a sampling of varietals and asked to create a blend that represented the couple, then develop a label and marketing story. The grooms were the judges, tasting a bit of each, then bottling the rest for their cellar. The winning team had a ringer - Paul's cousin Alexis owns the largest winery in Oklahoma.
That night, a party bus took everybody to the Culinary Institute of America for a cooking class featuring 1960s hors d'oeuvres - deviled eggs, chicken à la king cups, pigs in the blanket, ambrosia salad - and a mixology class of 1960s cocktails. They ate and drank their creations and then enjoyed a sit-down dinner of recipes pulled from the schools' library of 1960s cookbooks: French onion soup, shrimp cocktail, beef Wellington, baked Alaska.
In the late afternoon light of Sunday, the grooms walked down the center of the Calistoga Ranch vineyard to take the vows they wrote to each other. In honor of the grooms' heritages, the couple poured a Greek wine and an Israeli one into a large silver cup they then drank from.
Friends read lyrics from Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" and from Dr. Seuss' "Oh the Places You'll Go," along with Albert Einstein's and Walt Whitman's thoughts on love. The couple's older siblings read a summary of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's opinion that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country.
A 1965 GTO convertible picked up the couple for picture-taking while their 180 guests went to the lake and lawn for cocktails. The couple joined their guests at two lakeside tables for a sunset dinner. Instead of a wedding cake, there were tiered wheels of cheese, topped with a 3D-printed image of the couple, each holding a bottle of wine. Dessert and dancing followed in wine caves decorated with light.
Monday's parting event was a champagne brunch with crepes, an oyster bar, caviar, and a dozen food stations.
At the grooms' request, all the guests wore 1960s attire the entire weekend. "We had a friend who called up Rent the Runway hoping to find a 1960s outfit for Labor Day weekend, and the person helping her asked, 'This isn't for that Mad Men-in-Napa event, is it?' " Paul said with a laugh. "Rent the Runway knew about our wedding."
During the ceremony, Paul's niece Katherine sang "At Last." "We waited 23 years to get married, and as she sang, watching her and looking out at our dearest friends and family," Paul said, "I was crying, because it was just so emotional."
After the vows, the couple took a selfie with all of their guests standing behind them. The photo captured a whole lot of joy, Eliav said. Over the two decades-plus of their relationship, he and Paul had already pledged in private all that they promised in their vows that day. "But it was so lovely to say those things in front of everybody," Eliav said. "It was exhilarating."
A bargain: The 3D cake topper cost $600, but "people went crazy about it, posting pictures everywhere," Paul said. "It was all the buzz. And now we have it in our house, forever."
The splurge: Just about everything else. "The only thing we wanted that we ended up not doing is fireworks at the end of the night, and that's because our wedding planner told us they were illegal" due to dry climate.
Two-and-a-half weeks in the coming year in Sri Lanka and southern India.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Dr. Brian Keith of Philadelphia, who worked at University of Chicago medical school with Eliav and was ordained by the American Marriage Ministries for the occasion.
Venue: Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, Calif.
Food: Calistoga Ranch
Photography: Briana Marie Photography, Angwin, Calif.
Videography: Aaron Lee Films, Woodacre, Calif.
Flowers: Fleurs de France, Sebastopol, Calif.
Paul & Eliav's attire: Commonwealth Proper, Philadelphia
Music: Wine Country Entertainment, Angwin, Calif.
Planner: Stephanie Cole of Cole Drake Events, Napa