She had me at privyet.
I had just delivered a talk in Romania on Jewish-Mormon relations (a niche topic, to be sure) at a church in Bucharest, and standing before me was Florina, a raven-haired beauty who greeted me in Russian after learning we had both lived in Moscow. Then she switched to English, which she had acquired as an au pair in London.
I was a never-married bachelor in my early 40s and had begun to doubt that Miss Right and I would ever cross paths, much less during a speaking tour of Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, my eternal optimism won the day, and I exchanged Facebook and Skype addresses with the lovely first-grade teacher before heading to my hotel for the evening.
During our first Skype session, my soon-to-be cyber-girlfriend declared that she was definitely not into playing games and insisted that I answer a series of questions: Had I been married before? Did I have a girlfriend? Did I have kids? Did I go to church regularly? She brought out the Mormon manual "Eternal Marriage" during our next online meeting, and we took turns reading from it during our daily chats.
After a month of seeing each other on a screen every day, we decided that we had to take some action. A few months later I was awaiting her arrival in a crowded terminal at LAX. I knew from the moment I saw her coming down the escalator that she was the girl for me, and I was curious to see how our romance would play out.
Since we both believed that unmarried couples should have separate living arrangements, prior to her arrival I had to scramble to find affordable housing for her that was reasonably close to my shared apartment in Brentwood. After weeks of looking, I found Edmonde, a kindly Frenchwoman just three doors down who was looking to sublet a room. Once she learned that her prospective tenant was from Romania — a proud member of La Francophonie — we sealed the deal.
I'm a professional tour guide, so I couldn't wait to take Florina on my tours of Santa Monica, Malibu, Hollywood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She was really into organic food and healthful eating, so the semi-weekly farmers market in Santa Monica became a fixture on our calendar. Naturally, Romanian L.A. — including Sabina's restaurant in Hollywood and our local cobbler from Constanta — became part of our lives, and I added Dracula actor Bela Lugosi's home to my tour route.
At Florina's request, I had bought a round-trip ticket for her to L.A. Her return trip to Europe would take place just before the expiration of the 90-day stay permitted by her tourist visa. Before purchasing another ticket for her, I wanted to wait and see whether my heart really would grow fonder during her absence: Would everything I see remind me of her? Would I think of her during my tours? Would I drive to places we had visited together? Would I order takeout from Sabina's every night? Would I miss her sitting next to me at church? Or would I exclaim "Free at last!" after the first few days without her?
After a week sans Florina, I decided to buy a return ticket for her. One-way.
The week after her much-anticipated return to L.A., I bought a gorgeous engagement ring from my brother, a jewelry store assistant manager (there should be one in each family). I decided to give Florina an early Christmas present by proposing to her Dec. 18 at Griffith Observatory.
Unfortunately, my plan didn't take into account the size of the crowd at the attraction. I couldn't find an unobserved corner in which to kneel, so with the ring still in my pocket, we continued on to a party in Glendale. We had to leave early because Florina felt sick, but as we headed back to Brentwood I knew that I didn't want to return to my apartment with the ring. I asked my drowsy companion if she would be willing to make a stop at the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard.
To my surprise, she agreed to walk around the well-lighted temple on a very cold evening. Here there was no shortage of places to kneel, and before long we were sitting in front of a sparkling fountain. I hesitantly pulled the ring out of my pocket, opened the box and popped the question. I had forgotten to kneel, but I don't think Florina noticed. The look in her eyes when she saw the diamond made the time and expense in our courtship — the speaking tour, Skyping, apartment-shopping, ticket-buying — worth it. A thousand times over.
Flori and I were married in that temple a little more than two years ago, and in October we welcomed the World's Most Beautiful Baby Girl into our family. We look forward to telling our daughter in a few years how Daddy flew halfway across the world to find Mommy, and how she left her identical twin sister, her family and friends to live in a big smoggy city with a tour guide who loves Romanian food, Jews and temples. And her.
Paredes is a Mormon bishop in Koreatown who blogs on Jewish-Mormon relations for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times