Assi Azar, the witty host of Israeli reality TV shows Big Brother and Rising Star, insists that his husband Albert Escolà, a Spanish architect, is misremembering things: “No, you weren’t lying down,” Azar says. “You were standing up!” “I was not,” Escolà counters.
The pair are bantering about the evening they spotted each other at the rooftop pool of a gay hotel in Barcelona. It was the last night of Azar’s stay at the queer lodge, where he jokes that “everyone was so ugly,” when his eyes scoped out “a young Antonio Banderas. He was standing there, gorgeous, smoking, pretending to model,” Azar wisecracks. “Basically, he wanted me to notice him.”
After four mojitos, Azar approached Escolà in the nearby bar with what he calls “a cliché of a cliché”: “I told him that he was the most handsome guy at the pool,” he remembers with a cringe. Escolà was flattered but had a boyfriend at the time. Plus, Barcelona, where Escolà resided, is 2,000 miles away from Azar’s home in Tel Aviv.
Over the next three months, however, a platonic friendship developed between them via WhatsApp and Facebook, culminating in Azar’s return to Escolà’s homeland. Newly single, Escolà was ready to make a new start with Azar, and the two kissed for the first time on their first official date. “I remember calling a friend of mine,” Azar says, “and telling her, ‘Wow, I think that this is going to be serious. I will fight for this one.’ By the way,” he jokes, “as I am telling you this, Albert is yawning.”
The couple, who tease and engage in repartee like new lovers, lived between Spain and Israel for the next two years before settling in Israel. Six months later, on April 7, Azar asked Escolà to marry him, but he claims he was forced to initiate the proposal. “He made me understand in 25,000 ways that I should be the one to do it,” Azar says — and it didn’t go down without a hitch.
He planned to do it at the top of the Empire State Building during a spring stay in New York City. Standing at the highest point of the iconic skyscraper with engagement rings in his pocket, Azar nervously prepared to ask one of the most important questions of his life when Escolà began narrating a story about a failed engagement that started in the same location. He nixed the plan. “I took him back to our hotel, and, inside our room, in pajamas that were striped and awful, I asked him to marry me.”
On June 11, they gathered 140 family members and friends — 70 Israelis from Azar’s circle and 70 Spaniards from Escolà’s — at city hall in Barcelona, where they exchanged personal vows, incorporating both Israeli and Spanish traditions. “Our nephews, 10 and 12, were our ring bearers,” Azar says, “I inscribed Albert’s ring with 11/6/2016 — forever, and he inscribed mine with forever , i love you in Catalan.”
After the formal “I do’s,” the newlyweds cruised over to luxury hotel Casa Fuster, where the celebration continued on the roof deck with food and drinks. Guests enjoyed a fusion of Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine, including tapas, paellas, fish, and Arabic salad. The evening ended on the dance floor with swaying to national favorites like Israeli hit “Golden Boy” by Nadav Guedj and Spain’s “Qué Bonito” by Rosario Flores.
Although both men’s families were accepting of their sexualities, Azar’s father, among others in his milieu, didn’t understand why they needed to marry. “ ‘Why can’t you just be a couple and live together?’ they’d ask,” Azar recalls. “I never had an answer until the day of our wedding because the moment we walked into that room and saw all of our friends and family looking at us, smiling, I felt more love and acceptance than I ever have in my life.”
“One of the things that made it so beautiful,” Escolà says, “is that the Spanish and the Israelis are of different religions and cultures, but they all came together to support us.”
“The Jewish religion doesn’t accept gay marriage,” Azar adds, “but in that moment, I felt very close to God. He was with me.”
“Because love,” Escolà says, “doesn’t under-stand gender, religion, or color.”