From Paris, with love

Kona boy proposes to Hilo girl beneath the lights of Eiffel Tower

Click here for original PDF of newspaper page with this story.

Standing together in the glow of their very own Eiffel Tower, Mark Damaso pops the question to his beloved Frida Padamada on a recent night in Hilo.
Photo by William Ing/Hawaii Tribune-Herald staff photographer

Staff Writer
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Seven years ago, Mark Damaso gave his new girlfriend a stool he made for her in eighth-grade woodshop. 

It was the first of many gifts he would hand-fashion for Farida Padamada. But none of them displayed quite the depth of feeling as his latest token of affection. 

Nor the height. 

Call it a unique crossbreed of clichés. Something between “From Here to Eternity” and “Sabrina”: Kona boy meets Hilo girl. Hilo girl dreams of someday visiting Paris. Kona boy builds 20-foot-tall replica of Eiffel Tower in backyard and asks Hilo girl to marry him. 

Yes, you read that correctly. 

Even at 21, Damaso knows his way around tools. A carpenter for Takamine Construction, he says that his love affair with woodwork began at the same time as his love affair with Padamada. 

“We met at a friend’s house in Kona,” he said. “I made her a stool in woodshop, and I think that was when I learned how much I liked making things.” 

In turn, Padamada became enamored with Damaso. And French. 

“I took French in high school. That’s what sparked my interest in Paris,” said the 2006 Hilo High grad. “That’s where I wanted to go after my graduation, but, financially, it’s not very feasible right now.” 

As a nursing student
set to graduate in May, the 21-year-old Padamada says she hasn’t had the money to make her dream come true. 

So, Damaso did what he does best — and nabbed himself a fiancee in the process. 

Farida Padamada and her fiancé, Mark Damaso.
Photo by William Ing /Hawaii Tribune-Herald staff photographer

“He decided to bring Paris to me,” Padamada said with an enormous smile across her face. 

Damaso made up his mind about two years ago that he would ask his girl- friend to marry him under an Eiffel Tower replica. 

Damaso began his task of recreating Paris’ most recognizable tourist destination by formulating a plan. This was no typical, back-of-a-napkin sketch, however. 

“First of all, I had to draw it, to scale it, from the original blueprint, which I found online,” he said. “Then it was just going with a protractor and a ruler and trying to figure out the degrees to scale it down. There are some modifications, but I tried to replicate it as much as possible, as much as I could.” 

Two months ago, he dove into the construction, using a mixture of wood, metal, screws, nails, paint and lights. He built three large sections that were hidden in Padamada’s cousin’s backyard. 

“He usually fails at surprises, so this was a really big surprise,” said Padamada’s cousin, Arlene Lubong, who watched Damaso slaving away on the project in her yard. 

Lubong said she and Damaso put a lot of effort into ensuring Padamada wouldn’t find out about the plan. 

“He asked me for advice, like what should we tell her if she comes over and asks what he’s doing here,” she said. “We said he should tell her he was building a playhouse for my daughter.” 

Damaso would tell Padamada that he had to work late shifts, or he would tell her he had to help friends and family with projects. Then he would head to her cousin’s house and continue his labor of love, sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning before heading home. 

Ultimately, however, Padamada admits to being oblivious to the white lies Damaso told in order to work his magic. 

“Usually, we’re not very good at surprising each other,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s intuition or whatever. Every anniversary (of our first meeting) for the past six years, we’ve always known what each other’s gifts were. I don’t know how that works — if it’s clues from everyday conversation, I don’t know. We just kind of play along though and pretend to be surprised. 

The couple sheath the main assembly of the Eiffel Tower with plastic wrap to protect it from the elements. They intend to keep the symbol of their love for each other, storing the disassembled components on a relative’s property.
Photo by William Ing/Hawaii Tribune-Herald staff photographer

“But this one, yeah, he surprised me,” she added. 

Once all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, Damaso enlisted the help of his brothers, George and Kenny Damaso, and his brother-in-law, Charlie Garganta, to help him carry the pieces and assemble his surprise. 

Seven years to the day of their first meeting, the couple made plans to meet at a party, and Padamada was waiting for his arrival when Damaso hatched his plan. 

“I get a call at 8 o’clock, and he goes, ‘I’m sorry, I left my keys in my truck and I’m locked out. I don’t have a spare. You have the spare, can you come pick me up?’ 

“Now, this is, um, something that happens a lot,” she said with a laugh. “So it was totally believable.” 

Padamada and her mother jumped in the car and headed to University Heights Park, finding Damaso standing in front of the huge wooden structure holding a guitar. 

Damaso had lined the walkway with candles. One of Damaso’s brothers handed Padamada a dozen roses as the other hit the lights lining the tower. 

“I’m walking down the runway, and then I start running,” Padamada said. “But then I stop because I’m in heels and I figure, ‘Oh, this is not going to be good if I fall.’ So I slowed down, and when I get to him and I hug him, he says ‘Wait, I have to play you a song.’ And by then I’m already bawling.” 

Damaso, who had never played guitar before, had convinced a friend to teach him a single song, which he had been practicing for the last two years. 

It was Adam Sandler’s “I Wanna Grow Old With You,” featuring such lyrics as: 

“I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad, carry you around when
your arthritis is bad. I’ll get you medicine
when your tummy aches, build you a fire if the
furnace breaks.
Give you my coat when

you are cold,
even let you hold the
remote control.” 

“I like it because it’s very pertinent to real relationships,” Padamada said. 

Following the song, Damaso dropped to his knees and requested her hand in marriage. 

The answer, in case you were worried, was “yes.” 

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