Thursday, June 07, 2007

French Fairytale

We arrived at the wedding with moments to spare. Our flit into Paris has meant I had about twenty minutes to get changed in the hotel. Despite the purchase of sat nav (christened by the kids as Ingrid for some reason) I am not all confident that it will get me to the church on time. Or in this case the Mairie (or town hall)...

Luckily, Ingrid, despite a tendency to go apoplectic when you don't follow instructions (Recalculating, recalculating she fulminates like some kind of in car dalek), does manage to find the way, and the Mairie is right next to McDonalds, so Spouse is able to whizz off there with the sprogs once I've been deposited unceremoniously on the pavement.

The pavement is overflowing with people, chatting, mingling, laughing. I spot my host busy among a group of wedding guests, and hazard a guess that the pretty girl in the rusty satin dress must be his younger daughter - who was a bump last time I saw her. The bride is nowhere to be seen at first, and I can't spot her mother either. I know absolutely no one here apart from the bride's parents and I haven't a clue of the form at a French wedding.

A joyous shout greets me, and my host spots me, flings his arms around me in welcome. Why didn't you come and say hello, he accuses. I was being typically English and hovering about in the background is why. Besides, I can see he's busy. We have a brief chat before he disappears into the crowd again. His place is taken by his lovely wife - oh the laughs we had together when I stayed with them. I owe to her my first excruciating experience of waxing...

I am introduced to the bride - I recognise her from her pictures, but where is the little girl I once knew? It's been twenty two years. It is strange to meet up after all this time. She is charming and bubbly and fizzing with pleasure. The ambiance is one of excitement and fun. I don't mind at all that I am on my own. In fact, as I explain to a fellow guest who kindly takes me under her wing, I am so rarely alone in my normal life, I am positively relishing the experience.

We are soon ushered into the Mairie, where, to my surprise, my host dons a sash and brings the bride and groom together to perform the ceremony. It turns out as a former Mayor of the town he is entitled to perform wedding ceremonies if the actual mayor isn't available. It seemed like a charming and personal way to begin.

Although up until now I have been quite pleased with how well I seem to be communicating in French, I have to fess up here and say I didn't understand a lot of what was going on, but the gist was clear. And the happiness on the faces of the bride and groom said more then any words could.

Once the ceremony is complete, it is on to the next part of the wedding at the church. My friendly French friend kindly offers me a lift, which is just as well. I'd been to the church before, and my memory of how close it was is more then somewhat rusty...

In many ways the whole experience was not so very different from an English wedding. The cars were decked out in ribbons, the bride wore white, we threw rose petals rather then confetti, but the gist was the same.

However, the little differences delighted me.

My French friends are an immensely egalitarian couple, and so they both took their daughter down the aisle. I thought that was brilliant and it's certainly something I'd consider doing. Traditions sometimes are made to be broken.

The service itself was fairly easy to follow, but my next surprise came towards the end when I suddenly realised that both my friends were in the rather lively choir which provided the accompaniment. Talk about a hands on wedding...

We emerged from the church to be given a little posy of almonds (that's happened to me at a English wedding once, too. I think it signifies luck or happiness), and some gold/red petals to chuck at the happy couple.

One thing that strikes me immediately is the brightness of the colours on display. There are reds, and pinks, oranges and yellows. I feel rather dazzled, as if I'm in a crowd of peacocks. My friends explain that the theme of the wedding is flames: to symbolise warmth and life. It certainly makes for a dramatic impression.

In the church I make the acquaintance of an old friend of the bride's mother. She is half English, which is handy, as she kindly fills me in on the bits I don't understand. I am aware that my brain doesn't work fast enough to keep up with my mouth, so a lot of my French is coming out semi garbled, and in places rather more like gobbledegook then sense.

My chauffeur from earlier kindly takes me on to the reception, which takes place in a fabulous old abbey. He's got sat nav too - which is just as well as the abbey is in the middle of nowhere. We arrive to the sight of the bride and groom on the lawn waving us in.

Then follows the photos - just the same as an English wedding. Lots of hanging around while people are dragged in and out of the pictures.

Finally, it's done and we all traipse through to the courtyard for drinks and foie gras (flamed very dramatically over a huge pan). I have to confess, the notion of how foie gras is made really appals me, but on the other hand, when in Rome etc, and I've never had it before, so... Having been assured by my English speaking friend it is quite delicious, I have a taste of some. She's right. It is. And judging by the queue around the pan it is only my English sensibilities that are worried by where it has come from...

The courtyard is stunning. Drinks are served in the corner, underneath a barn like roof, which looks as if it has always been there, and tables are dotted about here and there on the cobblestones. It is a wonderful location to have for a wedding. I feel so thrilled to be here.

Everyone I meet is more then kind to me. No one can quite believe that I've bothered to come all this way after such a long time. But... As I said in my previous post, my hosts are vrai amis de mon coeur, and time and distance is immaterial I think in such relationships. I was only with them for a very short and intense period, but we forged (I think) a very deep bond. I feel both touched and honoured to be here.

The next part of the evening takes us inside where we start the long slow process that is a French celebratory meal. My ESF, who is sitting next to me tells me that we probably won't get up from the table till midnight. It is now around 7.30. I'm not sure I believe her, but in the event, she turns out to be right.

We start off with a fish dish, which is light and tasty. There is a nice combination of formality and informality about this. The food (of utmost importance in France) is the formal bit, but in between courses, there are several informal and impromptu speeches. At one point we are invited to search our tables for two questions about the bride and groom. They're answered in a very funny powerpoint presentation. At another point we're treated to another powerpoint presentation featuring the story of how the two grew up and eventually came to meet. In the bride's baby pictures, I see photos I was shown over twenty years ago...

The bride's aunt gives a very touching speech about the nature of love and commitment - I don't understand it all, but its meaning is touchingly clear.

One of her friends provides each table with a bag of sugar cubes and some paper. We all write messages for the happy couple and wrap them up for them to presumably open in the months to come.

Every little detail has been considered. I don't think I've ever been at a more well thought out event.

It is indeed midnight before the bride and groom cut the cake and the last course is served. The dancing is just getting going as I leave. I long to be dancing too, but - needs must. Spouse is alone in a hotel room, frantically trying to stay awake for me - he has the key, malheureusement.

We are all invited back for the wedding breakfast, though. So we return in the morning for cafe and croissants and French bread. I do love French breakfasts...

My hosts throughout have been incredibly warm and attentive to me. They, their family and friends have made me feel so at home. My little charge, though all grown up, hasn't actually changed all that much. In her joie de vivre and mischievous teasing I see the little girl I once knew. Her sister is equally charming and I am glad that after so long I have finally made her accquaintance. I am rather stumped that so many years have gone by without our having met up, but I suppose that's what happens in life. We get on and we get busy, and before we know it we've lived another couple of decades.

I'm planning to make sure it's not twenty two years before we meet again.

I have never been to a French wedding before, and it exceeded my expectations. It was a wonderfully joyful and lively affair, and I felt privileged to be part of it.

The amis de mon coeur, really did their daughter (and me) proud....

Vive le France, et l'entente tres cordiale!

Pour mes chers amis en France avec toute mes bonne penseesxxxxx

29 comments:

Dumdad said...

Another lovely and evocative post. Thanks for sharing it with us all in the blogosphere!

The French really excel at weddings.

My wife is French and we married in a tiny village in the Auvergne. The mayor told me I was the first Englishman to be married in the village. Quel honneur!

And the wedding party went on round the clock until French onion soup and white wine were served at 7.30 in the morning.

Jane Henry said...

How lovely to get married in Auvergne. Not that I've been there, mind, it just sounds very attractive to this francophile. I got married in a little church in Shropshire where my mother lives. We partied as long as we could - but it was all over by midnight. I much prefer the French way of doing things! (I did otoh, party till 7am on my 40th birthday)...

German leg next...

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