Weddings, marriages, nuptials. Celebrations, festivities, partying. Three days of connubial revelry!
In France you’re required to be officially married in the Mairie (town hall) before the church ceremony. Benjamin and Berengere’s civil wedding was to take place in the Marseille Mairie at 2pm. “Marseille” murmured Robert “Marseille!” he exclaimed. I could see him thinking…‘A convoy. Of cars. Of us. And young children. On an hour’s drive. Through Marseille! Oh god…’
Friday was hot. Very hot and humid. Even Madam de la bastide was ooh-la-la-ing and flicking her wrist at the heavy wilting heat of the morning. To add to the discomfort our apartment had become overrun by a million unwanted visitors. Flies. Circling, bizzing, fizzing, bumping, crawling and invading absolutely everything; eyes, ears, mouths, skin, all morsel of organic matter no matter how minute, any drink and every surface. Thwacking and flapping ineffectually, someone was eventually sent off to find citronella candles and fly traps as the rest set about trying to feed, dress and calm children, babies, fraught men and women (‘where’s my tie/cufflinks/pants/socks?’ ‘do these shorts pass for smart-casual?’ ‘oh no! my dress’s covered in fly crap!’ ‘it’s too damn hot for a jacket. what am I going to wear now?’ ‘I just want to wear flipflops. my feet won’t do shoes.’ ‘my make-up, my make-up…it’s all melted!’) all exhausted and sweaty (sorry, glowing), ready for the off.
That same evening we had arranged an impromptu get together for all visiting family, best men and close friends. The number was growing alarmingly. Coming up trumps, Janet and Chris, very good friends not attending the civil marriage, happily volunteered to collect and prepare provisions to feed the swelling hoards, so leaving us free to enjoy the hospitality of Martine and Roland, Berengere’s parents, after the ceremony.
1.30pm and we were miraculously ready! Will was the chosen one; he would head the convoy due to his intimate association with God (satnav). We thanked heaven, too, for car aircon. As the journey progress the cool calm of our insular interiors soothed and de-stressed us. We managed the alarmingly individual driving of Marseille with surprising aplomb, remarkably found enough parking spaces within 400metres of the Mairie, only receiving a jittery “Are you here yet?” call from the anxious bridegroom as we were decanting ourselves onto the pavement.
The two families gathered on the steps of the Mairie, which is set in serene green grounds of trees, shrubs and water, before being shown into a large airy room with french doors overlooking the gardens and lake. The ceremony was simple and informal; small children playing hide n’ seek amongst the guests or staring intrigued by the ritual questions and answers. It was soon over and we decamped into the grounds for photos before returning to the Ize family home where we’d been invited for champagne, tea, swimming and, of course, fiercely competitive matches of petanque (boules) between French and British.
On our return journey we negotiated the suburbs of Marseille without a hitch returning to Valbrillant by early evening. Benjamin was to follow with Camille a little later.
Janet and Chris had excelled themselves – the central pool table groaned with plates of food topped with makeshift paper hats against the unrelenting flies; cold rosti chicken and guinea fowl, bowls of mixed leaves, tomato, bean and carrot salads, new potatoes, pizzas, bruschettas and brochettes, cheeses, olives and bread. Folk soon started arriving.
Madam hurried towards me looking anxious and harried. Le monsieur de la bastide, she informed me, had decided to close the security gates. These did not work like clockwork. After the code had been punched in a little series of stops and starts were required before the gates would open fully. Proceeding too quickly would jam the mechanism….This is what I now understand…at the time I only got the gist of her explanations. She also asked if we could keep the noise down as the other guests were slightly ‘formidable’. I assured her I would do my best, we were after all quite a ‘grown-up’ gathering.
At 10.30pm all the lights went out. Will and I mistakenly thought there had been a power cut as thunderstorms had been rumbling about the area. We went to investigate and found the door to the main house locked and barred. Fiddling around with keys and chains we found a switch which turned the lighting on. As we returned the lights went off…we tried again with the same result. The message was clear and loud ‘end of party’.
Guests forced to leave, battled with the gates. It was not an easy departure and monsieur was not amused. As I made my way down from showing Benjamin and Camille the bedroom they was sharing with us in the main house I was met with the frightening spectre of a furious and threatening monsieur; half naked and towering above me he fumed, swore and gesticulated with throat cutting gestures at the inappropriateness of celebrating forthcoming marriages in his domaine, an unflattering caricature of Yul Brynner in the King and I and Telly Savalas from Kojak…shocked I apologised profusely to no avail.
Le monsieur’s aggressive attitude left me a bit shaken, nevertheless we eventually all settled down for the night and the big day tomorrow…