Since moving to France the only wedding I’ve been to is the one I played for three years ago, but yesterday we were guests at the marriage of our friends’ daughter.
As the mother of the bride is the Maire of Charleville and her father works in Reims, we don’t see much of them nowadays so it was a pleasant surprise to receive an invitaton.
The card said it was at 14.30 in the ‘Hotel de Ville de Charleville-Mezieres’ and we kind of assumed it would be the large building in Place Ducale in Charleville. After waiting in vain until well after two for people to turn up we decided it must be the Hotel de Ville in Mezieres and made a mad dash across the river.
We were lucky enough to slip into a recently vacated parking spot and found a large group gathering on the steps outside the ‘Town hall’.
“Do you recognise anyone?” asked Bear as we approached.
I didn’t until we were very close and a young man came forward to greet us. It was Olivier, one of the bride’s cousins.
“We were waiting at the Place Ducale” I admitted.
“Yes, so were we.” laughed Olivier. So if the family could be confused I didn’t feel so bad.
I asked if the bride’s Grandmother was there.
“You’ll find her inside on the left” he said.
We went in and found her in a small office, suffering badly from arthritis but cheerful as ever. Suddenly I was aware that the bride had arrived and was mingling in the waiting throng greeting and kissing everyone. The bride’s mum appeared and did likewise and then people started going up the stairs to a large room where the ceremony was to take place.
We decided to take a seat at the back to let the families have the best view.
The ceremony was very simple and to the point. As the Maire herself just wanted to be a Mere on her daughter’s wedding day, it was left to two adjoints (deputies) to do the honours. One read out a statement of the duties involved in marriage – basically, to take care of each other and children when they have them, and to ensure that the children are given a good education and support in making decisions until they reach majority.
Then they were each asked if they would take the other as husband and wife. They answered ‘Oui’ and that was that: they were declared wed and everyone applauded.
The civil niceties took a bit longer. They read out the full names, dates of birth, addresses and occupations of the happy couple, their parents and the witnesses and then there was the ‘signing of the register’, during which a recording of a morbid Bach Chorale was played.
Then there was a ‘collection’ for the Hotel de Ville. The plates were taken round by a nephew and niece of the bride but they only dared approach people they knew so we didn’t have a chance to make an offering. It wasn’t clear whether this little girl was a bridemaid but she certainly looked very pretty. Her brother, on the other hand was dressed very casually.
With the ceremony over, we were invited to go up to the second floor for the Vin d’honneur but no-one made a move for several minutes. Eventually people started to gravitate out of the room and we waited in the foyer where we met several more family members whom we hadn’t seen for at least two years. There still seemed to be an awful lot of meeting and greeting going on but at last people started to climb the stairs. (The lady in the white stole under the feathery hat is the Maire of Charleville – bride’s mother).
There were two adjoining rooms with four tables set out with champagne, fruit juice, savoury nibbles and ‘langues de chat’ – the pink biscuits which are the traditional accompaniment for champagne. At this point the bride’s father came up to say hello and at the same time the caterer came to ask hm a question. He started to introduce as old friends from England but was taken aback when the caterer and I greeted each other with four kisses. He was the son of a friend of ours in the village and we knew him from some super meals with the Club des Anciens.
The Vin d’Honneur proceeded with endless top-ups of champagne and everyone milling around talking and taking photos of the happy couple. Her grandmother found one of the few seats round the edge of the room and told me that she didn’t really know what was happening or if and when they were going on honeymoon. The family were renting a large gite and she thought she would be staying there and going home the next day.
Bear and I stayed until nearly four and then tracked down the happy couple to offer our congratulations and a final kiss.
(That’s NOT Bear speaking to the bride)