Saturday, 10 October 2009


Is my poor brain really getting so old that it manages to forget that we did once make a trip to France in August, so I lied.

When I thought back I realised Y and C got married during August!

It was a long time ago and far far away in Normandy where C had been born and brought up. Y and C had been traveling the world working to pay their way, useful to be a chef, you can work anywhere. While in Brazil Sophia was conceived and they decided a bit unconventionally for such an unconventional couple to get married. The French will have a party with the slightest excuse and if food is involved will come in droves, we had one of those.

It was mostly C’s family then again he has seven brothers and one sister so that was a crowd to start with. Little wonder that the parents died young and left the neighbors to finish the job of raising the family. This was about twenty miles inland in the bocage where centuries of use had worn the roads into deep trenches with shady trees forming a canopy above. Cattle never got lost! You did not want to meet traffic head on but there was so little anyway. A small contingency of Brits came. I went with Julie, her mother and her cousin in an old VW camper.

C was to impress his family with a slap up lunch feast so headed off to Les Halles, the big food distribution market in Paris and filled their little estate car to overflowing. We took up residence in the old family home which was empty of all furniture except the dining room, this is France! A superior form of camping, as time went by the place filled up.

I started to scythe a space under the trees in the orchard for the pre wedding feast, exhausting in the heat. Between times we sortied out to markets the like of which no longer seem to exist where local producers came with whatever little they had to sell. I remain haunted by ”the photo which failed at the end of the roll”, an old woman held out an open bag to receive the bunch of small chickens which the seller held by their necks! The ones which get away haunt you for ever, why use a camera, perhaps the faded memories are better.

As the preparations progressed I was asked to drive the camper to collect the communally owned tables from a local farm. I went with C and a new arrival, Fred, It was not a long drive through the sunken lanes, we drove into a medieval farm yard, chickens and animals wandering about. Greeting the farmer we were ushered into the kitchen for a friendly drink. Spirit drinking is not my thing but to be sociable I accepted my glass of pastis and sat at the kitchen table and tried to make sense of the conversation whilst watching the chickens pecking around on the dirt floor. The conversation went on for an eternity because C had been away for so long and there was much catching up to do, I sipped away at my drink then politely placed the empty glass on the table. In a nanosecond it was refilled! Eventually the second glass was empty but I hung on to it for dear life in my new wobbly world. Then people were on their feet and much hand shaking was is progress and C told me that the tables were at the back of the barn and could not be got out so we were to return the next day. I did manage to drive back but mainly because it was impossible to drive off the road since it was only as wide as the van and as deep! The next day I made myself scarce to avoid a repeat performance.

Fred had squeezed his family of wife and small children into a Lancia Fluvia sports car which he said was not running smoothly, could I take a ride with him to try and find the fault? Well he drove that thing all over the countryside at speeds well over a hundred miles an hour and we just could not find anything wrong with it at all!

C spent a couple of days preparing his feast, legs of lamb went into ovens all over the community, cases of langoustine crabs and various shellfish were coked at the last minute. Smoked salmon and sliced cold meats spread on platters, chickens roasted and much I have forgotten, all spread over about 7 metres of table. After everyone had arrived at the house garden and drunk a champagne toast to the couple a procession made it’s way to the orchard and the spread laid out for them. The whole scene was as if from the Bayeux Tapestry, C’s family are pure Norman, probably Vikings who have not moved for nearly 2000 years. Eating and drinking proceeded for several hours before someone announced that there was a ridiculously short time left before we were supposed to be before the local Mayor for the ceremony, an old Le Manns style race start ensued.

The ceremony took place in the tiny local school hall with everyone crowed round a huge table. The mayor, a small guy with a big sash and his young glamorous assistant presided, children hung with their noses just over the edge of the table, couple and witnesses formed up on one side. Every time he managed to get his tongue round some fiercely Scottish names of bride and witness the cheer from the crowd was as loud as when France scores a goal in the world cup. Before you knew it the ceremony was over and the designated photographer was allowed less than two minutes to get a picture on the front steps of the beaming bride bulging with here five months belly and clutching her small fox terrier Spotty instead of a bunch of flowers next to here new husband and a swirling chaos of guests. Then they were gone. The air filled with the noise of car horns as the drove around randomly to make sure everyone knew something had happened then they went to the local cafe to drink. Having little stamina most of the Brits took a late siesta!

The real meal took place in the evening! We drove some miles to a hotel and had a sit down banquet. The only dishes I now recall are the quails stuffed with currants, The French bit off the heads and crunching noises followed! The pike in a butter sauce was exquisite and the tower of profiteroles higher than I thought possible. In the early hours of the morning the old black dressed widows who had looked after the kids when younger got tired and I grabbed the chance to escape by being a bus driver, by now we were exhausted. It was some hours later when the riot returned to the house. It is traditional, at least was then, for the new couple to be given a mixture of white wine and chocolate in a chamber pot which they are to consume, symbolic of what to expect from marriage? I don’t know. Sensitive Y substitutes one of her mothers large ceramic bowls to soften the blow!

The couple retire as they are supposed to while the party just goes on and if anything gets even noisier. Exasperated and unable to sleep Y finally driven to her wits end strode out stark naked with large bump and screamed that she wanted some peace to be able to sleep, she seemed to get their attention.

The following day the French returned to do the pre wedding lunch again! Most of us Brits had slunk off to visit Mont Saint Michele and laze on the beach all afternoon. Y’s performance was not going to be beaten and we had eaten enough food for a week.

Not too sure what it means when an event like this can slip your memory. The event got Julie thinking about catching up with her little sister and my fate was sealed.

1 comment:

  1. Oh God Caroline! I missed you so much, and this post makes me realize why! I just love your accounts! They are so wonderfully descriptive, and they make me both laugh and cry!

    I didn't think such an idyllic existence still existed in France, but your account is a testament that it still does.

    So good to have you back!
    Melissa XX


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