Village wedding an ambition fulfilled

CHARLES ROBERTS In the four and a half years I've been settled in rural France, one thing (among many) I've been hoping to do is attend a village wedding. At the weekend just passed, the aim was achieved.


In the four and a half years I've been settled in rural France, one thing (among many) I've been hoping to do is attend a village wedding. At the weekend just passed, the aim was achieved.

How and why? Because four years ago, Saturday's bride and groom bought the tumbledown farm cottage, abutting a corner of my orchard. For the whole of that time, they have intermittently been not so much restoring the cottage as re-creating it.

Completion is promised soon, followed by “moving in”. Then we can stop referring to them as “our future neighbours”, and fall into the more relaxed cadences of “Catherine et Serge”. Can't wait to see the finished project.

The wedding ceremony came first, reasonably, in the picturesque little village church, so small that not everyone could get in. Then a hundred yard journey to the Mairie, which was basking in the afternoon sunshine.

Originally the Mairie was a private house, styled like a small château. It's last owner left the house and its handsome park to the commune (village). The principal meeting room was small from the start, and has stayed so. But work is now firmly under way, right next-door, on a new and more spacious salle des Fêtes.

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For now the Mairie meeting room sufficed for the next important ceremonial, required by Law: the Civil Marriage, before the Mayor. On Saturday, the Mayor was resplendent in his écharpe - the sash bearing the colours of the Republic and worn on Civic occasions. By his side stood the secrétaire de Mairie, the administrative head of town hall affairs.

Facing them were the bride and groom, and two témoins (witnesses), one of whom was the groom's brother. In the wings, waiting to play his part in the proceedings was Antoine, the little son of Serge and Catherine. He had been making his presence clear by contributing infant noises, including a master class on enunciating the words ma-ma-ma and pa-pa-pa... repeatedly, to the warm amusement of the crowd.

But he had more to offer before he was through. His job was to carry in to Monsieur le Maire and the bridal couple a little decorated basket. It contained a cushion onto which two rings were pinned. Dutifully, he advanced on scene just as the bride and groom were making their marital promises . . . and howled.

All efforts to sooth him failed. Then someone tried to help by taking the rings basket from him. It was an error! If, before, the howls were lusty, now if anything they redoubled. In the mêlée the rings were unpinned from the basket. Mysteriously, this appeared to comfort him. And he still had the basket.

Now it was time for the family and general photographs. Down in the park, behind the Mairie, a man in long shorts had just completed putting together a clever construction, whose objective was to get an instant grand stand, seating 60 people, no less.

The first three rows were reserved for the families, the rest for whoever is fast and agile enough to clamber from level to level. No matter the possible inconvenience, the French appear to have a distinct affection for this contraption. After all, it has a high chance of getting their faces into the local press.

Photos taken, the next stage of the ritual begins, the procession to the reception, half of it through twisting, one-car width country lanes. But it starts in the village where, once everything is in motion, the traditional salute to the newly weds slots in . . . the cheerful blaring of car horns.

At the head of the procession goes a classic old car, carrying the newly-weds. It was a 1949 Ford Vedette, but made in France after the second world war. In perfect order, it is the pride of its owner, who lives in a nearby village.

Another tradition has still to make its appearance, La Voiture Balai (The sweeping brush car), where a chosen vehicle (in this case a venerable Mercedes owned by the groom) is decorated humorously to represent the man and his cart who will clear the road of litter et al, when the exuberant guests have gone by.

Our route led us eventually to Serge's working farm, where 60-plus cars jostled for parking spaces. From there it was but a small walk to the farm's Great Barn, where an array of sweet gâteaux and biscuits (most of them specialities of the region) were laid out, and complemented by locally made cider.

To make the day complete, the sun shone on the wedding from mid-day to late afternoon, showing off Vienne at its best - and illustrating why our region is heralded by its born and bred locals as “The beginning of The South.”