Thursday, September 01, 2016

A sweaty, sun-shiny wedding for Blandine and Me

On a sunny August day in the South of France, Blandine and I became man and wife and a couple of pints of sweat. Or should that be wife and man and whatever? At any rate, a moist married couple. 26th August, 2016. That is the date that will go down in history. The one I still intend to write. A simple civil ceremony at the town hall of Ste Colombe, a little village on the outskirts of Lyon.

Here we all are, after the event: Blandine and I and the Chavas clan outside the Mairie of Ste Colombe. The Chatterji clan could not make it. We intend to have a temple wedding in India for them.

But the seeds of this momentous occasion were planted several months earlier.

First, the romantic bit. On Christmas Day, 2015, I proposed to Blandine. With a discount diamond ring bought on Flipkart (Ok, that’s not romantic. But a man’s gotta be practical). On New Year’s Day, 2016, after making me sweat it out a week, she accepted.

Then the unromantic bit. Six nerve-wracking months gathering all the papers needed to satisfy the French and Indian bureaucracy. Finally, all in place. Marriage date fixed after balancing the opposing constraints of French laws, the Chavas family’s travel plans, and Astrology (that last from me).

Blandine decided to conduct the festivities in her backyard, a tangled mess of weeds and thorns. A trackless jungle, where beasts with gnashing teeth leapt out at the unwary (namely, Blandine’s cat). Two hard days with a lawnmower, a spade and gardening shears, and the place looked almost spruce. A couple of visits to Mont Grissard, the hill overlooking Blandine’s home, to gathers armloads of purple heather, which we planted all around the yard for the Celtic touch. A visit to Blandine’s favourite florist in Vienne to buy boatloads of gorgeous flowers… enormous white roses, and baby’s breath. And lots of lilac crepe and lilac ribbons and lilac lace. And Blandine set to work fashioning the decorations, with minor help from yours truly. But I did the man’s work of putting them up.

Please admire the buntings in these photos. Where a soulless clod (me?) would have bought a bundle at a discount store, she hand-cut and hand-painted each leaf on expensive crepe paper, and strung them up with silk thread.

Blandine’s crown of rose, part of her costume for marriage day. A crown of thorns, symbolising marriage to me? Nope. The florist had carefully removed all the thorns.

The cake. Blandine has two passions in life: flowers and patisserie (I come a distant fifth, after a couple of other minor interests). If she splurged on the flowers, she went overboard on the cake. We got our cake from Sève, in Lyon. Richard Sève counts amongst the top 10 patissiers in France, which presumably means the world. We selected ours from a short list of M. Sève’s works of art. Or rather, we selected four: a lemony kind of thing, a chocolaty kind of thing, a thing that looked like a garden in spring, and one that closely resembled a bucket of spilled paint. And there we were stuck. I hemmed and hawed. Blandine got impatient. We ended up ordering all four. Four small ones instead of one big one. That sounds like it is going to be the theme song of our married life: Four small ones instead of one big one, me being an inveterate hemmer and hawer, and Blandine having about as much patience as a boiling soup kettle.

We carted the cakes from Lyon on the morning of the marriage. Here they are, Mr. Sève’s works of art, in all their resplendence: Top Coat, Tamaro, Croquante aux Agrumes, Pulli d’été.

Don’t look for ‘Blandine weds Pashupati’ messages on the cake. M. Sève would not deign to defile his artwork with such banality. Instead, to signify us, Blandine made two marionettes of pâte d'amande (almond paste – the stuff macarons are made of). The little chap in blue is Blandine’s idea of me. One of the rare occasions when I have been good enough to eat.

Then we put on our marriage finery sashayed over to the town hall – or the Mairie de Ste Colombe. We were met on the steps of the Mairie by the Chavas clan: Blandine’s mom, whom we call mémé, daughter Clara, brothers Denis and Michael, and diverse nieces and nephews and their partners.

The mayor is a kindly old gent whom we had met earlier while organizing the papers. For the marriage, he had on a stiff suit and a sash with the colours of France, to signify the awful majesty of the state. We were late. The mayor gave us an austere look and set the ball rolling. Niece Juliette was called on to read out the marriage notice. Some moving, romantic stuff about ‘under the marriage act of 1966… referring to clause 1.6.1, taken in conjunction with clause 1.5.2…’ and other evocative stuff like that.

Here are Blandine and I, going all misty eyed at the clauses.

Then the mayor says the magic words you hear in all the romedies: ‘Wilt thou, Pashupati…’ Or rather, since this was France, ‘Est-ce que vous, Pashupati, …’

I say a quick, breathless Ouais before he finishes. General tittering in the room. Too late I remember Ouais is the French equivalent of Yeah. One does not say Yeah to the clergyman’s Wilt thou. Sheepish grin. Blandine makes up for it with a loud, clear Oui.

Then the ring bit. The rings are Chavas family heirloom. The Chavases have married with these rings down the generations. I had sawn off a slice from a log of mossy wood to mount these rings. They were mounted with lilac ribbon and a rosebud.

I mess up undoing the knots. Then I get the finger wrong. More merriment.

The long passionate kiss. I get this one right.

The mayor gives us a handshake and a piece of paper saying we’re married (Livret de famille). Blowing soap bubbles on the steps of the Mairie, after the deed is done.

We walk back to Blandine’s home.

I break out the champagne (a rather spirited Royer Demi-Sec that is appreciated by all). Yep, I’ve been in France long enough to learn to pop a champagne bottle without spilling the stuff all over the place.

The cake is wolfed down by one and all.

The empty cake table.

The Music. I’d insisted on a live musician. My one, sole demand. I found Stéphane Balmino on a website for hiring session musicians. He sang Chanson Français, love ballads and the blues. It was the blues that had turned the scales in his favour. Stéphane turned out to be a jolly old fellow with a broken-toothed grin, a guitar and a beat-up van. He kept the party going with an assortment of old French hits and some unknown songs. Some English too.

At my insistence, he slipped in a couple of blues numbers, even though Blandine can’t stand the blues. He sang a couple of traditional blues songs in English, and did a pretty good job too. Great blues guitar playing. Then he sang a funny French blues song called Mal à Dent Blues or Toothache Blues, about a chap visiting a dentist. Odd song to sing at a wedding. Was it a veiled allegory on married life? Or was he simply referring to the after effects of eating all that cake?

It behoves the married couple to dance at their wedding. Neither Blandine nor I know the first thing about Waltz or Foxtrot. But we cut the rug, nevertheless, albeit roughly.

The traditional wedding horsing around, sit on each other game, and the unavoidable snake dance…

Dusk set in. We wound up at Blandine’s house...

... and moved on to the next joint: Dinner at Le Cottage in the nearby romantically named village of Chonas l'amballan. Le Cottage is operated by the Michelin starred chef, Philippe Girardon. Nope, Le Cottage itself doesn’t have a Michelin star. That honour belongs to his other establishment, La Maison de Clairefontaine, down the road from Le Cottage. But this is where ordinary folk can get a whiff of Michelin-level cooking without breaking the bank.

Finally, at 1 AM, drunk, with the restaurant staff giving us weary looks, we called an end to the festivities. As a parting shot, we stopped by the banks of the Rhone and set off a paper hot air balloon, to mark the start of our married life.

All this while, Blandine’s house waited to welcome us back for our first night together as man and wife.

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