Saturday, 25 August 2007

Letter From Paris - Weddings

Posted by Olivier Lalin -
Here is a little insight at a French wedding and More ! Taken from a really Cool Book... It is Called - French Toast - It's a lighthearted look at French manners and mores. Writes Leslie Caron: French Toast includes the most delightful barbs at France's subtle but deep-rooted codes of behaviour

Letter From Paris -
By Harriet Welty-Rochefort
Paris Kiosque - September 1999 - Volume 6, Number 9
Copyright (c) 1999 Harriet Welty-Rochefort

"...Summer in Paris is wedding season. Invited to several, we only made it to one, the wedding of a cousin "a la mode de Bretagne" (a French saying for an unrelated cousin). The bride was, in fact, the niece of my brother-in-law and we were excited to attend because we had been hearing about the wedding for almost a year. Held in the small Norman village of the groom's family, this wedding was going to be worth everyone's time, turning out to be a three-day affair, first of all the wedding ceremony and the reception for the out of town and older set of guests and then two more days of partying for the young people.

The Norman town we stayed in looked like it was straight out of Madame Bovary, complete with a mill and a stone bridge, half-timbered houses, pretty little gardens and a manor house.

The wedding ceremonies took place in a small seventeenth century church in a nearby village. The bride was ravishing, the groom handsome, the respective parents puffed with pride, the priest young. Probably one of the funniest moments of the ceremony was when the priest warned us that a certain Biblical passage that the bride had chosen to be read "should be viewed in the context of the times in which it was written". This of course got everyone's curiosity up. What on earth could he be referring to? Although we had been forewarned, a collective gasp of astonishment and a few chuckles arose from the congregation when the reader got to the part saying that the happiest husband is the one who has a woman who keeps quiet. You could almost read people's minds and see a question mark looming over their collective heads: why would the bride, a successful lawyer and a femme de t=EAte, as the French say - have chosen such a passage? She's probably the last person in the world who would "keep quiet". Wishful thinking on her part? Or, and this thought only occurred to me afterward, perhaps the groom chose it and didn't tell her! Hardly likely...

But on to more important things: food. The reception was held in a beautiful chateau and the dinner, which began at 10 p. m. and went on well into the night and early morning, consisted of (and here is the actual menu for you):

Fete de Salades Composées et Crudités Juliment Dressées
Savoureuse Charcutailles de Pays
Assiettée de Saumon Tranché et de Poissons en Terrine
Trou Normand
Canard en Magrets Sauce Vinaigrée de Framboises Fraiches Et sa Garniture de Petites Pommes Duchesse sur lit de Champignons en Fricassée et Tomate Provencale
Salade Verdoyante
Fromages de nos Terroirs Assortis
Ronde Variée de Saveurs Sucrées en Bouche
Café et son Pousse-café
Soupe Tardive à l'Oignon

I have to say that I missed the onion soup which was served to those who stayed until six in the morning. As for the "trou normand", it is a miraculous little trick the Normans have invented so that you can go all the way through a meal of several courses without suffering indigestion. The trou normand is calvados ice cream with calvados poured over it. Something about the cold and the alcohol makes it so that your stomach gets a break in the digestive process and can start all over again. I can guarantee you that I am the queen of the sensitive stomach and that this trou normand WORKS, even on me. Fantastique!

Incidentally, this looks like a ten course meal but in fact was"only" seven, as the first three items on the menu were served as a cold buffet and the trou normand doesn't count as a course. However, coffee does, as it is always served separately in France, a tradition I particularly like.

By the time we were dipping our spoons into the cold trou normand, the fete was starting to heat up. A waiter had broken a few sherbet dishes, my tablemates had moved on from a discussion on the Americans and religion to the sublime art of the late French singer Georges Brassens (who is a real French artist but unfortunately absolutely untranslatable). "His songs reflect a simple humanity", commented one guest (and I swear we weren't drunk). The music got louder with each course and people who felt they'd been at the table too long headed to the dance floor to let off some steam.

At eleven pm we were just finishing the trou normand and were moving on to the canard (course number two, or three, depending on how we're counting). The conversation at our table moved to the French writer George Sand, bullfights in Dax and in Spain, Americans and guns, the death penalty in the U.S. (the French have abolished it)...and for some reason, religion again.

All of this wining and dining and dancing of course was going on amid a cloud of smoke that anywhere else in the world would have brought out a fire brigade. I have never seen people who smoke as much as the French (and there are nations who smoke much more, for example, the Greeks beat the French on this by a long shot). Not only were there cigarettes but at one point my tablemate pulled out a long lethal looking CIGAR and I knew it was the end. But since I have lived in France long enough, I have learned tolerance and so not to spoil the fun, I didn't ask anyone to stop -- and besides there were so many people smoking I couldn't stop them all even if I wanted to! So my eyes smarted and my lungs blackened and I thought: it's just one evening. I'll survive. And yes, in SPITE of the smoke, it was a lovely evening indeed.

Then there was our "Chinese" wedding, one we weren't invited to but which we witnessed a part of one Sunday as we sat in a Chinese restaurant in Belleville in the northeast of Paris, an area composed of many different ethnic groups. It is so ethnic in fact that I actually spied a "kosher Chinese" takeout place, the first I'd ever seen in France. But back to our wedding: there we were, six of us, sitting in the vast restaurant calmly eating our nems and spring rolls and savoring our soup when all of a sudden the Lohengrin wedding march broke out as loud as could be. We turned our heads and what did we see? A lovely young Chinese couple in full wedding dress, followed by a procession of assorted friends and relatives. As they rather self-consciously but proudly marched past our table and through the restaurant, all the diners looked up from their food with big smiles on their faces and broke into spontaneous clapping. Hey, it's not every day you go for Sunday lunch and happen upon a wedding party! And then...back to our nems!

All of this brought me back memories of my own wedding which took place in Paris on a wonderfully cool morning in November 1973. We were married in a civil service by the Mayor of the Fifth Arrondissement, Jean Tiberi, who is now the Mayor of Paris - and deeply involved in a political scandal - nothing to do with us! Afterward we repaired to Le Coupe Chou, one of Paris's oldest and most romantic restaurants, where we had reserved a table for our French and American families. The lunch was spent translating to the two families, neither of which understood a word of what the other was saying. But, as they say, fun was had by all. Our marriage has lasted. I'm not so sure how long Tiberi's political career will!..."

French Toast is published in the U.S. by St. Martin's Press.