two cultures, four brothers and a wedding

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Weddings are always tricky, but never more so than when you haven't yet met the other family. In this case, when the groom's family are not only completely unknown to us, but are also from the furthest reaches of rural France, it's doubly unnerving. The groom himself, while obviously a very good oeuf, is still a bit of an unknown quantity, the bureaucracy involved in a Parisian civil ceremony is vastly complicated, and the bride hasn't worn skirts since she was at school.

We are in giggly mood, expecting any minute to be introduced to some hideous creature as "My brother ... Ugolin!" and have vowed to hum the theme tune to Jean de Florette if this happens. But Jean-Pascal's three brothers are not only charming, they also have extravagantly romantic names - Jacques- Olivier, Gilles-Vincent (an actor) and Guy-Laurent - enough to turn the heads of brides less single-minded than this one. Not only are there brothers, there are parents - jolly dad, quiet mum, and a splendid roly-poly grandmere - "Mamie" - who wisely confines herself to "ca va?" with the English contingent. And then there's Guy, the "rich uncle" (as we promptly dub him): trilingual, well-travelled and a top "nose" for a chemical company (he has read Patrick Suskind's novel Perfume in French, English and German). Apparently his job doesn't just entail creating perfumes, though he modestly admits that he did have a hand in Paco Rabanne - rather more prosaically he also creates floral niffs for shampoos and disinfectant.

At this point the bride enters to squeals of delight from the French contingent. Long, beaded shift, heels, boxy jacket, straw hat and modest bouquet: chic, metropolitan, and somehow very touching. As her new family closes in, to the less demonstrative English she seems already a distant figure, as though we have all been left behind on the platform while she steams off into a new, strange future where we can't follow. She is being patted, hugged, admired, turned about. Something about this "princess for a day" syndrome is making me want to cry, and laugh, and sigh, and roll my eyes impatiently all at once.

So we set off into the hot street, the groom leading the way in stripey trousers, floppy red shirt, and brocade undertaker's jacket with orchid buttonhole; past the men digging the road, through a maze of scaffolding, over broken pavements, past cafes whose customers stare as inquisitively as opaque Parisians ever can at this straggling, polyglot group in best suits and colourful hats. Finally we trail up to the Mairie of the third arrondissement, built, so the barman the previous evening told us, on the site of the old Temple prison, where Marie Antoinette was incarcerated: "Le mariage ..." he had muttered, clutching imaginary prison bars.

In the cool lobby, a grand staircase leads the eye upwards to a display of tricouleurs. Suddenly an unexpected figure comes tripping down to greet us: a tall, suave black man, presumably a tipstaff, with a thick chain of office, surmounted by a medallion of Marianne, winding around him: a sort of (Bob) Marley's ghost. It is his job to escort us to the chamber and inspire in us the requisite sense of gravitas and civic pride.

In the chamber we convene under the gaze of a painted personification of La Loi, brandishing the Civil Code like a prettier, calmer version of Moses. All is serene, ordered and rational, with a stress on the couple's civil duties rather than their spiritual obligations. The door is left symbolically open, because this is a public ceremony and anybody can walk in if they want to; the couple are warned that the only correct response to the mayor's query is "oui, ou non", not "peut-etre" or even "yes". The clerk stumbles over the addresses of the English sponsors, and the smiling mayor reads the relevant articles of the civil code: I'm sure I hear one about the man being the head of the family, but Jean-Pascal's eyes glaze over strangely when I ask him about this later. The bride is referred to as "Mademoiselle", then suddenly as "Madame": it's all over, or rather, of course, it has all just begun.

Back at the hotel we drink vintage champagne and eat the delicious home- made wedding cake the bride's mother has brought all the way from England in an equally home-made cake-sling, and we demonstrate to the puzzled French the rite of throwing the bouquet. Later in the evening there's the social ordeal of the wedding banquet at the restaurant, L'Ambassade D'Auvergne: all that French small-talk! Turns out I am sitting next to Guy-Laurent, who's about 14 and edits his own magazine GL Direct, copies of which were admired earlier. The latest issue features a Cannes special report, puzzles, a recipe page ("Les Bonnes Recettes de Mamie Georgette") and mock adverts for cybernetic implants and "Slurp-Fast" suppositories ("de-constipates, unblocks your nose, guarantees success with women, eliminates wrinkles but above all MAKES YOU SLIM").

This seems a remarkable achievement for a schoolboy, and it may be that we have been put together to talk shop. But can I get him to speak to me? Addressed in French, he answers in monosyllabic English. When I speak to him in English, he looks at me with horror and looks mutely at Jacques- Olivier for a translation. Most queries simply elicit the classic Gallic expression of ambivalence and boredom: "euuu ..." In the end, I speak to him in French and he nods when he understands and shakes when he doesn't. We find common ground of a sort in British history: my description of Henry VIII as a serial killer seems to amuse him, but I fear he will have altogether bizarre ideas of the Golden Age of English Theatre from now on: he got the impression that men played women, but also that women played men, in constantly combusting round theatres on the banks of the "Tamise", made from wood, plaster, rotten oranges and some other unspecified vegetal material for the roof (I couldn't remember paille in the heat of the moment). Perhaps that's not so far from the mark, after all.

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