The next morning dawned nice and bright but everybody woke up a bit late, exhausted from the previous day’s travels. A weak but warm sun was peeking out and we basked in its rays for a little while on the wooden deck overlooking the river. The only sounds we could hear were of its gurgling waters and the cheep-cheep of some birds. There was a small stone bridge across the river with some houses on the other side. But again, I didn’t really notice any people. It was like a pretty, ghost village in the lap of nature.
We had some time before dressing up for the wedding so after a hearty breakfast, we set out across the bridge and walked towards the center of the town. We spotted a couple of people who looked more like wedding guests than tourists who had come with the purpose of visiting Vigeois. Passing them, we admired the spotless façade of the quaint houses decorated with small potted plants but also wondered how their alarmingly thin window sills would hold up during winter. They didn’t seem to provide much insulation. Winding our way up inclining roads, we reached what can be called as the village square. There was the ancient church where the wedding was to take place, a small bar and a restaurant, a bakery, and a hair salon. There was a petrol station and a SPAR a little ahead. That was pretty much it. It was one of those villages where everyone knew everyone and there would be one of everything – one pub, one shop etc. We walked towards the one school where there was a 1400-year-old tree. It looked big and beautiful standing alone in the corner of the rain-soaked empty school yard. I could imagine the tree being a playhouse for generations of children, a shelter from the sweltering summer sun, and privy to a thousand secrets whispered in its breezy shadows.
After examining the tree from every angle, we walked to the SPAR where we were the only shoppers. We replenished our store of meat, wine, and fruits. On the way back, we stopped at the boulangerie to buy four sticks of fresh baguettes and wound our way down to the house. There were a couple of people standing near a pharmacy, which was closed, and the occasional car drove by on the otherwise empty roads.
At the house, we had a quick lunch, took turns to shower and got dressed to reach the church by 3.30 pm. The wind had picked up and it was chilly as we stood outside the church with a medley of other guests awaiting instructions on what next. We didn’t have to wait long. In about 20 minutes everybody went inside and we took our places on the “boy’s side” on the right side of the church. I had been freezing in my dress and it felt slightly better inside. I mentally thanked Andrei for the hundredth time for reminding me to get my fleece jacket, which for now I had left in the car. I knew it was only going to get colder as the evening progressed. As we waited for the service to begin, I observed the guests. Some of them had come in just a pair of trousers, an informal shirt, and sports shoes. I wondered if they were tourists come to witness a wedding they had heard of or if they really knew these people. I guess they were locals. The bride was from Australia while the groom was French so I could hear an amalgam of nasal Australian twang and dulcet French sounds all around me. I tried to revive my rusty French and interpret the conversations while enjoying the Australian snippets here and there.
My language lessons were soon interrupted by the music that signaled the start of the service and we rose to our feet. The groom walked in with his mother, a tall, distinguished-looking woman with silver hair, and a smile that spoke of warm humour. Next came the bridesmaids all dressed in black, and finally the bride, with her father, looking happy and wonderful. Everyone sat down as the priest commenced the service, all in French. People stood up and sat down a few times and we followed obediently, as we obviously couldn’t follow the proceedings. The service lasted for about 40 minutes and comprised mostly of the priest reading, punctuated by the exchange of vows and rings, a couple of songs, and the petulant shrieks of a young toddler who was soon scooped up by her mother and taken outside.
At the end of the service, everyone filed out and the photographer lined up the bridesmaids on the stairs of the church to welcome the newlyweds as they emerged. They soon appeared amidst a spray of rose petals from the bridesmaids and photo sessions followed. We were given instructions to drive with the rest of the guests to the chateau for dinner and drinks. I was glad to be out of the numbing cold and in the warmth of the car where I quickly grabbed my jacket and wrapped it around me. We started driving and followed the train of cars that were already on their way.
The chateau was about 20 minutes away, set in the middle of what looked like a sprawling estate. We parked on the side of the dust path that led to the chateau and got out. Inside, there were two or three rooms that seemed to be set up for the evening. Near the entrance was a table set up with bottles of champagne in ice buckets, to the left was an empty room, and to the right was a large room with pretty, pastel coloured floral wallpaper, and round tables with name cards. Clearly, the dinner would be here. In the center was another room where a man sang jazz numbers with tables of hors d’oeuvres next to him. Once most of the guests were in, waitresses circled around with champagne glasses and plates of the appetizers. I had to say no to most of them after checking if they were vegetarian. One waitress noted my preference and brought a couple of things over to me. She would repeatedly bring me more of those with a knowing smile and I felt nice at such thoughtfulness. Yes, it’s also their job, but how often do we get to see it done with grace and impeccable hospitality?
As the evening progressed, people danced on and off to the songs being sung. The new couple made an appearance amidst loud cheering and clapping. A while later, the music was given a break as the fathers of the bride and groom came forward to give their speeches. In what I thought was a great way of showing the families coming together, they read their speeches standing side by side, with the Australian interpreting what the French said and vice versa. It was beautifully done, and there was a sense of harmony despite the two diverse groups being present.
There were photo sessions again and we were called out for a couple of them. Not long after, it was time for dinner. We were split up with our name cards being on different tables. Dinner began with red wine, followed by a salad, a main course, and a dessert. There were two more vegetarians at my table, which was a good thing. In the middle, friends of the bride and groom gave toasts filled with memories, praises of their friendships, and wishes for a new life ahead.
It was nearly 10.30 pm (or more) by the time dinner was over. But the dancing was only beginning. The floor was set. Someone had connected a laptop to speakers and a playlist was already on. Everybody took the floor including the parents. As I did my little grooving in the corner (to avoid embarrassing myself and everyone), I mentally compared South Indian weddings to this one. Somber vs fun, juice/water vs wine and champagne, boringly traditional vs entertainingly traditional. North Indian weddings are a different ballgame altogether of course and I think we, down South, could definitely learn a thing or two from these weddings to infuse a little colour and noise making it more of a lighthearted affair.
It was nearly 1.00 am when we got back to the house. A long day, but so much fun. The next day stretched invitingly with no wedding-related events dotting it, and we dispersed for the night with plans of driving out to see some more sights of rural France.