Le Pere Nouilly – an item from rural France

This is the priest who performed the marriage ceremony at Michel’s daughter’s wedding. He spoke in a very quiet voice, so quiet that it was difficult to catch what he was saying and even more difficult to decide whether this was because he simply had a quiet voice or because he was bored to the back teeth with marrying people who would get divorced a few years later – as was the case with Michel’s daughter. Or perhaps he was bored with marrying people generally.

It was terribly hot that day. Our clothes glued to us and the guests all jammed in to the little Mairie registry room, with its two feeble windows made me think – rather dramatically – of Cawnpore and the like. How dreadful. My ankles were rapidly the size of balloons. After the ceremony we all, led by the bride dressed in what appeared to be a meringue, and her groom, dressed in what appeared to be an Elvis outfit, tramped down the Mairie steps and along the sweltering pavement to the church. The church was set amid the few large trees there are in the area, picturesque against the green and blue and built of the warm sandy-coloured stone of these parts. Here a photographer waited and we all stood around sipping bubbly wine and having photos taken. As we were les patrons we were considered to be guests of honour and we featured towards the front of most of the photos despite our trying to tactfully fade in to the background. The brilliant sunlight bounced back off the church walls and, although I am not keen on gushy weddings or meringues, I must say the photos turned out luverly.

Also as les patrons we were expected to give a big gift. How big is big ? Is it grand or is it tres grand ? Among our own friends it would have been easier for we’d have given a nice piece of traditional English porcelain, which would have been appreciated in its significance and for its value. But for Michel’s daughter it was different. I had never been to her house but suspected that it was very similar to her mother’s where there were vases of plastic flowers and knitted loo-roll holders and little statuettes and pictures of chubby children kissing kittens.

We asked Michel. “Just put some money in an envelope” he told us (in French of course) and he made a little jabbing motion with his fingers as if he was putting something in an envelope. 

So, how much money? As les patrons we were considered to be very rich. The area was poor. These people were poor. Was 100 Euros about right ? That would seem a lot to these people. But was that also a bit vulgar ? Was it treading on Michel’s toes – presumably he was paying for the wedding ? Less seemed a bit mean. More seemed a bit tactless … yet we had the strong feeling (Michel was all but licking his lips) that more was expected. We finally got round the problem by giving them 100 euros and some English porcelain (which was completely lost on them) from the children.

The wedding was great fun. A huge feast had been laid out on the lawns in front of the village hall and there must have been over a hundred guests. Vast quantities of food and drink were provided, along with silly hats and confetti-type bits and bobs. The feast went on hour after hour and it was huge fun for all except, apparently, le pere Nouilly.

He fell asleep during the wedding feast and remained under a tree on the grass all afternoon till the loud music from the band woke him at 8.00. He got up, had a few drinks, ate a petit quelquechose, danced for a few moments with Madame Levy, and then sat straight back in that same chair and fell asleep again.

Michel’s daughter has been divorced and married again since. We weren’t invited to the second wedding (though there may not have been a party). Le pere Nouilly died last year.


Posted on 19/07/2011 by Catherine
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