Séjour en France. Ch 6. A French Wedding, p1. Besancon.
We arrived in Besancon Thursday night to start the celebration of Stephanie and Pete's upcoming wedding taking place on Saturday. When we got to the house we were greeted with a great deal of hoot and clamor, robust welcomes, huge wide armed hugs and smiles. Lots of kisses on both cheeks from the women, strong handshakes from the men, as if we were old friends coming around again. I quickly learned that when you greet the men of France, it is with that strong handshake and a powerful hug, with the women it is an entirely different matter. A kiss on both cheeks, always. Bonjour, bonjour. Kiss kiss. The same thing departing. Au revoir, Au revoir. Kiss, kiss. Such joy. Such pleasure. Depending upon how many people there are, it can take a long time before you are able to have a seat and a glass, or to get out the door. You almost have to plan your time arriving and leaving. That is, if you are of that timetable mindset. Don’t think the French are of that mindset. Time will take care of itself, no doubt. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Existential philosophy grew out of France.
Felista and Stephanie greeted each other with Christmas morning excitement. “Welcome to France, Felista, welcome to my country,”
while presenting her with a beautiful necklace. What an amazing welcome.
Steph’s sister, Estelle is excited. While in Paris, it is her home we are staying in. Thank you for that, Estelle.
And Stephanie’s mom, Mary Claude
And dad, Philippe.
We got to meet brother, Antoine.
Lifelong friends and other family members were there to meet. Guy and his wife Jocelyn.
Guy was one of those friends from well back, and he really stood out for me. He’s rowdy, bawdy, with a big chest and strong voice. He and I are the same age. “How old are you?,” he asked, “Sixty-one.” “What month were you born?” “November”. “Then you must be sixty-two.” “Really? Well, maybe. Could be. Okay.”
“I used to be a teacher,” he said, “and I wore my hair long and down onto my shoulders. As soon as I retired I cut it.” He rubbed his hand across his head and down his neck. “The other teachers used to tell me I cannot wear my hair that long. ‘You are a teacher.’ They said.” “What’s that got to do with it?” I asked. “I didn’t cut it though,” he said. “Long hair might have made you more believable to your students”. A laugh.
Throughout all of this with dispersing conversation here and there and around me, I could hear his wife, Jocelyn laughing. She got the biggest kick out of life. What a joy to be in her the company. Because she and I had never met, I said to her, “Bonjour Madame.” She told how to use that phrasing the way it is done in France. “When we are with friends or relatives we say, Bonjour with the person’s name. Madame is formal.” “Bonjour Jocelyn.".
Just before sitting down to eat, Felista gave Estelle a picture she had had made for her. It was a composite of a painting she had done matching the pose Estelle had in a picture I’d taken of her when she was in Baltimore.
Philippe gave me a gift of a beret. Black with a rooster in the front, center in the middle, the national symbol of France since the French Revolution, which I put on and wore immediately and for the rest of the night. I must say, it looks good on me.
He also gave me a key chain with a silver rugby ball attached. He and his brother were rugby players for many years and are as passionate about the game as you can imagine. I wore that hat proudly and prominently and when someone asked me about it and rugby, all I could say is that it was a gift from Philippe. Couldn’t discourse on rugby. But I like the hat. It’s got a great look. And thank you once again for that hat, Philippe.
I sat down to eat next to Philippe’s brother, he told me to call him Eve. His name is too complicated to remember. What a nice guy. Gentle, always ready with a smile and to pour a glass.
The table was spread with wine, champagne, and a keg of beer within easy reach off to the side. Dishes were stacked, wine glasses being poured into, food platters of sausages, and different meats, along with rice, potato salad, traveling kitchen to table.
A special salad and a bowl of the Peruvian food, cuczo, had been made for Felista, being vegetarian and all. Also on the table were four different cheeses, one local, and six or seven mustards.
There are two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheeses in France, and when you eat cheese, fromage in French, it is eaten at a specific time with the meal. I found that out in short order. I was eating cheese with my meal and Pete told me that the cheese is for after the meal, not during the meal. They had set out cheese for Felista because it went with her salad. Cheese is the fourth course of the meal. That would be eaten after the main course and before the dessert. When Prime Minister, Charles De Galle was in office he said, “How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheeses”?
And mustards, there are forty different kinds in France. Can you believe it? The mustard is placed about a quarter teaspoon size on the edge of the plate and a person might have four or five of those at the edge of the plate to use as an addendum to the meal. You don’t spread the mustard over anything, you take a bit of it with the food on the fork you are about to eat.
As I say, the food hit the table about the time we arrived. I thought, well, they were waiting for us. Not so, usually the table gets spread about 9:30 or 10 in France. And their way of eating is a bit different than anything I’d ever experienced. They start with an aperitif. That is, Champagne or a light wine, with fruit or peanuts, maybe some Foie gras. Foie gras, the stuffed duck French delicacy that lives up to the brag of being rich and buttery and tastes outstanding. Geez. Makes the palate happy. Also there might be crackers or something like it to munch on. Of course, through every part of the meal is what we call French bread, what the French call, baget.
Then the main course of sausages, rice, salad, and such, the choice
of wine, red, a bit heavier.
After that cheese with a lighter wine, usually white, and then dessert, or both at the same time.
My goodness, every forkful, every mouthful, so wonderful to the taste and senses. Food, food, food. It is a wonder of the world to the French. Every morsel is a joy to behold, every bit prepared with love and artistry. No wonder it is always and so consistently and amazingly delicious.
Guy told us that when he was visiting friends and San Francisco, he one day went to the grocery store, brought home some stuff to prepare. When his friends ate what he’d made, they were amazed at the tastes he had created. Now, that tells me something. We have the same ingredients there apparently as are here in France, and yet under the hand of a French person, and Guy said he is not a gourmet cook, the food is high upgrade. Maybe we just do not know how to cook. Perhaps we don’t care about food. Do we just eat to stay alive? Guy said he did what he did because what he was eating was not satisfying to him.
Before coming to France, in the book, A YEAR IN PROVENCE, I found out just how important food is here. Now, a firsthand experience of how true that is.
Throughout the meal and conversation, laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. It is an outstanding part of what I am getting to know about the French people. So much laughter.
As I found out, whether in Besancon, in Paris, on the streets or in the café’s, wherever I have bee, the laughter is constant. Deep down chesty laughter, in some cases, quiet easy laughter in other cases. It is constant music in the background. This reminds me of the French people in Canada. While living in northern Vermont, I used to listen to the Montreal Canadiens hockey games en français, from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, and what always stood out for me was how much and how often the announcers laughed. I could hardly understand more than a few words during the game, enough to know what was going on, and I sure don’t know what they were laughing about, but there was a lot of it during those broadcasts. I guess the French culture it just like that, now matter the side of the ocean. And here again, another French experience of laughter. It is well known that if a person is smiling or laughing, they are relaxed. No wonder the faces of the French are so calm.
Mike and Pete were treated to a birthday celebration. Their birthday was just three days ago.
At the end of the night Guy said, “This is not how we are all the time. Just during the holidays.” “Well, then, you know how to holiday, don’t you?”
Finally, I had to sleep. Nor was I the only one.
At 3AM we got to the hotel. And wow, as I say, I was ready to sleep. Geez. I was seriously tired out. At the end I had no more energy to even think. It was a wonder I could keep two words together in a thought, a sentence would have been another matter. I could not talk at all.
Well, it was at the end of a long, long day. It had started in Paris, into the car, a stop along the way for a bit of sightseeing and food in Auxerre, late arrival here. Lots of food, wine and conversation. We had just about wrapped the clock. As far as energy expended, we had.