When I came to France I had to learn quickly to live in a classless society without a king. Or even a duke. On my first Bastille day I kept asking myself why on earth are we celebrating the demise of the beautiful cultured people.
UK like it or not is still very much governed by social layers. Public school. Or not. Oxbridge or not. Everything is possible for everyone. I remember looking around at the audience of the Opera one day and there was every kind of person. Little old grannies in ratty old cardis alongside suited and booted officr workers. In London Covent Garden's Opera House people get sniffy if you aren't in a Saville Row suit and she isn't wearing a string of vintage pearls that Aunt Maud left her.
Similarly posh food in UK has been a long while only for posh people. Fish and chips for the white van man and beef wellington for the admiralty. France is freed from this kind of elitism. A Parisian builder knows the difference between his Bordeaux and Burgundy, his comte and tome cheese.
But there are still little upper crust pockets in France. We were invited recently to a wedding by one of the last Counts in France. Actually my Canadian girlfriend invited me. Her dream was to find a fairytale French prince -- the heir of a vineyard, le Petit Thouars. The wedding was in a high catholic church followed by a dinner at their family chateau and vineyard. What to wear was the burning question? Too couture too showy. Too traditional not showy enough. I plumped for a classy blue slinky dress paired up with an elegant white and blue cotton bolero. And a simple white boater, of course. Weddings are sadly now the only real hat occasion these days. Hats need a come back. Like the feather Boa and puffball skirts.
As soon as we arrived in the Church I had an immediate flashback to days at Christ Church Cathedral Oxford. Bells and smells and lots of chanting. I couldn't resist hat watching. There was every kind. Little feathered numbers - like squished chickens - through to an unusual cacophony of red roses, more of a flower pot than a hat. It is in fact easier to have a hat catastrophe than a success - a la Princess Beatrice at the Royal Wedding.
Little bubs were dressed to nines in BonPoint and and their ruddy cheeked dads - from too much country air and local vino - shushed them to sleep at the back of the church.
My friend, the bride, was Grace Kelly like - lace veil and train and a full yet not overly meringue-y dress. After the service we welcomed the bride and groom with petals. Cyclists in red gear and locals watched the posh wedding party. I wonder how many were actually thinking that the Revolution needed a come back.
The cocktails were to take place at the Chateau du Petit Thouars - there was nothing petit about it. A rambling pile with acres of land, vineyards and a palatial chateau. My beau and I only knew the bride and her best friend so all the air kissing around us left us feeling like norman no mates. Every French delicacy was on offer. Foie Gras, snails, gruyere choux buns and classy old Pimms.
We were then ushered in to the marquee to discover that my beau was next to a Countess and me a Baron. Glug. Would it be painful chitchat about grouse shooting and Daddys pad in Provence? Actually our fellow diners were charming - all fluent in English and passionate about London. I guess the Anglo French connection had been strongest amongst the Rois. Similarly I think our Queen is a francophile and managed to nab alot of Versailles's furniture after July 14th. Of course there were some classics. The guy next to me with the triple barrel name used to live in London but had to come back to France to take care of all of his properties plural. He also said the 16th area of Paris - a bit like Kew or Richmond - was too bourgeois! He liked the mainstream multicultural 9th. Just proves that 'noblesse oblige' - snob indeed comes from French sans nobilite or without nobility.
As soon as the first dance kicked off class and origins were put aside and everyone rubbed shoulders as they strutted their stuff to Prince and the Rolling Stones. We boogied till 2am and then I hit the wall - too many high kicks after too much local house wine.
It had poured with rain all day so my Dior heels had an interesting cross country experience. I looked like Samantha from Sex in City after her country romp. Mud up my bare legs and squelching in between patent around my toes. More ignoble than noble. But as some one told me aristocrats eat peas with their spoon I quickly abandoned my Parienne obsession with appearance. As the old joke goes landed gentry do it with their wellies on!
The next day we browsed the markets and sat down for a coffee in the sun. I had bought my beau some saucisson as a breakfast special. Some other wedding guests had beat us to it and were chomping through pate and salami. Count or no count we were reunited over French charcuterie. Vive egalite! But la remaining aristocratie also!
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