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
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!