June Weddings, and Bright and Breezy Brittany
Oh, what a beautiful June. In Paris, we enjoyed attending two weddings. The first was the wedding of Ted's youngest cousin in France, Phillippe Cohen, and his glamorous bride, a fellow Los Angelena, Lauren! They were wed in a moving ceremony officiated by the mayor of the 15th arrondissement at the Mairie in Phillip's and his parent's quarter of Paris.That evening there was a delicious cocktail dinner in the gardens of the exclusive private club Cercle de l'Union Interalliée, right next to the British embassy and close to the Élysée Palace. The gardens of the club were as gorgeous as ever, the food was lavish, and the bride and the groom were adorable. Cathy, the mother of the groom, is Ted's cousin from his father's side of the family and a very talented artist, influenced by the Art of Japan and proficient in the Japanese art of Ikebana, the centuries-old Japanese art of arranging flowers. The practice, which roughly translates to “making flowers come alive,” uses carefully selected blossoms, greenery and other flora to convey a specific feeling or emotion to an observer – just as a painting or sculpture might.
Even the fact that Ted had lost his wallet sometime during the ceremony or somewhere on the grounds of the City Hall didn't prevent us from enjoying the festivities of these youngsters, just starting their new lives together. Three days later, we attended the wedding of our dear darling friend, Antoine, and his stunning and sweet young bride, Lexia. It was held at the Chapelle Nesle, which inhabits a complex in the 6th Arrondissement owned by Lexia's parents. The Nesle is constructed of ancient natural stone, completely renewed, and consists of two theaters for live performances and a tremendous tri-level reception area. After an incredibly moving religious ceremony, officiated by pastor Samuel Foucachon of the Eglise Réformée Evangélique de Paris, which occupies those quarters, the gaiety began. Antoine and Lexia had met there and are both members of the congregation. After the ceremony, in which the bride and groom read very poetic and personal vows to each other, there was a sumptuous apero complete with Champagne to celebrate the joining of bride and groom. This was followed by a delectable sit-down luncheon for what appeared to be over 180 people. Guests and the newlywed couple were entertained by comedians, and folk dancers (accompanied by an orchestra featuring Antoine's brother on the trumpet and the bride herself dancing gracefully as well). Guitar and balalaika players performing and singing all manner of Russian folk songs added to the festivities. Finally, something we all had been awaiting with enthusiasm: the bride and the groom walked onto the dancefloor and danced the famous Austrian Laendler that you may recall being performed, in the film "The Sound of Music," by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in an unforgettable scene visually testifying to their budding romance. This dance testified to the romance and dedication of the newly married couple. I held my breath and soon was able to express my approval and compliments to Lexia and Antoine out loud; Their performance was parfait!
After their dance, alongside a plentiful array of irresistible desserts covering the tables that surrounded the edge of the room, the wedding cake arrived. Antoine and Lexia were as elegant and graceful as 'Julie and Christopher' and were clearly just as madly in love. Soon they invited their friends -- who had taken it upon themselves the task of learning the Laendler -- to join in the dance. After the merriment, the romance, and the splendor of this wonderful folk dance, when all were worn out, the revelers were invited to help themselves to more refreshments, and if I didn't know better, I would have thought we were at a Jewish wedding! At last, the bride and groom cut their cake and shared it and their joy with all their family, friends, and community members; I loved it--it was chocolate!
A few days later, Ted and I were invited for a summer soiree at the home of friends Monika and Terrance on their lovely terrace overlooking the trees lining the Seine in Levellois-Perret. As usual,
Monika was the perfect hostess and Terrance was full of delightful witticisms and even sang a song or two. Happy Birthday Terrance !
The following Tuesday, we visited the small medieval town of Meaux (pronounced 'mo') on the Marne River, well known for the cheese we all love, Brie, to which the town dedicated a museum, and as always, we can find a great chocolate store. Even more than the cheese, the city is famous for the two battles at the Marne River in Meaux in August and early September of 1914, culminating in what became famed as the Battle of the
Marne. The battle involved more than two million soldiers and resulted in about 250,000 casualties on each side. The Battle of the Marne alone, from September 5th to 12th, resulted in an estimated 85,000 French and British casualties and 67,000 German casualties. This "Battle of the Marne" is still considered the most important land battle of the 20th century and is described in French folklore as the "Miracle on the Marne." We visited Sainte-Etienne Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Etienne de Meaux), which was one of our two primary reasons for choosing Meaux as a day-trip destination from Paris. We entered Sainte-Etienne Cathedral via a side door. The view from the center of the cathedral where the transept separates the chancel from the nave is spectacular. The chancel dates from the 13th century, and the nave from the 15th century. Inside the Cathedral was an ornate monument to the fallen.
In front of the cathedral, what you see is the Episcopal palace, and its beautiful gardens, all decorated with handmade and painted wooden chimera in the style resembling so many great French artists of that genre.
It was also lovely to sit and rest in the gardens and watch the gardeners replacing the flowers coming to the end of their spring blooms with Flowers that would bloom all summer long. Music festivals are held throughout the summer, and theatrical productions depicting the history of the town throughout the middle ages and Renaissance, and including the historical events of World War I in which the battle of the Marne in Meaux is credited with a large role in bringing World War I to a halt. The next few days were taken up with our attempts to locate Ted's wallet, which contained his residence card, his driver's license, and his health card, along with a significant amount of cash and some important receipts. After all our scrambling around, that very day we received a letter from the City lost and found congratulating Ted on the recovery of his wallet, complete with his driver's license and residency card. Since it said nothing about his health card, we signed into his personal space on the website for that purpose and reported lost or stolen so that we could begin the process of getting a new card. However, when Ted's wallet arrived by special post from the lost and found, it not only contained his French driving license and his French residency card, but it also contained his health card; All the cash, and the receipts included. It was surely a miracle. He was in such a good mood he even took photos at the Marché the next morning.
This also put us in a rather good mood for our long-awaited trip to Brittany to visit our friends, Mark and Donna, in Port Launay on the Aulne River, and our 3-day stay in a gorgeous hotel in Roscoff on the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coastal peninsula of Brittany. The drive was a long one, but it was well worthwhile.
We spent the first evening with a light meal in the bar, looking out the large windows as the sun set late in the evening over the high tide. The next morning we took our time and had a lovely breakfast, once again overlooking that spectacular Atlantic view before we got back
on the road, meandering our way slowly to visit our friends in Gilly Glas. Mark had told us that the house had no address, so he gave us directions which only confused the situation and our attempt to use our GPS to locate the landmarks that he had mentioned. Luckily, we connected by cell phone, and Mark talked us to his house, past the enormous aqueduct across the river. We finally caught sight of him, to our great relief, standing in the middle of the road, waving his arms. As we parked and walked up to the house, I remembered the description in Mark's first memoir of the house with the deep sea blue shutters that seem to be of a color customarily seen in this area. We entered his charming and meticulously renovated home with stunning tile floors, while in the area of the house that had been flooded shortly after Mark had purchased it, they had laid the most gorgeous dark and glossy wooden plank floors.
The house had three levels, with the guest room at the top, and it appeared that every room had an enormous fireplace. In the living and dining area, there were actually two such hearths to warm the atmosphere in cooler weather. There was even a small hearth in the huge country kitchen. Outside, on a uniquely designed and cozy patio, in a large garden with a tree-covered hillside behind, the Greenside hospitality began witha yummy Apero.
Inside, we enjoyed a hearty luncheon of salmon fumes and thin slices of canard accompanied by a wonderful Bordeaux. Afterward, the four of us piled into Evie and Mark directed us towards a perfectly preserved medieval village, where we were welcomed by the shopkeepers, who clearly knew Mark and Donna well.
Our first encounter was with a spectacular candy store, where the nutty nougat that Ted loves so much found its way into a sack to carry back to Paris. Then, Donna and I scrambled up the steps of the shop owned by a lovely 'Brittainique' who was about to retire and sell her store, and was having a fire sale. Of course, the prices in Brittany are
not at all what they are in Paris to begin with, let alone after a sharp discount. Donna and I both enjoyed picking out things we couldn't do without. One of my finds was a fabulous, totally impermeable, ship-worthy rain jacket with a hood that was bright yellow on the outside and had the typical black and white stripes of the flag of Brittany on the trim and lining, while Ted was delighted with the dashing polo shirt in a color he'd been seeking. After kisses all around and good wishes in both directions, we continued walking through the town, enjoying the view until we arrived at the Cathedral. Sitting on the steps outside was a young man, tall and lanky, playing what looked like an ancient stringed instrument that might've been related to a viola de
gamba. Since pictures suffice for 1,000 words, I will place a few here so that you might get a sense of the atmosphere of this town that seems to stand still in time.
Mark explained the custom of each town in Brittany, participating in parades through the towns with each Holy icon, both wooden and stone, carried to the streets, all on the same day. This church has so many objects that would qualify to be carried in such a parade. It was a touching story even for a non-catholic.The next day we spent exploring Roscoff, with its own fabulous cathedral and a similar atmosphere to the village we had visited the day before.
Back at the hotel, a couple of hours of relaxation before dinner was just what was needed. When Mark And Donna arrived, we gathered together in the Michelin Star restaurant in the hotel
overlooking the water, our table was perfection. The service was gracious and efficient, and the food was outstanding.
Each course, each delicacy, was plated with perfection to the very end. It was a wonderful evening spent with these new friends and having the luxury of two days to get to know each other even better. I will always be grateful to Mark for being a reader before the publication of my memoir and for giving me such good advice on starting up this blog post.
The four days spent in this wonderful area of France left us well prepared for the long drive home,
where Jeff greeted us upon our arrival. before returning to Michele and Genevieve waiting at their
home, helping us in with our luggage. The sight of Mickey warmed our hearts. I can't wait to return to Brittany sometime next summer to discover more of this wonderful area of the country we now call home.