daily life france : biarritz wedding

I had been looking forward to the Biarritz Wedding for months, since the invitations arrived in the form of large pink & white concert tickets. Both Benoit and Sarah, the couple, work for a reggae music label and come from Basque country. Paul grew up with Ben and the Biarritz wedding marked a trip down south that coincided with the weather in Paris plummeting – as well as my first French wedding.

Paul went down Friday for the festivities and I was to catch the early morning Saturday train after wrapping Fashion Week late on Friday. After (ahem) missing my first train and barely catching my second, I was perplexed as to how to get from the train station to the Mairie in Biarritz for the ceremony – timing would be tight and taxis seemed unlikely as we passed further and further into the rural. At a train change platform along the way I spotted an attractive couple in dress, the guy with dreadlocks and a suit. I thought, ‘These two have to be going to the same place as me.’

I showed up to the beautiful plaza of the Mairie in the center of Biarritz right at 2pm, along with the cousins of Benoit who had taken me in, fed me croissants and gotten me to the wedding in a family van. My boyfriend rushed me from the patio bar, such was his relief at his American girlfriend being found and delivered on time.

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What ensued was fast and sweet. The ceremony happened in the old wooden Mairie, with people spilling out of windows, doors and stairwells. Musicians with horns, keyboard and microphones, some of the finer reggae musicians in Europe I’m told, started up as the bride arrived and followed the couple out of the building as they greeted their friends & family after the (very brief) ceremonial part. The procession walked through the village and took photos over the cliffs that revealed Biarritz nestled in a brilliant green coastline, dropping into sandy beaches and good surf.

More drinks were had at the patio bar in the town square and then everyone piled into tiny cars and sped up into the country, through blissful pastures and winding one way country roads that reminded me of something between highland Maui and Scotland. Amidst honking horns and a stream of reggae from car speakers, the train of guests arrived at the chateau for the reception – white walled with red exterior wood framing and a dense history from the region. Apparently, the chateau is owned by a family who has harbored political figures through war times. Ancient reliefs were painted on the stone walls in the cave which eventually turned into the dance floor late at night, the reliefs lit up by angled lights on the  floor. We ate scallops on shells, jambon like butter with our fingers and tiny ciabatta burgers. And the music… Between DJ sets and live performances, impromptu hip hop battles and the mix of horn, voice and drum, I thought, ‘I’ve never heard anything quite like this.’

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The night unwound on the patio, lit up by strings of lights, surrounded by clusters of wooden deck chairs where guests smoked and drank flutes of champagne until the sun set and long after with a heavy sheet of stars overhead.

Around 10pm, we filed inside and upstairs for a massive couscous feast. The bride’s family is Tunisian and the food was rich and never-ending. Our party was seated at a long table with many friends’ of Sarah’s from the Basque. As the meal continued and more and more pitchers of wine were brought out, they burst into acapela traditional songs, fists on the table, voices joining together in one of the loudest songs I’ve ever heard. The whole room lit up and the Basque people, young and old, sang the old songs… and they were beautiful. Does everyone here have an amazing voice, I wondered, imagining myself trying to sing some traditional songs, whatever that might look like.

We danced and danced, smoked and talked, kissed and laughed. And I thought, let this night last forever with all of these beautiful people that I do not know (some of whom I do), and this beautiful place I have never been, this music I’ve never heard. Let it go on and on.

My film camera ran out of film in the first 10 minutes and never made it to the chateau. I was so taken immediately by the wedding party – and maybe a little bit over-excited after making the wedding just in time, I clicked through my film before I knew what had happened. The rest is just memory and movement.


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