When I mentioned to French friends that I was going to my first Destination Wedding, most of them looked blankly at me. I had to explain that it was the latest trend among young Americans to pick a beautiful or exotic place to be married, invite all your friends and family and pray they liked you enough to spend the money and plan a vacation around it.
Blakely, younger sister of my Goddaughter, Elizabeth, chose a chateau outside of Poitiers: St Julien de l’Ars. By the end of the weekend, I learned it was actually her father who did the choosing. But never mind, how we all got there, 65-70 people showed up to wish Blakely and her fiancé, Josh, a champagne drenched Bon Voyage on their new adventure of marriage. I was impressed by the amount of people that flew from Boston, Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey as well as California where I’m from.
I was the only invited guest who lived in France. It’s a quick trip on the TGV (France’s speed train) to Gare de Poitiers. I had booked an AirBnB and had the opportunity to walk around the Centre Ville before meeting the shuttle that would take many of the guests out to the Chateau. Poitiers seems to be a sleepy town. In the three days I was there, I never saw many people out and about. Even when I found the Saturday morning marché at Place Charles de Gaulle, people were scarce.
The wedding party and immediate family stayed at the Chateau St. Julien de l’Ars. The rest of the invited guests stayed in hotels and AirBnBs in Poitiers. We were shuttled out to St. Julien de l’Ars in one of the comfortable buses that tourists often use for traveling in Europe. We were greeted by a Chateau, hundreds of years old, not in great shape, but I imagine would be high on every little girl’s dream of where to have a story book wedding.
A french friend told me there are a couple of thousand of these old Chateaux in France. They are expensive to keep up and a large percentage are for sale. The immediate history of St. Julien is that the owners are an American couple. He was in a theatre group years ago and they used to come to the Chateau for practice and entertainment. When it went up for sale, he and his wife bought it. It was full of antiques which disappeared the same year the Americans purchased the property. The antiques are probably in hiding or have been sold. The Chateau is rented for large events like destinations weddings.
There is an enormous amount of work that now needs to be done and the couple cannot afford it. So after owning the chateau for eighteen years, they have put it up for sale again. Anyone have a couple million euros?
It was old home week for many of the guests. And also for me. I had not seen Blakely’s mother, Darcy, in a long time. Once she moved away from the Bay Area it was harder to keep up constant contact. She and Blakely’s dad were divorced and I hadn’t seen that side of the family since I’d been to Maine for a big birthday party for Blakely’s uncle. Time really does smooth away a lot of wrinkles. Things that seemed so important once upon a time seem completely irrelevant now. I was very grateful that I’d made the effort to get to Poitiers.
Even though the weather report called for rain, nature smiled on Blakely and Josh. Chairs were set up in a grove covered by towering trees that seemed an endless archway. A duo of string musicians played music while the wedding party walked from the chateau to the grove. Blakely, ever resourceful and a strong proponent of recycling, wore her grandmother’s wedding dress that she, herself, worked on so that it fit her perfectly. The service was lovely, short and sweet. The champagne toast that followed was highlighted by a “Cheese Cake” which Blakely promised had no sugar and no flour.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that these weddings of close ‘family’ that one has known their entire life are bitter sweet. I kept looking at this beautiful, enchanting and friendly woman with such composure and saw the little girl that I had known. In 1991, when she was 5 years old, my home in Oakland burned down in the Big Oakland Firestorm. Blakely made me promise that I wouldn’t rebuild a house in wood. I didn’t.
I felt so happy for her and so proud of her. Yet this feeling of ‘where has the time gone?’ surrounded me. It didn’t last but I had to work at it.
Amazingly enough, everyone who made the trip to come to France to celebrate Blakely and Josh’s wedding thought it was well worth it. It showed me how loyal their friends are.