Off the beaten track, in the foothills of the Alps, along the River Looe, is a farmhouse opposite a small village church. It is idyllic. There’s no street lighting. At night the sky is ink black with dazzling silver white sparkles. The dirt track up the hill out of the village is lined with woodstores. The houses are old, and well-loved. This is where Julie grew up, opposite the church where her parents were married decades ago, among fields and beautiful sunsets.
Mike grew up in North London. When I first met him, in the first week of university, he was wearing a black bomber jacket, work boots and a t-shirt from the Spam fan club. I believe he also had a pint of cider in his hand. We were instant friends (I had a bottle of Jim Beam in my possession). He was there study French and Russian, and as such spent a year abroad, part of which was spent in Lyon.
On returning to Birmingham Mike revealed he had fallen in love French woman from a beautiful place, and had more or less moved in with her. They were paired together in a study group – known in French as un tandem. Mike and I were sharing a flat and soon Julie came to join us. Living with them both it was clear to me that they are perfect for one another. They’re both determined and ambitious, but silly and not just a little crazy. They have shared jokes, they both love to sleep, and Nutella is a keen hobby for both. It seemed to me that they were more or less inseparable, and have been for the past ten years.
Mari et Femme
I eventually arrived at Julie’s family home. It was 9.30pm on a Friday night. I immediately fell in love – though perhaps this was due to the wheat beer that had been put in my hand and the promise of baguettes. Mike and Julie took to the makeshift stage that had been erected in the woodshed-turned-reception area.
Julie’s brother had built a bar, erected temporary toilets, and borrowed flooring and tables from the local market. The jobs for the wedding day were being divided up, and this was to be a real group effort. I was one of five official wedding photographers. As a group we were going to be setting up everything. Everyone was doing this together. The meal for the wedding day was a group of lambs that had grown up literally metres from the barn we were standing in (aptly named Princess, Dinner and Number Three). I went back to my tent happy, excited, and a little drunk.
“French weddings go on for a long time…”
10am the following morning. Coffee, croissants, jam. Napkins to fold, places to set, flowers to arrange. Mike and Julie walked down the road to have their civil ceremony, with just their immediate family in tow. Throughout the morning more guests arrived. The religious ceremony was the main event, for everyone. Before that, my job as one of the five photographers was to take photos of Mike getting ready.
“That’ll be me, in my lucky pants, ironing my shirt, right?” Mike joked. You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now, right? This was no joke. That is literally what he did. And then I watched him put on his bow tie (noeud papillon), with a little help from best man Max. At 3.30 we went to the church.
After the ceremony Julie and Mike were grinning like loons, and walking on air. The happiness was just poring out of them. I don’t think they stopped smiling…well, it’s five days on and I’m pretty sure they’re still grinning. And then something I’d never even imagined happened. Usually before a wedding I spend an hour at least with clients going through the whole day. Due to the crowdsourced nature of their nuptials we didn’t do this and I’m so freakin glad about that.
Mike was presented with a makeshift wheelbarrow. Julie sat in it. He wheeled her the short distance to the barn, and everyone howled with laughter. I later asked about this custom and was told “this is not a custom or a tradition: it was Julie’s idea.” I told you these two were unique, right? Let me assure you, this was not the only way in which this day was unlike any other wedding I’ve ever been to.
Tandem un jour. Tandem toujours.
Mike and Julie disappeared off into the hills for a few photos. In their absence a tandem bike was brought out, silver cans attached to the panniers. The couple reappeared with their eyes closed, and were guided towards it.
The bouquet was thrown. We took our seats at the tables. The crowdsourcing continued, as each was given a mission for the meal – bringing the bread and wine, bringing the lamb, the salad, the cheese, the coffee – and then, another surprise. A flat bed truck reversed into the space in front of the wood shed. Three guys in late middle age sat on three chairs, as the DJ played You Can Leave Your Hat On. The Full Monty, it seems, doesn’t just resonate in Yorkshire. I can honestly say an open bar plus three french guys doing a strip tease is up there with one of the funniest/surreal moments I’ve ever experienced at a wedding.
With that, we cleared away plates and started a big fire in the open space the truck had just vacated. The dancing started, but not before someone procured a breezeblock and a couple of hammers. In front of the fire, bride and groom each took up a hammer, and began pounding on the brick. Several small gifts fell from it. At this point, I put down my camera, and joined the party.