Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Romance = symbolic hats and car sickness

Back to the gaps...

On the day of the PACS, the Professor and I woke up late and groggy because we'd only arrived home at 4 a.m. the night before. We'd been near the Loire Valley for a week, visiting his parents and NOT telling them about this strange little agreement we were about to sign. Because of our secrecy, leaving on time had been difficult; we couldn't explain that we were in a rush and that left us driving through the French countryside in the middle of the night.

Still half asleep, on the morning of our big (or little?) day, I tied some flowers from the terrace in my hair and threw on a dress I already owned (one of the ones with the tags still on that I'd pulled from my closet in Ottawa and had considered wearing on the plane when I first arrived — the green one), and the Prof. figured out some combination of clothes that looked like a suit.

And then, at 11:45 a.m., we walked into one of the City Hall buildings in Nice's old town — a squishy little sector filled with yellow and orange shuttered buildings — and listened to a woman talk very quickly in French. She pushed some papers toward us and we signed them, still half asleep. The woman then congratulated us, turned her swivel chair back toward her computer and opened a file.

"Is that it?" were the first words I said to her during this process — after, I guess, she'd already moved on with her day.

The woman had shrugged and said, "Mais, oui?" as though she wondered what else I'd expected. For her, I guess the process really had been mere paperwork, making what we'd just done feel both less scary, but at the same time, a little sad.

Mais oui, that was it.

I'd never actually dreamed of a wedding and had always thought that if I ended up getting married, I'd do it somewhere in Muskoka, most likely at my family's cottage, with almost no ceremony at all. But, as we were leaving the city offices with an official document held very gently in our hands, I realized that I'd still like to have SOMETHING to mark the moment – something that didn't give paper cuts.

By 12 p.m., when the bells in the old town began to echo through the skinny alleys, and as the Professor and I wandered down the hall and out into the lobby, I started to feel cast adrift in this French, marriage-like agreement that I still wasn't sure I understood. I mean, I still wasn't sure I understood what it meant for us. And I didn't feel any different or look any different and no one in the world except for the woman in the swivel chair even knew what we'd done.

"She didn't really give us anything," I said to the Professor as we left the cool building and stepped back out into summer, under the orange arches that lead out into a small, concrete courtyard.

"She gave us a piece of paper," he said with a smile.

"Yeah, but that's the administrative part," I pouted, somewhat disappointed. “It really DID just feel like paperwork.”

"What did you want?" The Professor asked, walking toward me and putting his arm across my shoulder. “What would be symbolic?"

With the sun beating in my face through the arches and the humidity soaking into my dress, I really only had one answer. I looked into the Professor's face as he squinted in the sunshine and whispered my request: "Hats!"

Before we moved out toward the stores, however, the Professor pulled out his iPhone. In our rush, we'd forgotten to bring a camera. So, we made do — retroactively trying to give our PACS some added significance. We took a low-resolution picture of each of us, holding our official piece of paperwork. And we even coaxed a smoking security guard to take a few photos of us together so we'd have proof that we'd arrived to sign our paperwork on the same day.

Then, we had some Champagne at a nearby pub (which, in the sweltering, mid-day heat almost made us drunk at the first sip), we each bought a super symbolic, PACSified staw hat, and we went back home to nap.

When we finally awoke from our nap, still exhausted, we were already late for dinner.

We'd reserved a table at a restaurant in Luceram, a small medieval town we'd discovered one day on the motorcycle. The restaurant, the Bocca Fina, had been made to look like the inside of a cave, which we thought would be a fitting place for us to celebrate — both the PACS and the nearly one year since we first met on that cave hike in Quebec.

To save time because we were late, I'd decided to put my make-up on in the car. And while we were driving, at quite a high speed through the winding mountain roads, I decided that I'd take pictures of me putting lipstick on — because I'm a moron.

This is how the thought occurred to me: In all of the wedding photos I'd seen, the bride has some silly, self-indulgent photo of herself putting on make-up, having her dress buttoned or helping a little flower girl look absolutely perfect. I, however, had a few badly framed photos taken on a phone by a smoking security guard. So, as the Prof and I wound our way along the roads just north of Nice, in a panic because we'd over-napped, I started to worry that years into the future, I'd decide I'd missed out.

Slowly, I realized that this was my only chance to acquire the photos that everyone else has – and that if I wanted them, I was going to have to take them myself.

Here's what I captured: Me, streaking pink lip liner across my face, looking into the mirror on the visor. Me, putting mascara on at a stop light, accidentally blinking when the Prof kicked the car into gear, and then wiping the mascara down my cheek. The Professor, watching the road. The Professor, with a quirky, side-ways glance, acknowledging that I can be a bit ridiculous — a ridiculousness to which he was now officially linked.

Every few kilometres, along our long, winding route, the Prof had to stop and take the phone from me to he could call the restaurant and make sure our reservation was still good. (Our iPhone, I must confess, is also our GPS and my photo shoot requirements got us lost three times.)

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, I had overly rosy cheeks and a few smudges of mascara left of my face, and the Professor was out of breath from all of his concentrated turning of the steering wheel.

“Thank goodness they'll still take us!” I said to the Professor as we walked through the patio of the restaurant and up to the bar just inside the door.

“We have a reservation,” the Professor said in French.

The bartender then walked us back into the cave where, that night, the only other diner was a black cat. They must have laughed their asses off at us each time we'd called to change the reservation by 15 minutes!

The Professor, the cat and I sat down to eat our meals in an empty restaurant, with the cave-like decor creating an echo that made our celebration of administrative intimacy even more eerie.

I'm sure the people who ran the restaurant must have wondered what was wrong with us. We'd brought our goofy symbolic PACS hats, my make-up was still smeared, the Professor was still exhausted from driving until 4 a.m. the night before ... and once the meals came, I couldn't even eat. I was car sick — for the first time ever — from our winding adventure along the mountain roads.

This, however, was not the worst of it. We still had to break the news of our elopement to our families. And, well ... there's a hell of a lot that happened after this — that's all I can say for now. The awkwardness of our post-PACS life and the fact that we almost ran away from it shortly after ... I'll have to save for the book! (The main picture on the book page is from that day in Luceram.)

Now back to the present!


  1. Congrats to you!
    I seriously didn't realize that the PACS was so easy administratively- how long in advance did you have to make the appointment?

  2. How long in advance? Maybe a month or two? We really, really didn't give ourselves enough time to let it set in before we went. It had to set in after...

  3. Too hilarious!
    Re: the photos, I totally get it. We didn't do the "bride getting dressed" photos or the "bride putting on makeup" photos. We did what was "us". Don't worry about whether you'll look back and regret anything. Chances are, if you had wanted those photos you would have had a different type of ceremony altogether.

    Again, congrats. And, great post!

  4. OK, so it wasn't picture perfect and the day all little girls dream of (mine wasn't either... not by a long shot!) but you have told the tale very well and have left me wanting more :-)

  5. Tanya: What was one of your "us" photos? I'm curious...

    Sara Louise: Yours wasn't? Where was it? I hope you still have some nice photos to remember the day!

  6. We didn't have those kinds of photos at all. We decided the day was for our choosing so we choose where and with whom to spend the day. We had the ceremony and dinner at a resto in Toronto. I did my hair and makeup; D zipped me up. The limo pick us up from the hotel with a stop at UofT for photos and then off to the ceremony. Simple and what we wanted. I didn't want the photos you mentioned (much to my mother's disappointment), but really, it was our day so we did what pleased us.

  7. Tanya:
    That sounds wonderful. That was basically our philosophy as well. I really just wanted photos of the flower I'd put in my hair since the Prof was the only one who could have told me if it looked okay. I'm glad for the few photos we did end up getting... even with the make-up smudges. It's just nice to have a few lasting images to help you remember!
    Love that you stopped at UofT. Those buildings are beautiful.

  8. I just love every word you write :) makes me feel so happy. I am new to your world by just loving it and can't wait to read the book. BTW: did the professor forget to tell u how beautiful u are today ? ;)
    Indeed u r pretty and a lovely lady:* glad to read u every day.

  9. Anita: Glad you're enjoying the story!

    The Prof kept the "Did I tell you you were beautiful today" joke up for a year. Every day. But then he came up with a few other ones :)