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When my friend Kari and I stopped in Saint Emilion we never thought that we’d be attending (to use the term loosely) the Bordeaux Society Wedding of the Century (or Decade) (last decade).


I happened upon a short story contest sponsored by the Bordeaux Wine Bureau while leafing through a food and wine magazine. The promotion launched the bureau’s Valentines Day ‘Seduction’ campaign. I submitted an entry, forgot about it, and won a trip for two to Bordeaux. My writing was lame,but my strategy was solid: I kissed up to the judges. I described my one-night seduction at the hands of a suave, sophisticated Frenchman (of course), consumated in the library of a Bordeaux (of course) chateau and facilitated by a bottle or two of Chateau Latour (a Bordeaux, of course).

Unfortunately the one-night seduction at the hands of a suave, sophisticated Frenchman was fictional, but I had stayed three nights at Chateau de la Bourdaisiere, a wonderfully creepy property nestled in the Loire Valley with a straight-out-of-an-Agatha-Christie-novel library. And I had drunk wine there (not Chateau Latour, mind you).

Chateau de la Bourdaisiere Library

The prize included a private chateau tour, so Kari and I rented a car to visit the winery and then see the scenic, medieval village of Saint Emilion.

I was a little nervous about driving the rental car. I was too cheap back then to pay for automatic transmission even though I’ve never mastered gear-shifting (it’s so easy to mistake second gear for fourth when cruising down the Autoroute at 90 kms/hour). And I refused to pay for anything but the most compact of models. In fact, the last time that I rented a car in France I nearly killed my friend Bryna and myself and terrrorized the greater part of the inhabitants of the Cote d’Azur. Swerving and jerking (didn’t realize the parking brake was still on a little bit) our way through the Alpes d’Azur in our mini-mini-mobile, we looked like two Shriners in desperate search of a parade.

But this time, when Kari and I finally located our rental car we were amazed to find a brand-new, candy-apple-red Alfa Romeo sportscar in our space. We double-checked our contract against the license plates…  … and yup, this was our vehicle. Someone screwed up! In our favor!  HIGH. FIVES. I know now that bit of luck was foreshadowing of the day ahead.

Pulling into Saint Emilion, several policeman immediately directed us to a parking spot. Boy, there sure are a lot of policeman in Saint Emilion. We meandered a bit. There sure are a lot of serious-looking men in black suits talking into earpieces in Saint Emilion. We window-shopped and trudged up and down the limestone steps that transverse the village. There sure are a lot of distinguished-looking men in tuxedos and haughty-looking women in bright colors in Saint Emilion.

Saint Emilion Women

Then it dawned on us: Something Was Going On in Saint Emilion!

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Kari and I approached a shopkeeper leaning in a doorway, looking expectantly at the old church dominating the square. We asked him what was going on. He explained that the daughter of the owner of Chateau Cheval Blanc (one of the top two wine chateaux in the region) was about to wed. Her father(Albert Frere), we later learned, was one of the wealthiest men in Belgium at a worth of approximately $1 billion. The Bordeaux Society Wedding of the Century! Right here! Right now!

The townspeople (dressed in their Sunday best) converged around the church courtyard, so we joined them. And then the spectacle began.

The hats! Bigass hats! Loud hats. Hats with feathers. Hats with veils. Hats with rhinestones. Every woman flaunted a hat, apparently the more ostentatious, the better. The display ranged from gorgeous and sophisticated to white trash and trannie. And the jewels! As big as the bigass hats!

Bordeaux Society Wedding Guest in Red Hat

There stood Kari and I snapping away with our cameras like Japanese tourists, giggling, and commentating on everyone’s outfits á là Joan and Melissa Rivers (Rives). Let me be clear that we were no fashion plates ourselves: I wore a wrinkled Banana Republic t-shirt, and some sort of mom-jeans-slash-clamdiggers that I thought would be ‘comfortable’ for traveling and sensible, low-heeled walking sandals. Kari hadn’t done much better.

Do You Like My New HatA sweet, elderly village woman adopted us, pointing out France’s most eminent personalities: Madame Chiraq (wife of the then prime minister) and Bernard Arnault (pretty much owned the entire country).

The bells chimed promptly at five o’clock and the Mack Daddy of Rolls Royces, bearing the bride and Pere Frere, rolled into the courtyard. The paparazzi swarmed the vehicle in a frenzy. The bride stepped out confidently: she was approximately five-foot eleven, blond, thin, impeccably dressed in a custom Dior gown, and stunning.

We hated her!


Kari and I spotted our friend from our hotel, The Front Desk Guy, among the onlookers from the previous day, so we made a point to talk to him. We needed the inside scoop on who the bride and groom were, etc. He didn’t have much dirt on the couple for us, but he was eager to share that Madame Taittinger, matriarch of the champagne clan, was also staying at our hotel (he had chauffered her to the wedding). The best part: he had brought her bags to her room earlier in the day and she had opened the door in the nude.

The Front Desk Guy then produced an article on the Bordeaux society wedding from the local paper, and if you squint your eyes and look slightly above the bride’s perfect right ear, you can spy Kari and me standing (arms crossed, head cocked) in an obvious ‘what’s she got that I don’t got’ (everything, it turns out, except a bunch of debt) stances. The article stated that no less than the Prince of Belgium, the Prince of Luxembourg, the Prince of Lichtenstein, and the L’infante of Spain were among the guests (I didn’t even know what a l’infante was) but I was still impressed.

So that was the day that I attended (to use the term loosely) the Bordeaux Society Wedding of the Century (or Decade) (last decade). All in all, a good day.

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