We were on the train en route to Toulon, headed to M’s wedding. To my right the sea whizzed past. I saw a few divers bobbing on the surface and wondered if there were reefs in the dazzling blue below.
Before we left the Hub warned me about the number of train rides we needed take on this just-us trip. I told him not to worry, long train journeys didn’t bother me as long as I had something to read. I came armed with plenty of books. One of the books I brought was a dud — after page 49 it was suddenly page 248 — and I made a mental note to exchange it at Kinokuniya even though I had lost the receipt. “If they won’t take it, I’ll make them go viral!” I declared. He laughed, “No one would care.”
We flew to Nice where we spent a day to experience a bit of the famed French Riviera — also known as Côte d’Azur — because who knows when we’d be back travelling in this neck of the woods? (In this post-B.C. era, that turned out to be a good call.) The water was as blue as I imagined it to be. The blue was in three shades and the sky did its best to match.
We passed cliffs dotted with what looked like villas and I remembered an old Garfield comic I read when I was really young where Garfield rattles off his wish list to Jon, ending with “…and a villa in the South of France!” I’m not sure why the phrase stuck with me after all these years. Perhaps I did not know what “villa” meant, or why a tubby cartoon cat would want one. But now I think I do — anyone would. The place is a dream.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel and had an unimpressive seafood lunch near the flower market. Afterwards we had a mojito, praline, and pistachio gelato from Fenocchio which was absolutely delicious. Then we strolled along the promenade.
We passed by a lot of runners. I wondered how they could jog without so much as a glance at that sparkling Mediterranean sea. How was it possible to live next to it every day and not at least look, stare, linger?
We also noticed people were sunbathing on the rocky beach. It couldn’t have been comfortable — it looked like it was just gravel everywhere, with small rocks piled high in mounds in some spots. But the sun was out and the weather was lovely, so I don’t think people minded. We paused to watch two men play beach tennis with a pink ball that flew with the breeze.
From Toulon we took a bus to Bormes les Mimosas, a small village with tiled roofs and houses all painted the same soothing peach hue. The church where M would be wed was here, Église Sainte Trophyme, and the wedding was that afternoon. We only had time for a quick quiche and a shower. Exploring Bormes would have to wait.
We got lost at first on our way to the church, but a kind French lady left her shop to walk us there. The interior of Église Sainte Trophyme was quaint and the same hue as the houses. Both of M’s sisters and her nanay were dressed in elegant Philippine terno dresses (“Para may representation!” said M’s ate) and of course most guests were from the groom’s side since it was his hometown.
The sermon was delivered in English with most of the service — and M’s vows — in French. A lovely, simple service, with legal formalities at the end, and torotot distributed to the guests for when the couple exited the church. M’s ate did her bridal makeup and arranged tiny rosebuds in her hair. “Sabi ko nga pwede rin pala magpakasal ng simple lang,” M’s nanay later said, when we were enjoying cocktails outdoors before the reception dinner. “Sa atin kasi…” and she trailed off, assuming I knew what she meant. (I did.)
The reception was at La Magnanerie de Saint-Isidore, a long drive from the church. We booked a cab to take us there. Two hours were allotted for guests to mingle outdoors with pre-dinner Provençal apéro: wine, fruit juices, and various finger foods which I thought were better than the main course that followed.
I especially liked the anchoïade, a Provençal dip made from olive oil, anchovies, basil leaves, and garlic. At M’s reception the fresh vegetables were artfully arranged so it looked like they were growing in the anchoïade “soil” dip. I liked the baby radishes best.
Another favourite of mine was the freshly grilled meat station. I had my fill of bite-sized tender chunks of beef, marinated chicken, and blood sausage. A waiter went around urging guests milling in the gardens to help themselves from a tin bucket of foie gras (yes please two for me).
During dinner, there were messages from families and friends (his in French and hers in English — but M’s ate also delivered hers in French — “C’est magnifique!” exclaimed M’s in-laws, understandably impressed). The Hub and I were seated next to a banker and his girlfriend who asked us questions about Singapore. (Is it true they don’t allow people with long hair in? Can you chew gum there? What’s it like living there? “It’s good for families,” I answered. “We don’t have kids,” he said.)
Unlimited dancing followed dessert but the tiredness was taking over. Honestly, there were times too that I felt like a fish out of water. Most introverts might be familiar with the feeling — by then I had used up my day’s supply of small talk and just wanted to recharge back at the hotel. Finally, the Hub and I hitched with a friend and left after taking Polaroids for the wedding guest book. I took one extra snap of us, for me.
The next morning we were up early and had our chance to walk around Bormes. The mimosas the town was known for were not yet in full bloom but I could imagine what the streets and the house gates would look like whenever the season was right. The souvenir shops, with their postcards, sweet scented perfumes, ceramic jewelry, and bags of lavender and other dried herbs, were just starting to open. There was no one around.
We had tea and a croissant at the hotel cafe with a truly Provençal view (mountains, the peach-coloured houses with tiled roofs, blooms, and the startling blue sky with a single streak of white).
I thought to myself how difficult it must be to think of the rest of the world and its many troubles if I lived in a place like this.
But in some small way, I was also glad to leave.
Think critically dear readers,