The wedding guests convened at the Saulues’ house for a group picture taken from their balcony, then we proceeded to Geüs for the reception. Somehow, Susan and I arrived first (with Betsy’s mother and sister). They went in and I walked to the hotel to pick up some items Susan wanted, and my beret. Along the way, the parade of guests in their decorated cars and blaring horns were going the other way. I heard later that the Americans were wondering what I was doing.
I returned with the beret hidden under my suit coat, and kept it hidden through the preliminary parts of the reception (games on the lawn, and drinks). Eventually Jacques approached me quietly and asked if I had a couple of minutes, and to bring my beret.
I followed him into the dining room, which was prepared for the dinner, including bread at each place. No one was supposed to enter until dinner, but a few people passed through to the restrooms.
Jacques, Joseph, and the other three brothers were standing there in their berets, so I put mine on, to their amusement, but apparent approval. They had copies of a lyric sheet for two songs: La chanson du béret (The Beret Song), and Jan Petit (John Petit). The beret song is seven longish verses, describing hats in general and the benefits of the beret in particular. Apparently the brothers sing it at such gatherings, as a way to maintain the tradition of this form of regional identification. They had agreed beforehand to invite an American to join them as part of the celebration of this cross-cultural union. As a result of the morning trip to the workshop, I was the one with a beret. The lyrics sheet included an English translation (by Jacques, I believe), but unfortunately I couldn’t sing the English, as its meter doesn’t match the French song. They seemed relieved when I agreed to pretend to sing along to the French.
Since they don’t sing it very often, first they ran through the lyrics and melody (to be sung a cappella). Then they ran through the gestures to illustrate the various points of the song, and worked out their differences. The we ran through the entire song with gestures. At one point in the song, each singer swats the singer to his right on the behind with his beret. I was standing at the right, and Jacques decided that wouldn’t do, as I had no one to swat, and he didn’t want me to be excluded. So he moved to the right-hand end.
We also went over the second song, a children’s song with much gesturing of dancing with the foot, leg, knee, etc. I don’t think they decided which or how many body parts they would include, waiting to see how the audience participation went. This song was in Occitan (of which Bearnish is a dialect), but the English translation could be sung as well.
As we left the rehearsal (with my beret hidden again), Jacques said, “If we do well, they will applaud. If not, they will laugh. Either way is good.” When I rejoined Susan, she asked what was going on, and I told her it was a secret.
After dinner started, one of François’s cousins narrated a slideshow of pictures from Kristin’s and François’s childhoods, showing how similar (in some cases dissimilar) their lives had been, though separated by thousands of miles. The last item contrasted fashions in the US and the Béarn, ending with the beret. The MC announced The Beret Song to be sung by the five brothers, when one of them shouted, “Non, six!”, and we all stepped up, to a murmur of surprise.
The projector showed the French lyrics, in case anyone felt like singing along. (I didn’t notice anyone doing so.) One of the family had a video camera on a tripod, so there might be a good quality record, but in any case Susan recorded the song with my iPhone’s video mode. It was from half-way down the room from us, and the lighting was dim, but with a bit of enhancement in iMovie it shows the six of us fairly well. You can’t really tell that I was pretending to sing, though it’s clear my gestures lagged the others’.
There was a little laughter during the song, but it was directed at the funny lyrics and gestures, not at us, and at the end there was quite hearty applause. Jacques was right: it was good!
When we later did the Jan Petit song, practically all of the Americans came up to dance, partly at my urging, along with most of the French; at least three-quarters of the party crammed into a small space, and we had to make room for all the dancers. After that song, one of the brothers said to me, “You are a good diplomat for America!”
Later, I thanked Jacques for inviting me, and told him it was the high point of the wedding events for me. He told me they all loved Kristin, and that they were serious about creating a cross-cultural union between the families. He said they were pleased that I wasn’t afraid to participate in the performance. He also told me that some of the French had been concerned that the Americans would come in and try to take over the wedding, and that they had all been pleased with how open and patient the Americans had been with their French ways. I complimented him and the others for creating such a welcoming atmosphere, and told him how much all of the Americans enjoyed Joseph’s hospitality. He suggested I tell Joseph this, because the preparation and hosting had been very stressful for him. I tried to do so the next day, but I’m not sure I was able to completely convey how much it all meant to all of us.
The thoughtful, playful, and welcoming way the Saulue brothers treated me made this day among the most memorable of my life.
Next: Post-wedding Events