Where love and cake prevail

IT'S early autumn in Burgundy and three days before one of my closest friends, Karine, promises to love, honour and sometimes obey Michel, 'til death do them part.

Which could be before the wedding judging by the tears being shed in this bucolic corner of France.

The champagne is nowhere to be found, the bride is quarrelling with her mother and the groom is refusing to have a manicure.

We're all standing outside on a cobblestoned street in Charolles, the type of French town that inspires middle-aged women to trade in their jobs and husbands for cooking classes, chateaus and young lovers.

Nestled in a river valley, with a castle and town hall on opposing hills, it's not the type of town to have a tussle over grubby fingernails.

It's not the town to have a tussle over grubby nails.

Michel eventually relents when Karine points out that she won't be putting a ring on his finger if it looks like it belongs in a crime scene.

It's the latest in a series of pre-wedding dramas that began in a patisserie with Madame Chateau-Girolette's "non" when asked to prepare the happy couple's wedding cake.

"I said no," she tells me as I demolish her finest pastries. "It cannot be done."

Yet the redoubtable Madame was eventually sweet-talked into transforming their vision into a nougat and profiterole reality.


And if her previous creations are any guide, it has the potential to upstage the bride.

Madame Chateau-Girolette hands me a photo album containing wedding cakes shaped like a mediaeval church and a horse and cart. There's even a replica of Titanic with the bride and groom grinning as it sinks into the roiling blue icing waves of the north Atlantic.

The wedding photographer is no less inventive. In the window of her studio hangs a photo of a couple gazing lovingly at a cat. Next to it, a groom holds the straps of his bride's wedding dress between his teeth like dental floss.

But my favourite snap captures a couple's shadows on the walls of a mediaeval church. The bride has her back turned to the camera, revealing an enormous tattoo of some mythical creature with wings and hoofs, and the words "Carpe Diem" inked across her shoulder blades.

No doubt the groom's mother wanted to seize something heavier than the day when she saw that happy snap.

As part of the strict separation between church and state in France, weddings are only legal if conducted by a mayor, in the town hall, and watched over by an official portrait of the president.

The doors to the ceremony must also be left open, Karine adds, to allow any member of the public, or passing tourist, to enter and object on the grounds of bigamy.

Happily, no one objects and Karine places a gold band on Michel's immaculately coiffed fingers, which later toast the bride with flutes of champagne.

Photos are shot minus pets and tatts and Madame Chateau-Girolette's cake, unveiled at midnight, is a sight to behold. A profiterole and nougat scale model of a Tahitian village surrounding a lagoon filled with marzipan fish, coral and two choux pastry divers, it has sparklers shooting tiny balls of fire into the night sky.

"Well, they wouldn't do that in England," a crotchety aunt tells me. "But it's their wedding. They're the ones who have to live with each other."