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Jewish Journal

My Best French Weddings

by Michael Aushenker

July 12, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Of all the weddings I've attended, nothing compares to the spectacle that is the Jewish French wedding. My mom's Algerian side has thrived in France for decades. They socialize like the Algerian revolution never happened. Mom's family is bustling -- full of passion, mirth and -- seriously -- joie de vivre. I can't help but hold every wedding to the meterstick (not yardstick, this being Europe) of the ones I've experienced in France.

In 1985, I, as a 16-year-old, attended my second cousin Frank's wedding in Marseilles. It took place in the 13th arrondissement, the city's oldest, most Jewish quartier (district). Since bride-to-be Corinne hailed from a well-connected Tunisian family, the reception took place at the sprawling estate of the French minister of agriculture. There were so many white food tents, I thought the Peace Corps had taken over. Long tables steamed with merguez (spicy meat sausages) and couscous with vegetables.

As was pro forma at these big French-Algerian affairs, hundreds danced to Sephardic tunes that sounded so downright Arabic, my cousin Alexis busted out his mock belly dance moves (the videotape of which would now make great blackmail fodder for his philosophy students). This wedding was beyond massive, it was intergalactic. My relatives were in awe of its scale long before the culminating fireworks display.

"You think this is big, wait till you see the divorce," I joked in broken French. (Big mistake. More on that later.)

You might not remember July 1994, but I'll never forget it. After all, I was in Paris during the World Cup, and Europe would rather lose World War II than miss a soccer championship. That was the summer my fun-loving cousin Florence married David, her decidedly serious fiancé of strict Orthodox upbringing.

Nevertheless, this wedding was a blockbuster, as hundreds of us converged at Temple Neuilly, a synagogue in what is considered the Bel Air of Paris.

Florence, always attractive, was exquisite on this day, dressed in white. Following the Orthodox ceremony, we arrived at the reception hall, tables piled high with bestels (meat- and potato-filled pastries), makrodes aux dattes (date-filled cookies), and other Pied Noir delicacies. Then came the real meal, a banquet capped off by a towering pìece montée, the traditional French wedding cake composed of a cream-puff pyramid held together by a framework of cooled caramel. Drunken karaoke ensued. I decided to save my Axl Rose impression for an upcoming occasion of special import, like Middle East peace or my Acapulco honeymoon with Gwen Stefani.

I drift back now to May 2001, the wedding of Monica and Chandler (Sorry, that's "My Best 'Friends' Wedding").

Paris, April 1999. I'm at Florence's cramped Montparnasse apartment. She proudly shows off the baby boy that she had with ... Emmanuel. Yes, since my last visit, Florence divorced and remarried. Unfortunately, Frank's marriage didn't stick, either.

Having attended both weddings, my family considers me something of a marital jinx. The couples might as well have signed their ketuba in disappearing ink. Not helping was that divorce quip, which my aunts never forgot. Do I really need this rep?

By the way, Florence and Emmanuel, currently celebrating their fourth year of marriage, are doing fine, thanks.

Then again, I missed that wedding.

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