The View
from Here:
  Ellen Lampert-Greaux lives in Petite Saline, and when she's not organizing the local film festival, or supervising the local volleyball league, or writing for various magazines, she turns her sharp eye upon local happenings.
  August 1999
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  The high point of the summer social season on an island like this is a big family wedding, especially if the bride and groom are part of the big St Barth "family" that stretches back to the original French settlers that eked out an existence here in the 17th and 18h centuries.
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  You can tell immediately if you are invited to a "St Barth" wedding by the last names of the happy couple. This is possible since there are at least 3000 people on the island who share about two dozen last names, from Aubin to Brin, and Questel to Stakelborough by way of Gréaux, Laplace, Ledée and Magras to name a few. These weddings usually start out with the family gathering at the home of the bride where all the cars are decorated with flowers, lace and ribbons for a horn-honking processional to the town hall in Gustavia. Here, the mayor or one of his deputies, takes care of the civil side of the ceremony.
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  Under the watchful eye of French president Jacques Chirac (whose portrait hangs on the wall) and a large stuffed marlin that is the handiwork of a former mayor, the wedding registers are signed and the couple is legally married. Those with a religious bent then trundle off the the church of their choice -- here the choice is rather limited to Catholic or Anglican -- for a nuptial benediction by the priest. Then the fun begins.
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  While the ceremonies at the town hall and church may draw a hundred or so friends and relatives, the wedding reception might draw as many as 300 to 500 revelers to a restaurant or discotheque that would be crowded at half that number. The bride and groom greet them all, stationed for much of the evening on a sofa covered with lace in a corner of the room, and placing their gifts into a towering pile. An endless supply of wedding cake -- the current favorite has raisins soaked in whisky with sweet white frosting -- and champagne are served to arriving guests. Later in the evening soup and sandwiches are served, a tradition that dates from an era when the newlyweds walked home from the church to their new home, with a few grandmothers keeping a welcoming soup warm on the fire.
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  These days, the soup isn't the only thing that's hot as the temperature on the dance floor is guaranteed to rise to sauna-like temperatures as the crowd increases. The dj's continue to pump up the volume and keep everybody dancing. In spite of the heat, couples of all ages seem to be able to dance for hours without stopping, spinning effortlessly from zouk and soca to calypso and meringue, by way of an occassional waltz, polka or even a jitterbug. By one or two o'clock in the morning the crowd has thinned and dancing becomes more of a pleasure.
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  Even with my aching feet, I find it hard to resist the charms of these West Indian rhythms. Meringue anyone?

  More to come,

  Ellen Lampert-Greaux


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