Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Romancing Paris Past & Present

Isn't it the height of romance – a wedding in Paris? Or meeting that special someone, honeymooning or spending your first married years in the City of Lights?

Some of Black Paris' most well-known and talented expatriates did just that. We've put together a roster of just a few of the African-Americans who have tested the dream.

And after you're all fired up and misty-eyed, read on for advice/reality check from Paris-based wedding planner Kim Petyt of Parisian Party.

The True Art of Marriage

Painter Henry O. Tanner & Jessie Macauley Olssen

Jessie Olssen and son Jessie Ossawa Tanner
In 1897, Tanner met the tall, lively American of Swedish-Scottish ancestry in Barbizon, a small town south of Paris, home of the famous French school of landscape painting and artists colony. Although he had already faced the challenge of being the lone Black painter in his Philadelphia art school and now in Paris, Tanner still worried about the complications of marrying someone of another race.

Love triumphed! They married on December 14, 1899 in Bloomsbury, England, honeymooned in Martigues in the south of France, then spent the next 25 years between their homes in Paris and Normandy.

Jessie's energetic personality was the perfect complement for Tanner's more reflective, reserved nature. Between them reigned an intimate companionship and a stable home life with their only child, Jessie Ossawa.

The Decorated Airman and The Aristocrat

City Hall of 10th district
Aviator Eugene Bullard & Marcelle de Straumann    

In 1923, Eugene Bullard married Marcelle Eugenie Henriette de Straumann, the daughter of a wealthy Parisian family.

He was introduced to the wealthy de Straumann family by two painter friends and despite his working-class occupation as an exercise trainer (to the rich and lesser so), the aristocratic parents had no objection to him taking their daughter dancing. On July 4, 1922, with great trepidation, he declared his love for Marcelle to them. Just over a year later, July 17, 1923, the couple were married in an early afternoon civil ceremony in the City Hall of the 10th arrondissement (district).

The wedding party guests included high-brow relatives on her side and on his, friends from the military, the entertainment and sports world. They made merry at the Brasserie Universelle, at the corner of Avenue Opera and Avenue Danou, and in French style the wedding party stretched late in the afternoon. Come nightfall, the father of the bride hired 10 taxicabs to shuttle the guests up the hill to Montmartre where they continued celebrating until well into the wee hours.

The lovebirds honeymooned in the chic Atlantic seaside resort town of Biarritz, near the Spanish border. Their first apartment had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower, bien sur, across the River Seine. The couple had two surviving daughters, Jacqueline born in 1924 and Lolita Josephine in 1927.

Ill-Fated Union

Leon Crutcher & Mary Boyard

In 1925, Leon Crutcher, a pianist from Philadelphia and Mary-Louise Boyard, a dance hall hostess, met in a club in Nice where they both worked. They moved to Paris and found work in the jazzy, somewhat shady world of Montmartre. On Christmas Day 1925, they got married but the honeymoon period was short lived. Seems the couple chanelled their passion into their many fights, and in February 1926 after a particularly heated one, the new Mrs. Crutcher shot her husband dead. Arrested, she pleaded innocence, hadn't meant to kill him. The French court at the time allegedly went easy on women who were charged with crimes of passion. She was found not guilty.

Entertainment Royalty

Ada 'Bricktop' Smith & Peter Ducongé

She was a wildly popular entertainer and legendary club owner, he was an African-American saxophonist from New Orleans. They married in December 1926 in the City Hall of the 9th arrondissement. Settling in for the long term, they bought a home in the fashionable Paris suburb of Bougival (playground of the Impressionist painters). They led the independent life of a childless couple and never missed a night hosting celebrities, aristocrats and jazz lovers in Lower Montmartre. After some years Bricktop found out about an affair he had with a young African-American woman she had taken under her wing in Paris and though they did not divorce, she never slept with him again.

 The Many Dreams of Josephine
Josephine Baker & Jean Lion & Jo Bouillon

J. Baker & Jean Lion
J. Baker & Jo Bouillon
Josephine's third husband was Jewish French industrialist Jean Lion, who taught Josephine to fly and allegedly proposed to her mid-air. They married on November 30, 1937. As the wife of a Frenchman she could now claim French citizenship and within four days obtained her French passport.

Her fourth marriage, to orchestra leader Jo Bouillon, took place on June 3, 1947, on her forty-first birthday. The civil service was performed at the Chateau des Milandes in Dordogne, followed by a religious ceremony in the adjacent Gothic chapel, and a reception. Bouillon said that in marrying Baker he was also marrying her dream of universal harmony between races, and they went on to demonstrate that possibility by adopting their Rainbow Tribe of children.

A Long Engagement and a Soulful Marriage

Chester Himes & Lesley Packard
Lesley Packard & Chester Himes
Award-winning detective novelist Himes met 30 year old Englishwoman Lesley Packard on the terrace of the Cafe Tournon, half a block from Luxembourg Gardens. Packard, who worked for the Paris Herald Tribune, was sitting with Himes' good friend William Gardner Smith. The ladies man had met his match, “She was Irish-English with blue grey eyes and very good looking,” he wrote in his autobiography My Life of Absurdity. Although it took 19 years before they actually tied the knot, their marriage lasted until his death.

And If You Wanted to Tie the Knot in Paris Today?

To find out what getting married in Paris is like today, I asked expat wedding/event planner extraordinaire Kim Petyt, Owner and Managing Director of a Parisian Events, a full-service wedding and event planning agency.

Here's her advice - slash - reality check:

Can just anyone get married in Paris?

"Getting legally married in France as a foreigner will be one of the strongest tests to your “coupledom” as you’ve probably gone through so far. Forget about Couples Fear Factor - If you can survive this, you can survive anything…"

What's the main hurdle?

"In order to be legally wed in France, one of the couple needs to have lived in France, in the district around the city hall in which they plan to marry, for a minimum of 40 consecutive days before the wedding. Some sources say 30 days, but you have to add on an additional 10 days for the city hall to publish the Banns - a public announcement that is put up in City Hall for 10 days preceding your marriage that lists your names and your impending marriage date so that any estranged husbands or wives have one last chance to find you before you’re married off…"

Oh, is that all?

"Before asking for that sabbatical from work, though, you should know that this one little detail is actually a big one. You must show 2 proofs of domicile (“justificatifs de domicile” )- a gas or electricity bill (a cell phone bill doesn’t count), a rent receipt, a lease, a French social security card, etc. If you are planning on renting an apartment here on a short-term lease in order to meet this marriage requirement, know that it could take several months before you receive any of the above documents."

Say I meet the 40-day requirement, is it smooth sailing from then on?

"It’s important, (and I can’t stress this enough), that you get the official, most up-to-date list (of required documents) from the mairie (City Hall) in the district (arrondissement) that you are planning to marry."

Oh-oh, that list sound ominious. What will I need?

  • A valid passport or a French residence permit (“carte de sejour”)
  • A birth certificate (”extrait d’acte de naissance“): Most city halls require that you present an original copy of a complete birth certificate (with full details of your parents) issued within 3 months of your wedding date along with a sworn translation.
  • A certificate of celibacy (”attestation tenant lieu de declaration en vue de mariage ou de non-remariage“) less than 3 months old
  • An Affidavit of law (”certificat de coutume“) The Affidavit of Law certifies that the American citizen is free to get married in France and that the marriage will be recognized in the United States. Only an attorney licensed to practice in both France and the United States may execute this document.
  • A medical certificate (“certificat médical prénuptial”): You both must get a pre-nuptial medical certificate which says that you were examined by a doctor “en vue de mariage.” The marriage banns cannot be published until medical certificates have been submitted to the mairie.
  • Proof of domicile (”justificatifs de domicile“) (see above)
  • A “certificat du notaire“: If you are planning on having a pre-nuptial agreement, you must go through a lawyer (a notaire) who will provide a “certificat du notaire” which must be submitted to the mairie as well. It must have been drawn up no more than 2 months prior to the marriage.
  • If either of you were previously married, you must provide a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a certified copy of the final divorce decree.

Okay, so we don't scare easily and this is really our dream. The second part of our dream is having the ceremony in one of the city's majestic churches.

"I think it’s also worthwhile to mention here that, for a foreigner, it isn’t exactly a cakewalk to get married in a “plain ole” church in Paris. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that before a Catholic church in France will even consider marrying you, you must first have a civil ceremony either in France or in your home country. Once that is sorted, you should then put on your Sunday’s best, and get thee to the church in question for a little face-time.

The tricky part is that, in order to get married in a church in France, you have to get direct permission from the priest of the church, and quite frankly- he may not want to do it.
I suggest that, if you can, you and your betrothed start going to the church for a while before you first meet with the priest- and make sure that he sees you. When you do have your first meeting with him, be as reverent and respectful as the meeting deserves, and be prepared to plead your case.

As anyone who has spent any time at all in France knows, the first answer is always “non“- just ignore that one and ask again in a different way. If, after the fourth or fifth ask, the answer is still no, then I would suggest you move on to Plan B- a symbolic ceremony in a private chapel, or maybe a blessing ceremony in a non-denominational Parisian church."

Ouch! What other differences should I be prepared for?

"My husband and I were once at a wedding here in France when, around 11:30PM- just as dessert was being served, a couple mysteriously showed up and sat down at our table. I assumed that they must have had an emergency during the evening, and came to the wedding as soon as they could make it. After chit-chatting with them for a bit though, I realized that I had already spoken to them earlier during the day. I mentioned this to my husband, and he casually remarked, “Oh, they must have just been invited for the dessert” Me: “Um, WHAT?” Lui: “Yeah, Jean-Luc only works with Philippe, so they were probably invited just for the dessert”. Me (completely dumbfounded) “And they came????” Lui: ” Oh, you Americans are so sensible (sensitive)”

A guest in France can be invited to all, or only part of the wedding festivities- even JUST dessert around midnight, and they won’t get offended by it!"

Okay, I'll be in France and I want to do like the French, what's my wedding going to be like?

"A typical French wedding lasts all day AND into the next. It starts with a civil ceremony at City Hall in the morning, and is followed by a religious ceremony, then a vin d’honneur (a small cocktail reception), followed by a 4 or 5-course meal, and then dancing. The dancing often starts between dinner courses, in order to give guests a chance to work up more of an appetite! A typical French wedding doesn’t end until 3:00 or 4:00AM, or even later."

All above advice copyright Parisian Party


Sounds daunting, but where there's a will there's a beautiful solution!

For more indepth details on getting married in Paris, take a walk down the aisles of Kim's blog Parisian Party - Tales of An American Wedding Planner in Paris.


Black Women in Europe said...

Chester Himes in my paternal grandmother's first cousin. Thank you so much for including his love story in your Valentine's Day special.

Black Women in Europe said...

I forgot to add, great interview with Kim!I learned a great deal about getting married in France.

A Nomad in Paris said...

This was a fun article to read.......... I've often wondered what is the process if you'd like to renew your vows? My husband and I will be making another visit to beautiful Paris. It would be fun to surprise him with a renewal of our vows!

Julia Browne said...

Hi Nomad, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. It was enlightening, too, to research and write it.

Julia Browne said...

Hi BWIE, I'm always amazed at the genealogical ties readers discover in Black Paris. Brings the city so much closer to the heart, n'est-ce pas?

Isadora Freire said...

I want to buy this simple cake topper wedding!! how much it cost?