We are standing at what seems to be the summit of the world. Cordes-sur-Ciel, France. A fortified town ("bastide"), founded by the Count of Toulouse in 1222 as a safe haven for the heretic Cathars. The old town juts into the sky, high above the valley below, even above the clouds. Our physical height begs for metaphorical application: a couple of days now before our wedding, and we are also feeling high on hopes for the future, the beginning of a new chapter of life. Inside the ramparts, we stroll with some of our guests, point out the sculptural details of 13th- and 14th-century Gothic architecture. All is beauty and bliss.
Amid the tall stone columns of the open-air marketplace, under the thick wood rafters and medieval pennants in the center of Cordes, our sublime moment takes a turn toward the ridiculous. My husband is on a cell phone, checking in with the manager of the château in Couiza, where plans for our wedding reception are underway. Have I mentioned that, being a sommelier by profession, my husband has decided to serve fourteen different wines at our dinner? A flight of three wines to taste with most courses. And since we will have a head count of nearly seventy, you can imagine the stemware required. Something has gone wrong, or rather just has not been going on at all. There are complaints, and a suggestion that we will need to pay for additional staff. My husband, used to the turnover in New York restaurants and the demands of clients, loses his cool. Pacing the historic market in Cordes, our aerie of the moment, he raises his Gallic voice and asks who the manager has working in the banquet hall, a bunch of "chèvres"?! Goats. Lazy, inefficient staff. Content to give him space now, I busy myself by inspecting what looks to be a giant mill wheel, wondering why it took this long for pre-wedding stress to hit my "better half."
Note: Today, Cordes-sur-Ciel is a revitalized, year-round community, enjoyed by artists and others who appreciate the town's unique place in history and landscape. Albert Camus is reported to have said that "In Cordes, everything is beautiful, even regret." The official tourist Web site for Cordes-sur-Ciel is here.