'Tenue de soirée' it was written on the matt black invitation. How unusual, and how exciting to be expected to dress up... I had the very thing - long, slightly shimmery, dusky pink snakeskin design, close-fitting with a look d'enfer!
Slipping the dress over my head, I wondered whether it would still fit. Oh ye of little faith, thought I as it slid effortlessly down and sat snugly on my not so surreptitiously expanding afterall hips. It was long, longer than I remembered, but drop dead snazzy. I slipped on my strappy sandals and whisked myself and NG off to the soirée de l'année Montpellieraine.
Turning into the gates of the Hotel Verchant, we showed our invitation, were greeted by the bouncers and waved up the drive at the end of which was another check-point. To my joy (and it'll have to fall off before I take it off) a VIP sticker was stuck to my windscreen by Valérie, the hotel's director, and we drove round to the VIP car-park next to the hotel entrance. This enabled us to walk a short distance, clean-shoe'd, to the entrance, as opposed to non-VIPs who had to trip their way through the dust and muck from the outer car-parks.
Check-point n° 3 - more recognition, more friendly welcomes, more instructions. We climbed the steps, passed through the events hall and went in search of a more liquid welcome. It came in the guise of rosé wine - the house rosé, and slipped agreeably down.
Looking around us, we had le tout Montpellier as our fellow invités. Le tout were dressed in various interpretations of 'tenue de soirée' extending from, for men, jeans under a crappy shirt, to smart suit (no dinner jackets except on the musicians); and for women, one in what looked like my nightdress in beige satin with black leather boots, no bra, buxom (look pétasse), through grey trousers and everyday blouse (look mémé), shiny black tight-fitting trouser suit with killer-heeled boots (look pute), perfect bourgeois dress, perfect blonde hair coupe carré, perfect low heels, smug expression (look bourgeoise parfaite de chez bourgeoise parfaite), and a few in evening dress who looked lovely although one was so skinny I thought she might pass out with malnutrition before the evening was finished.
It was the official opening of the Hotel Verchant. NG and I were invited because we work with them through our association Promo'Arts, and just recently, on a last minute rewrite of the English translation of their brochure. I'd had 20 minutes to render into evocative English a literal translation of the original French texts. I did it, and heard last night that my version was considered better written than the original French (ha!). It's nice to hear things like that.
As the evening progressed, coloured lights lit up the grounds and images from its history were projected onto the cream-coloured stone of the hotel. We wandered around admiring the overall beauty, but wondering at some of the glaring points faibles. Inside the décor has been done to perfection. Outside, on the other hand, the park designer seems to have had little idea beyond a number of derived ideas about what is suitable for a 5* hotel. One example was putting next to gorgeously coloured sandstone walls some dead white pebbles out of which poked some long thin cactii. It just didn't look right. The rose garden was infested with something, and would have looked better full of lavender; and the flower beds were a mess of unsuitable, untidy plants. Amazing really.
The buffet, on the other hand, was perfect. It was provided by Didier Germain's team, the best in Montpellier, and who provided the buffet for Promo'Arts back in May (for free!). Everyone in Montpellier knows that if you are invited to a soirée with a Germain Traiteur buffet, you will eat like a king, and there's no polite holding back when it comes to making a beeline for the food.
Last night, however, NG and I were approached by M Germain and invited to partake of the buffet with a few select others (VIPs?) BEFORE the general call to food. It was one of those gestures that seem small, but offer in fact infinitely more to the receiver than the giver could ever imagine. The buffet was set up beneath the age old pin parasols, coloured lights providing atmospheric touches and une ambiance de fête. Various stands had been place around a large semi-circle allowing plenty of room to move and eat. Each one had a chef who was whisking up something cooked to accompany the cold nibbles. We stopped at the nems counter where NG nearly died of joy they were so good. The buffet was sheer gastronomic bliss, as ever!
We retired to sit once the general call to food was made and let the crowd rush down to pounce on everything they could lay their paws on. I went back down to mingle a bit later and a nice guy fed (handed...) me oysters with foie gras, while on another stand I sneaked in and snapped up warm barely cooked to die for morsels of scallops on a stick in sauce before a little crowd of distracted le touts.
Pierre Mestre, the owner of Verchant, gave a speech (which maybe I should have written and had translated...) which was unfortunately just a dry recounting of the history of la maison Verchant, devoid of humour. His lovely youngest daughter who must be about 13 recognised NG and I from a previous event which impressed us no end. She had a nice little chat with us dressed as she was, nattily, in white jeans and a pretty (modest) black top.
Finally, just before NG passed out, we took vintage champagne and dessert on the terrasse overlooking the vineyards, where we could also observe at closer hand the talent the evening offered. It was not very impressive, I was sorry to see. Some obvious good looks with ego to match, lots of normality, and some 'interesting but not classically handsome' faces. Ah well, there was the chocolate fountain instead...
On our way out, we took our goodie bag which contained a bottle of wine (natch!) and the brochure of the hotel with my translation (which I must say did read very well!). It had been fun if a trifle nippy - we had chatted to some of our friends and acquaintances and eaten divinely and drunk well (but not excessively).
When I got home the babysitter congratulated me on the beautiful manners of the boys.
A perfect evening!