Minutes Before a Lockdown, a Civil Ceremony in France

Victoria de Lambilly remembers the exact day in September 2017 when she and Oscar de Poncins met at her London home — it was also the same day that her family’s new puppy, a three-month-old Border terrier named Brexit, had arrived.

Mr. Poncins was there to begin tutoring Gabrielle de Lambilly, one of Ms. de Lambilly’s five sisters and an eighth grade student at a French lycée in London. (She needed help mostly in math.) Her mother, Mathilde de Lambilly, had found a message posted by Mr. de Poncins in a closed Facebook group offering to help with homework for a French family, for a fee.

Mr. de Poncins was studying for a master’s degree in corporate finance at Skema Business School in Lille, France, at the time. But he had recently traveled to London for an internship as a business development associate at Christie’s, the auction house. He said he was feeling “a bit homesick.”

“I wanted to get closer to the French community,” said Mr. de Poncins, now 26 and a finance business partner at Murphy and Partners, an international art advisory firm based in London.

Ms. de Lambilly happened to be in the same room as her mother when she first placed a call to Mr. de Poncins on speakerphone. “It’s the voice that did everything,” said Ms. de Lambilly, now 23 and a director assistant at Gagosian Gallery, an art dealership in London. “I found it seductive.”

Mr. de Poncins was slightly taken aback when Ms. de Lambilly answered the door for his first lesson. She was wearing red jeans and a multicolored pompom shirt. “Victoria had a real bob cut at the time,” he said. Yet, for a moment he forgot that short hair wasn’t his style. “Who’s this girl?” he remembered thinking. “She seems really charming.”

Ms. de Lambilly was studying art history and Russian at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She wouldn’t return to school until later in the fall. This gave her plenty of opportunities to engage in joyful chatter with her sister’s tutor three times a week.

Both realized art was a shared passion. They held the Finnish architects Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen in high esteem. The French artistic duo Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne was also a common source of inspiration for the two.

Mr. de Poncins learned Ms. de Lambilly, whose parents were from France, had been an expatriate her whole life. Her father, Hubert de Lambilly, has worked since 1994 for a French company with an international presence. Her mother, Mathilde de Lambilly, was a stay-at-home parent. Ms. de Lambilly was born in London but her family moved to New York before she could speak. She was 3-years-old when they set up shop in England again and had never lived in France. All but one of her sisters was born abroad, in England or the United States.

Mr. de Poncins’s mother, Catharina de Poncins, a reflexologist, is Finnish. His father, who requested not to be named, is head of risk, insurance and security for a global distributor. The eldest of three children, Mr. de Poncins grew up learning French and Swedish, which is spoken by a minority of Finns. In the summer, his family would leave Fontainebleau, a provincial town southeast of Paris where they had lived, for a month of swimming and saunas at Pappila, his grandparents’ residence in the south of Finland.

When Ms. de Lambilly returned from Saint Andrews for a midterm break at the end of October 2017, she and Mr. de Poncins planned their first date. On a windy but sunny Sunday, they met for Mass at St. Francis of Assisi, a Roman Catholic parish in Notting Hill, and then had brunch at Snaps and Rye, a nearby Danish restaurant.

Mr. de Poncins was so focused on keeping the conversation going that he didn’t give one look at the menu. When a waiter came to take their order, he picked one item at random. He ended up with smoked herring, “an awful thing” to have at 11 a.m., Mr. de Poncins said.

Later on, a stroll along canals in the Little Venice neighborhood gradually morphed into a hike. “I had rarely walked that much in such little time,” Ms. de Lambilly said. She and Mr. de Poncins held hands as they crossed a busy thoroughfare. They didn’t let go once on the other side.

Ms. de Lambilly, who professes a deep familiarity with South Kensington’s topography, knew they would soon be back to her house. Her companion was yet to make a romantic move. So, she offered to accompany him to his bus stop back home to buy him time.

When his bus pulled over at the stop, he finally kissed her. “Your bus has left,” she remarked after a moment. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “This man next to us is giving us a look,” she said, nodding in the direction of an older man near the bus stop. “It doesn’t matter,” he answered, kissing her again.

By November 2017, it was clear to them that they were in an exclusive relationship. Ms. de Lambilly graduated from her program, was hired as a business support administrator at Christie’s and moved back to London in the summer of 2018. Mr. de Poncins formally proposed in December of that year.

The couple celebrated their engagement in Pappila in Finland in the summer of 2019, along with their respective families. One morning Mr. de Poncins suggested they go for a swim in the lake that abuts the family residence. He arranged for his brother, Axel de Poncins, to drop the engagement ring on a pontoon as they swam away. They returned to the shore to find it glittering in its jewelry box.

“I had both feet in the water and she was sitting on the pontoon,” Mr. de Poncins said. “That’s when I put the ring on her finger.”

The couple made plans for a civil marriage on March 21, then a religious ceremony in June, both in France — all against the backdrop of Britain’s divorce from the European Union. The irony wasn’t lost on them. Yet, the biggest challenge they would face would not stem from Brexit, but from the byzantine ways the coronavirus pandemic would ignore them altogether.

Mr. de Poncins and Ms. de Lambilly were married Tuesday morning, March 17, just 40 minutes before the measures kicked in, at Digny town hall, 70 miles southwest of Paris. Christelle Lorin, the mayor of Digny, was the officiant.

The couple were joined by the bride’s mother and two of her sisters, Emily and Félicie de Lambilly, as well as grandparents on her mother’s side, Claire and Jean-François Gautier. Charlotte and Axel de Poncins, the groom’s sister and brother, also attended.

They arranged for missing family members and friends to tune in via a live stream on Instagram, including the groom’s mother from Finland and the bride’s father and sisters from New York and Paris.

Just before the ceremony, Ms. de Lambilly and Mr. de Poncins took off the surgical masks and gloves they had donned as a precautionary measure. “We come from London, Paris, all over. We wanted to show we were cooperative,” Mr. de Poncins said.

Ms. Lorin seemed to acknowledge that much. “Exceptional circumstances today,” she said before the brief ceremony, which started at 11 a.m.. “In the name of the law, I declare you united in marriage,” she said a few moments later.

The bride’s mother stuffed a bottle of champagne and a plate of petit four into the newlyweds’ arms and drove them back to Paris, in time to catch the 1:30 p.m. Eurostar train to London. The couple was swiftly upgraded to first-class seats by an enthusiastic steward. They popped open the bottle on board and celebrated, and so did the entire train when a special announcement came over the public address system.

On June 22, the bride and groom plan to take part in a religious ceremony, also in Digny, before 350 family members and friends. The bride’s uncle, the Rev. Julien Gautier, a Roman Catholic priest, is to lead the ceremony during a religious celebration at Church Saint-Germain.

Should the global pandemic derail the ceremony, Ms. de Lambilly has a contingency plan. “We’re going to get married on the sly in England with two best persons picked up at random on the street and a priest,” she said jokingly.

When March 17, 2020

Where Digny town hall, France

Dressed to the Nines The bride’s father, Hubert de Lambilly, and one of her five sisters, Gabrielle de Lambilly, followed the ceremony remotely from their Manhattan living room. Mr. de Lambilly insisted that they dress up. He wore a suit and his daughter a “nice dress.”

Highest Bidder Mr. de Poncins bought his fiancée’s engagement ring at auction in London. It is basket-shaped made of white gold and set with brilliant-cut baguette and tapered baguette diamonds. “Even I had fallen in love with it,” he said.

source: nytimes.com

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