These last few days everything has felt slightly different as the sun streams in through the windows, and although the mercury is definitely nudging upwards a little there’s a cold easterly wind which is banishing all thoughts of bare arms and legs. Along with the week’s slow change in temperature, there’s also a subtle change in the light and despite the lingering smell of winter woodsmoke in the air there’s now a welcome new scent, that of freshly mown grass. People walk a little taller, no longer huddled against the elements, and I’ve started to notice a few camper vans on the roads and more locals on the streets, emerging from hibernation.
Easter was early this year, but then, everything is early this year; plants are ahead of themselves. And when you have young people in the house, Easter also means chocolate; rather a lot of it, unfortunately. The children make a good show of believing in the Easter Bunny, rather like Father Christmas our furry friend visits during the night; as a result, from the early hours onwards Easter Sunday becomes a sea of glistening foil wrappers, and lots of the aforementioned chocolate.
On the Saturday night we had dined with French friends. Unsurprisingly the conversation turned to Easter, their children had decorated the table beautifully with colourful little eggs artfully placed amongst the silver and crystal. Half way through the evening, the words, “There is no Easter rabbit, c’est la cloche” cut through the air like a knife, silencing us all. Further discussion revealed that in France there is an Easter Bell which tolls at midday and this is how French eggs appear. This set us all off, of course, and imaginations started to run riot (the adults’ fuelled by good red wine), and before long we had the children giggling hysterically as imaginary giant bells and even bigger rabbits took over gardens and villages, delivering eggs of all shapes and sizes in a blaze of Anglo-French fantasies.
Our Easter-Egg hunt was not a magical illusion created by giant rabbits riding about on enormous bells, but instead was the result of Roddy’s annual deviousness, aided and abetted by the neighbours. An old hand at this, Roddy revels in hiding the eggs, and when you have over an acre of foliage in an old garden to play with things can get fun. Each year he gets more cunning as teenagers and ten year-olds alike have become adept at sniffing out chocolate in the most impossible places; the end result was an egg-hunt for true professionals. The promised showers never materialised, and the day remained resolutely warm and dry. A game of tennis, fiercely competitive, then took up much of the afternoon; it was a match partly fuelled by sugar and provided a very necessary release of energy.
Lundi de Pâques, Easter Monday, is a holiday in France and what better way to kick off the spring season than with a traditional brocante. I had seen the signs advertising this for a while now and I was really excited as this would be the first brocante of the year. I managed to rustle up some of the troops from their sugar-induced slumber and three of us headed off to Crazannes. It was an incredibly blustery morning, the sun kept making odd appearances, winking at us as it peeked out from its hiding place amongst the clouds; it seemed to be reminding us that it was still there. One minute the sky was grey, the next instant it was clear blue; the game of solar hide-and-seek continued for much of the day.
We parked some distance from the village-centre, with plenty of cars lining all of the nearby roads; as an afterthought I grabbed an umbrella, just in case. Hetty, never one to feel the cold, had shunned the idea of a coat, opting for a lightweight ‘hoody’ instead. We were on a brocante treasure-hunting mission.
Stands displaying assorted wares had been set up all around the streets, and cheerful vendors stood and chatted, happy to be selling once again. It was an impossibly picturesque setting in this little village of just 500 or so permanent inhabitants. But despite it’s size it is the home to one of the most splendid village post offices I have ever seen. There is also a much-discussed butcher (for the quality of his local meat) and a beautiful château.
The 14th Century Château de Crazannes is classified as an historic monument. It is now run as a supremely comfortable small hotel, but it became famous for an altogether different reason, for it’s the home of Puss in Boots; this goes back to the 17th century, when the château was the property of the Marquis de Carabas, and it was he who inspired Charles Perrault to write his famous tale. Today the château nestles in the heart of an 8 hectare park, along with a Roman chapel, an 11th century keep, a dovecote and a museum of rural objects, all of which contribute to the charm of Crazannes itself.
Immersing ourselves in the spirit of the brocante we were examining a raft of items when we felt a most unwelcome spot of rain; nothing to get worried about, surely? It was just a few drops and so we continued browsing. However, looking heavenwards a few minutes later I decided perhaps I would put up the umbrella as things were getting quite dark. And then, in an instant, the heavens opened in a deluge of epic proportions, along with a decent scattering of hail thrown in for good measure. This was most definitely no gentle spring shower, and we decided to make a dash for the car. Alas, we were parked a long way off, and we ran, dodging people as they also scurried for what little cover there was. Tables and stands lay abandoned, open to the elemental bombardment, and as the trees did not have enough leaves yet to provide a canopy, there was no hiding. Some stall-holders bravely tussled with flapping tarpaulins, and my umbrella was proving woefully inadequate at keeping three of us sheltered from the rain as it fell in biblical proportions.
We finally reached the car, feet swimming in our sodden shoes, and our jeans clinging to us like wringing-wet second skins. Slamming doors shut we turned the heating full on, and with steam rising from our saturated clothing we abandoned our treasure-hunt and headed home, laughing at our misfortune. Within minutes the rain had eased and blue sky once again played on the horizon. Back at the house we told the others the story of our mad dash in the downpour to much amusement, since there had been no rain at home. In fact it didn’t rain again at all that day; we couldn’t have chosen a worse half-hour in the entire day to visit the brocante!
In the afternoon the children headed off to another Easter-Egg hunt, this time it was the village chase aux oeufs. I opted out, happy to spend a few hours in the garden; there’s a lot to do bringing everything back into some semblance of order after the long winter months, but slowly I’m getting there, planning, and then planning some more with new plantings and new ideas running riot in my head. I have so much I want to do; if I manage half of it I shall be happy, but for now I’m just revelling in being outside again. It’s wonderful to experience the yearly emergence of new life, all around me. It’s a powerful force of nature, and I always find it invigorating as the garden explodes with delicate new buds and colour – it always feels so good.