A Sense of Calm in the Madness of Summer

img_7459We are marching at full speed towards July and August, those sixty days of summer when the coast is packed with holidaymakers and visitors outnumber locals. It is the time when anyone in the tourist industry works at 100% capacity while still coping with a home life – typically this means shopping at 8.00am, before the masses stir. And yet, somehow, a sense of calm still prevails; there is still that wonderful feeling that life should not be hurried, and the little pleasures should be enjoyed to the full, complete with sunsets, sand on the kitchen floor, and the perfume of suncream in the air.

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The number of vehicles on the roads have multiplied, it takes longer to get anywhere. Foreign cars and those from different départements far outweigh local ones and we all dread the multi-campervan convoy down a seaside lane. Fortunately we know the back routes and short cuts. But beware! These roads where seemingly nothing passes become race tracks at dusk and dawn and midday as the locals run them at speed to fulfil their tasks or get home for lunch.

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Houses have their shutters semi-closed against the sun, to me these are the eyes of the building, their lids half-shut and snoozing, enjoying an afternoon siesta. At their feet in the streets, the hollyhocks – in full seasonal glory – nod sympathetically in the warm sea-breezes.

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On one hand the pace of life gathers speed. The sheer number of residents in the locality multiplies ten fold, dwellings that have remained closed for months on end suddenly come to life once more as their owners arrive to make the most of our Charente Maritime summer sun. Many Parisians have their second homes here, personally I rather like it that they do, it gives the area a slightly more cosmopolitan feel.

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Flip the coin though and life slows down, the school holidays have begun for our children, no more early morning runs back and forth. Teenagers slumber, waking late, they are on vacation, they amble bare footed through the house and out onto the terrace. An afternoon swim and then a siesta in the shade, friends drift in and out, it’s just as it should be.

A trip into town is equally relaxing. Perhaps it is the heat, it is too hot to do anything at any speed right now. During the afternoon most people I suspect prefer the beach to an urban setting. So it actually makes it a good time to stroll around. A couple of guys were enjoying a beer in the shade of a local café

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but other than that all was quiet. I love the way the heat radiates off the old stone walls of these town houses in Marennes, as I said, it’s bakingly hot outside and yet you just know that if you entered through the front doors it would be cool, the thick stone walls cutting out the heat. Inside they will be calm, serene and peaceful. Very rarely are they a statement for modern interior design, and yet it is nearly always utterly perfect. Usually a builder would find a multitude of problems, but they have stood for centuries overlooking the streets and will continue to do so for many more to come and I hope, never changing.

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The 85 meters high spire of the church of Saint-Pierre de Sales overlooks not only the town but the entire Marennes basin and can be seen from miles around.IMG_1221

The beauty of exploring on foot is that you can wander down a tiny alley, never knowing quite what will be at the end. I find hidden doorways rather enchanting.IMG_1224

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As are houses wrapped in their summer clothes.

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And cars parked under the shade of the plane trees including my current favourite, the tiny Fiat 500. Perfect for negotiating impossibly narrow streets!

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But Roddy and I are not on holiday, we are working flat out! So how do we somehow enjoy the summer at the same time. The answer is simple, we stick to our adopted French routine. No matter how busy and how rushed we are, we slow down in the evening. We enjoy an aperitif on the terrace with some simple nibbles, a bowl of olives, some cherry tomatoes, slices of melon, perhaps a little thinly sliced saucisson.

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Somehow sitting outside, letting the sounds of nature wash over us works its magic.

I also find that making the most of the smallest of things makes all the difference. Shopping at the local épicerie where we know the owner, they always seem to have a local piece of gossip that they cannot wait to share!

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and stopping at one of my favourite roadside stalls. They only open for six months of the year and are enormously popular, but it beats hands down the anonymity of the supermarket. People chat to one another as they consider which salad item, fruit or vegetable to buy. It’s almost a social occasion in itself and it forces one to slow down, nothing is every hurried, the selection of food is a serious business and one must take one’s time.

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There is no need to close the car windows or lock the doors.

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The produce is proud to be of local origin and the carrots are unwashed.

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Pesticide free tomatoes, well that was the first time I have seen a sign like this when not shopping in an organic store. People are becoming more and more aware and that can only be a very good thing.

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If you do want to feel the sand between your toes and have the taste of salt on your lips the entire coastline is at your disposal. Broken up into different areas, but it is still possible to find a few hidden gems,

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where you will not be packed in side by side like sun baked sardines! You won’t find deck chairs or sun loungers to rent, but you will find complete tranquility with just a handful of like minded souls.

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And finally, anyone coming to France this summer and driving, be warned. The speed-limit on two-lane roads will drop from 90km/h to 80km/h as of the 1st July. This new reduced speed will be on trial for two years, after which its effectiveness will be reassessed. Despite much opposition the government have pushed this through and are determined to give this a fair trail in an effort to reduce the alarming number of road deaths, of which 55% occurred on country roads. Other speed-limits on motorways and in urban areas will remain the same. The signposts will no doubt still read 90, so you do need to be aware. Even if you know, you can be assured there will be many who will pretend they do not!

63 thoughts on “A Sense of Calm in the Madness of Summer

  • I felt that I was wandering around with you. What a beautiful spot. I did have to laugh though, I live on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Normally a sea side village, however from November to April – Easter it becomes crowded with holiday makers. December to February are the busiest times. The beach foreshore all along the bay becomes a mecca for tents, caravans etc. So crowded. Shopping must be done early or you can forget about getting a park. Our dogs and us are made to only visit the beach between 7pm and 9am. From March to November they can go anytime – of course with us. Oh and internet is so hard. Everyone is down here on their phones and i pads. Forget going to any restaurants or cafes. Our street becomes a speed track as they try and avoid the main road as it becomes a bottle neck. Yet…we love it…we know they can pack their bags and go back to the city and we are still here.

    • It sounds as though you know only too well the tribulations of summer! And endure them we must for it is the season that carries us all through the winter – smile and say thank you on one side, and giggle at the grockles on the other. The speeding traffic always worries me though….. Roddy’s recent escape lingers long in the mind.

  • Summer looks wonderful where you are. Your village sounds a lot like the one I summer in. The population soars and empty streets are full of cars and cyclists. The US once put all speed limits on highways down to 55 mph and now have upped many to 70mps. Crazy. Have a great summer.

  • You have an epicerie! I’m jealous. That’s the one thing my town lacks. As for the rest of it, especially the relaxed meal times, I agree, long may they remain.

  • It is true that the houses are not always statements for modern interior design and, whilst I love the quirky, charming spaces that we have, I sometimes worry that when people book our place that they might be let down. I try to reassure myself that what I fell in love with others will too, but it does cross my mind. Have a great summer. Busy, but knowing when to turn off, is a good way to be.

    • It certainly is – life is meant to be lived, you’re not meant to be just a part of life. That’s my motto, anyway. And don;t worry about your place – it’s you, people should accept it for what it is – all part of a big picture. I know how you feel though, it still never stops one wondering, 🙂

  • How gorgeous Susan. We also live in a summer destination location. It comes as a bit of a shock every year to find no parking spots and the stores filled with people you don’t know. It is quite fun though to watch the happy smiles, and remember why we fell in love with this beautiful corner of the world. This of course pushes property values and now we have a shortage of affordable houses.

    Oh, by the way, did you recieve the photos I sent?
    Ali xxx

    • Ah, yes – the happy people who smile at you little knowing you’re lucky enough to live there all year round. I know how that works 🙂 And then, as you say, property prices – sigh – we can’t have it all! XX

  • Thank you, I much enjoyed the stroll around your village. I’m with you on secret doorways, they’re fascinating as you never now what’s behind them.

  • I keep repeating like a mantra to myself and to my husband that we absolutely must not forget the reduced speed limit when we next return …. I hope it is enforced. Road deaths are still a major issue in France and something needs to be done. Of course the real problem is policing the roads in a country that is vast. I think départements introducing more speed cameras would help. For example in Haute Loire there are many whereas in gentle Cantal they have few and rely on signs that say ‘in Cantal we all drive carefully’ …. umm 😐 Summer in your little haven is entrancing and it is so good to see that the pesticide free message is really beginning to take a hold outside of the bio devotees. Xx

    • I agree with everything you say apart from the speed cameras – those €90 fines for being a kilometre over the limit on a straight empty road always make me cry! 🙂

      • Maybe you will smile a little though when I tell you about our very good friend who was the chef d’équipe of the Gendarmerie in Murat. He lives in a village nearby and not once but twice was caught by one of his own wielding a radar and fined for doing 3 km and 2 km over the 90 respectively. He’s retired now but we do like to rib him about it whenever possible 😆

    • It is indeed, Lisa. Except when it is so HOT that the pool looks inviting all day long. And, of course, the amount of heat output by our lovely fat star is directly commensurate to the amount of sweat output during gardening!

  • Wish they would reduce the speed limits here too, speed kills, a message often repeated and rarely respected.

    • It does indeed, Amanda. We’ve had more than our fair share of close misses here, and seen some dreadful fatal accidents too – crashes which are so out of place on a small country road. Personally I think there are too many people driving cars they have no idea how to drive properly. Modern vehicles are too powerful and people do not learn to drive them sensibly; in particular, no one learns how to stop them in an emergency when needed.

  • Your evening plate and the markets look divine. Ah, traffic. Well, tourists are one reason we are waiting until October to visit. Our France time will be more brief, then on to England. But hopefully there will be less in the crowd zone during our time!

  • you are right …the little things bring the real satisfaction in life. You describe summer as it is in the tourist area. ….
    mucho trafico , mucho tourista but we also find always a silent place to relax with a glass cava and some tapas.

  • First of all THANK YOU for pointing out the reduced speed limit!!! Although it shouldn’t be a problem, as we never had anything else but 50/80km/h and 120km on the motorways in our country. BUT we didn’t realise it was valid as of 1st of July. AND we shall be travelling on this date!
    This ‘promenade’ in your summer town and area was absolutely delightful. Your photos are an ever repeated highlight for anyone loving rural France. They bring out the best of your chosen country. We too live on ‘apéros’, cold soups, grilled veggies with only herbs as spices, large salads with whatever comes to my busy hands, one generous glass of wine and plenty of cold water, crusty bread – and the occasional gateau aux fruits or vegetables.
    Watermelons, for me, is THE summer food. I hack it in mouth-sized pieces, we eat it as a ‘salad’ with crushed pistaches, we pick them up with cake knives from a large bol, we pack our whole faces in them – cheap, wonderful, zero cals, huge fun and wonderful taste.
    How are the doggies? All but one gone? How is the surely desperate Evie-mother? And the chicks, are they laying?
    So much to tell, so little time. You must be utterly snowed uder (ha ha ha ha) with all your activities, even though the kids are on hols.
    Thinking of you and your family. Give them kisses all round, please.
    Kiki & Hero Husband

    • Hello Kiki! Glad to hear you eat the same as we do when it is hot. The thought of having something in the oven makes me cringe!! And as for watermelon – my tribe can devour a whole one before I blink – Roddy has to cut it in half and hide one part or we never get any!!

      Dogs all well (just Igloo and Coco left – Igloo for us and Coco for friends later. We cried of course as they all went, one by one. Evie seemed happy to see them go in some ways, poor thing – they had run her ragged! Chickens all good – summer surfeit of eggs as always, but as ever welcome in salads… chicks growing fast, I’ll send you some photos. Have a great week XXXX

  • Those tiny cars, I have seen them in Italy but they are Italian, no? So cute, can never imagine such a thing here nor such a photogenic car park!

  • Just made your last (beach) photo HH’s iPad wallpaper – the last ones I made myself were in Royan & Normandy…… and before in Lisbon 🙂 Merci ma chérie
    PS: HH said HE was fully aware of the speed reductions. That’s alright then 😉 Of course, that will prolong our already very long journey to and from ‘you know where’ even longer, but safety DOES COME FIRST, I’m glad they went down a notch and I’m sure in 2yrs time nobody will discuss it any more. Any anyway, we go often through dozens of tiny villages with 30 speed limits. THAT’s slow!

    • Yes, the 30’s here are slow too, especially behind ‘un convoi agricole’ – combine, tractors, trailers, bailer etc etc., Arrrrgh – but then, it wouldn’t be summer if we did not have the harvest.

  • It sounds wonderful Susan, tourists notwithstanding! But your lovely garden must still be an oasis of calm and family laughter. Summer has dropped in on us here in the UK too and wow is it hot! We are watering the garden thoroughly every other evening and so far the plants have survived! The pond is going down but I don’t want to use tap water to fill it so we will keep an eye and let nature take its course as far as possible. Our first little cherry tomatoes are growing in their hanging basket and the leeks and beans are on their way. Plans for extended hen run afoot and our two remaining girls are happy and healthy. Having most meals outside now which is lovely and I just adore the quiet stillness of a summer’s evening as the sun goes down – we sat in our corner arbour at the end of the garden with a glass of wine and listened as the birdsong stilled until only the blackbird was still trilling his beautiful song into the dusk. Small plops in the pond told us that the frogs were getting ready for their night-time food forays as we crunched our way back up the gravel path to go indoors. I do hope this weather lasts, it is such a treat for the soul. Have a lovely rest of week and weekend.

    • Hi Marian!! So glad you are getting some sun, finally – hope the water holds out and there is no hose-pipe ban for all the gardeners. It sounds as idyllic there as it is here (I think, perhaps with the pool and the children ‘idyllic’ is not the right word to use! You have a lovely week, too XX

  • Have you ever considered doing a book of your pictures? I find them utterly peace inducing. I can hear the birds and bees, the barking on dogs, feel the warmth of that beautiful summer sun (it’s raining in Vancouver) and taste the freshness of all those veggies. The living in your part of the world truly is drool producing!! I’m so grateful you share. Thank you.

    • It’s a wonderful idea Liane, but I am not sure my photos will stand scrutiny in a large format, and I am certain there is no publisher out there who would do anything anyway – there are much better photographers out there who take proper pictures with proper cameras, 😀 Thnak you for the kind comment, though XX

  • Oh, how I miss those wonderful summers! Having been somewhere in the South of France for many years, at some point during those lazy days of summer, now I read your blog and dream. That warmth…read, heat… that radiates; those wonderful shutters; the slow afternoons; the endless evenings!

  • I, too, have a cute little Fiat 500 in Espresso Brown. Brown hair, brown eyes, Brown last name and brown car. Nothing else will do.

  • Absolutely lovely post Susan. Your photos are beautiful. Hmm, where night that quieter stretch of beach be? We are still pondering coming over that way in the weeks ahead. Enjoy your aperos and a bit of time to yourselves.

  • This is beautifully written! I really enjoy how you captured the beauty and stillness in between your life and everyone’s around you!

  • To walk the streets and see the back doors, imagining the yards behind them, Roses, flower gardens, iron table and two chairs waiting for some to sit and sip a glass of wine.
    Thank your for stirring our minds. Blessings❣️🇺🇸🇫🇷

  • Oh lovely Susan, the photos are again wonderful. Slowing down in the heat seems to be an impossible task here in Sydney, no idea why everyone wants to race around like lunatics. The french have it nailed in that department. Mind you I too find it difficult to cultivate the slowness for summer as everyone else wants to keep doing stuff. So I am making the most of ‘busy’ winter to get lots of projects done. Love the shutters and flowers, we have planted lots but no-one else in our street has. Very few car parking places here have shade trees, Australians are very bad about it, well here in Sydney anyway they don’t like trees in the street either. Another reason to leave. Take care xx

    • Ah yes, I remember you and Harry talking about the lack of trees and so on – your ‘naked’ neighbour’s yard was a curse, seem to remember. Make the most fo winter then so you can sit in the shade when summer comes. Or come back to visit again and escape 🙂 XX

  • A lovely read….just what I needed to cheer me up on a wet and cold Sydney Winter’s Monday. I echo the sentiments of another of your Sydney readers regarding the wild traffic here. Every morning on our drive to work my husband counts the number of cars who just sail through the red light at a particular set of lights near our house….I think the highest count has been 3!!! We look forward to moving on to the country in a few years where things will have a slower pace and where we hope to find life filled with community (and farm gates) ☺️

    • Oh gosh – that sounds dangerous! How horrible, I hope you never get on the wrong side of a car there! I love your sentiment about farm gates, I hope you find some 🙂 Keep safe, please….

  • What a beautiful part of the world you live in, and that beach! No wonder you love it all, it’s so nice to hear someone who is happy with their lot too. It’s still hot here in Edinburgh, the local cafes and bars are doing a roaring trade, it feels almost continental with all the tables and chairs outside, and they all have bowls of water for the dogs, who sit sunning themselves too. xxx

    • Hi Janet! Roddy’s brother lives in Sterling, and he was complaining last week it was hot, 36˚ I think he said. But – make the most of it – you know what happens when January comes around!! Happy you are enjoying it though – it sounds fun and Edinburgh is a wonderful city to sit at a street cafe for a while. Have a wonderful week!

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