It’s that time of year that always seems to be a bit of a muddle as far seasons are concerned. If you stick to the astronomical calendar then it is still summer for another couple of weeks. If you listen to the gardeners and follow the meteorological system then we have moved into Autumn.
So much of the French year is defined by annual events. Summer is all about holidays and Monday was la rentrée. The unofficial start of autumn in the French calendar. Back to school and back to work. Small shops, boulangeries and cafés, those that do not depend on the summer tourist trade, and who closed for the entire month of August are dusting off the cobwebs and opening their doors. Business is back to normal, offices have reopened and one can get things done once more.
Friends are re-aquainted at the school gate, its a time to stand and talk a little longer, it is as if normal life has resumed.
And although I personally hate it when the children go back to school because I feel a certain emptiness inside and the house is suddenly so much quieter, it is a time when I tend to make new plans and set myself new goals. It is almost impossible to start anything afresh in the summer, but now, just as the children have moved up into new classes and are set for a new round of learning so I too find myself looking towards the future. All will be revealed in the fullness of time, but there will be exciting changes ahead.
And there’s another thing so typically French about la rentrée, ‘what to wear’, at least this is certainly the case in the Charente Maritime. The kids are back in school, everyone is back at work, therefore one should move into autumnal clothing. Gone are the frivolous dresses and shorts of the summer, the pretty tops and bare legs, suddenly everyone is dressing as if it were cold. Never mind that the temperatures are still suited to sunbathing rather than snuggling around a fire, those still showing a healthy amount of suntanned legs and bare arms are now most certainly classified as tourists. I suppose it does depend on where one is in France, but here, it is still wonderfully warm and I haven’t put away my shorts or the outdoor furniture just yet. But as a nod towards the society we live in, or perhaps because I felt the need to be french, I did wear jeans and a crisp shirt when I was in Rochefort yesterday!
All around the grass is still tinderbox dry, grazing pasture is scarce as so many dry hot months have taken their toll. Water levels are low and the farmers are crying out for rain. I cycled down to the marais yesterday, mile after mile of ancient marshland stretched out before me, unchanged for centuries. It is the first time I have spent any time there since the spring and as is always the case when one revisits a place after a considerable length of absence, I was reminded of it’s natural beauty and the peace and serenity all around. I didn’t see another soul, there were no car engines to spoil the silence, just the sound of insects and birds, the occasional swish of a cow’s tail battling the presence of an irksome fly and the faint crunching of my bike tyres on the dusty tarmac. For an hour I was in a completely different world, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the coast and yet only a few kilometres away.
However, the evenings are beginning to shorten, perhaps the only nod to the changing seasons in our home are the lights that illuminate the interiors a little earlier now. The wonderfully decadent chandelier in the summer kitchen/potting shed has been turned on for the first time in months, it now comes complete with cobweb and resident spider!
The lights in the house cast a warm glow over the terrace and as you might have guessed I am a little obsessed with chandeliers, you just cannot have too many in my opinion!
Log stacks are being replenished around the village
and there are hints that change is afoot. The excitement of summer is over, Christmas is still a long way off and the next big French holiday is not until the vacances de la toussaint at the end of October. But perhaps the biggest giveaway is the colour, the lushness of spring and abundance of vibrant richly tinted flowers have gone, the grass is no longer green and yet the leaves have not yet taken on their rich red hue of fall. It is as if fifty percent of the colour has been removed from the canvas in these early September days.
At home though, summer is winning the calendar battle. The wisteria is refusing to cease flowering and it is definitely on a mission to see if it can completely cover our house.
Our roses are flowering again, there are still plenty of melons in the garden and we are still eating dinner outside. That to me is something worth celebrating!
And finally, for anyone in the area who would like some figs. Please do get in touch, we have as always an abundant crop and they are going to waste. We are giving box loads away as fast as we can but still there are more and more. They are totally organic, spray free and utterly delicious!