The week began like any other week during the summer, warm days and wonderfully long evenings, when I find myself still gardening at 10pm because I’ve totally lost track of time and because it is still light. I’m accompanied by the sound of birds still singing, doves cooing, chickens clucking and cicadas warming up with the rest of the band. I’ve often thought I should find my EarPods and listen to a podcast whilst I am alone with no one to talk to, but just think what I would miss, this natural orchestra is too precious to block out with modern technology.
To think a week ago I donned a hoody at an early morning Brocante with the girls. The crowds were already out in force, Millie had purchased a brand new, unused, pull along suitcase at the first stand we came across. She is now fully ready for her summer travels, but first it acted as a most useful accessory for purchases. Typically however, because we were so well prepared there was nothing that grabbed my attention and so the bag came home empty!
Wandering these narrow streets you really do get a feel for where you are and you can certainly see why we love our small cars, they are so much more manoeuvrable and so much more practical and that’s before we even talk about parking!
A couple of days later and we were heeding the advice of Meteo France. They warned of a huge heatwave, due to affect at least 80% of the country, beginning last Tuesday and lasting until the weekend. The Brevet, the National French exams taken at 15 or 16 years of age and before entry into Lycée was actually scheduled this Thursday and Friday. Due to these soaring temperatures, forecast to reach in excess of 40Celsius, (104 Fahrenheit) it has been postponed until Monday.
Don’t forget most of us don’t have air conditioning. It’s not the ‘norm’ in France. What we have are shutters. You know when you drive through a French village and everywhere looks closed and uninhabited, deserted even. So often there is bustling daily life continuing behind those closed exteriors. You see the shutters keep the sun out. It is totally alien to me and most English people who grew up in the UK to shut out the sun and the light of wonderful summer days. You can tell when it is really hot because even I, we, the family, take to closing the shutters and blocking out the fierce rays. Coupled with the very thick old stone walls it is incredible how cool these old houses remain, even in this infernal heat. Windows remain open, so there is a breeze. When the sun moves around so we open them on that side and then close the other side, simple, old fashioned and effective and it makes it bearable without A/C!
The heat however slows us down, we walk slower and this in turn means we notice so much more. Because no matter where you are in France, within reason of course, there is almost always something to look at. A simple door, a wooden shutter, an old window, ancient stone lintels, it is these tiny intricate details that are so often overlooked, they don’t scream ‘look at me’ and they are not crying out for attention. They are just a part of the make up of centuries old buildings.
Then of course there are the vibrant paint colours, and here in the Charente Maritime we have the hollyhocks. They grow in abundance like weeds. If they are happy they will drop their seeds and reproduce, they demand no special attention, no additional fertiliser, in fact that is a sure way to kill them off. They don’t appreciate excess water either, they might wilt in the heat but they will come back if they are content, year after year rewarding us with incredible displays of bright flowers.
The vines are sunbathing and the grapes are forming fast and swelling quickly.
Water; no matter where – a river, the sea, a swimming pool, even a trickling stream -water is inviting in this heat, it makes us feel cooler just to hear it and see it!
It is set to get just a little cooler by the weekend, back to normal hot summer weather, but not insufferable. Life continues and the potager which I have neglected for a couple of days, for it is always demanding my attention, will finally be rewarded by my presence once more!