Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Turn, turn, turn

I love this time of year here in France; there's a real sense of everything coming back to life. Not just the potager (first broad beans nearly ready for picking. Yes!!) and the trees, the birds and the rest of the natural world, but also the towns and villages and people.

There's still a very seasonal outlook on life here. People's daily lives wax and wane with the seasons in a way that seems long gone in twenty-first century 24/7 England; if you travel around La France Profonde in winter you'd be forgiven for thinking that the population had been evacuated. Shutters stay shut, markets are a shadow of their summer selves, restaurants are closed, streets are empty. As the leaves emerge and the countryside greens up, life begins again in earnest; potagers are worked, people stroll around or sit outside their houses, the festival seasons begin, shops and restaurants dust off the cobwebs of their winter closures. The pace builds as spring and summer progresses, rising to the frantic peaks of July and August (la saison) when it feels as if the entire populace is on the streets and every day brings yet another fête. At the beginning of September, everything collapses in a post-orgasmic torpor: beaches and roads empty, everyone returns to work and school, normal life is resumed. This is the time of La Rentrée - the return.

Even the shops - yes, even the big brico sheds - have their seasons. You try buying a wood burning stove in April, a lawn mower in August or a barbecue in December. I've been trying to buy some more wild bird seed now for a month - can I find any? No, here one buys bird seed only between November and February (I've got quite used to the slow, pitying shake of the head and the unspoken "Bof! Les Anglais ..."). Actually, although I know it drives some Anglo-Saxon immigrants mad, I've come to like it. It feels like a much more natural way of living; more grounded, more responsive to the earth. After a while you begin to feel the seasons moving inside you like the tide.

Having said all that, one of the (many) reasons that I'm happy in Ariège is that life does go on in the winter. So there are concerts and events all year round, only a handful of places do the seven-month-closure bit, and the outside tables in bars and restaurants are busy all year (compare and contrast the cassoulet town of Castelnaudary, for example, close to where we lived when we first moved to France, where the cafés and restos didn't even put their tables outside until June). I just wish I could find some bird food.

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