Sunday, 26 April 2009

Has anyone got an ark?

It's hard to believe just how much it's been raining here over the last couple of weeks. Only a week ago we had, apparently, over 8 centimetres of rain in 24 hours; today has got to be up there somewhere too. Rivers are running high, and the avalanche risk in the Couserans Pyrénées this week was 5 out of 5. Indeed our intempéries are the talk of our part of France, with the number of leading articles in our regional daily La Dépêche du Midi growing in direct proportion to the level of rainfall. The greatest indignation is reserved for the fact that this winter the weather in France has been turned on its traditional head, with unusual and almost continuous anticyclonic conditions in the north keeping the Atlantic depressions down here in the south, where (we think) they shouldn't be, while offering bright and sunny conditions to those northerners more accustomed to winter grey skies and rain.

Bizarrely, while our track is running a river tonight and our broad beans have taken up breaststroke, Friday was almost too hot to be outside; sunhat, shorts and strappy were still too much in the way of clothing, and I had to keep taking refuge from grass mowing duties in the shade. Today, though, was a different matter. Especially when the day's task involved sorting out and organising the contents of our brico workshop to make it possible to find things in less than a week (is it me? Or does everybody's workshop get like that?). We're now on Day Three of this unedifying task (there is a reason why it's taking so long; let me just say it involves an angle grinder, a cement floor and a foresight failure) and so desperate to finish it that even the thought of getting cold and wet wasn't enough to put us off. By the end of the morning, though, I'd lost all feeling in my fingers and was becoming hypothermically challenged, so after a bowl of porridge (porridge! In the south of France! In April!) we decided - slightly guiltily - to slope off to an afternoon showing of Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema in Foix.

Going to the cinema in Ariège is always a thoroughly pleasant experience. All our cinemas are independantly owned, so no chains, no multiplexes, and best of all (at the Rex in Foix at least) no popcorn. But you do get a big basket of cushions to help yourself to, and the most comfortable seats of any cinema I know. The audience is invariably both appreciative and involved. One of the first films I saw here was La Marche de l'Empereur (March of the Penguins): when the female penguins made it back from the sea to feed the chicks that had been left with their fathers, everybody spontaneously applauded. And this afternoon's audience was no exception. In spite of the fact that the film, unusually, was being shown as VO (version originale) and so even the non-Hindi bits involved sub-titles, the whole audience joined together on a palpable emotional roller coaster: from the collective sharp intakes of breath to the empathic groans of shock and pain; from the standing ovation at the end to the clapping in time with the music of the Bollywood-style credits; and even to the two elderly women next to me shouting out the all-important name of the third musketeer ...

I loved and was in awe of the film. It was both feelbad and feelgood at the same time. It started in a Bombay that I knew and ended in a Mumbai that I don't. It was, amongst many other things, a fairy tale, and like all good fairy tales had a very dark side indeed. And it carried us all into it and with it to such an extent that it was a true surprise to walk out of the cinema and find ourselves in France, in the rain.

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