Saturday, 26 June 2010

Magic in the air

If you're one of those people who despises so-called rose-tinted, fluffy blog posts (yes, you know who you are!), then look away now. Because in our lovely green Ariège the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the insects are buzzing, people are smiling, and wherever you go, even if it's just to the builders' merchants, you can't help but feel a certain magic in the air.

The summer solstice really does mark the first day of summer here, and never more than this year, after our very, very long winter and pretty dismal spring. With just a week to go before les grandes vacances, the mood is upbeat and full of anticipation. It's deemed acceptable (almost normal) to wear shorts to do your shopping, barbecues are dusted off and butchers are falling over each other to sell the best ready-to-grill brochettes; there's a mad rush for sun cream, magazines are full of last minute diets to prepare your 'bikini-body', and swimming pool chemicals are the product of the moment in the brico sheds (though woe betide you if you're still, like us, looking for garden furniture. That's all sold out ...). The fête season is under way, beginning as usual with the Fête de la Musique, closely followed by the Fête de St Jean, and then - well, all hell breaks loose. It's as if the whole of nature is conspiring to attract us so that we can do nothing but be out of doors, out of our normal lives, out of ourselves. Hell, France are (oh joy) even out of the World Cup, so we don't even have to contend with that ...

The scent and sound of haymaking fill the air from dawn to dusk, and pasture after pasture changes its appearance from shaggy to impossibly neat, each with its stash of round bales. Many of the cattle are up in the estives - the high altitude summer pastures - where it's cooler and the grass lush and filled with nutrients after its six month covering of snow. Tourists and visitors are arriving; summer-only shops and buvettes are opening. Paradoxically, villages appear deserted as shutters stay shut through the day to keep out summer heat (it's said that you can always spot the house of an Anglo-Saxon immigrant by their ever-open shutters). And each day the mountains are a little less white ...

View from the track to Grillou, 2 minutes from the house

Here at Grillou, life has changed its rhythm a bit. Well, quite a lot, actually, because I'm working over the summer for anything up to three days as week as massage therapist at a holistic holiday retreat nearby. I've been a holistic bodywork practitioner for (gulp) over twenty years, though it's a few years since I've had the time to practise professionally. But it's been a big part of who I am for a long time and I've missed it, dreadfully. So when a completely out-of-the-blue opportunity came up a couple of months ago, I just couldn't say no. And it's an absolute joy to be back ... like it's been slumbering, dormant, just waiting to be embraced back into my life. And to be honest, although it takes me away from the réno a bit more than I'd anticipated, it's no bad thing for us here either: I can come to the work fresh each long weekend and truly enjoy doing whatever it is that's next to be done, and after thirteen years of working together under the same roof 24/7, John and I at last get some space to work independently. Life feels more normal, and we're both beginning to sense the balance that we came here to find.

There is a knock on effect, possibly (depending on your perspective) a downside. And that's that after a lot of thought and discussion, we're going to defer the opening of our guest accommodation until 1 April 2011. Partly in the interest of clarity, so that those people who've wanted to book for later this year (and there have been a surprising number) and have been waiting for news of an opening date have got time to make other plans. But partly because the bloody dining room is still a bloody builders' yard, and will be until the bloody builders come back and do their bloody thing in it in (we hope) September, which wouldn't give us long enough to move in afterwards and do all the finishing: limewashing and painting (both of which require scaffolding) and building cupboards and shelves and renovating floors and doing all the other 1001 minor-but-time-consuming things that you never take account of when you're planning a project ...

We are, it seems, in good company. I subscribe to a French magazine, Accueillir, which is aimed at those running maisons d'hôtes; recently they've been contacted by a TV producer looking for people whose projects have been seriously delayed and who are willing to be followed by a production crew for three months while they try to catch up (no, we're not, before you ask!). Apparently, they've been inundated.

Maybe it's la belle saison working its magic.

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