Friday, 16 September 2011

The fifth season

There's a very distinctive feel to this time of year. It's not summer, nor is it yet autumn; the days are quite noticeably shortening and the mornings are heavy with dew; the light is clear and golden. In traditional Chinese philosophy we're in the middle of the fifth season: late summer. Beginning somewhere around the third week in August and lasting through to the autumn equinox, late summer is a time of richness and of harvest, and belongs to the Earth element, which provides us with all the nourishment and security we need to live through the cycle of the year.

Golden September light in Ariège

Earth is a point of stillness: after a summer of long hot days, late nights, holidays, fêtes and normal day to day routines thrown to the winds, it's a slowing down, a coming home, a preparation for the quiet reflection of autumn and winter. Interestingly, French culture, with its huge focus on la rentrée - for everyone, not just for school students - knows all about that. Life is in transition between the extravert, yang summer period and the yin, inward-looking days of winter where shutters are shut and life revolves around keeping the woodburner going. (I'm talking figuratively, of course: anyone who's read much of this blog will know that at Grillou we spend much of our time outside in tee shirts even in mid winter).

Take a trip to any agricultural co-op or even to the supermarket at this time of year and you'll be presented with a vast array of preserving jars and pans, thermometers, automatic sterilisers and every other possible accoutrement; late summer is also the time to fill the storehouse (tell me about it ... having just managed to finish conserving the eighteen kilos of green beans that my mere three rows of plants produced this year we're now knee deep in aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, quinces, squash, melon, grapes, walnuts, crab apples, figs .....). In this land of duck, any self-respecting paysanne Ariégeoise over 50 will as I speak be filling her larder with jars of confits, soups, stews and beans cooked in duck fat, and foie gras, not to mention - judging by the extraordinary number of tomato plants that grow in the average potager round here - hundreds of pots of tomatoes conserved in every which way.

Jars in my larder: a paysanne in the making?

Late summer is almost always a particularly lovely time to be here in Ariège, where an Indian summer is the rule rather than the exception, often going on until late November. We're having one now - the last two weeks have seen temperatures in the late twenties and early thirties, and it's still perfectly warm enough to have dinner outside, even if - like us - you don't quite get your act together to eat before 9pm. Out and about the light is golden, balmy and has a dream-like quality, especially in the early mornings and at sunset.

Our oleander bush still thinks it's high summer ....

And next year, of course, you'll be able to experience all this for yourselves here at Grillou, because I'm now able to tell you - finally, definitively and without wobbling - that we shall be open for guests from 2 April 2012, and will start to take firm bookings from the end of next month .... Watch this space!

No comments: