An Inclement May

Astonishingly it has continued to be rather cold, cloudy and wet this month. Here of course excess rain (in moderation) is something of a blessing rather than a curse and the result has been an extraordinary explosion of plants and flowers at a time of year when normally they are beginning to wither and fade . The poppies in particular have been astonishingly spectacular.

 

So far the wet weather has been good for the vines, but people are saying that unless it gets drier and sunnier very soon then matters will be difficult. What really worries farmers is the possibility of hail storms which would destroy the delicate new grapes. We have certainly had some torrential downpours with deafening thunder.

Yes the sky really was this dark over our house

We’ve never seen our swimming pool so full!

Matters to do with vines are made far more serious in our immediate area because probably 95% of the agriculture is simply vineyards. Some sort of agricultural diversification wouldn’t be a bad idea. Anyway, as we look into the final week of May it does look as if things are improving and the chance of rain is a little less than we’ve had. We may even get to use the newly replenished swimming pool again soon.

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Avoiding Cannes Film Festival

At the end of two weeks in which the phrase “Cannes Festival” has not been far away from the front page of the world’s press, we have a terrible confession to make. Along with almost everybody in our church, a mere 200 metres from the Palais des Festivals, we find it actually a nuisance.

Putting up this year’s poster: note the man on the left.

rolling out a red carpet at Cannes

Not THE red carpet, but you can’t let the jury walk up ordinary steps

That all-important selfie

 

Roads are sealed off, there are limousines everywhere, you’re in permanent danger of being run over by self-important people with badges, and parking becomes even more difficult than usual. Indeed, we saw one incident where someone from the film world felt they could hold up an entire line of traffic while, getting into their limousine, they paused to make a phone call. Ah what it is to be a god amongst mere mortals. Actually we did have a number of festival attendees come into church and that was great.

You can tell which are the popular films which people want to watch.

Man in white suit near red carpet

You have to be dressed right for Cannes

Although we were only there briefly on the Sunday mornings before and during the festival, there do seem to have been both literal and metaphorical clouds hanging over it this year. We fell sure you’ve picked up that there have been a number of people who are conspicuous by their absence, including Harvey, Kevin, Woody and Roman. It also seems there’s been a shortage of films to get really excited about. Perhaps more obviously it was that actually, sunshine has been in short supply. Certainly the two days when we popped by were cloudy and rainy. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to be the proverbial fly on the wall and seeing everyone running about getting excited about who knows what.

Anyway it’s now over for another year. Hurrah!

No he’s not proposing, he’s getting her to pose for a photograph

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Church events

We don’t usually devote a whole post to church events, even though we are heavily involved in Holy Trinity Church Cannes, but this week is the exception. Why? Well first, Chris was officially licensed as a lay reader last Sunday. He started the official course (Certificate in Christian Studies), at the beginning of 2016, and completed it in almost exactly two years. It involved a lot of studying and essay writing, but we’re happy to say that he received top marks for all the essays. In addition, he had to show he could preach, lead services and prayers and help at communion. Well he’s been doing that for thirty years…

Note the blue scarf!

As always with these things, there was paperwork to complete, but finally it was all done. Our chaplain Giles is the area dean for the Anglican churches in this part of France, so he was able to conduct the licensing. Chris agreed to uphold the faith and sound teaching, the congregation promised to pray for and support him, and Giles presented him with a copy of the New Testament, and a Reader’s scarf. For those of you not in the Anglican tradition, this is something that’s worn over a surplice for those church which wear robes. As we don’t we aren’t sure how often it will be used, but it’s nice.

 

The second event was an Ascension Day service. Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, and the various Anglican churches along the Cote d’Azur take advantage of this by holding a joint service. As in other years, this was held at the home of the chaplain for the very small Lorgues fellowship, about 20 minutes drive from where we live.

Meeting, greeting and having coffee before the service

Watching the weather forecast we were all rather apprehensive of a sudden torrential downpour, since the service and the following bring-and-share lunch had to be outside. But though there was cloud, there was also sun (in fact it did pour with rain but, almost miraculously, only when most people had gone and we were just finishing putting the final chairs and tables away).

Chris leading the service

The service brought together just over 60 people representing churches from Menton Marseilles, with Monaco, Cannes, and St Raphael in between, a contingent from Grenoble, and not forgetting Lorgues. We had a retired bishop (Michael Marshall) and about four vicars. For some reason Chris was asked to lead the service. An unusual distraction (at least compared to Cannes) was the sound of Golden Orioles and Turtle Doves in the background.

Bring-and-share lunch after the service: a good opportunity to get to know people from the other churches

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Caring for Courmettes

Weather-wise things have been very strange here. After one short day in which the temperature was warm enough for us to swim in the pool, rain and cloud has continued. In one sense we are very grateful for this – everywhere is wonderfully green – but it’s amazing, after getting used to daily sun, how spirit-dampening repeated days of grey cloud may seem.

We have been up to Courmettes twice in the past ten days; mainly it’s been so that Chris can give his celebrated walk on the landscape, history and geology, which everyone enjoys. It has however allowed us to see some of the continuing work going on at Courmettes.

Roman road on Domaine des Courmettes

On the curve of the Roman road that runs through the domaine

After the major (and very welcome) roof refurbishment, French, Swiss and Dutch volunteers have been working steadily to tidy up the inside and do some of the long-needed maintenance around the main buildings. With the wedding season about to start, it’s been an enormous relief to see the work programme completed in time. Well done to all!

Courmettes volunteers gardening in the mist

Working on flowerbeds in the mist

Here’s a selection of photos. The first week we were up the cloud was down (rather disappointing for the walk as we didn’t get the great views), and the second it was merely a little cloudy.

Courmettes volunteers helping to build a stone wall

Building a stone wall behind the marquee that’s used for weddings

The new sustainable garden is taking shape

The Dutch group created new paths outside the old building

And finally, you may not think this picture is very significant, but it shows that the entrance to the car park no longer has huge holes in it. It’s being repaired courtesy of the local authorities.

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Spring retrospective

Last week we were in the UK to see our remaining parents and for the interment of Chris’ mum’s ashes. Meteorologically it was all very curious. We left the south of France still struggling into early spring and we came back six days later to find that summer had started. Indeed, yesterday (27 April) we actually swam in our pool. So, before the long cold wet spring becomes merely a distant memory, here are some photos.

These was taken above Draguignan on 10 April. You can see rain moving in across the Massif des Maures. Further down the hill the slopes were covered with irises.

Above Draguignan with cloud and rain moving in from Massif des Maures

Irises on the hill above Draguignan

These photos below were taken above Lac Ste Croix on 14 April not long after more cold rain had brought snow to the higher hill. The level of water is more than simply a scenic feature, it confirms that the vital reservoir for the region is now full – we may be able to keep filling our swimming pool in summer.

Lac Ste Croix full of water with snow on the hills in the distance

Snow on the mountains above Gorges du Verdon, above Lac Ste Croix

Finally, flying back from the UK, Chris was able to take a photo of our house from the air. Follow the road from left to right over the green fields near the top centre of the picture and come to a house surrounded by green. Ours is the next house as you move to the right.

La Pouponne from the air

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Sillans-la-Cascade and the tidying up of France

One of the many little villages that stud the rolling and wooded expanse of countryside to the north of us is Sillans-la-Cascade. You don’t need a vast insight into the French language to expect a cascade or waterfall here and you would not be disappointed. In fact from looking at the geology, the waterfall at Sillans is probably the last remainder of what would have been a majestic series of cascades in the Var as the waters running off from the south-western Alps flowed seaward across a lines of limestone cliffs. Now the region’s invaluable water is tamed, managed and pumped away well before it gets into the streams and most of the waterfall sites are dry.

We have visited Sillans several times and indeed cycled through it – the new and ambitious EuroVelo 8 passes through it – but it was only recently that we got a good look at the waterfall.  Here the River Bresque curves round the village and plunges over 40 m vertically down into a large pool. Writing this as we do at after a protracted period of torrential rain it’s fun to imagine what it looks like now but even when we saw it at the very start of April it was still very impressive.

The waterfall at Sillans-la-Cascade

Warning notice near Sillans waterfallIt seems evident that for a long time there were, as was habitual in the undisciplined world of old rural France, all sorts of ways by which you could get in front of, above and below the waterfall, some of which were clearly remarkably dangerous. Now, as is increasingly the way everywhere, the possibility of any sort of uninhibited access is being eliminated. Reality is being regulated. So, as is now manifestly plain from the abundant signage and from nigh-impenetrable wood picket and wire fencing, there is now only one way to visit the waterfall. So the visitor walks down a well-marked and managed path – noting the warnings every few metres against falling rocks, erosion and the danger of tripping –  down to a platform (securely railed, of course) from which you can view the cascade and its plunge pool. It’s a fine waterfall, backed by a considerable thickness of calcareous tufa, formed by the precipitation of calcium carbonate over thousands of years from the very hard water here.

viewing platform for the waterfall at Sillans

The village – population a mere 600 – is pleasant, particularly if you haven’t seen many of the other villages of Provence. It has narrow winding streets of high, terraced houses – no two the same – that seem to be huddled together for security. There are some restaurants and coffee shops and some walks but overall Sillans still conveys the sense of belonging to another age. However, as the managed nature of the waterfall demonstrates, there is now a determined effort to tidy up the village and its environs and bring it into the 21st century. There is glossy signage, a digital noticeboard and – far less welcome –  managed paying car parks. Sillans has clearly set its heart on being on today’s tourist map: a model village of the rural tranquillity that we imagine the old France to be.

Yet if you look closely there are here, as there are elsewhere across France, hints of a past that was not at all tranquil. There are the remains of stout castle walls and you find yourself wondering: against what fears and what enemies were these built to resist?  The very solid central building that now houses the Mairie speaks too of sterner times.

Sillans-la-Cascade from the chapel of St Vincent

Memorial to man "killed by Germans" in August 1944 near SillansYet it is not simply the distant past that was uneasy here. Walking up above the village through the woods,we came across two memorials to men who had been executed “by the Germans” on 19 August 1944. It’s a slightly curious date: the seemingly authoritative article in Wikipedia on Operation Dragoon – the invasion of the South of France – puts the Allied lines well north of this point a day earlier.  It’s tempting to speculate. Did a pocket of German troops find themselves cut off and surrounded in Sillans? Were these men hostages who were killed by desperate, frightened soldiers? Or were they just caught in crossfire?

Some things in rural France are not easily tidied up and its history is one of them.

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Climate Change(s)

Chris came across some discussion on the web this week about whether it was better to talk about Global Warming or Climate Change. He cautiously prefers the term “climate change” because it carries with it the idea that global warming doesn’t simply involve an increase in temperature but also brings with it all sorts of other meteorological phenomena. And certainly we’ve had some very odd weather at the moment. In fact as we draft this on Thursday we have had four days of almost continuous rain coupled with thunder, gales and temperatures below 10°. There has been snow down to 1000m, wild seas and at least one tornado along the coast.

Snow down to 1000m

Wind, wild waves and cloud on the coast

Now of course we can’t complain about the rain: there was widespread concern about the low rainfall last year and the water table is still lower than anybody would like. Given that the economy round here is dominated by the vine, the prospect of another dry year was being viewed with great dismay. But it’s bizarre that coming into the middle of April we are still donning coats and having the heating on. This is a season where the first brave souls should be baring almost all on the beaches, not wandering around grey-faced wrapped up in quilted jackets and waterproofs. The fact that it is normally so sunny here means that what in Swansea would be considered a unremarkable week is treated as a near catastrophe. As a gloomy pharmacist said to Chris, “Everybody gets depressed in weather like this.”

A water-logged vineyard near Taradeau

A water-logged vineyard near Taradeau

The Florièye full of water

Here’s the Florièye at Taradeau full of water. Compare it with the pictures on 31st March’s blog!

Florieye in flood from the Taradeau bridge

And here’s another photo taken the same day but in the afternoon after some torrential downpours

There was an indication this week of another sort of climate change. When you move to a new country you are surprised by those things that everybody takes for granted; but no less notable are those things that you would take for granted but which “the locals” find surprising. And this week there has been enormous consternation, indeed wrath, about the fact that President Macron addressed a gathering of Catholic Bishops. He didn’t admit to being a Catholic and he was careful to point out that they merely had a right to offer advice, but nevertheless the very fact that he spoke to the bishops has aroused enormous anger in certain political circles.

In France, la laïcité, “secularism”, is in a real sense, the state religion, and for over a hundred years an enormous gap has been carefully maintained between church and state. Yet la laïcité – like atheism generally – is something that while it may move heads, doesn’t do much for hearts. People defend it as a concept but it has no temples, no worshippers and consoles no one. No one seems sure the extent to which this meeting with the bishops reflects M. Macron’s personal beliefs or whether it is a shrewd – and he is remarkably shrewd – political move to woo religious voters who might otherwise be tempted by the extreme right. Nevertheless, not just Catholics in France but also Protestants have been heartened by his meeting with the bishops. The climate here too may be changing.

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