It’s been hot here — mind you that doesn’t seem to make us unique this year. Is Someone trying to point out to Trump that global warming really is occurring? Actually, we haven’t been in the formal French heatwave zone: temperatures down here have been elevated but not excessively so for this area although they are rarely this high in June. We have registered 36 degrees in the shade on the patio. In the evenings the temperature doesn’t drop below 20, and the pool water is now over 30 degrees. So we lie under a sheet with a fan on and the windows open and that seems to work quite well.
Mind you the problem with the open windows strategy is that you do get noise. The morning alarm clock is the chattering flock of Bee-eaters that come over around six. Sometimes there are other things: the other day around five, while it was still dark, we were woken by the sound of sheep bells, barking dogs and shouted commands. An enormous torrent of sheep flowed along the road by the house being driven north into the mountains for summer.
The heat has however produced what was initially a rather troubling phenomenon which has ended up as a very interesting illustration of our failure to completely adapt to France. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with swimming pools (which until we moved here was us) you need to keep the water circulated by a pump in summer to avoid algal build-up. So you have a timer which, at this time of year, normally switches the pump on at various times for a total of 16 hours a day. We bought a new timer in spring and were somewhat perplexed to find that in the last couple of weeks it’s been rather arbitrarily tripping and switching off. This is not what you want, particularly if you are planning to spend some days away.
After a real struggle trying to find a pool expert who wasn’t triple booked a very helpful guy came over and basically said that the only problem was that, courtesy of the hot weather, the pump was overheating; a diagnosis that seems to be correct. We now realise that the problem is actually partly of our own making: we inherited a pool roof that was falling to bits and last year Chris made a new one. He did however make it with a Swansea mindset and made sure that it was waterproofed with a thick black synthetic fabric. That, it turns out, was fine against rain but in the extravagant sunlight we get down here simply helped heat up the pump chamber. A quick remodelling to allow better airflow and a replacement of the black covering by white paint seems to have done the job.
Rather sadly the heat may have been responsible for the death of an elderly neighbour who would have made 90 this week. We heard the news from our local Police Municipale lady who was standing by our house waiting for the Gendarme Nationale to turn up. The frontiers between the various French police forces are ill-defined – at least to us – but it is now evident that the remit of the Police Municipale does not cover dealing with the paperwork of death.
Anyway went to the funeral – the obsèques – on Wednesday and found it a very curious affair. Totally secular, it was held in the crematorium room, which most definitely was not a chapel. The only imagery was a stained glass window that could have been a sunrise or sunset. The family and friends gathered, the coffin was rolled in and a suited official announced that if anybody want to say anything they could. He then switched on the most dirge-like performance of Albinoni’s Adagio you can imagine and left us to it for 20 minutes. During that time no one spoke. Then the suited official returned and offered us roses to put on the coffin, which, having dutifully done, we left quietly. And that was that. It was an extraordinarily empty event: “haunted by the absence of God” as the saying goes. We left at the end no wiser to who our neighbour had been and what he had done.
On a routine doctor’s visit the following day Chris mentioned the void of the obsèques to our GP (the French system allows for small chat with your doctor: indeed it seems to be expected). He thought for a moment and gave a little half shrug of dismissal “C’est la vie”. Then with a wave of the hands he seemed to scatter away any thought of mortality.
Secular France enjoys life but falls silent in the face of death.