This time last year we wrote about the imminence of spring and warmer days. But this year has been different: the south of France has not been exempt from the cold weather that has gripped much of the western Europe . Yes, the almond blossom is out and the sun shines, but we have had a succession of cloudy days where, when the wind blows, we could think ourselves back in northern Europe.
Popular images of Provence and the Côte d’Azur are dominated by summer. They are of blue skies, unblemished by clouds, of streets shaded from a baking sun by verdant plane trees, of grapes ripening on green vines and dazzling beaches. They are landscapes populated by bronzed figures wearing the minimum possible consistent with fashion and custom.
Winter is very different. The sun may shine, but it can give more light than heat. Everyone is walking around in scarves and padded jackets. The cyclists who speed down the road have balaclavas under their helmets, wear long sleeves and grip their handlebars in warm gloves. Those beautiful plane trees are bare of leaves, but may also have been trimmed into awkward, even grotesque, shapes, so that they’ll grow better. This is the time of year when the vines too are pruned of the long stems which bore the grapes last summer, and now resemble little stumps.
Instead of the cafes and restaurants spilling out across the pavements, any outdoor areas are deserted apart from some disparate and chilled smokers. Chairs and tables are covered up, or at least stacked away. Inside, however, the cafes are warm, crowded and the babble is in French rather than in the languages of northern Europe that dominate in summer. Restaurants, however are often shut entirely, so that in some small towns and villages it’s not uncommon to find that only one is left open for business.
Both shops and restaurants often bear a sign on their closed doors reading “Congés Annuel” . The owners are taking a well-earned break before the hectic spring and summer months. Some owners and staff migrate to the ski slopes for trade there while others simply take a long holiday.
At the time of writing (23rd/24th Feb) we are awaiting, not the sun’s return but a savage cold spell from northern and eastern Europe. One weather forecast has, for us, the hitherto unseen symbols of snow. If we get it it’s going to be interesting to see how Taradeau, more at home with sun than snow, manages.