À LA MOD

As the sea­sons change, Ian Moore rev­els in the prepa­ra­tions for colder times to come

Living France - - Contents -

Columnist Ian Moore re­veals why he is happy for the warm days of sum­mer to slip away

So what do the French call an In­dian Sum­mer then?” I asked my wife lazily as I set­tled back into the lounger on the ter­rasse, try­ing not to spill my pastis. “Un été in­dien,” she replied, des­per­ately try­ing to keep the pot plants and potager ad­e­quately wa­tered from the dwin­dling well source, even though we were now deep into Septem­ber.

“At last,” I said, tip­ping my Panama down on to my nose, “some­thing we can all agree on.”

A cou­ple of months on and those balmy days are long be­hind us and you know what? I don’t re­ally miss them.

The beauty of this idyl­lic part of ru­ral France, and France gen­er­ally as far as I can make out, is the sea­sons: the change from one to the other, the depth and se­ri­ous­ness of each one. The spring is ri­otous and barely con­trol­lable; the sum­mer, hazy and slow; the au­tumn, won­der­fully, colour­fully in­de­ci­sive and the win­ter, some­times as bru­tal as old school Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda, harsh and mono­chrome. I love that.

It’s a lit­tle known fact that the orig­i­nal work­ing ti­tle for 50 Shades of Grey was ‘Bri­tish Weather’; Vi­valdi, for in­stance, could never have been from the Bri­tish Isles, but like ev­ery­thing here in France there is se­ri­ous prepa­ra­tion to be done, along­side im­per­cep­ti­ble change.

The well pump has to be dis­man­tled and put away be­fore the deep frost that’s to come, a job far eas­ier than the an­nual ‘try and do this with­out swear­ing in front of the chil­dren’ rig­ma­role of set­ting the thing up. The med­lar fruit has to be har­vested and left to ripen be­fore it’s re­motely ed­i­ble. The ton of win­ter fire­wood will be de­liv­ered and dumped, be­fore it has to be stacked neatly and ac­ces­si­bly. A thing of beauty in it­self.

Drive around ru­ral France and you’ll see wood stacked in a way that’s al­most an art form. One-up­man­ship and ri­valry driv­ing the thing, to the ex­tent that you’ll see a year’s worth of do­mes­tic fire­wood out, road­side, open to the of­ten ruth­less win­ter el­e­ments, and why? Be­cause it’s stacked like a Ro­man mo­saic, that’s why, and the world must know.

Other changes from au­tumn to win­ter are less ob­vi­ous. The vi­brant farm­ers’ market be­comes a pale shadow of its sunny-months self as only the hardier sell­ers re­main, mainly the lo­cals and es­pe­cially the older lo­cals for whom the market is a tra­di­tion and a weekly so­cial catch up. And this older gen­er­a­tion of ru­ral work­ers don’t change their cloth­ing, no mat­ter what the sea­son of­fers. Blue, heavy-duty dun­ga­rees for the men, with a cot­ton checked shirt be­neath and an un­com­fort­able polyester dress for the women, with a work­man­like house­coat to top it off. Both may roll sleeves up or down de­pend­ing on the weather, but rarely more than that.

The an­i­mals pre­pare too; the larger ones grow a new top­coat, our goats and horses de­velop fleeces and collars like a 1970s foot­ball man­ager and the dogs stop be­ing irritated by pass­ing lizards and un­wel­come guests in their fur. The hens may slow their egg pro­duc­tion. Every­one pre­pares, every­one is brac­ing them­selves.

Be­ing a city boy, I thought that it would take me years to get used to these sea­sonal rit­u­als, that I would twitch at the prospect of weather-in­duced power cuts, wood chop­ping and morn­ings so cold and vi­cious you could call them Nordic Noir. Not a bit of it; rather than take to it like a duck to a frozen pond, I en­joy the changes im­mensely, even grum­ble if the cross­over takes too long.

I re­mem­ber ly­ing back on that lounger ex­cited by the im­mi­nent de­liv­ery of my fire­wood, and I put down my glass con­tently. Pastis, a sea­sonal drink it­self for me, would shortly be re­placed by the lo­cal hooch, pousse d’épine, and I wel­comed that too. A harsh win­ter com­ing? Pah! A mayfly could sur­vive win­ter on that stuff.

Bring it on.

Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­moore.info

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