Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blowing Hot and Cold

Most mornings when we open the curtains, there is mist lying between us and the hills. There is always a question mark hanging over the day – what will the weather do today?
Down in the Vienne, there was no mist.  At 7am, we would open the shutters, and there would be the sun, brilliantly clear, already heating the clay tiles and bleaching the grass. Summer was relentlessly certain and endlessly there.
That was part of the problem. It was just too hot. When we moved into the house, in early June, the grass was white and brittle. We were grateful for the shade of acacias which roared from dawn till dusk with exhausting bees, and for the march of apple and peach trees whose blossom enchanted and whose too-abundant fruit drew wasps and hornets to feast on the fallen.
That first year we planted out peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, chillies, butternut squash and melons: they all thrived and produced excellent crops. I bottled ratatouille, and froze pints of soup which would be wonderful in the chill of autumn and the depths of winter. 
The following year was a cool summer, and wet. We learned that the plums came every alternate year; probably the trees were exhausted and had to recover. But the year after that we were back in the heat again. The soil baked so hard that it was impossible to weed, even by hand with a trowel. The only way to work at all was for one of us to go in with a fork, to break the surface, and the other to go on hands and knees and force the roots out. 
Watering was to be done by 10am or after 7pm, and hose pipes were banned. The authorities checked: they went out looking for suspiciously green patches from the air. A dear friend who was working in her garden (slightly green in places) was astonished to see a helicopter coming straight up her drive towards her. No more gardening in a bikini for her that year.
We lived in the half light, with shutters pulled to against the sun which rotted the upholstery of anything left near the windows.  We went barefoot on hot tiles inside the house, but daren’t go outside without shoes for fear of burnt soles.  We had a small plunge pool, and that first summer we used it quite frequently, late in the day, when the sun had gone behind the high hedges. We would sink nervelessly into the tepid water and just wallow, too wrung out to try to swim.
Even the weather reports in the paper couldn’t think of new ways to say, it will be sunny.
We went out one day in the air conditioned car, to buy an ice cream maker. It was 40C, and when we got back to the car, it wouldn’t start: the garagiste said the engine didn’t like that sort of temperature, and the only thing to do was to throw a bottle of water over it to cool it down.
Sleep was frequently impossible, with all windows open, fly screens in place, and a ceiling fan whirring. It was interminable.
So each morning, when we draw the curtains, and look at the mist, we relax, just a little. It’s summer, but it’s gentle.  We’ve done our time in the sun.

©lms 2011

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