It’s September 1st, and someone has turned the sun off.
The schools go back on Tuesday; the shops are full of mothers trying to decide which really is the best calculator, and not the one Child wants because Best Friend has the same model. The mannequins in the clothes stores are wearing wool and raincoats and boots. The colours have turned dark.
July was wet and ruined the tourist trade’s balance sheets. Now, you have to wonder at people not coming to Brittany because it was raining. If you are going to choose the far north-west of France, the bit that sticks out into the Atlantic, for your main holiday of the year, you know to bring your umbrella. Apparently the financial squeeze made people demand more for their money: sunshine, or the deal’s off. It rained; they stayed at home and sulked.
I never really got the French grandes vacances until this year. Down south, where half the time we huddled behind closed shutters, fanning ourselves and mopping our brows with wet flannels, we didn’t really see any tourists. They were either at the beach, near La Rochelle, or in private villas with pools. The roads remained quiet.
Here there are beaches a-plenty, and events organised for every day of the week. There are music festivals – Les Grandes Charrues, which draws people like Bob Dylan, and 180,000 spectators, and Le Petit Village, a couple of kilometres from here, where they have all manner of French artists. 8000 people turned up, and we never heard a thing. Sea-shanty festivals at the coast, rock, pop, punk, folk, jazz , classical – it’s all here.
There are the son et lumières at ruined abbeys like Bon Repos, and night-time hikes. There’s walking chest-high through the water across the Bay of St Brieuc. There are cycle races, and old car races. Our next village had a speed trial and hill climb round the fields of maize and up the roads and through the farms. (We didn’t hear that either.)This weekend there is a vintage car race round St Brieuc itself – Model T Fords and Porsches and anything in between.
It’s been an amazing summer. It’s been so hot that I couldn’t sit up here under the roof to work. We’ve lived in shorts and tee shirts, which we never did down south, where covering up was the name of the game. I even dug out my swimsuit. (Rather like having a wasp in the room, I like to know where it is. I may not do anything about it, but I feel one should keep one’s enemy in the sights.)
Today, I am back in cardigan, long trousers, and a scarf to keep my neck warm. It’s as though the weather’s giving a nudge to the rentrée, a little kindness to say that it’s time to stop playing now, and get back to work and school. Our Parisian neighbours had a wonderful month, with lots of visitors staying, getting fit and tanned and happy. They went back last weekend, in the rain.
So now Brittany is ours again. There are still foreign cars around – English, German, Belgian, and some from other départements, but in the next few weeks, they will wander off home, too. The beaches will be empty though the sea will be warm; no-one will be there to see me in my swimsuit, should I be so brave as to put it on.
There will still be music: this is Brittany , and music is what we do. There will be more festivals all through the year, whatever the weather, because there always have been.
It feels like the end of something. It feels like the start of Autumn. Now it’s time for the ones who are left behind, when the tourists fade away, to make the most of what we’ve got, just for ourselves.
The bright, noisy, excited visitors have left us, and we will sit back and enjoy the quiet once more.
Maybe I’ll just tuck the swimsuit back into its drawer. It wouldn’t be fair to disturb the peace.
And I wouldn’t want to make it rain.