Autumn arrives in France

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Written By Clare Wadsworth

“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.”

Oscar Wilde

Autumn is really here – this morning was 10° and this afternoon was 30°! There have been three heatwaves this year, with temperatures well into the 40s. The days seem much shorter after weeks of long, light, hot evenings. We are chopping and trucking up dry logs for winter fires, and guests are arriving en masse while we can still enjoy lunch and supper outdoors. I have a new flowered linen tablecloth which never seems to get dirty — is it treated with something?  Bats fly around the swimming pool at dusk and owls hoot as soon as night falls. A fox seems to be patrolling the drive and watching the chickens. The dogs continue to chase lizards and rabbits, but Haddock the Gascony basset is no more. The pain from a degenerative disease of the spinal column common in long-back dogs could no longer be borne.

Meals are expanding beyond salads and grills at last. Sardines from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic (pilchards) are available from the fishmonger, and delicious small mussels from the Bay of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy called moules de bouchot, which are farmed on frames. There is a ‘r’ in the month again, so oysters are back on the menu too. Wonderful summer tomatoes are every size and colour, the cepe and pleurotte mushrooms are mouth-watering and there are still melons. Blackberries are in the hedges and the trees are laden with greengages and figs, plums and apples. Tiny mauve cyclamen have suddenly appeared and there are bright crepe myrtles against their twisted, trunks, surviving roses and multicoloured hydrangea.
Main street in Condom. Courtesy of Ana Wadsorth

Children have started the new school year and the summer concerts and night markets are over, but driving along straight Roman roads and through picturesque little villages with pleasing names like Fourcès and Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit, Montréal-du-Gers and Larressingle remains a joy. The geraniums and petunias, weathered old stone and half-timbering gleam in the still bright sunlight, and elderly men play boules de pétanque on the main square.

        Larressingle, smallest walled village in France. Courtesy of Ana Wadsworth

The first grapes — for white wine — are being picked very early in the morning by huge, rough machines, and bright orange lorries with flashing lights are out on the roads, hedging and ditching very, very slowly. While Australia may be jeopardising overseas markets by overuse of pesticides, dozens of France’s 35,000 mayors are unlawfully banning them near their towns and villages, much to the dismay of the Minister of Agriculture, who claims that food production is threatened in what might be called intelligent civil disobedience. The Yellow Vest or Gilets Jaunes protests tapered off during the summer holidays, but there has already been a new wave of rallies in Montpellier and Toulouse, Rouen and Strasbourg.

Condom Cathedral, dedicated to St Peter. Courtesy of Ana Wadsworth

It is 75 years since Paris was liberated and a new museum with the cumbersome name of Le Musée de la Libération de Paris-Musée du Général Leclerc-Musée Jean Moulin has opened in Place Denfert-Rochereau across from the Catacombs. Général Leclerc, who led the Free French forces overseas during the War before taking part in the Liberation of Paris, was actually General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, and his son Stanislas moved to Australia, where for many years he had a renowned and highly respected art gallery and was nicknamed Stan de Hot Clock.

I end with the story of a delicious supper this week on a leafy terrace at Le Florida in Castéra-Verduzan about 20 minutes away — mushroom salad, followed by veal sweetbreads and then a memorable slice of lemon cake, all washed down with a glass of champagne and one of a red wine from neighbouring vines, and then a pleasant drive under a skyful of stars and a half-moon in an open car. A solicitous text message arrived from the proprietor asking if we were back safely and hoping we had enjoyed the evening.

“Leaves are falling. Autumn is calling.”