Autumn in Gascony

Photo of author
Written By Clare Wadsworth

“Designers want me to dress like Spring, in billowing things. I don’t feel like Spring. I feel like a warm red Autumn.”

Marilyn Monroe

It has been such a long, hot summer with temperatures soaring into the late thirties and even the low forties for weeks on end — sometimes it seemed to go on forever, but suddenly the days are shorter, the evenings are darker and the nights are cooler. It’s lovely to have blankets on the bed again.

The school term starts soon and the summer holidaymakers are going home, so there are traffic jams on main roads throughout the Hexagon, as France likes to call herself — all the more so since the French government, in its wisdom, has imposed a new speed limit: 80kph on roads without a central barrier. It is really very difficult to drive along a long, straight, empty, open road at only 80kph. The cars don’t like it and nor do their drivers.

Champagne and Alsace have already begun to pick grapes — and are finding it difficult to recruit enough workers — the ‘vendanges’ are early this year. Dramatic hailstorms damaged 10,000 hectares of vines in the Bordeaux region in the spring, and then there was mildew after heavy rain in May and June. There are rumours of a shortage of rosés, especially from Provence, but a new blue Spanish wine is being marketed in Sète on the Mediterranean Coast. It costs €12 a bottle and is called Vindigo. On the whole the vines like hot weather, so despite the heat wave and drought there should be a good harvest.

Leaves are falling and the hibiscus, clematis and roses have given way to Lagerstroemia or crepe myrtle and tiny mauve cyclamen. Although my basil has not survived, there is a glut of fat, juicy tomatoes and plenty of greengages, and the Agen plums that make the best prunes of all. All the hedges are full of blackberries and the figs are ripening fast. They are delicious straight from the tree or baked, or even with balsamic vinegar and burrata. Soon there will be mushrooms and then walnuts. Deer come close to the house to eat windfalls of apples. French neighbours who hunt, ‘les chasseurs’, are getting ready to shoot wild pigeon.

Six dogs now — the latest is a 10-year-old golden Labrador called Java, whose previous owner has gallstones and lives in a small flat in Bordeaux. Java is good-natured, greedy and well behaved — except with the vet, who is trying to treat her arthritis. Too many visits to the vet recently as the grass seed is very sharp and dry and penetrates easily and deeply between soft pads. So Enzi and Haddock are limping and tear off their bandages as soon as I look away, knowing I am far more distressed than they are by ‘lampshades’ around their necks.

Everyone watches for shooting stars on clear nights, but the only ones I have seen turned out to be aeroplanes. Never mind, I have downloaded an App called SkyView Life, which apparently allows you to identify the stars, planets and constellations.

What will September bring? Air France is threatening to go on strike again. Parisians don’t like their new public urinals. Anthrax has broken out in Southeast France for the first time in 10 years. There is talk of Sunday trading regulations being relaxed. Will more cars be torched — 845 were set on fire on Bastille Day? Can Macron shake up the economy or will the new Sun King be brought down by the Benalla Affair?

And what about the Eiffel Tower, where Alain Ducasse, the most Michelin-starred chef in the world with 21 to his credit, has been ousted from the Jules Verne restaurant by Frédéric Anton of the three-star Le Pré Catalan and Thierry Marx, who owns the two-star Sur Mesure restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris? They have been awarded the 10-year tender to run the Jules Verne, as well as a brasserie on the first floor and snack counters.

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
J.K. Rowling