France is sizzling this summer

Photo of author
Written By Clare Wadsworth

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.

Du Bose Heyward / George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin

Heatwaves followed by a deluge of rain — rather like the political situation in France over the past few months. The stream at the bottom of the property is still running and there has been a glut of delicious cherries of every shade of red. The vines are looking promising. Even the joggers are more cheerful now that there is less mud underfoot — and so are the drivers as it seems the speed limit may go back up to 90 kilometres an hour instead of the 80kph it was reduced to last year.

The asparagus season is over — and the British have actually persuaded the French that green asparagus is as delicious as white asparagus, which I would never have thought possible. But there are still artichokes of every size,­ from small bunches of five with sharp purple points to their leaves, which are wonderful deep-fried or steamed and served with vinaigrette, to huge round tightly leaved ones from Brittany that need to be boiled for up to 40 minutes. If you only like eating the hearts, then scraping the bottom of the leaves for a dip means that nothing is wasted. Just put the bits of artichoke in a blender with some mayonnaise and herbs and shallots or onion and perhaps a little garlic. It’s a good time of year for salade niçoise too with lots of tuna and anchovies, crisp green beans and steamed new potatoes, garnished with halved boiled eggs, black olives, quartered tomatoes and a crusty fresh baguette — and more vinaigrette.

Another thing the British residents of Southwest France have introduced in the summer is music — there were always concerts in cathedrals and theatres, but now individuals are bringing in fine musicians and opening up their houses and gardens, which gives a whole new dimension to glorious summer evenings.

The five dogs who occupy my house and garden are enjoying all the summer smells — and chasing lizards and the occasional grass snake. The poodle, Chianti, and the fox terrier/Jack Russell-cross, Floradora, have been clipped. When it is too hot to walk and I swim instead, they all drowse around the pool in the shade of the big fig tree hoping I’ll splash them, and then leap up to bark at imaginary intruders in the vines. There are wine barrels cut in half around the pool, and this year for a change instead of planting geraniums I’ve filled them with lavender. Not so spectacular, but it all smells nice! The honeysuckle is out too, and the jasmine and the roses, so evening walks combine summer scents with birdsong and piping frogs. And, of course, the noise of the motor mower as you can almost see the grass grow whenever there is sunshine and then rain and then sunshine again.

Protests from the Yellow Vest brigade have died down at last after six months, but Condom’s mayor is determined to spend money on road works and is cutting down trees as the periphery of the town is remodelled in dubious taste. There is someone going around setting cars on fire too — that is one of France’s favourite sports. Eight have been burned so far, as far as I know, including one in the precincts of the local police station.

It’s almost time for the summer sales — the dates in France are strictly controlled and sales are only allowed twice a year: after Christmas and in the summer. Otherwise French retailers are not allowed by law to sell at a loss. The French really do have a sense of chic and know how to put things together — so whenever I am in doubt I ask my hairdresser’s advice. And take it!

Oh! We’re having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave
The temperature’s rising, it isn’t surprising,
She certainly can can-can.”

Irving Berlin