The days are longer and April showers are called the ‘giboulées’ of March here. They are followed by brilliant rainbows, symbolising God’s promise never to send another great flood, but it’s still cool enough for sweaters and a crackling log fire in the evenings. The swimming pool is a dirty opaque green with the occasional pair of ducks paddling until the dogs spot them and run over barking. Water flows over the paths through the woods, which are ankle-deep in sticky black mud. Green woodpeckers drum away at tree trunks during the day and at night owls hoot as they hunt.
After the seemingly endless dark, draughty winter, friends call to propose themselves and we realise that a spring-cleaning is due before any houseguests arrive. The strimmer has broken down and the mower needs a service. As soon as the sun comes out the grass and nettles grow visibly and the brambles thicken. Pollen is everywhere – allergies are at their worst. We should plant more lavender and rosemary, wisteria and clematis, but the ‘saints de glace’, the ‘ice saints’, feast days of Saint Mamert, Saint Pancras and Saint Servais, fall on the 11th, 12th and 13th May and it’s risky to plant anything before that.
Every gust of wind blows almond and plum blossom around like confetti. The magnolias are magnificent and the grass in front of the house is studded with pale yellow primroses and delicate violets. There are daffodils, periwinkles and hyacinths and soon there will be tulips. The woods are carpeted with cowslips and wood anemones. Lilac and forsythia are about to burst forth.
As for food, there are ‘aillets’, which are spring garlic, and wild leeks, the first asparagus, strawberries and melons, paschal lamb and new-laid eggs.
There are religious festivals too, the Ascension, 40 days after Easter, when Christ rose to heaven on a Thursday and schoolgirls scatter pink and white rose petals, and Pentecost or Whitsun, which marks the end of the Easter cycle.
But it’s not all about nature. Ever since the May 1968 civil unrest that brought France to a halt and caused General de Gaulle to flee Paris, spring here has meant student protests, demonstrations and strikes. It’s Paris Fashion week too, with Dior and Lanvin both looking for Creative Directors.
Spring really is a time of transformation and inspiration, promise, revival and renewal when sap rises and babies made at the end of the summer holidays are born and enraged farmers blockade cities!