Spring in France

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Written By Clare Wadsworth

In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours. Mark Twain

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. Charles Dickens

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. Henry Van Dyke 

Suddenly people are sitting outside cafés, smiling and relaxing with their legs stretched out, slimmer without their Michelin-man jackets, and angry farmers worried about their subsidies have stopped blocking roundabouts all over Southwest France with huge tractors. The cranes have flown north, high and loud, but they were too eager and a week early for it snowed the next day. It may be Fashion Week in Paris, but down here it’s the beginning of spring with sudden showers, smoky cotton wool clouds, pink sunsets and a huge, bright, waning moon, sometimes shimmering silver and sometimes deep orange, when it is known as ‘la lune rousse’.

The trout-fishing season is about to open and the last vines are being pruned, the last trees planted; melons and tomatoes are being sown in the greenhouses. Pale yellow primroses and cowslips are out; so is brighter yellow forsythia, and there are pink and white buds on the almond and mirabelle plum trees. A lot of fruit and vegetables come up from Spain in trucks: the grocer is selling bitter Seville oranges for marmalade, great big sweet Gariguette strawberries — the French pour red wine over them — and the first broad beans — to peel or not to peel? Steam them lightly and toss in vinaigrette. Serve on a bed of pea shoots sprinkled with crisp duck scratchings or bacon. Soon there will be asparagus — the English prefer the slim green spears, Europeans the fat white ones, which must be peeled. They are all delicious with poached eggs and mushrooms. And everything is enhanced by the local wines, which get better every year — and so do the labels on the bottles, which are increasingly design-conscious and contemporary.

Winter’s spiders’ webs are highlighted by bright sunbeams — time to spring clean. Every flat surface in my house is covered by books and newspapers, and now I see the layer of dust on many of them. Debussy and Mendelsohn are playing. The windows are all open and the smell of wet dog is evaporating at last. They say you should never cut a tree down in winter nor make a negative decision. Wait until the spring. And now spring has almost sprung.

There are no cuckoos yet, but birds sing from every branch and the pond is covered in frogspawn despite blustery gusts of wind. The hens are laying. Mud is slippery and water trickles down every slope. Wellington boots and a waterproof jacket that doesn’t have pockets cut so that rain is channelled into them are essential. A rash of molehills pops up unexpectedly all over the place. Wasps’ nests buzz. Stink bugs are back. At dinner parties, complaints about politics are giving way to conversations about gardening. Instead of wanting to get away from the cold, dark, wet, short days and long nights to warmer climes or ski resorts, everyone realises it’s only a few more weeks until daylight savings strikes and the hour changes. The local villages are planning fairs and fêtes now that Mardi Gras — Shrove Tuesday — is over and Easter is on the horizon.

So here we sit, enjoying the best that a simple life has to offer, discussing rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal and resurrection, and trying to ignore Chinese influence in Australia, Silicon Valley buying up New Zealand, the US starting a trade war, Brexit, Ramaphosa, Maduro, Iran, Burma, Afghanistan, the Congo — but this is a country where films are still dubbed and pop songs have hardly changed in 100 years. What does that say about France?

Photo courtesy of Penny Wadsworth