Let’s talk French weather – Part 1
When I mention southern France, what comes to your mind?
Lush vineyards far as the eye can see…
I know what comes to mine, still, after all these years:
- Turquoise seawater
- Rocky or sandy beaches with olive trees gently swaying in a light breeze
- Light, sand-stone villas surrounded by lemon and olive groves
- Endless, fragrant lavender fields
- Endless, fragrant vineyards
- Soft, pink light
- Sun, not too hot, but a pleasant sun that gives you an effortless biscuit tan
- A sleepy town square, closed shutters and ice-cold Pastis
- A warm, welcome mist of seasonal rain only a few days a year
- Leathery, bronzed farmers with fresh produce and a rotund but charming local accent
- … and above all – balmy, embracing warmth that makes you forget about dreary north-European winters featuring sleet, snow and slippery roads.
Even now, knowing what I know, this is what I think of when I hear the words ‘southern France’. This list comes to mind, to vanish immediately, replaced with other phenomena I’ve become accustomed to recently.
For example: those long, slim, sausage-like pillows of gaudy prints or dirty colors. Ever seen one of those?
I used to wonder what they were used for. First thing that popped into my mind, having seen how the French often sleep on long, thick, sausage-like pillows, was that these slim versions were just kiddy-versions of these truly uncomfortable bed accessories.
But, to my surprise, I discovered these pillows are ingeniously used to block the mouse-size windy gaps under every front door when winter moves in on southern France.
Image credit: astuciosites.fr
Oh yes. There is winter in southern France, and I’ve never been as cold in my native Finland as I’ve been here. Let me tell you how that is possible.
We had just moved into a 13th-century monastery-school of a house in the middle of a southern French medieval village. Autumn had been fabulous: soft, sunny days spent just picking figs and grapes straight off branches, picnics and long walks.
I hadn’t bought a single woollen sweater, for what use could that have. Then came January, and with it the harshest winter weather ‘in living memory’, or so I was told by locals.
A month’s worth of sub-zero temperatures, snow, permafrost and a hell of a north wind, bringing me its best wishes from Finland (which, incidentally, suffered under temperatures of -40°C at the time).
I had heard locals brag how “nothing penetrates our metre-thick stone walls”, but what else are stone walls but a safe haven for cellar-temperatures? These metre-thick walls guaranteed a permanent damp and mouldy ten degrees within the house, no matter what.
Don’t we have heating?
Well, yes we do. But not the kind of heating that was built for -15°C, let alone a month of frost.
Our electricity snapped off every time we’d fire up all our radiators simultaneously; there simply wasn’t enough power to keep them going.
And the fireplace?
Oh, yes, we have a wonderful, pre-Revolution stone fireplace! The problem was, we had just moved in, it hadn’t been used for years, and was badly in need of a chimney sweep. And since this was the coldest winter in living memory, chimney sweepers were having the busiest time of their lives. We were told one could stop by, say, in a month.
So, what did we do during that month?
In Part 2 I will tell you how we survived this harshest of southern French winters – coming soon!.