Five Signs of Summer in SW France

Summer Market

July is here and the French summer holidays have begun with a vengeance. Normally, the first weekend in July is the signal for the Grand Prix exodus from Paris to begin. This year, the kids were still at school for a few days in early July. So last weekend marked the start of the annual pilgrimage to the sun. July and August down here are like being on a different planet in a parallel universe. Here are its distinguishing features.

The weather is reliable

Reliably bad, that is. Someone flicks a celestial switch at the beginning of July and it starts to rain. Every day I get several visitors to this blog using the search term, “Why is the weather so bad in France?” It hasn’t been too bad here but in northern France – as in the UK – the summer so far has been a complete washout. Here we’ve had a bit of rain but the temperatures are anything but summery. July last year was even worse.

We learn that this is because the weather at la Saint-Médard (8th June) governs that to come for 40 days, a bit like St Swithin’s Day in the UK. You can get a reprieve if la Saint-Barnabé is nice (11th June) but it obviously wasn’t this year.

The market is three times bigger

Seasonal market stall

In winter a handful of stallholders brave the sub-zero temperatures. In summer their ranks are swelled by purveyors of olives, gaudy summer clothes, toys and carved wooden knickknacks. A man who rears and sells snails in various guises has also turned up at the Caylus Saturday market. I must investigate him further. I’m rather partial to snails, although it’s really the sauce I like.    

Purveyor of snails – one uncertain customer

It is peopled with strange beings

They doggedly wear shorts or strapless dresses and sandals, exposing their winter-white limbs, while the natives are in trousers, coats and shoes. They meander up the street strung out across the pavement so you have to step into the road to get past. They cluster round the estate agents’ windows like moths round a candle. You can’t get into your favourite restaurant because they are noisily occupying all the tables. But they do bring much-needed life and money to the community.

Parking spaces are like gold dust

In London I could manoeuvre the car into a space with an inch to spare at either end. I don’t need to here normally, but I have to re-learn long-forgotten skills in summer in our village. The eternal road works to lay new cables and water pipes that have been going on for months don’t assist things. Former parking spaces are now repositories for piles of sand and gravel. I just copy the French and park on the pavement.

Sheaves of leaflets flutter in the breeze on your windscreen

For two months you are spoilt for choice: fêtes, concerts, vide-greniers, brocantes, randonnées touristiques. Leaflets advertising these events mysteriously appear under your windscreen wipers if you leave the car for more than five minutes. I can’t complain: we were doing the same for our fête a few weeks ago. The problem is that you can’t go to everything and competing events are often equally appealing.

On 1st September, the celestial switch flicks again. The weather improves significantly, the market shrinks back to its normal size, people wear sensible clothes, you can comfortably park in a space that would accommodate a juggernaut and you don’t have to keep removing bits of paper from the windscreen.

There’s just a little twinge of regret, though, as la France profonde resumes its out of season pace. Which reminds me of those snails…     

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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19 Responses to Five Signs of Summer in SW France

  1. Pingback: Summer Arrives at Last in SW France | Life on La Lune

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  4. Great post, Vanessa – 100% accurate. Boussac really comes to life in summer. However, most of the tourists hit Carrefour market so there’s still room for locals to do their shopping at Simply Market. It’s great to see the cafés so busy since they can be a little quiet at other times in the year.

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  5. Sue Whatmough says:

    Summer keeps popping in then disappearing again. We can’t help feeling sorry for the folk on holiday and next door says they’re embarrassed by the lack of sunny weather. In fact, it’s chilly in the evenings. I’m a fan of the autumn which has been magnificent for the last few years. We keep away from the touristy places if we can, although we were tourists here once. Good luck with the rest of the month.

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    • nessafrance says:

      It’s chilly during the day as well! An unpleasantly cold wind has been blowing here over the weekend, which makes sitting out impossible, even in the sheltered spots. I agree that autumn has become the best time of year. And you can enjoy the places without the tourists.

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  6. Deborah says:

    Oui, oui, oui to all of the above! Far too many people at the market – it took twenty minutes to push through 100 metres at one stage (and then the bank was closed because it was the 14th…) – but on a positive note, the clothes stalls are all full of pretty new summer stock. They’ve been trying to flog last summer’s stuff all year till now! (PS. to your comment on my blog: the February snap was severe here too, almost getting our courtyard olive tree and killing off all our potted oleanders as well as a huge jasmine up one wall. Very cross about that! I shall miss its lovely fragrance.)

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    • nessafrance says:

      There are upsides and downsides to the season. There’s one market we keep well away from in summer: 100 metres in 20 minutes would be good progress there! Sorry to hear about your oleanders and the jasmine. It is a pity to lose things you have carefully nurtured.

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  7. Nice one! I hope the French weather improves, when we arrive in August …. although it’s been far too hot here; great if you are on holiday and have a swimming pool, but awful to fit in a working day with it.

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    • nessafrance says:

      We hope it improves too! Although it’s nothing like as bad as July last year when it rained for at least 10 days non-stop. I heard from a friend in Le Marche that it had been terribly hot there – and they’re up in the mountains. It hasn’t rained much here so the cooler weather does mean you can get out and do things; when it’s blisteringly hot you just sit and pant in the shade.

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  8. Evelyn says:

    Oh, so true…every word! My favorites are the clusters of walkers who gather in the middle of the road to consult their maps, making it almost impossible to drive around them without nudging one. This is my first summer here and I’ve been amazed at the hordes of tourists in Cajarc! Good for business, yes, but it makes a trip to the grocery store so difficult.

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    • nessafrance says:

      The Lot River is always a good tourist destination so you probably notice the tourists even more than we do. Yes, I forgot the grocery store. It’s not good being in a hurry just now!

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  9. Sitting in northern France with very mixed weather we’re still waiting for the hoardes to arrive. Though with this years weather I guess they’re all on their way to the south or Spain!
    Great post 😉

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  10. Paul Diamond says:

    Ah, that explains why the road etc have been so quiet this past week or so. My parents are staying at our house and have been skyping that things have been quiet on the roads etc this July. Guess their respite is now over!

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    • nessafrance says:

      I think they’ll find it gets busier, especially if people go southwards to find the sun (they might as well not bother – there isn’t much here, although it’s forecast to get better this week). Hope you enjoyed your own stay in June. Did you make your road trip in the end?

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      • Paul Diamond says:

        My parents are reporting a large increase in traffic, esp around Sarlat, so are staying closer to home for their last week. Yes, we did do our road trip, south to Toulouse, Carcasonne, south to the Pyrneese foothills, then west on the secondary roads over to St. Jean-de-luz, then up to Biarritz, then up the Arcachon Basin, then back home to St. Cyprien. Sorry didnt get a chance to drop by but with two toddlers in tow, every trip turns into a major expedition 😉 Perhaps next year.

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      • nessafrance says:

        Hope you enjoyed your trip. I can understand the logistics of 2 toddlers!

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