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
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.
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…
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